‘The pigs gobbled up some of our work'
Most journeys south nowadays usually involve beaches in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Florida.
Not so for well-known artist Joy Laking.
The longtime Portapique resident's recent three-week trip south took her all the way to Bolivia, a small landlocked country in central South America.
While there she stayed in a remote area called Aucapata with her husband Jim Wyatt and taught art to more than 100 children at three local schools.
"Not many tourists go to this country," said Laking, who has visited Bolivia three times. "Corn, potatoes and some rice are mostly what they eat. Aucapata is very poor. There is no Internet and no mail service and until recently there was no dental care and most of the children were malnourished."
There were many challenges to face during their first week, including four days without power and one day without running water. Laking and Wyatt even encountered a teachers' protest.
"In addition to the culture shock and language problem there was constant itching from the bugs that were in the old house we stayed in," said Laking, 61. "Walking distances to the schools was very hard. Luckily, Jim was with me and he carried the art supplies."
The art classes were very well received.
"The children were incredibly interested," Laking said. "The afternoon classes were supposed to be from four to six but we were sometimes there to quarter after seven at night."
Activities were carried out to try and get the young students thinking creativity.
"One afternoon I decided to try some baker's clay sculptures. We mixed up the flour, water and salt and everyone made some great little sculptures. Then some local pigs appeared. Before we could get the sculptures inside the pigs gobbled up some of our work."
There were plenty of triumphs, however, including the sight of children holding tooth brushes - delivered by Laking and Wyatt - for the first time in their lives.
"We taught kids to write their names and to use scissors for the first time," said Laking. "We marveled at the long attention spans of the kids and the ingenious games they played."
The free classes were available for all ages and took place after school and Saturdays.
"Fifteen-year-old boys who had quit school to go to work in a nearby gold mine attended art classes on Saturdays," Laking said. "They were very interested and applied themselves accordingly."
There are many languages in Bolivia with Spanish being the official language.
"Although I have been attending Spanish classes I know little," said Laking. "Mostly, I demonstrated with hand movements and so on."
Laking and Wyatt donated $700 in art supplies to the local people and Laking also gave away 150 portraits.
"We feel very lucky to have the time and freedom to go to Bolivia to help out," she said. "Even though I never worked so hard in my life, it leaves you with a fantastic feeling. Getting to know every kid, that's the attraction to return to Aucapata. Jim and I have some time to decide where we will go next to assist impoverished areas."
Laking and Wyatt, who volunteer on the Ivar Mendez International Foundation Board, marvel at the strides being made in Bolivia.
"Ivar Mendez, the international surgeon and head of the brain repair unit in Halifax, is from Bolivia," Laking said. "He's just amazing and the foundation is making a huge difference in the third world country."
Laking, a native of Guelph, Ont., has lived in Nova Scotia for more than 40 years. She has operated the Joy Laking Art Gallery in Portapique for 23 years.
TAGLINE; Lyle Carter's column appears every Tuesday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 673-2857.