The intent of the Cebadilla Mural Project was to inform the students, and the rest of the community in Cebadilla, Nicaragua, how important bio-sand filters are for keeping their drinking water clean. The mural illustrates the filtration process, bad organisms pouring into the bio-sand filter and clean water pouring out. These filters are extremely useful in a village like Cebadilla. The filters keep 95% of E. Coli out of the water and are only about 30 USD to produce. Artists Jamie Griffard and Adriana Berrio worked collaboratively with school children from the village of Cebadilla, applying the ideas and images from student drawings into their final mural. We had a chance to ask AIB’s own Jamie Griffard and Adriana Berrio a few questions about their amazing experience:
> 1. Could you tell us a little about yourselves, your work, and how the both of you met?
[JG] I finished my last semester at AIB this past fall. My work could be described as a bit mystical, as well as having an odd sense of humor. Lately, I’ve been strongly influenced by various elements I’ve encountered while traveling, such as jungle flora, insects, animals, eyeballs, dreadlocks, surfing, and the ocean. I met Adriana in an illustration class at AIB, Sequential Projects I think.
[AB] I am a Latina raised in Colombia that came back to the USA almost seven years ago. I am also a senior at AIB. My latest work is based on the place I was raised. I found it important to go back to my past as a way of relating to where I find myself today. I am interested in architecture and the irony of violence that touched the city of Medellin at the beginning of the 90’s. My work tends to touch upon the concerns I have about social and political issues. Sequential Projects was our first class together, but it was in Boston Sketchbook that we really connected.
> 2. How did you first become interested in the original clean water project run by Simmons College?
[JG] My girlfriend, Lauren, had traveled to Kenya to help build a well in a village called Malela. Although successful, the process proved to be difficult and costly. We both grew more interested in learning about providing clean water to communities in need, and eventually learned about BioSand filter technology, an inexpensive and environmentally sustainable method of producing clean water. We learned about the opportunities in Nicaragua through one of Lauren’s work colleagues, who had traveled there previously as a volunteer to construct BioSand filters. She couldn’t say enough positive things about her experiences there, and the strong impact that was made in the local communities. This is where the idea was born - we knew we needed to be a part of something like this. I thought it would be nice to tie in my artistic abilities during our trip, but wasn’t initially sure how best to do this.
> 3. How did the both of you get involved, and how did the mural come about as the project of choice?
[JG] Lauren and I arranged a series of meetings with David Gullette (the Simmons professor who has been coordinating volunteer efforts in Nicaragua for some 20 years), and told him that we wanted to collaborate with him on the next trip down and help out any way we can. There were trips that they took down there where they built houses and a school. I explained my interest in the water project, and indicated that I would like to somehow incorporate art into the process. He was thrilled to hear this, and suggested that I design and paint a mural with the students in Cebadilla, a poor community north of San Juan Del Sur. The mural would be thematic, and we decided that it would provide a lesson about clean water, while also incorporating the local color of the community. Given my prior experience with murals, I knew I could make it work, but my Spanish was minimal. It occurred to me that Adriana, talented artist, and trusted friend, would be the perfect companion to assist me in the mission. Fortunately, she agreed!
[AB] Jamie came to me one day and told me that she was going to go Nicaragua to paint a mural with kids. She asked me if I wanted to go with her to help her a bit with the language and the mural. I was very excited about it and decided to go with her.
> 4. Once you arrived in Nicaragua: What was it like? Can you describe the Cebadilla community? Was it what you expected?
[JG] I remember getting off the plane and being very happy to feel warmth and sun on my face. The first thing we did was walk along the beach, and witness a beautiful sunset. We all just looked at each other and laughed, “Where are we?” It is truly an untouched paradise. The town of San Juan del Sur (located in the southwestern corner of the country on the Pacific) reminded me of Ocean Beach, San Diego: a generally relaxed attitude, beautiful landscape, and a fantastic international community complete with plenty of surfers of course. We all adapted quickly to the calm, relaxed way of life that characterized the community. Our hostel was full of travelers from all over the globe and, geckos could always be found scampering across the walls and ceilings. Amazing fresh fish and delicious local fruits could be found easily at markets and restaurants on any block.
