Mural 49 is at DIF, just across the street from Walmart in Playa del Carmen. Yep, that’s right, Walmart. Who would have imagined that? And, it’s wildly successful. I go there every afternoon while painting the mural because it’s the easiest place to find something to eat. The lines at the checkout are just crazy long. And, while walking out of Walmart with my freshly chopped-up, giant cup of diced watermelon, there are containers for charitable contributions for DIF. If my Spanish is close to correct in deciphering the message, it calls the children the “vulnerables”.
It’s my guess that the letters in DIF stand for something. Nobody ever has clarified that for me. But, whatever the name means, they do amazing work for a lot of children in the municipality (the Mexican equivalent to a county). Some of the children cared for are from dysfunctional home situations. Other children have struggled and failed in the public schools. And still, other students have special needs where they might have Downs syndrome or they might not be able to speak, hear or see.
There are just a whole lot of needs being met at this very remarkable DIF.
The teacher who works with a lot of the special needs children wanted to bring her class to paint. Just like I tell everyone, if the kids are under twelve, they’re going to need one-on-one supervision. And, these kids with their variety of needs would certainly need that kind of help. Okay, I explained that in Spanish. Perhaps something was lost in the translation? I’ve had Spanish speakers tell me that I communicate well with my horrible language skills. However, this teacher isn’t one of the people who mentioned that. I understood her to say that each kid would come with their mother. That isn’t what happened. She missed the whole point of my suggestion.
At first she showed up with three students. One boy was with his mother. I sat down with the second boy. The teacher disappeared. She wasn’t there to help the third girl, who worked by herself for a little while until her phone took over her interest. A little while later, the teacher showed up with four more students. No other parents, teachers or aides were by her side. And finally, she left to get about five more painters.
Yes, I’ll be honest, it was a little stressful.
But, there was nothing I could do but let the kids have a joyful experience. With the exception of about four kids, they were going to do more damage than good to the wall. It just didn’t matter. They got to participate and they would always have that ownership.
In the last group, the teacher showed up with a boy who I’ll call Little Stevie Wonder. The child, about ten, was blind and sported some stylish looking white sunglasses. In all my murals, I’ve never had a blind painter. I watched as the teacher held his hand and made his every stroke. What else would you expect a teacher to do in this situation? H O W E V E R, I knew in advance that there was a very good chance I’d have my first blind student involved with a mural. I had it all figured out in my mind. And, this wasn’t going the way I envisioned.
I wanted Stevie to have a real mural painting experience. So, I asked the teacher if I could try something. I took Stevie’s hand and let him feel the area in front of him that I wanted him to paint. It was a very big area. Then, I put the paintbrush in his hand and let him have at it. There was absolutely nothing that he could do wrong that couldn’t be fixed, and Stevie was going to have his moment.
He painted by himself, and his teacher gave me her smile of approval.
In fact, since there were so many students who needed supervision, and only one of me, Stevie worked independently for quite a while. He even dipped his own paintbrush in the can. Sometimes, I just had to stop and watch. Stevie had to experience it all by touch. He slid his hand down the brush to feel the wet paint on the tip and then continued on to the wall to explore the texture of the cement blocks.
A few adults who passed by stopped to ask me if I knew Stevie was blind. Everyone was delighted, surprised and pleased about his accomplishment. He certainly was a little wonder.
And in the midst of a whole lot of chaos, I felt like I made a small DIFference in the life of one child.