When students come to us, many of them have old wounds from a lifetime of pain. They deal with rejection, drug addiction, social isolation, low levels of education, and in some cases, low levels of self esteem. In Puerto Rico, one of the most time-honored art forms is wood working. The love for folk art made with the rare form of Puerto Rican mohogany known as caoba crosses all socio-economic lines. Caoba is at the heart of Puerto Rican folk culture. It is carved into sculptures of the Three Wise Men, who are ubiquitous at Christmas time. It is made into saints, dominoes tables, signs, Taíno symbols, animals, the treasured coquí frog, cups and bowls, and so many other things. (Caoba is a protected species and can’t be harvested commercially, but felled trees from the recent hurricanes and other accidents are sold by responsible lumber companies who are licensed to recycle this wood.) Beautiful handicrafts made from this wood can be found everywhere from roadside stands and cultural festivals, to museums.
So when we equipped this wood shop for our students, we knew the response would be enthusiastic! Our students – many of whom show amazing promise as artists – love putting their hands to work. This wood working helps them feel close to their roots as they learn traditional handicraft skills. Plus, as they present family and loved ones with meaningful pieces of art they made themselves, hearts open. Healing happens. It is amazing to see the smiles.
In the photos below, the director of our woodworking shop, Luis, holds a traditional Spanish galleon that was made by a student. The student presented it to his astonished family. He thanked them for their prayers and support as he continues strong in his fight. With their help, the help of Teen Challenge, and most importantly, the help of Christ, he’ll graduate soon from Teen Challenge of Puerto Rico and go on to live a victorious life free of drug addiction!