"Piece by Piece, Child by Child"

"Adam was the smallest boy in his 5th grade class. He got picked on and called names, like 'shrimp' and 'shorty', he had learned to ignore the taunts and walk away; but after he was molested by his stepfather and had to talk to the police, he was sure that everyone would know what had happened to him, the teasing for that would be unbearable. Adam had been hoping to start middle school with a growth spurt and new friends, he just wanted to fit in, but that didn’t seem possible now; and now that his stepfather had been arrested, there was no money for school supplies or a new backpack.
Adam loved his old Spider Man backpack, but he knew that no one was else in middle school would carry one this year. It would be one more reason to tease him. He dreaded the start of school.  But when and his Mom were invited to the Houston Area Women’s Center 'Back to School Project', Adam saw hundreds of backpacks laid out before him – every color, size and design you could hope for! For a moment, Adam felt like a normal kid. After much deliberation, he chose a black backpack with a Nike swoosh, no one would make fun of Nike. He was learning from his counselor that what happened to him was not his fault and that no one could tell by looking at him that he had been abused. He was learning about the court process and the importance of his testimony from his court advocate. And he was beginning to think that he might make some new friends at his new school. Plus, he grew two inches over the summer! Things were definitely looking up!"
"Back to School Project" Testimonial, Houston Area Women's Center

School is barely out and the summer has just officially started, but the Houston Area Women's Center (HAWC) is already preparing for the start of a new school year through their annual "Back to School Project", in which new backpacks and new school supplies are distributed to the 1,200 or so children served by HAWC. 
Piece by Piece, Child by Child.

The children in HAWC's program have experienced sexual abuse, exploitation, domestic violence, or have been witness to such crimes, and it is the mission of the "Back to School Project" to equip them not only with new, much needed school supplies, but also with excitement, confidence, joy, and perhaps even a return to innocence.

Planning for the "Project" is a continuous and lengthy process, as soon as the current year's "Project" ends, next year's "Project" begins.  The planning committee consists of a very spirited group of HAWC staff members and volunteers, led by Pam Hobbs, manager of the Children's Court Services Program. Every year the "Project" is announced at a lunch attended by selected business and individuals, some of them new to HAWC's mission, and some of them veterans in their pledge to assist HAWC gather the supplies or the funds to purchase them. 

The pledge puzzle becomes larger.

I have been a member of the planning committee for a few  years now, but this was my first time attending the lunch, in which HAWC's president and CEO Rebecca White reminded us of the joy of our first day of school, and the fortune of never lacking,

HAWC president and CEO "I remember my first day of school".

long time volunteer Mary Moore urged us to donate our time and resources to a cause that really makes a difference in people's lives,

Mary Moore's call to action.

and Pam Hobbs, director of Children's Court Services recounted Sophie's story of sexual abuse and healing.

Pam Hobbs recounts Sophie's story.

Domestic and sexual violence teaches very difficult life lessons; in its dedication to helping survivors cope and heal from such traumatic events, the Women’s Center addresses each child’s (about 1,200 of them) concerns to be “normal” again and to fit in with their peers.  To learn how you can donate time and resources to the 2012 "Back to School Project"contact Pam Hobbs at 713-528-6798 before the August 8th deadline or make a donation online at HAWC Back to School 2012

Piece by Piece.
Child by Child.

Many thanks to The Houston Area Women's Center for letting me be a part of this most worthy of causes.  All images by Nadia Palacios Lauterbach.



The Lion and the Knights

A lion stands guard in the Cathedral square in León, Nicaragua.

"La muy Noble y Leal Ciudad de León Santiago de los Caballeros"(the Most Noble and Loyal City of Leon of the Knights of Saint James)" of Nicaragua was founded in 1524 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba in a plain next to Lake Xolotlan.  León quickly became a bustling Spanish city, with prolific agricultural lands and economic opportunities to those newly arrived from across the seas; but after the murder of their Bishop (Fray Antonio Valdivieso) and the frequent earthquakes that threatened to destroy it, life in León soon turned distasteful, and the city was dismantled and abandoned in 1610.  León then became a New World Pompeii, drowned by the ashes of the majestic Momotombo.
The Archeological Site of "León Viejo", a World Heritage UNESCO site.  Nicaragua.
Momotombo watches over León Viejo.
The "Leoneses" then settled next to the city of the Subtiaba people, where in the 16th century the Dominican friar Bartolome de las Casas had protected and advocated for a humane treatment of the natives.

