Saturday, July 4, 2015


“It requires trust in yourself and trust in others”- Alex, Arena y Estrella

The road turns to dirt as we bump along in the van. Our driver is a pleasant man, a smile always on his face. The homes are stacked, level upon level. Clothes and towels  strung along lines as they dry in the warm air. We have left the tall buildings, glamorous shops, and paved roads of Mira Flores to experience  Peru- from the margins.

The building is covered in color, painted on both the outside and inside with pictures that look as though they come straight from children’s books. It contrasts much of the browns and red shades of the roads and buildings. We are visiting Arena Y Esteras. The group is based in a community center started in the 90’s in order to have a place where people could escape from the violent terrorism sweeping the country.

The space also serves as a daycare, Cuna Arenitas, to enable mothers to work during the day and provide the children in the community a safe and stimulating environment.  There is a small library in the entrance with places to sit and read. Venturing farther into the building, we enter a wide-open space with long colorful drapes. A man sits on the bleachers picking his guitar. The music echoes in the large space and fills it with its sweet sounds. We continue to explore the building, each hall revealing new paintings- a boy in a scarf surrounded by stars, a girl playing an instrument that has birds flying out into the air, and calligraphy. We enter a room filled with masks and props. Then, a room filled with guitars, and boxes used as drums, and flutes. At the top of the building is a room with two large tables and a window into the kitchen area. A wonderful aroma fills the air.

We walk three flights of stairs back into the main room. This time four boys all dressed in brown trousers and vests with patches on them are waiting with instruments in hand. As we take our seats in the bleachers, one of the guys begins to fill the air with the sounds of a flute. I imagine birds flying from the flute, just as in the painting on the wall. A guitar and ukulele join in. A drum beats steady along with the other instruments.  Girls in brightly colored green dresses dash out from behind a curtain and dance to the rhythm of the music. Two of the boys set down their instruments and begin to balance on each other, making a variety of shapes with their poses. They are strong, balanced, and confident. When they return to their instruments, another guy takes lets down a drape and starts to climb, higher and higher, wrapping himself in the drapes as he goes. He lets go, twisting and turning  rapidly until he is near the ground. He rejoins the group and continues to play his instrument. The group is committed to preserving their arts and culture through music and dance. They learned their crafts and now teach others, both children and adults alike.  The space provides the room to do so.

The group breaks up and brings out cajons (box drums) and zancos (stilts) for us to play with. A mummer from the group breaks out. “I don’t have rhythm, I can’t play the drums”. “I am afraid of heights, I can’t walk on stilts”. The small voice in my head warns me against trying to do something that I am inexperienced at, something new and unfamiliar, something that I might fail, and something that may even result in physical injury.  But “can’t” and “no thanks” were not acceptable answers. One by one, we started drumming to the rhythm. One by one, we went up, up, up toward the ceiling on stilts.  One by one, we conquer our fears and rise to new heights with the sound of beating drums echoing through the building.

We sit in a circle and reflect on the joys, the triumphs, and the sensations of awakening the inner child. We reflect about the trust it takes in ourselves and in others to do the unthinkable, to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, to take a chance, and in some cases to fall down, get back up, and try again.

While this reflection was triggered by a particular experience, the lessons apply to business, education, and life in general.

For more information about Arena Y Esteras visit their webpage or "Like" them on Facebook.

Audriana Stark
Emzingo NexGEN Fellow
Peru, 2015

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