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Meet Sandra Ary of Project Mancora in Del Mar

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sandra Ary.

Sandra, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was raised in a big community style house in a nice suburb of Los Angeles, called Arcadia. I was raised in a large-community style living, as I come from a big Catholic Family (my father is the last of 17 children), I was taught from a young age to share and contribute to my community as this was an important value to us all. An important influential person to me was my Uncle Richard, who served in the Peace Corps.

I remember from a young age his black and white Polaroids he shared with me of his days in the 80’s serving as a Carpenter in Africa. Is all I knew at that time, is that was going to be me someday too, I dreamed of this moment to live in a far-off land, contributing and sharing my knowledge and selfless love for other people who were raised in another culture from me and speaking another language. It was around this age, that I began taking Art Classes at my local Community Center which also helped me to express my ideas regarding my environment about religion, society and certainly provoked my imagination!

Throughout my childhood and youth, I spent much of my time, dedicated to my family unit working on art and contributing to my community at large by Volunteering for social movements that really inspired me! Throughout elementary, Jr high and even high school, I won many awards for creative writing, drawing, painting and photography. It was very clear from a young age that I was slowly developing into this field as an artist and social action leader and at some point, this was going to be my life’s design.

From there, as I began my studies in college I became profoundly affected by a teacher, artist and activist named William Leslie, whom also was an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). His classes and guidance molded me even further to be a social action leader, promoting kindness, education and world travel. I studied serious issues under his guidance, involving world hunger, global perspectives and equality/human rights.

This, along with my unique family background immediately catapulted my sincere interest with Philosophy and also World Religions, in order to understand our culture and history as human beings and how these things affect our lifestyles and lifestyle choices as well! From there I applied for a Community Teaching position with the United States Peace Corps. After waiting an entire 2 years to enter this service, as this was during the time of the 2008 housing crash, I finally got stationed in the mysterious and adventurous Peru! What a wild thought that was, arriving in the country I had barely any Spanish skills and never really spent too much time outside of my California bubble.

After a couple months of on-site training, the Peace Corps sends you off to an unknown land, only to rely on the love and kind nature of those in which you are servicing. They say this is ‘the hardest job you will ever love, and let me say wholeheartedly I can certainly attest to that! The hardest, but best experience I have ever had in my life…. given the opportunity to live and serve the humblest of humans and understand what life is like in a completely different place, especially compared to a place where I grew up like Los Angeles!! During my service, I used art as a medium to connect with the locals and help educate their children and also promote their businesses. This was one of the most fascinating experiences along with learning all about the unique Latin Peruvian culture.

From there I traveled much of South America learning about and discovering new places. Leading me to live and work in Argentina for another year thereafter. After all these experiences, travels and sharing beautiful moments as a not-so-foreign foreigner, there was only ONE place that I always went back home to. That place is called Mancora, located in the top northern shores of Peru this is a small beach/surf town, just below Ecuador that has truly created a name for itself, that not being difficult as it is a seriously beautiful tropical paradise. I love the people of this town, they are always so welcoming, kind and friendly, I spent many years back and forth-always staying as much time as I possibly could-just soaking up all the good vibes.

A few years ago, as climate change has developed and become a real reality for many places; Mancora has also been affected. The weather and climate has essentially stayed the same, however, the fear itself of being struck by El Nino has caused many people to stay away, consequently leaving the locals of this little pueblo out of jobs, as much of their work is dependent on tourism. Out of care and concern for these villagers, here is where I developed my concept for Project Mancora which is a grassroots project painting murals in the most trafficked parts of Mancora promoting tourism and all the natural beauty which Mancora has to offer year round.

There are a number of wonderful activities and local events you can participate in this small town; ranging from zip-lining, dry desert Eco reserve tours, natural hot springs, horseback riding on the beach, swimming with the sea turtles, kite-surfing, viewing the whales and many dolphins which migrate yearly to birth their children. When I first stumbled across Mancora, I fell in love with the natural beauty and all it has to offer.

Many of my more-traveled Peace Corps volunteer friends said I will find tons and tons of other beaches in Latin America that are similar to Mancora, but the truth is, even after traveling for 5 years since I have never found a place so near and dear to my heart that inspires me enough to dedicate my time, heart and sincere efforts to. I am honored to express myself and artistic abilities for a place as deserving and I can only hope that the locals feel the same way about me!

My departure date for Peru is in late August and today for today I dedicate my days and nights learning as much as I can in order to ensure that this project is successful. With the help of contributors and fans out there reading this, we hope to make a name for ourselves and the surf village Mancora ….. “Painting Today, for a Beautiful Tomorrow!”

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Well, the hardest struggle was the first part of the Peace Corps because I really had no idea about cultural differences, language barriers and there were no super concrete expectations laid down; as the service of each volunteer is completely unique to that of its own!

However, now that I have the language down pat, foreign travel as an independent female (this can be a serious challenge in the Latin countries) and I have a huge audience of locals and tourists alike from Mancora and other such walks of life…… I’d say the hardest part of the challenge I have is finding support here in the states. My project is funded through grants which pay for the materials necessary to move the project forward, however, I am currently struggling seeking financial support for my travels and paying for housing/food during the 6-month duration of this project.

I am seeking assistance in this regard from the local municipality, however, it is just a waiting game. And so, while I wait, I work- I paint- I create so that the people can see this may be a struggle but it comes sincerely from my heart, and there is nothing that can take that away! So, yes, the struggle is real, but so very worth every blood, sweat and tear that I have coming out of this body.

Please tell us about Project Mancora.
I am most proud of my Social Projects I have been creating essentially since childhood. Growing up in a large community I was always taught a wide range of skill sets so as to make myself useful being around such a large family and all!

As a teenager, I was very motivated at 14 I created my own neighborhood babysitting business in which I would teach art classes to the children as a motivator for the parents to choose me from the other surplus amount of babysitters around town. I am also the oldest of 7 children, but the only child from my mother and my father. This taught me flexibility in a unique family dynamic such as my own. These skill sets which I developed since a very young age gave me the stamina, experience and self-drive to create my own Project, uniquely designed to create, promote and develop tourism in this particular of the world.

My next step for Project Mancora is to initiate it as a Non Profit Organization so that we can create a Resource Center for the youth and other local business entrepreneurs so they may have the ability to create and develop their own projects in Mancora, as there is really an abundance of growth and development to be had here. I recently got certified as a Grant Writer (through the Grant Writing Specialists of San Diego) in order to fund the project through using grants and by then having it molded into an NGO servicing the people and tourists of Mancora itself!

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
If I had to start all over again, I would have started sooner! There is so much to do and I constantly find myself outsourcing and the biggest challenge to that, in particular, is limited funding. If I had more financial support would be able to move and develop this concept/idea/organization more fluidly!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Maycon Lopez Chavez, David Casanova (Mancora Entertainment)

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