When Sarah Ameigh flew to Honduras in August she carried two suitcases and a carry-on bag. The carry-on held her clothes and personal items, while the suitcases were crammed with fabric. Intended for the women of Tegucigalpa, the capital city, the fabric was destined for use in sewing and crafting small items such as table runners, scarves and tote bags the women sell in order to support their families.
In Honduras, poverty is nearly as rampant as the crime caused by roving gangs – primarily fueled by the drug cartels. With many men caught up in illegal gang activity, or busy working harsh jobs, few children see their fathers; often, siblings don’t even have the same mother and father, Ameigh described. As such, education and empowerment to learn skills that can sustain a family become critical. Indeed, each of the 13 other travelers also flying with Ameigh filled their own suitcases with other supplies, medicine or craft materials needed to benefit the schoolchildren and families they came to serve with the “Border Buddies” mission organization.
The myriad of socio-economic issues facing the families and children in Honduras was a fascinating study for Ameigh, who is completing a bachelor’s degree in social work through Keuka College, studying each week at Corning Community College through the Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP).
“Social work is all about human service. One of the main goals is to be out there and help promote change and social change,” she said, explaining that the primary purpose of the service trip was to add four new classrooms and a kitchen to a school building used for 250 children ages four through 12. The trip was sponsored through Ameigh’s home church, Victory Highway Wesleyan Church in Painted Post, and was the 30th visit in nine years that members of the church have made to that city and its mission outposts, she said.
According to Ameigh, all 250 schoolchildren had been “plastered in” to just six classrooms and most had no place to eat at school, one of the few places that can help counter the poverty at home. Even so, there are few books, but because the children have no better comparison, they are simply happy to be there, she said.
Like many other locales within the city, the school grounds were gated because of the threat of gang violence. According to Ameigh, the threat was so strong that mission team members were not allowed to go near the gates as they worked on the building repairs in order to ensure their safety. The team members heard that gang initiations often require killing another gang member or a personal family member and learned that only one in three children is safe from the threat of assault.
Building school rooms for the kids provides a safe place to learn, so they can get off the streets and have a good job,” said Ameigh, who missed one week of her ASAP classes to participate in the trip, but had the full support of her professors, Susan Grover Vanpelt and Doyle Pruitt.
While Ameigh completed a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2002, after a brief stint in the banking industry, she switched jobs and started working for the Steuben County ARC. Ten years later, the passion for her work prompted her to enroll in the Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP) for a bachelor’s degree in social work. Ultimately, she hopes to complete an MSW degree and become a licensed clinical social worker with a focus in counseling, she said.
On the first full day of service, the mission team set to work transforming the shell into new schoolrooms. While Ameigh helped sand walls, then prime, paint and sand some more, others including her older sister Bethany worked on the roof of the building. As the week, and work, continued, the team – which ranged from two 15-year-old boys to adults in their 50s – made visits to other local schools in the afternoons. While a few women would instruct native women in the sewing and craft techniques, others such as Ameigh would keep the children busy playing games such as soccer, or learning their own arts and crafts.
In contrast to Sarah’s two suitcases stuffed with fabric, Bethany Ameigh carried plastic “melting beads” in her two suitcases, Sarah said. Gathered with string, the beads are melted with an iron into fun shapes, Sarah Ameigh said. The two sisters learned that balloon animals were also quite a draw and that Honduran children have a funny habit of coating their bodies with the colored dust from sidewalk chalk decorating the ground.
Citing her course in human behavior, Ameigh said much of life success is impacted by the environment a child grows up in. The missionary couple hosting the team from New York’s southern tier emphasized especially to men in the group “to be sure to spend time with the kids because fathers aren’t really part of their lives,” said Ameigh.
“Unless something intervenes, they’ll end up in the same situation as their family [members],” she said.
Recalling how the missionary couple described the rescue of one young man, previously living a life of crime and violence, Ameigh said the trip helped show her the value of the career she’s pursuing.
“He’d leave after school Friday, party the whole weekend and come back on Monday. But he’s now part of the youth group, has to show up two nights a week, hold to a certain grade standard, and [sell food] around the barrio to make money,” she described. “The missionaries are saving one life of a child on the streets and now these kids are working and going into a trade there,” she said, comparing the trade system of Honduras to the colleges of America.
“The mission of social work is to help empower people to make change in their own lives – we’re not doing it for them,” Sarah said, citing the women and their training in sewing and crafts as one example.
Despite the shock of the extreme degree of poverty and crime, the children were endearing, Sarah said, recalling one little girl named Jamie who brought Sarah’s sister Bethany a sugar wafer one morning – a small treat that must have cost the little girl nearly all she had – but was so distraught she did not have another for Sarah that she ran, crying, all the way to the store, in order to buy a second treat to share.