The Church of Saint John the Baptist, built in 1698.  Barrio de Subtiaba in Leon, Nicaragua.
The Sun god of the Subtiabas shines over the nave of the Church of Saint John the Baptist. 
Barrio de Subtiaba in Leon, Nicaragua
Surrounded by its fertile lands and proximity to the port of El Realejo, the new León flourished and soon became a cradle of wealth, culture, art, and architecture.  The city became divided in "barrios" whose life centered around the church (that gave name to the neighborhoods) and its square.  Private life, on the other hand, revolved around the cool, central courtyard onto which all the rooms of a house opened.  Houses in León looked inward, guarding their dwellers from the heat of the Tropics with thick masonry walls (sometimes over a meter in girth), and keeping the sun at bay with heavy doors and shutters:

Colonial house in the "Recolección" neighborhood.

Colonial house in the "La Recolección" neighborhood.
The austerity of León's domestic facades is contrasted with the delicate carving of the wood columns surrounding the courtyards, and the luxurious green of its interior gardens.

This colonial house has been transformed into an entertainment center, complete with restaurants, shops, and a movie theater.  León, Nicaragua.

This colonial house now houses the Fundación Ortiz Gurdián, León's premier art gallery.

Many important civic buildings were built in the years following the move from the lake shore, and in 1706 work for a new cathedral began according to the designs of Guatemalan architect Diego Jose de Porres y Esquivel in the Baroque style so prevalent at the time.

"The Most Distinguished and Royal Basilica and Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary".  A World Heritage UNESCO site in Leon, Nicaragua.

More on the Cathedral in my next post...

Other remarkable buildings from this period include the church of "Our lady of Mercy" (known today simply as "La Merced") erected in 1762, and the church of  "The Recollection" (known as "La Recolección) built in 1786.  Both buildings exemplify the exuberant colonial Baroque style that we have to come to associate with church architecture in Mexico, Guatemala, or Peru, and they stand in contrast to the sober elegance of the Cathedral.

The church of "La Merced" in Leon, Nicaragua.
The church of "La Recolección" in León, Nicaragua.
In the decade after the foundation of the second city, the first school was created with a curriculum of Castillian language, arithmetic, and christian doctrine.  Later in the century, in 1680, the first seminary (Colegio Tridentino San Ramón) was established, laying down the foundation for the National University and of León's long history as an eminent center of learning.

The door of the "Colegio Seminario Tridentino de San Ramón" in León, Nicaragua.
León's apogee as a cultural center happened in the 19th century, which witnessed the works of musicians like José de la Cruz Mena (1874-1907), and poets like Rubén Darío (1867-1916).  León's first university was founded in 1812 by the Courts of Cádiz, being the second university founded in Central America, and the last one established under the Spanish crown.  The university's first academies offered degrees in Roman Canon Law and Medicine, a tradition that continues to this day.

The National University's original seat today is used as the Administration Building.  León, Nicaragua.
The front court of the National University's Administration Building.  León, Nicaragua.
The Convent of San Francisco was founded in 1639 as the first such institution of the city, and in 1829, when a government decree ended recognition of all religious orders, the convent's buildings were bequeathed to the city and they became the prestigious Instituto National de Occidente.  Today the convent buildings no longer house the Institute, instead, a restoration that loving erased the ravages of earthquakes and war has transformed the convent into a hotel.

The Convent of San Francisco, now the "Hotel El Convento" in León, Nicaragua.

Today León is bustling university town, its streets ever full of the young, its courtyards full of legends, and its music hall and galleries full of national talent.  It was the beauty and gravitas of León's buildings that first inspired me to be an architect, and I believe that the lessons learned in those heavy walls as a child remain in me to this day.  Viva León, jodido!*

All images by Nadia Palacios Lauterbach.
*Lyrics of León's popular anthem "Corrido a León".


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