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San Gaspar students, Philanthropiece Scholars, and Emily join together to show off the mural!


Students from San Gaspar work together to paint their vision for a global community.

Students from San Gaspar work together to paint their vision of a global community.


Emily Sun is a graduating senior of the Youth Global Leadership program. This school year, Emily designed and facilitated a service project, or “Cor Project”. Emily’s “Art Pal” project (Compañer@s de Arte) facilitated an intercultural art exchange between students from Casey Middle School, Boulder, CO, and Collegio Mixto San Gaspar, Chajul, Guatemala, in order to explore creative communication, foster cultural sensitivity, and promote art education opportunities. Over the past year, students have learned about and communicated with each other by creating and sending artwork. As a culminating exchange, Emily co-facilitated student mural workshops in both Colorado and Guatemala. Through these workshops, students created and swapped murals expressing their collaborative visions of “A Global Community.” In collaboration with the Philanthropiece Scholars program, Emily traveled to Chajul, Guatemala, this June to facilitate her workshop with the San Gaspar students.

Emily would like to express her deep gratitude for Philanthropiece Scholars. As her co-facilitators, they were foundational in the success of the project. They are some of the most inspiring people she knows; in merely one week’s time they can study for university exams, co-lead a mural design, tend organic compost, all while caring for their families at home. This post, written by Emily Sun, is dedicated to them.

From above, the green valley dresses Chajul in clouds and holds it in the palm of her hand. We are on the top of a sacred mountain, or El Cerro de San Andres. We stand beside an ancient altar, where crushed flowers and newspapers and weathered candles sketch out a prayer on the black, volcanic rock. Lower down exists the profuse, swaying foliage that once camouflaged guerrilla soldiers during Guatemala’s Armed Conflict. I can feel that this is a powerful place. Through the stories our guide Edgar tells, and through my physical presence in a resonant landscape, I begin to grasp Chajul’s scarred history, yet also its vibrant culture and spirit of resilience.

“Little by little, people are starting to talk,” Edgar says, speaking of the traumatic oppression inflicted on his hometown by years of violence and genocide, but also of the healing– the gradual recovery of the community’s voice. Back in the Philanthropiece office, where the bulk of the mural project has been taking place, I see the shyness that students wrap themselves in, the way they cover their mouths, their hesitation. When I ask them questions to encourage vocal participation, I often wait in awkward silence. The war had taught their parents not to speak up, a tragic lesson many parents have understandably imparted on their children.

Yet, little by little, through creativity and encouragement, the students are starting to talk. First I see their visions and voices in color, and then I hear them. They discuss and draw out their ideas with each other. Their fingers roam excitedly over markers and pencils and paper. They brainstorm in groups and put together designs for the mural. They present them to the class. They are analyzing and thinking with confidence; they are speaking.

We want to show our culture and our town, they say.

We want to preserve our culture and the natural world.

Down with deforestation!

We want a world that is more green and blue.

While my trip to Guatemala changed my perspective in so many ways, I now understand my Cor Project as a microphone for the community of Chajul: for the students, the people I shared stories with,  and the outstanding Philanthropiece team that truly carried the project to fruition. Through artful conversations, as well as visual, written, and auditory channels, I listened and tried to support these diverse voices. I have strengthened my conviction that this outflow of visions, this dialogue of culture, this chorus of vibrant expression for the community and by the community, will support in carrying this community forward. Sometime this year, back in Boulder, we will hang the finished Chajulense student mural at Casey Middle School. I hope that the people of Boulder will not only look at it and learn about its creation, but also listen for the chorus.


 If you would like to learn more about my “Art Pal Project”,  or are interested in getting involved, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].