Pelota de trapo: the contest that brought us back to our origins

In a virtual gathering, the awards ceremony for the Pelota de Trapo [Rag Ball] contest was held. Over nine months of intense work and using photography, more than a hundred children and young people from 11 countries have participated in the contest.
Pope Francis himself, the driving force behind the initiative, admired the winning photos, which will be displayed in a travelling exhibition beginning at the Scholas headquarters in the Vatican City and continuing throughout the five continents.

If you were asked about how to capture ‘the origin’ Where would you look?…. What if you were in the middle of a pandemic, or a war?»

More than a hundred children and young people from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, the United States, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Mozambique, Paraguay and Venezuela faced these and other challenges with creativity and enthusiasm, responding to the call to participate in «Pelota de Trapo, la vuelta al origen» [Rag Ball, going back to the origins], a contest entrusted to Scholas by Pope Francis in 2019 and which held its virtual awards ceremony on 24 November.

During the awards ceremony for this contest’s first edition, dedicated to photography, Scholas acknowledged the works by which the jury was «most touched», an ending that had the taste of a beginning, as a new edition of the contest was announced for 2021, this time under another artistic expression to be confirmed, following the will of Pope Francis.

A total of 74 photo essays from 11 countries were selected. The assignment: each essay had to be made up of five photos that could be used to build a narrative of the «origin». But the origin of what? Of the world, of their lives, of their families, of their feelings, of what they were discovering in thinking, feeling and doing, a seemingly ambiguous concept yet one that appealed precisely to one of the key ideas of Scholas’ pedagogical approach, namely that «from the origin we begin to glimpse other directions, to perceive life in its original state and to envelop it in a language that will teach us a new world.»

Collage featuring young participants and some of the images by which the jury felt «most touched» at the Scholas Occurrentes photo contest «Pelota de Trapo, la vuelta al origen» («Rag ball, going back to the origins»).

The task was not an easy one, so for months the Scholas content team, thanks to the innovation brought about by the pandemic, set about the task of developing virtual workshops on introduction to photography, composition, awareness of photographic resources and digital tools, among other subjects. The results are evident.

«The future belongs to those who live in the beauty of their dreams»

The jury was integrated by well-known personalities from the world of photography and image: Reza Deghatti, famous photographer and human rights activist; and Gaetano Vallini, journalist and photographer for the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, a media outlet that has supported the contest since its inception. These members of the jury were joined by young Scholas volunteers who have found a passion for photography, such as Rogelio Grande, from Scholas Mexico, and Noelia Verguizas, from Scholas Spain. The jury was completed by Argentinean photographer and artist Teresa Leveratto, a member of the Scholas educational content team.

Reza Deghatti, who recently arrived in Baku after a month on the front line of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces, did not want to miss the opportunity to send a moving message of hope:

«I have witnessed a lot of suffering on this side of the world… Which led me to think about this Pelota de Trapo contest, in which I was honoured to be part of. For many months I have seen the effort and work of all the young people of Scholas. It is my hope that there will be more projects like this one. What you have done is to give a voice to those who are voiceless; giving them a voice, a possibility to show their photos, which are their thoughts. Each photo is not just a picture: it comes from inside… you are showing your dream. I saw the dream of many of them, beautiful dreams.»

Reza, as a member of the contest’s jury and who has worked for National Geographic, Time, Paris Match and other media outlets, in addition to his ongoing work with refugees, youth and disadvantaged groups, sent a message that connected with the Scholas community: «When I am teaching in favelas, in difficult places and in refugee camps, I always repeat this to all children, that the future belongs to those who live in the beauty of their dreams. I wish you all to continue with your dreams and believe in your dreams,» he concluded.

