Ruth Helena Cuyan Quan, that is: she is a delightful blend of several heritages and to the ‘ninos de los calles’ otherwise known as street children, she is an angel.
Almost every weekend she appears in the Central Park of Antigua, armed with a large plastic bag adorned with the face of Snow White. Inside the capacious carryall are crayons, felt tip pens, brushes, small containers of water color paint base, paper and a few clip boards.
By day, during the week, she works as a physical therapist in Guatemala City, an hour away in the best of traffic. On Saturdays and Sundays, from about ten o’clock or so, she can be found on her favorite wooden park bench, facing Antigua’s famous fountain. The street urchins arrive early, with eager smiles.
Ruth is a delightful woman of thirty with a shy smile, long black hair and the exotic eyes of her Chinese ancestry. To the street urchins who gather at her feet, she’s Quan Yin, the goddess of compassion. The children usually number at least a dozen. There’s Maria, Feliciana, Antonio and a Domingo or two, who shine shoes for two quetzals (24 cents). There is no pushing or shoving and they quietly take their places at her feet on the concrete, each with a clipboard, a piece of paper, and their crayon, pen or brush of choice. If they want to use water colors, a few small paper cups of various hues may be scattered about them as they sprawl in the morning sun.
There is no form or structure: this isn’t an art class, teaching by any method other than letting the children do what they want to do. The only critique might be an occasional suggestion to add more color.
The art materials are free, at least to the children. She gives of her time and encouragement equally freely. She believes that the “children who work have the right to enjoy their childhood, while others think that the life of a child isn’t that hard and she wants them to enjoy a moment of rest”. (in Espanol, of course). In whatever language, her motives and heart are in the right place. To what anyone else would call ‘underprivileged children,’ she ministers to their simple lives, with only a rainbow of colors from her bag of weekly miracles. To the 5, 6 and 7 year old children who eke out their dirt-poor/dirt floor lives from day to day, she’s the Angel of Antigua. At the end of the morning they’ll each have something to brighten their lives, a bit of art from the park, a smile from Ruth and the next weekend to look forward to.