In 2015, I took my first trip to see the monarchs at their overwintering grounds in Mexico. I wanted to experience the sight of tens of thousand of monarchs at a time, roosting and flying. But I was also on a mission. I learned that there was a shortage of monarch souvenirs for the tourists, and that unemployment near the sanctuaries was high. Poverty is the main reason people cut the trees the monarchs rely on. Putting all that together, I decided to teach people in the town of Macheros, to paint monarch butterflies on rocks to sell to the tourists who visited the nearby sanctuary, Cerro Pelon. I wanted the community to prosper financially and emotionally, so they they would continue to protect the forest, and not have the need to cut the trees. I bought hundreds of dollars of art supplies, and held two workshops there, one for 60 kids at the school, and another for adults.
The project has been enormously successful. The kids earn money mostly for the school, and some for themselves. Most of them had never had a paint brush in their hands. Art is not taught in the school there; there is no money for it. Kids report being happier at school. They are learning business principles, and they have the joy of expressing themselves through art.
Save Our Monarchs Foundation contributed to the success of the project by offering to sell the rocks on their website. More than 500 rocks were sold, most of them packed personally by SOM founder, Ward Johnson. The profits have been used to supply paint, rocks and brushes to the school. Journey North monarch butterfly reporter Estela Romero oversaw the project in Macheros, distributing funds, buying supplies, and reporting back to us.
In a short period of time, the students became quite skilled. Purchasers were delighted with their souvenirs, many of them displaying them in the Facebook group The Beautiful Monarch, created by Holli Webb Hearn.
This season, individuals and tour groups, having heard about the quality of the rocks, made a point to go to the school to purchase them. The students could hardly keep up with the demand! It became clear that the time had come to pull away, and give the wonderful people in Macheros their independence to sell the rocks as they choose.
The school has used the proceeds from the rocks to go on a field trip to Mexico City, and enjoy a well earned year end party. In addition, the students were able to go to a regional art fair last year to proudly display their artwork, and be inspired by the best local artists. What’s more, they recently lead workshops to other groups! This is what I had hoped for, that rock painting would spread far and wide. My vision is that one day, tourists will see monarch painted rocks where ever they travel in Mexico, and that it will be the souvenir of choice for all those who go to experience the sanctuaries.
I have good news for those who would still like have a beautiful piece of the migration experience. Artist Ana Moreno, who paints a variety of different styles including the ones to the left, will be happy to ship you her work. Contact her at the address below the rocks. She can send you photos so you can choose your own rocks. Who knows, you might even be able to convince her to send you some of the kids’ rocks. 🙂