Zuri Watoto Wote

Why the Art Exchange Project?

Posted in AIDS in Africa, AIDS Orphans, Maine schools by Lynn Ouellette on 11/30/2009

When we first talked with Lloydie, our trip leader, about volunteering in Kenya, Tom and I both talked with her about what kind of volunteer activities we could do. There were outlined volunteer activities of different kinds on the itinerary, but somehow that didn’t seem personal enough or enough at all (as if anything ever could be enough.) It wasn’t until we had our 1 hour turned into 5 hour magnificent meeting at our home with her that I really “got it” that a big part of the “volunteering” was just being there and giving the children love in all the possible ways that one can do that.

Being and artist and psychiatrist, I thought of doing art with the children because I know that being freely creative is not something that they have the opportunity to do in school and also bcause I  know that these children have all been tremendously traumatized. They have witnessed their parents die of AIDS; many have  participated in caring for them. Having AIDS in Africa also has a tremendous stigma so many have had that burden to carry as well. They are in the orphanage because they have no adult family members to care for them. Some may have lost siblings. Before coming to the orphanage, some were rescued from horrendous impoverished conditions.  Death and loss have been an integral part of their young lives.  So as I thought about this trauma, I thought that art could be a free, uninhibited expression for them, without boundaries and which required no words. In that way, I thought it might be good for them.

Pictures drawn by children caring for parents with AIDS, photo used with permission from the Young Carers Project of South Africa http://www.youngcarers.netau.net/

Then  I thought more about it, and looked to the example of the other kinds of art exchanges that had been done by the artists  in my women’s art group, I thought that this might create an opportunity to fulfill another goal that I have for this trip—educating people here about AIDs orphans and the situation in Africa. We all live such privileged lives by comparison and my hope in sharing this work, the reason for writing this blog,  is that others will become more aware of these circumstances. In particular, my hope is that children here might have a heightened awareness of a world that is much less fortunate than their own and an exposure to the concept of being “global citizens.” I began to think about the “art exchange” as a way to accomplish this in the  broader sense as well as a way to simply  foster a connection between two really different groups of kids who could communicate through art and really appreciate each other in that way. That’s how the art exchange project was conceived. I’m lucky that the two art teachers working with me had only enthusiasm about getting involved, offered to do more than I was asking for with participation, and that they were like minded in seeing this as an opportunity for their students to learn and grow.

Finally, I also feel that whenever I undertake any artistic endeavor that there is a connection to the support, inspiration, and something that is magically indescribable that has grown from my women’s art group. They will know what I mean and I will carry that with me to Kenya for this project. Thank you Jill, Laurie, Jen, Anita, Cheryle, Annie, Katrina, Cynthia, Blair and Bec.

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