YOUNG ORAL NARRATORS FROM ECUADOR
… OR THE “UN CERRITO DE CUENTOS” GRANT
Michael was a typical kid from a working-class neighbourhood in Guayaquil: dark-skinned, small, skinny, with eyes like a pechiche (a black fruit with a brown gleam, a wonderful smell and a unique taste). He went to an ordinary school, where the teachers did what they could. One day, the head teacher told him that he should go to a workshop as a school representative, where he could learn how to tell stories. And because he was funny and the chatterbox in the class, who could be better than him to take on the challenge?
At first it was not easy for him to open up: living in that neighbourhood makes you mistrusting, and you learn to observe first and talk later. There were 30 other boys and girls there alongside him, making a real racket… As the days went on, their numbers reduced, as they realised what was required – you had to read, perform, play and have a lot of determination. Some went home, but Michael stayed.
When he went on up stage, he began a kind of flight, and we didn’t know how to bring him back down. His teachers remained stunned, because we were never sure of where he would take the story and in this unique world he had created, it was up to him to improvise, elaborate, illustrate… To fly.
Michael taught us so much. He brought us children with verbal diarrhoea, the hyperactives, the reserved guys, kids with tiny voices, kids with huge voices, the jokers and those who prefer to stand back and reflect… Today, all this confirms to us that we have created a supportive methodology of working with young people, so that they can learn how to create, construct and deconstruct a text; improvise a scene; say something aloud, and, above all, to affect through the work. To make an impact on those listening and to do so as an act of generosity.
We have been working for seven years and we are known as the main scholarship for the training of young oral narrators: UN CERRITO DE CUENTOS (we use the same name for our international meeting of cuenterit@s, or story-tellers, which we organise every year, but that’s another story). Currently, 12 boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 15 take part in the scholarship; we have 6 teachers and 6 shows; we have travelled in books and on planes; we have been invited to the Bogota Book Fair. The parents, from sheer enthusiasm, have organised a book club for older people. In 2013, as they reached the age of 15, our first three story-tellers graduated: today they are close to university entrance. Will they become professional artists? That, we do not know, but the sole fact of having brought them closer to the magic of words, of poetry, of the art of knowing how to listen and speak, is enough for us.
As for Michael, a couple of years ago his mother returned his grant, because his story-telling was a threat to the family finances. This is written in homage to him, so that he never forgets the sewn seed – so that one day, he can keep flying.
Ángela Arboleda is an oral narrator and director at the Cultural Imagination Corporation with whom she organizes the International Oral Narrators’ Meeting “Un Cerrito de Cuentos” and children’s story-telling “Un Cerrito de Cuentos”.