The Association of Community Forestry Organizations in the Petén (ACOFOP) acts as an umbrella organization, advocating with government and serving as a conduit for information and collaboration among 23 community-run forestry organizations located throughout the multiple use zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The Maya Biosphere Reserve covers a significant portion of Central America’s largest rainforest and is inhabited by indigenous Mayan and Ladino peoples, all of whom depend on the forest for their livelihoods.
ArtCorps is helping ACOFOP to cultivate leaders and decision-makers in Petén communities, improve participation among ACOFOP’S constituents and increase awareness and understanding of ACOFOP’s work by creating an arts-based communications strategy.
An obstacle to sustainable forest management in the Petén has been a weak communication platform between ACOFOP and the community forestry management groups, as well as among the communities themselves. Having identified the need to build and consolidate their communications strategy, ACOFOP sought a partnership with ArtCorps to help strengthen the forestry organizations’ capacity to unify community efforts and sustainably manage forest resources.
- Developed local youth leadership and commitment to conservation through theater workshops and plays that educate and engage youth participants and audience members in social issues and conservation
- Increased self-esteem and creative thinking among youth group members, while inspiring the entire community to learn about sustainable forest management
- Improved conservation awareness by creating a short film educating communities about forest fire prevention using all local actors and producers
- Spread traditional music and dance in a modern way that attracts youth and encourages them to creatively express themselves and their opinions
- Cultivated capacity of local leadership through oral expression workshops
2008-2010: Cristian Beltrán, a theater artist and puppeteer from Chile, worked with young people in the municipality of San Andrés to develop theater groups that address social issues of importance to them, including forest management and conservation.
- Youth Theater Troupe: 15 youth from communities near San Benito and San Andrés are continuing the theater workshops begun with Cristian in 2008. Their most significant achievement has been the original interpretation and production of the French play “King Ubú” by Alfred Jarry. The actors incorporated body movement and gestures, basic voice techniques and original songs to add a new spin on the play. ACOFOP sees this theater group as an effective means for communicating its message to partner organizations.
- Theater Festival: Cristian facilitated the establishment of the first Theater Festival of San Andrés in 2008, a tradition that continued into 2009. The festival took place over two days, attracting an audience of over 120 people each day to watch the skits performed by the youth.
- House of Culture (Folkloric Ballet): ADESCA, a national body that funds cultural endeavors, provided funding to establish the House of Culture, which offers workshops in artistic disciplines such as theater, painting and dance. 15 youth leaders worked with Cristian to revive a tradition of dance, drawing from improvisation, traditional dance, Mayan dance-theater and creation dance in order to develop joyful and contemporary dances that retain a folkloric feel. These dance workshops were met with success; some of the dances have been requested at events throughout Guatemala. Not only has this work brought dance back to San Andrés, but it has also strengthened the expressive and creative abilities of participants and exposed other communities to folkloric dance.
- Music Workshops: Each week Cristian teaches 26 youth how to play the flute and percussion instruments. These students compose pieces related to ACOFOP’s work and perform them in schools in the region as a vehicle for discussing sustainable forest management and conservation.
- Video Documentaries: Cristian and the youth theatre troupe produced “Stop the Burning,” a widely distributed short film promoting the prevention of forest fires, which are very common in the Petén. They are now working on the production of a documentary about protecting forests.
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