Life skills hidden in arts and crafts

Krista with VT

Krista (far right) with several Vision Team members and Pablo, construction staff member.

by Krista Lengacher, hospitality coordinator

I love arts and crafts. Not the scrapbooky, kitchy cute kind of arts and crafts, but the useful, looks-like-they-could-be-store-bought kind of arts and crafts. It’s not very often that one has the opportunity to combine her hobby and her job, but I was lucky enough to be given that very opportunity through Common Hope.

My real profession (no, I’m not a trained hospitality coordinator or professional blogger) is speech-pathology. Beginning in January I took over as “teacher” of an occupational therapy class that was originally developed for young adults with moderate to severe cognitive and/or learning disabilities.

Because special education in Guatemala does not exist in public schools, often times students with special needs end up leaving school at a young age. This class at Common Hope was designed for students who no longer have the option of traditional education. The idea is to give the students support with concepts that are functional, like problem solving skills, planning, measuring, organizing, sequencing and basic daily functional tasks like money management, social skills and personal hygiene. It sounds in-depth, but really all of these “lessons” are slyly hidden in arts and crafts!

We meet two half days a week — sewing one day and making jewelry the other. Both activities allow the students to practice functional skills and make a product that is later sold to Common Hope visitors. In addition, it is a great opportunity for developing their communication skills, provides them with a boost of self-confidence and offers a bit of independence that they probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Every few weeks we hold a sale for our Vision Teams and volunteers. A small portion of the proceeds go back into the class funds (for purchasing more materials), but the majority goes home with the students so they can contribute to their family’s income. Their families are quite good about letting the student make decisions on how to use their money. Most of them end up purchasing clothes for themselves, which in turn helps out their parents. In the past, students have saved for big items like a bed.

While my class is small at the moment (only three or four students), it’s great fun. I get to combine two things that I’m passionate about and use my Spanish (much more than I do in Hospitality).

Would you like to meet a couple of students? Let me introduce you!


Sonia works on a jewelry project.

This is Sonia (right). While she prefers the jewelry making class, Sonia works really hard at sewing as well. Recently she used her earnings to help her mom purchase a new huipil (an indigenous blouse for women), since her mom is always spending the family’s extra money on Sonia and her two sisters. Isn’t that considerate?


Nery works on a sewing project.

Now, meet Nery (below). Nery is a wiz in both classes but really prefers the sewing. He is really good at following directions and paying attention to details. It is my dream that one day Nery will be given an opportunity to work as an apprentice to a tailor.

We really try hard to come up with ideas that are unique when it comes to our sewing class. Since textiles are so abundant here in Guatemala, we want to offer something that is not seen everywhere else. Most of our products are made from traditional woven indigenous fabrics, since it’s so beautiful and that’s what people normally prefer.

Check out some of our recent sewing projects below. The latest Vision Team nearly cleaned us out, so we’ll be back to work trying to beef up our inventory! We’re always looking for unique, practical, fairly simple sewing projects, so if you have any ideas please send them our way!

OT class products

Products made by Common Hope's OT class include hot pads, microwaveable heating pads filled with rice and cardamom, and re-usable coffee cozies!

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3 Responses to Life skills hidden in arts and crafts

  1. Chris McLean May 19, 2010 at 11:52 am #


    I used to be a long term volunteer at New Hope back in 04/05 and as is the case, as you well know, regardless of a volunteers actual job description, you often end up doing a little bit of everything. However specifically i was charged with the task of setting up the first ‘Educación Especial’ class at New Hope. Special Ed is not a term we use in Australia, as it segregates people from the mainstream but, that’s what is was called at New Hope. Anyway, I worked closely with the teachers and psychologists at both sites and with one of your predecessors who ran the class that you are now running. My job was to identify learning disorders and intellectual disabilities amongst New Hope students and devise individualized tutoring programs for each. I don’t know if there is still a special ed class at New Hope, but I can tell you that personally witnessing the joy, purpose and independence generated from your class for its students, was instrumental in showing me back then that very little is impossible and that from little things, big things grow..

    Keep up the great work,
    Chris McLean.

  2. Dave Schmid May 19, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your story Krista. All the jewelry I bought last summer went to grateful nieces. Maybe it’s time to come back for some more! !Que sigas tu asi!

  3. Sandra Rickon May 21, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    Good for you! I was waiting in 2000 to adopt my two kids from Guatemala (got caught up in Y2K snafu) and worked with the preschoolers doing hearing screenings and with a child who had a severe hearing loss. Also worked in a special ed class they had going there at the time. I was a SLP and wished I could have done more. Since then I have had a TBI, but someday when my kids are grown it would be great to return. Bless you for what you are doing. The need is great and the workers are few!

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