fighting poverty through artCulture can make or break the development of societies. In its variety of forms, art has the power to preserve elements of cultures that are disappearing under the effects of globalization. Additionally, it can be used to provide an economic boost to impoverished communities. Keep reading to learn more about the top four organizations fighting poverty through art.

4 Organizations Fighting Poverty Through Art

  1. The Friends of Sironka Dance Troupe – The Friends of Sironka Dance Troupe is a team of Kenyan Maasai tribesmen and women who perform across the United States and spread awareness about Maasai culture. With an estimated 300,000 Maasai living in Kenya — accounting for 10 percent of the country’s population — the troupe raises awareness about the Maasai language and culture. The group was founded by Batik artist and cultural consultant Nicholas Sironka. Profits from their events fund programs such as education for Maasai girls and installing wells and latrines. With a revolving team of dancers, Sironka provides opportunities for the poorest and most driven of the Maasai people to participate and provide for their families and communities. Although income varies, past performers expected to receive roughly $2,000 for their work, exceeding a lifetime’s income in their home villages.
  2. Roots Studio – Roots Studio is a business that pairs with tribal communities to digitize and license their art. Art sold through their program includes designs from Nagaland and calligraphy from Syria. Each piece is named after the artist and raises awareness about their unique society. Roots Studio not only assists rural communities in participating at globally competitive pricing, but they also ensure 75 percent of the profit goes to the artist and 25 percent goes to a fund for their village for licenses. Roots Studio also runs related workshops with their partner tribes bimonthly.
  3. Inema Arts Center – Inema Art Center is an art initiative in Rwanda founded by Nkuranga Emmanuel and Innocent Nkurunziza in 2012. One of the center’s projects, launched by Nkuranga, is Art with a Mission. The project provides educational opportunities for orphaned children from 10-17, so they can learn to support themselves through artistic trades. Innocent began the Nziza Workshop in 2010 which employs Rwandan craftswomen. Additionally, Inema Arts Center supports ten resident artists in exploring contemporary African art forms.
  4. Africulturban – Africulturban is a youth-led, nonprofit organization founded in Dakar, Senegal by rapper Matador. The organization aims to develop the artistic culture of marginalized communities and skillsets of urban youth. Africulturban offers a variety of free training workshops for all ages. On a larger project scale, Africulturban organizes Hip Hop Akademy, founded in 2011. Through this program, young professionals take free courses across subjects such as graphic design, music and video production and editing, marketing, communication and more. Africulturban also hosts a variety of cultural events including Festa2H, most recently held in June. Festa2H is an annual rap festival that began with limited funding and events. However, it has grown into one of the largest international hip-hop festivals in Africa. From big names to budding performers, the festival provides an opportunity for artists to use hip-hop as a form of self-expression, livelihood and protest.

These four organizations fighting poverty through art demonstrate the cultural preservation and economic and urban development art initiatives can create in impoverished communities. Not everyone can start a group like these four organizations fighting poverty through art. However, offering support to art initiatives that serve marginalized and impoverished communities can help make use of art as a tool for social change. Engaging with art in a variety of ways can promote cultural exchange and provides a voice for those who are all too often underrepresented.

– Jordan Keller
Photo: Flickr

Using Art for Healing
Barely two years after its liberation from ISIS, Iraq is still harboring battle wounds. Everyone lost something, whether it was a home, business, family member or friend. A British Journal of Psychiatry study found that over 45 percent of child soldiers for ISIS in Northern Iraq who are between the ages of eight and 14 suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD. USAID has been funding art and music projects that bring people together and beautify the country as part of a national healing process.

In recent years, billions of dollars have gone to rebuilding infrastructure and ensuring that Iraquis meet their basic needs. To supplement the reconstruction of cities, some organizations have focused on healing the social rifts that emerged during the occupation.

The Benefits of the Arts

Iraq became liberated in 2017 from a three-year reign of terror under ISIS, and physical reconstruction in the war-torn country has been slow. However, many recognize that repairing buildings and paving streets will not undo all of the damage. The violence has torn the social fabric of Iraq to shreds. Reporter Alice Su from The Atlantic wrote in 2018, “Even if Mosul is rebuilt… lingering distrust and ongoing sectarian and ethnic violence may doom Iraq’s post-ISIS future.” People must heal this pervasive distrust before Iraq can achieve stability.

To encourage reconciliation between Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and the ethnic minorities, USAID offers support for art and music projects that local organizations initiated. Research has indicated the positive qualities of creative engagement to decrease anxiety, stress and mood changes, and this makes art medicinal to damaged societies like those that have recently experienced war.

Art and Music in Iraq

The Karim Wasfi Center for Creativity runs orchestras for Iraqi youth and introduced the first music program for the country’s orphans and displaced.  Its founder, Karim Wasfi, conducted the Peace Through Arts Farabi Orchestra during a USAID-sponsored concert in Mosul last October 2018.  This performance was the first classical music concert to take place in Mosul since the liberation from ISIS.