“I hated to take it, but they said you should so that these children can learn the empowerment of giving, too,” Sarah Ameigh said. “It was weird coming back because of what we saw. It’s dirty, it’s dangerous and you come back and you’re in culture shock. You look at your house and say, I don’t need this. I don’t need that. It changes you.”
As an artist for nearly 30 years, Debra Fisher shares stories – but she shares them in visual narratives, not necessarily written ones.
Among her many multimedia creations are trifold and quad-fold “books,” which can feature any number of colors, drawings, prints, and other artistic details inspired or culled from the pages of her life. Several of Fisher’s “books” and a massive installation work she calls The Waning October Moon are currently on display through Nov. 8 at Keuka College.
The title of the large work is also the title of the exhibit that is featured in the Lightner Gallery, housed in Lightner Library. An artist reception will be held Tuesday, Oct. 23, from 4:30- 6 p.m. Both the reception and exhibit are free and open to the public.
A few years ago, Fisher spent four months in the hospital, and it was not a pleasant experience.
“They poke and prod and pull you apart,” said the Spencerport resident who leveraged the experience and turned it into “The Predator Series,” a collection of prints of animals in attack mode. Each print features an inset of images from the classic cookbook “The Joy of Cooking,” which she considers humorous takes on Mother Nature and what people do for food sources.
“Man being preyed upon is the bottom line for that [work,] and myself – the object of investigation,” said Fisher, who has taught printmaking, multimedia and drawing for 13 years at SUNY Brockport. Other prints, drawings, and multimedia creations are also featured in the show.
It took two days for Fisher to complete the installation of her signature work in the gallery, and visitors will see a wash of antiqued yellow painted directly on the gallery walls, on which she has displayed three-dimensional objects, including 10 individual prints – of a boy, a boat, birds, and more. Each print was created when Fisher etched the selected work onto copper plates, then inked them. Prints were then mounted on wooden frames with hand-marbled paper around the edges, lacquered in a thin coat of beeswax.
Fisher calls herself a fan of the alternative print-making process. In addition to copper plating, she teaches gum prints, inking, and stamping. Stamps are part of the signature installation, and across the walls of the installation, visitors will see hand-stamped leaves and scarabs, the term for a dung beetle that some in the Egyptian culture believed offered good luck, or a sign of safe passage to the afterlife. Perhaps creating a feel as if entering a room, the installation also features a pair of women’s shoes from the 1940s rested atop a small ,three-dimensional staircase, mantel ledges mounted on the walls, and drapings of coffee-colored fabric swaths with prints of birds in flight.
“It’s déjà vu, the sense you’ve been somewhere before, lived this way, the ebb and flow of life situations and experiences you may have,” Fisher said, adding that even the imperfections of the gallery wall, with its nooks and crannies, fit the essence of her work.
Some of the images of the 10 prints contained within Fisher’s installation are replicas of idyllic landscape images from a print created between 1700 and 1800. Others have been culled from old books, perhaps those with engravings, or from nature. Another print, of a couple’s hands, was pulled from a famous work, “The Wedding,” by Jan Van Eyck, she said.
The Keuka exhibition is the second time Fisher has installed her signature work, and she enjoys discovering how it evolves each time it is recreated.
“The installation is ongoing … and I [already] have ideas for the next time. I have some really large bee etchings that will be mounted on thick cardboard and hovering above the wall. I will also include an elaborately framed etching of a dung beetle,” she said, noting she may add a print of her mother to the work. “One response I had from a fellow printmaker and artist was: ‘This could go on forever – you could work on this your whole life.’”
Visitors to the show will have the opportunity to purchase handmade sketchbooks Fisher has created. The covers are crafted with prints from the exhibition and the sketchbooks feature an exposed spine with coptic bindings (ie: chain-stitched by hand). These handmade creations are available for $25.
The gallery is open during library hours, which can be found at: http://lightner.keuka.edu.
Red, black and white clothing designs fashioned out of more recycled goods than just fabric. A giant animal cage adorned with photos and paintings of rescue dogs, with a door allowing a person to step inside. A bronzed sculpture of a hawk, wings stretched out before it takes flight.
All three art projects are the work of a trio of graduating seniors at Keuka College and can be seen as part of the student art show, which runs through May 30 in Lightner Gallery, and also features additional works by underclassmen. And all three seniors are clear that their respective artwork makes a statement they want others to “hear.”
With her collection of red, black and white dresses, Crystal Cochell of Trumansburg is protesting in color and form the waste she observes in the environments around her, especially corporations. Nicole Groth of Henrietta showcases her work with humane societies through black and white photos of puppies playing in the yard of an animal shelter and color paintings of dogs adopted into families she knows, including her own. And Stephanie Lange of Apalachin is eager to invite interaction from the public — students, faculty and visiting community members — with the bronze installation she hopes might become the first of several sculptures to adorn the campus. (more…)