The weather couldn't be any different today than it was on the day that I took these photos. Today I'm bundled in three layers to protect me from the threat of the bitter cold...not seen since the days of Atlanta notorious "Snow-maggedon" from two years ago.
On the day this image was taken I was only wearing a T-shirt...sweat from my back causing it to cling to my skin. I was happy though. I was happy to be alive. I was happy to feel the sun beat down on my forehead. I was happy to know that I was in a part of the world that I had never been before and that here the sound of kids laughter was as loud and enthusiastic as I had come to know it anywhere else.
I had met only a handful of these kids only a couple of days earlier. Their shy glances were soon transformed into bold curiosity. Reaching up to touch my hair and asking if it was real (in spanish), each of them quickly discarded any inhibitions. They had never seen anything like it before. They were fascinated and I didn't hesitate to oblige them. It was no second guessing. There was no, feeling inside like you get when people ask you if you ever wash your hair. Ummmm....really?
They were kids and they were living life with hope and promise. It's no wonder why being around them transported me back to my own memories of being in grade school. I could remember the smell of chalk dust and the feel of thick Bill Cosby-like sweaters rubbing against my arms. I could remember gathering for recess, standing in line to get lunch, and school picture day. And it is here that the seed must have been planted that caused me to jump out of my bed at 4am the next morning.
School Picture Day! That's it! I could offer the school, these children, and their parents an opportunity to do something that in the states is as much a part of what it means to go to school as homework itself. After running the idea by Colin and Josh (whose tireless work with their non profit Trashwater made this trip possible for me) and then preparing to make a pitch (with the help of my trusty companion, translator, and son of the school headmaster) we well on our way. The announcement was made and just like at home students came to school to next day with an extra coat of grease in their hair...and consequently on their faces. One by one, group by group, smile by smile we captured each of the precious children at the school in Los Brasiles. With the help of a reflector that I made at breakfast that morning from a styrofoam cooler top and more aluminum foil than I care to mention, I think we did a pretty good job. At the end of one heck of a long day, Mission Accomplished.
...well, until 4am the next morning when the idea hit me that we could make a year book! Yeah...a yearbook...complete with one by one, group by group, smile by smile, portraits of each of the students. Like for all of our families, it will be something that they can each remember for years to come. They can pull it back out when they are older and remember what it was like, among other things, to be slim back in the day. :-)
Today, I'm glad to be preparing to print out a couple of samples of that yearbook. My goal is to put one in each of the kids' hands by the end of the school year this year. This project like so many others that I've been so blessed to have the opportunity to do has been probably more rewarding for me than it has been for anybody else. I'm grateful for Colin and Josh for the opportunity to travel with them, for supporting this random idea, and for caring so much about the people in Los Brasiles.