Suzie Black, Dave Vegas, Shambhala Foundacion, Photographer Vicki McLeod

 A fresh coat of paint 

Graffitti art in Palma, Shambhala Foundation, photographer, Vicki McLeod

Young people in Majorca face dismal prospects, in fact many of them have moved abroad to be able to start and further their careers. They are seen as the lucky ones by the contemporaries that they leave behind, at least they have the option to look to other countries for opportunities. What about the youth who have not yet passed their final exams or have such poor school records and low self-esteem that a lifetime on the dole and living with their families. With little education and without basic qualifications, opportunities are limited. In despair many youths turn to a life of drugs or crime as they don’t see any other way of earning a living. The realisation of this sad fact struck one woman so profoundly that she decided to do something about it. Suzie Black, who has teenage kids of her own, couldn’t bear to see these young adults with no prospects and set about organising a project to help them.

“I couldn’t stand the idea that these young people would not have the chance to shine,” so a year ago, Suzie decided to create a project which would intervene and support the young people who were struggling in order that they could finish their exams and develop their self-esteem and find their way in life.  So she gathered together certified trainers and teachers, a psychologist, and a martial arts expert and started to offer sessions with a private tutor who took the young people through their lessons and a martial arts teacher, between them they have instilled a sense of determination and confidence which was previously lacking in these young people who society had left out in the cold. She called it the Shambhala Foundation. “I think that not only do we have a responsibility to our youth, we also have a responsibility to protect the island from any further decline”.

But this kind of project isn’t cheap. Suzie admits that she has been on a very steep learning curve in the last year as she has faced head on some real and urgent problems in our society here in Majorca and found apathy and paperwork where she hoped she would find real enthusiasm and help. “I need a committee to help me fundraise, I need people who are able to get together and do events which will attract the kind of sponsors we need. I know that I can get orchestras involved for example but I physically don’t have the time to do that as well as keep the project on the go. I am hoping for some funding from the Spanish government or maybe European, but I’m going for private funding as well. We are a registered charity and every penny that is raised goes directly towards the costs that we incur to help to improve the lives of the youths in the programme. I want to expand it this year to include more people.”

You have to have a vision in order to achieve this sort of dream but you have to be tough as well, and sometimes Suzie has had to face some difficult choices. She won’t let a youth continue in the programme if they aren’t respecting it and she has asked a couple to leave.  As the project has developed so it has become apparent that they needed to move from the original gym they were based out of in Santa Ponsa into Palma which is where Kem Vegas comes in. Kem Vegas (or Dave to his mum) has a sister living here in Majorca and that is how the connection was made. Suzie was introduced to him and an idea emerged that perhaps when he was next over visiting his sister Petrina that he may spend a day with the youths working on some graffiti art for the new gym. And so a plan was hatched and on one (very) sunny Sunday they found themselves in the Can Valero industrial estate with quite a lot of paint.

Vicki McLeod, photographer

Kem for his part grew up in the seventies as graffiti art was emerging as a way to protest and to express oneself. Kem was a very shy young boy and there was something about the anonymity of the process of graffiti art which appealed to him. “I started writing (graffiti) after seeing some skinheads and their drawings. It gave me a kick to see other people appreciate my stuff but they didn’t know who had done it. It felt very powerful to be able to do that”. As he got older and more experienced and grew in confidence he slowly began to take credit for his art and eventually went public. As was the way (and still is) graffiti can also be seen as defacement of private property and more or less all of his friends got into trouble with the police but he managed to stay out of trouble (a fact his mum is probably very happy about).

Vicki McLeod, photographer

It seemed fitting that an older, wiser artist visited Majorca and led a day of painting and art for the Shambhala Foundation. “In reality painting a wall is superficial, it’s just a fresh coat of paint, but the process of painting the wall is more profound than that, it’s about staking your claim on something, saying I was here, and we ARE here, still trying to make a difference. I know the project works, we have had good results with the combination of private tutoring and the discipline of martial arts for the young people”.

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But the project won’t be able to continue or to grow without more people helping Suzie to make the difference. “I need help, I can’t do it all on my own, I’ve managed to keep it going for a year on private funds and lots of coffee, but now I have to get other people involved who want to change lives for the better as well.”

You can email her at suziepalma@hotmail.com

Kem is available for private commissions and can be contacted on kemtwone@yahoo.co.uk

UPDATE:

After posting this blog post our friends at IbizaSummerVillas reached out to offer their support in raising awareness about Suzie and Kem and have featured them in their monthly news letter. Cheers! What could YOU do to help out?

Photos and text by Vicki McLeod

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