Interview with Yacep Charris: The Story Behind Biblo-Art
Yacep was born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia. Since he was a kid, he channeled his passion for art and social justice through various initiatives and campaigns. He began working with Father Cyrillus as a leader in Villa Caracas two years ago. Yacep developed and led the Biblo-Art Initiative, which we hope you will support by donating through this link.
Who is Fr. Cyrillus? Father Cyrillus is a priest from Amsterdam who devoted his life to helping strengthen traditionally impoverished neighborhoods in Barranquilla, Colombia (including Villa Caracas-a Venezuelan refugee settlement).
The Biblo-Art Project: Biblo-Art will be a mobile library filled with books that kids will read, cameras, and art supplies. The children of Villa Caracas will make their voices heard as they grow artistically through workshops conducted by Yacep and other leaders. Some workshops would include how to reuse bottle caps to build structures and accessories, sew face masks, photography and dance classes, and workshops teaching literature and writing.
Biblo Art will also partner with Voices of Migrants in administering and promoting Click Tutoring , focused on teaching English to the Villa Caracas population. They will administer the program and supply workbooks and resources needed throughout tutoring.
The following questions were conducted through a virtual interview with Yacep.
What is your journey? How has it shaped your initiatives?
My story is relatively out of the ordinary from a very young age. I was part of a dance group at the age of 6 where I channeled my energies to the sound of puya and mapalé. As time passed, my passion flourished by learning diverse forms of art, including learning to play percussion instruments. My passion for social justice and community work began when I was a part of a small group of young people called CLUB DE FEIS (Training in the integral education of the South West). Being in this environment allowed me to strengthen many qualities and values that gave me the courage to take a stand in the face of injustice and serve my community in any way I can. Art has given me a voice–it is how I express myself and have a voice in a society where smuggling, gangs, and violence are common. Because of one person who believed in me and my passion for art, I can be the artist and leader I am today. After believing in me, and hearing my ideas, Father Cyrillus gave me the courage to truly follow my dreams. Through breakdance, graffiti, rap, and other elements of psychosocial intervention and entrepreneurship, we managed to obtain economic resources to help our families and bring various forms of art to our community. Having started as the Young People With A Purpose group, our hard work, perseverance, and success has continued through the group, now known as KILLA JOVEN. Through my voice, I hope to inspire and support other members in my community to develop their own.
How did you meet Father (Fr.) Cyrillus?
Although I had already heard of Father Cyrillus for a long time, it was not until I was going through a challenging stage of my life that I met Father Cyrillus. I believe that he was sent directly by God to give me hope and a desire to move forward despite the challenges I was going through. He gave me his hand and offered me his friendship and trust by inviting me to be part of his team, which has allowed me to grow as a person and as a professional in life. Today I can multiply his teachings and help anyone because he helped me without regard to my background. I hope to extend the same helping hand to many people in need.
How did you find your passion for art? What forms of art do you connect with?
My passion for art developed as a haven and a desire to get ahead regardless of the difficulties I had to face to achieve my dreams and goals while having a voice. I consider myself to be a person capable of learning various forms of art; however, I am significantly passionate about specifically breakdance and photography (the visual arts). I believe that art is one of the most powerful forms of sensitizing human beings. Art doesn’t judge you by your social status, race, political beliefs, or religion. Instead, it gives you a voice, and it has the power of transcending boundaries, stereotypes, and obstacles.
What does the Biblo-Art Project mean to you? What do you hope will come out of this project? How will it help Villa Caracas?
To me, Biblo-Art isn’t simply an opportunity to creatively learn different forms of art—it is a helping hand. Biblo-Art is the hand Father Cyrillus extended to me when he heard me and believed in me. It is an opportunity to dignify, strengthen, and empower the Venezuelan refugee youth in Villa Caracas. Through Biblo-Art, we will give them the tools they need to not only grow as individuals but to spread what they’ve learned to their communities and become a support system for them as well. We also hope to use this project as a powerful form of integration between Venezuelan and Colombian youth by completing lessons, activities, and projects together.
In reflecting on your time working with the Villa Caracas community, what is the one takeaway or message you would like Colombians to know about the refugee community? What would you like the global community to know about immigration?
As a Colombian myself, I wish I could tell my fellow citizens that we need to learn the importance of empathy in the face of xenophobia. We need to stop being bystanders when we hear that someone isn’t enough because of their background, journey, or culture. As neighbors, we have to learn different ways to transcend the borders we have created through stereotypes. I want the global community to understand the many meanings behind the status of being an immigrant. Although some people have the privilege to be immigrants by choice, for many that is not their reality. As I’ve seen while working in Villa Caracas, leaving your home and facing the identity crisis of not having a true home is incredibly frustrating–especially when you aren’t welcome where you go while trying to survive. Next time some of us have the privilege to travel and cross a border, I invite you to think about how crossing a border isn’t as easy for refugees.
We hope you'll consider donating to Yacep's Biblo-Art Project through the link below! Any contribution would help, and thank you from the VOM and Villa Caracas Teams.