Cebadilla is a community about 20 miles east of San Juan del Sur. The village was charming, although resources you and I might take for granted were unsurprisingly limited. Folks there seem to live a simple, but full life. The kids were very happy, friendly, and playful. The culture and people were absolutely beautiful, and they embrace you as one of their own the minute you step foot into their community, giving a deep sense of solidarity. A feeling of teamwork set in as soon as we started the mural, making it a very productive and rewarding experience.
[AB] I really had no idea what to expect of San Juan del Sur. I didn’t do much research about the area prior to our trip. However, I do have a relative familiarity with the way small rural Latin American villages are structured. Small houses, clothes drying outside, dogs taking naps. These were all evident in Cebadilla. When I arrived there, I was actually surprised to see how colorful the houses were. I was just fascinated by them, as they seemed as though they had just been painted the day before. The kids were extremely shy at first, which was another surprise. Latino kids generally are respectful, but not always shy. We tried our best to make them feel comfortable, but they tended not to ask many questions. But they liked us, and became very playful. The moment we arrived they were already waiting for us, they wake up everyday at 7am, we got there everyday around 9 or 10 so you can imagine how anxious they were. They love painting and drawing. I really wished we provided more paper for them. I really want to make sure that next time we bring a ton of supplies, I feel like we owe it to them.
> 5. Given the opportunity to use your creativity in efforts help raise awareness, what has the experience meant to you?
[JG] I learned that it doesn’t take an enormous amount of resources to make a significant impact. At the risk of sounding cliché, all you need is a simple idea, an open mind, and a lot of enthusiasm to get projects like this done. Creativity exists in anyone, and it was so wonderful to be able to bring it out in the children of Cebadilla. Some had never held a paintbrush, or even been permitted to sketch before.
[AB] I have always been very attracted to street art, especially now that we have Banksy, Le Rat, JR, and Shepard. These are just some of the street artists that are doing powerful things out there. I’ve always thought that as an artist, it is your responsibility to say something powerful, to wake up emotions in people or to make people think something different of what they have in their minds on that certain moment.
It does not matter how educated you are, everyone has always something to say that can make an impact in someone’s life. You just have to be honest with your own self. These kids did it, they just drew whatever they thought of Nicaragua or just drew the mere trees that surround them, some of which appear in the mural itself.
This experience gave me courage, and it demonstrated to me how important it is to share your individuality with the various people you meet along the way. However, the most important thing that I learned from this is to spread happiness using all the tools you have.
> 6. Has this project influenced your current work and ideas? How?
[JG] It absolutely has. Every time I travel, my experiences while abroad manage to have large influences on my ideas and approach to work. We had so many weird and wonderful things happen while in Nicaragua. I recently did an illustration of this wonderful moment in the trip when I was out in the water with my surfboard, we all looked out across each other’s silhouettes into the ocean as the sun was starting to set, and in the distance we saw an unexpected spectacle of whales spouting water out of their blowholes like giant fountains spewing up out of the sea. As an illustrator, these are the moments I savor and feel compelled to capture in my own way. They are just too awesome not to record creatively.
[AB] Right now I’m very dedicated to the work I’m doing. The project itself hasn’t directly influenced my current work, but the experience has remained a part of me. I keep looking for a way to communicate my ideas in a more powerful way in order to awake memories that have been lost over time in a different culture.
> 7. What's next?
[JG] I’m working on perfecting my Spanish, and making plans to return to San Juan Del Sur for approximately four months to potentially start up an art program in Cebadilla and at other local schools. Maybe more murals are in store. The plans are still coming into view. After that, I would love to head to Thailand to hang with some elephants. Indonesia would be another destination of choice, full of natural beauty, great waves, and home to some of our friends. I used to be intimidated by these kinds of trips, the planning, and coming up with the money! I’ve learned, however, that it doesn’t take a great deal of resources if you are willing to get creative with the plans, and take some risks along the way. It is important not to limit yourself by the fear of doing something different, or uncomfortable...you have to just ride the wave if opportunity comes along.
[AB] Jamie and I have given a lot of thought about what happened during the trip. We have even talked about doing this type of work in other schools in Nicaragua, or even other regions of Latin America. Jamie and Lauren have spoken of traveling to Thailand next. I just may join them, or I might just go on my own somewhere. After I graduate my main priority is to leave Boston for a while. I would love to do something like the street artist JR did at the favelas in Rio. Who knows? I just know that after this trip I have no more fears about pursuing my goals. You can do anything you want, so long as you have plenty of desire.