Poet Laureate Richard Blanco Visits Ojalá Niños!
By Elsmarie Norby
The recent Writers’ Conference produced here in San Miguel by the Literary Sala offered five exciting days of keynote talks, workshops, and many other dynamic activities with big names from the literary world. It was attended by hundreds of people, local and international. Before the opening evening keynote address by Alice Walker, a group of children from the alternative education program, Ojalá Niños, in the rural community of San Miguel Viejo came up on the stage and sang a song about their activities, loving to read, and thanking the audience for helping them to read. The audience showed their delight and appreciation with thunderous applause.
Richard Blanco, the US poet laureate and inaugural poet for President Obama, was in the audience and later asked friends if he could meet me, founder of Ojalá Niños. We met the following morning and Blanco asked if he could visit the community to meet the children and share his story with them. The request was received with tears of joy, and arrangements were made for the next afternoon, Friday, when there would be a reading class at 3pm. We scrambled to inform more children and parents that there would be a gran sorpresa (big surprise) at Ojalá at 3pm on Friday.
A large group of children and parents gathered at the appointed time and waited for the big surprise. Blanco arrived with his friend, Bob Connor, and his agent/friend, Alison Granucci. They sat among the wide-eyed audience and Richard talked to them about his early childhood as a child of Cuban immigrants, his lack of books, his discovery of the world of literature, and becoming a poet. Ojalá’s drawing teacher, Juan Antonio, got up and helped him along to open up comments and questions from the shy children. It was a truly beautiful experience for everyone. That was followed by many hugs, smiles, and photos.
Four Ojalá teenagers who have become passionate stained glass artists were also there. I suggested that the visitors come to their workshop at her house and see some of their work. Each child showed one special piece. Again, among hugs and ooohs and aaahs, photos were taken, and Blanco, Connor, and Granucci reluctantly began to leave. Karen, one of the artists, whispered me, “May I give him my stained glass piece?” “Oh, that would be wonderful…and we’ll pay you for it,” I said. (These children sell their art at a local market and are earning the money.) “No!” Was Karen’s immediate response, with shoulders lifted in defiance of the suggestion. The photo above is of Richard holding Karen’s beautiful stained glass and Karen holding Blanco´s new book of poetry.
We may never see the blossoms from these planted seeds, but we can surely trust that they will bloom in ways we can’t imagine and may never know. Blessings abound! You may visit Ojalá Niños by contacting Betty López: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are invited to visit our website and consider a donation: www.ojala-ninos.org.