Gaetano Vallini, from the Holy See, also had words for all the participants in the competition: «The gaze of young people is much more sensitive than that of adults; it is capable of being surprised, of seeing and observing that which we are often unable to see. Through the works of these young artists I have been able to observe, to understand what concerns and affects them in their reality, their present, their family, their school… In short, I have been able to observe human relationships. In each of the works, they have proposed different and truly original ideas,» he said.

«We ask ourselves ‘what is the origin?’ I was impressed to see that the kids were so accurate and had such good ideas when it came to capturing their images, and to see how they were linked together. Incredible things happened to me that even I hadn’t felt in this beautiful world of photography,» said Rogelio Grande, a young Mexican who discovered his passion for photography years ago in one of the educational experiences of «Play, art and thought» that Scholas developed and continues to develop in Mexico.

«It was a little difficult to find myself at first with all these photographic essays, but once inside each folder, with each look, with each world that begins to appear there, one’s own look grows bigger and bigger. It is a very enriching experience, discovering worlds while your own is growing», said Teresa Leveratto, for whom it was also a challenge to reach the final verdict.

The most touching works

The jury, after deliberating and undergoing several blind selection phases (the young people had to send their essays under a pseudonym), decided to award two special mentions and a first and second prize. Chance— and, undoubtedly, their outstanding participation during the workshops on the way to the contest and their commitment—dictated that these four positions fell to young people of the same nationality, Colombian, although from different regions of the coffee- growing country.

First Prize: “Invisible Steps”

The first prize went to the photo essay entitled «Invisible Steps» by 21-year-old Alexandra Betancur from Medellín, Colombia. This recognition was granted, according to the jury’s report, «because it reflects a philosophy, a thought in the work. It shows that she has stopped with the camera and decided what to focus on. It is an essay that questions us.»

Alexandra, who was online via videoconference, expressed her gratitude to the jury and explained the motivations behind her work: «I wanted to show how I saw the world at that moment and how I felt. I am very happy to have been part of the contest and to be able to transmit my photographs to all of you; I am very happy.”

Second Prize: “Day by day”

The runner-up was 12-year-old Shakira Zabaleta from Cartagena (Colombia), for her photo essay «Día a día» (Day by day).

The jury singled her out «for having chosen to show life inside a house: a girl doing her homework and living her daily life as a plot between the present and the past». Rogelio Grande elaborated on this decision: «when the competition arrived, most of the world was in quarantine, so this essay has a very special meaning in this context.»

«I am grateful for this opportunity, because I know that not just anyone has it!», were the brief but emotional words of Shakira, who was online during the entire ceremony along with several of her colleagues from a room in the house of the Talitha Qum Programme of the Archdiocese of Cartagena, in the Colombian Caribbean.

“Behind this contest there is much more: the real contest of our life»

«Francis is the Pope of the origins. He believes that there is no future or true progress without origins,» said José María del Corral, Scholas’ world director, at the end of the ceremony. He also recounted how he had the opportunity to show the photographs to the Pope weeks ago during his visit to the Holy See: «we showed him photo by photo, because he has time for these things, for the things that are genuinely worthwhile,» he said.

«The Pope believes that the many deaths, the many sick people today, express more than ever the need we have to go back to the origin. That is why behind this contest there is much more: the real contest of our life. There are no winners or losers here, for in this contest we share our own life, from the origin,» he declared.

This concluded a magical ceremony that included important announcements, such as the confirmation of the exhibition of this great photographic exhibition, an exhibition that will start at the Scholas headquarters in the Vatican City and will continue throughout 2021 as a travelling exhibition on the five continents.

In addition, there will be a new call for the Pelota de Trapo contest with a new artistic expression to be defined: poetry, painting, drawing or other.

«This does not stop. Pope Francis asked for it, Reza asked for it, the jury asked for it, the children who participated asked for it», said Evelin Bauer, a member of the Scholas content area from Argentina. «There will be new proposals, new contests so that young people and children from all over the world can express ‘what happens to them’ with this story of the origin», she concluded.

Online exhibition: Pelota de Trapo Contest

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