From the first day with the women of the Collective Mujeres con Capacidad de Soñar a Colores (Women with the capacity to dream in color) in Sololá, Guatemala, it is clear this group invites community, vulnerability, authenticity, inclusivity, and healing. Every activity; even a sunset boat ride, mythical forest theater activity, and a dance party is intentionally designed to create community and allow women with disabilities to fully live their lives. Valentina, part of the collective shared, “even dancing is a political act itself” because many women with disabilities have been excluded from these parts of life and the coordinators designed this Gathering to invite holistic body autonomy through experiential activities.
The first day was about welcoming the participants of the Gathering that came together in Sololá from the surrounding area and as far away as Peten. Two sign language interpreters joined the Gathering (Flor and Alejandra) as there are regional dialects of sign language in Guatemala and most participants at this gathering were hard of hearing or deaf. The facilitators came together from various organizations to lead together; Valentina and Mapa from Mujeres Con Capacidad de Soñar a Colores in Sololá, Lucy from Circula in Antigua and Flora from We Lead in Guatemala City. Valentina has a younger sister at the Gathering and for her this work is both personal and professional. Valentina collaborates with everyone and does it with excellence, affection, and compassion with relationships as a priority.
The facilitators came together the first day for a meeting to continue their planning and discussion of the methodology they will embrace for the Gathering. They partner with women with disabilities and want to help them build community and a safe environment is vital. They craft everything to intentionally build trust and invite mutuality and participation. It is evident from the first meeting that these women are learners first and facilitators next. They seek to lead by also immersing themselves in the learning process. They planned the art activities which are vital as Valentina shared, “art can help us reach a different type of connection” and talked about details of what and who and when for the 3 days of the Gathering. The Collective started 4 ½ years ago and has grown so much, which speaks to the need. The growth has been women with disabilities sharing with other women organically and inviting them into the spaces here. Most of the participants are indigenous women and the Collective is very intentional about creating space to include women with any kind of disability. They work to create an environment where women are allowed to bring their full selves, not merely just teach the participants information but invite them into experiences designed to help them be self reflective. The Collective desires to create friendship for and between women with and without disabilities, transform social structures that promote discrimination and violence against women with disabilities, and promote participation of women with disabilities in decision making spaces.
As they talked through the Gathering plans they reminded each other that they were not only leading but active participants in each day’s activities, “we are not facilitators, photographers, interpreters, assistants, etc. Everyone here is important and we are all invited to experience and collaborate, ” Valentina and Lucy shared the vision for the week. Flora shared about the gallery, “ we have been working on this since January and it is important to have a resource, an online museum to share this with others because we realized women with disabilities have so much to give, we are not a cup that needs to be filled but we have much to pour out also.” Each woman is welcomed as they sit together in a circle and Lucy states the purpose and shares, “everything we do is by invitation and not demand.” Valentina shared the approach for the Gathering, “we focus on what each woman needs to fully participate, not on a diagnosis of what their limitations are.” Each woman wrote and shared what are some agreements they want to offer and what they need and can offer to feel safe in the space and what they could also offer others and the papers are all placed on the ground around flowers in the center of the dialogue circle and later displayed on the colorful walls to remind everyone of the space they are building together.
Each day of the Gathering there were activities to invite collaboration and reflection. Every morning started with inclusive yoga for everyone. The art projects were offerings for reflection and extension of learning. Everyone designed animals and then embodied these mythical creations with costumes and an invitation to act out their animals in a mythical forest designed to help the women fully sense and feel their bodies. MaPa invited everyone to “respect the creations of others” and her way of humbly inviting women to vulnerably participate in art and acting out is genuine and allows for a spirit of healthy risk in the group, “We want you to trust, play, and get to know each other.”
Another day of the Gathering the art was an invitation to draw colors representing how the women felt when they had their first menstrual cycle. The goal was to take away stigma from discussing these issues and normalize sexual health and body functions. Lucy observed, “it was really hard at first for them to share about this- and to create art in the abstract was difficult but they clearly wanted to share their stories- they just needed an invitation and space.” Many women shared similar experiences of feeling confused or scared or even shame. What was at first uncomfortable invited vulnerability as more and more women shared. The women are walking together to learn more about their sexual and reproductive rights, independence, and their bodies. One of the days of the Gathering was spent focusing on what parts of their bodies they like and don’t like and the unrealistic and often damaging beauty standards in culture. These discussions culminated in co-creating creative photography portraits of those parts of their bodies for an online gallery. MaPa led them “as we participate in this photography expression, this is us throwing off those unrealistic beauty standards and celebrating our bodies and not being self critical of ourselves or of others.” These portraits will be shared in an online gallery soon.
The last night of the Gathering there was a pizza party at a local restaurant and after dinner many women went out to dance together. One of the participants that walks with aids was invited to the dance floor as another participant brought a chair to help her have increased stability while allowing her to fully participate and dance with the group. As Valentina shared, it truly was a political act to assert their rights and dance, occupying a social space that they have usually been excluded from. Inclusion and the group’s communal love for each woman present is a dynamic that marks the Gathering in huge ways.
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