Another project was with a Yezidi youth group to paint over ISIS propaganda graffiti in the streets of communities near Sinjar. The youth volunteers replaced hateful messages with those promoting peace and education. Not only was this a healing activity for the nearly 200 youth who participated in the painting, but residents will now walk by these uplifting murals on a daily basis.

USAID emphasizes supporting projects that use art and music to promote messages of peace, like the work in Sinjar. Using art for healing in war-torn Iraq is gaining traction with Iraqi locals, as well as in other regions of the Middle East. Syrian Kurdish artist Ferhad Khalil organized an art symposium in Raqqa, Syria, to celebrate liberation from ISIS, and the World Monuments Fund has a school in Jordan to train refugees in conservation stonemasonry.

Art has the power to move people. Harnessing that power, the U.S. is funding more projects that are using art for healing in war-torn Iraq. A violin or a paintbrush may be able to combat terrorism, ethnic hatred and fear in countries facing political strife.

– Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr

Rescued Child Soldiers
At the age of seven, Judith became an accomplice to a murder. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) raided her village and forced Judith to participate in the killing of her mother. The LRA then kidnapped Judith and her siblings and forced them to serve Joseph Kony. Thousands of children share Judith’s story. Today, the rescued child soldiers in Africa are finding healing and restoration through art.

The Rise of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army

The World Economic Forum found that poverty, social marginalization and political disenfranchisement were fertilizers for extremist groups to take root and grow. In the 1980s, poverty, social marginalization and political disenfranchisement hit Uganda hard. Estimates determined that one-third of the population lives below the poverty line.

Uganda government officials did little to improve the dire situation. As a result, rebel groups and organizations began to pop up throughout the country. The Holy Spirit Movement, a militaristic and spiritual rebel group, formed to fight against the oppression of the people in northern Uganda. Joseph Kony joined the movement in the mid-1980s. After the Holy Spirit Movement’s defeat in 1988, Kony kept the organization. He renamed the group the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony used religion and traditional beliefs to continue the support of the people living in northern Uganda. His operation expanded to the nearby countries of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. The tactics Kony and the LRA used became more violent over time.

Kony and the LRA caused the displacement of more than 1.9 million people. Authorities issued a number of arrest warrants for Kony and leaders of the LRA on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The LRA raided villages, burned down homes and murdered or mutilated thousands of people.

Child Soldiers in Africa

Kony lacked support for his cause and army. As a result, he abducted children and forced them into his service. Estimates state that the LRA kidnapped between 30,000 and 60,000 children. The LRA trained males to be child soldiers and females to be sex slaves. Fear was a major driver for children to remain in the LRA. Many children, like Judith, had to kill their parents and other loved ones for survival.

Art Is Restoring Peace to Rescued Child Soldiers

The U.N. called the LRA crisis the “most forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world.” A 29-minute film became the most effective tool in mobilizing the world into taking action against Kony and the LRA.

Art and social media were the key components of the success of the film “KONY 2012.” The U.S. advocacy group, Invisible Children, launched a digital campaign with the release of the film. The campaign’s goal was to make the infamous warlord famous in order to mobilize world leaders to stop him. The film garnered over 100 million views in six days. Public outcry and celebrity support increased the pressure for global leaders to take action against Kony. Eventually, authorities sanctioned a universal manhunt to capture Kony and put an end to the LRA. People have rescued many of the child soldiers in Africa but Kony still remains at-large. Today, the LRA has reduced to a group of fewer than 300 members.

Art has also been an effective tool for healing and restoration for the child victims of the LRA crisis. For many of the rescued child soldiers in Africa, there were some elements in their story that were too painful to put into words. Art became an avenue for those children to confront the past and face the future. Exile International, a nonprofit organization, has been providing healing to war-affected children through art-focused trauma care since 2008.

Recently, Exile International partnered with award-winning photographer and artist Jeremy Cowart to share the faces and powerful stories of child survivors. The Poza Project utilized the children’s art and Cowart’s talent to create a healing opportunity for the children to tell their own story of survival. Unique photographs and mixed art media created by the children were available for purchase. All the proceeds helped provide art therapy and holistic rehabilitation to children survivors of war. The Poza Project showcased a dozen children including Judith.

Judith spent nearly two years in captivity before being rescued. Today, she is back in school and working to become a psychiatric doctor. With the help of The Poza Project, Judith is one step closer to her dream of helping the other victims of Kony and the LRA.

– Paola Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Image result for female artisans
In poverty-stricken nations across the globe, local artisans have the power to help to improve not just the economy but also the living conditions and education levels of their countries. When artisans have the financial and organizational support that they need to firmly establish a business of their own they can earn a steady income which allows them to provide their families with a stronger financial base. The Artisan Alliance, a subset of the Aspen Global Innovators Group, works in alliance with Kiva and the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues to create resources for artisan support so that artisans can build and sustain their businesses.

How the Artisan Alliance Makes a Difference

The Artisan Alliance works to create a network of artisan support in four main ways. The Alliance first focuses on financing small artisan businesses with the capital that they need to create and maintain their businesses. Once a business receives financial aid, the Alliance provides artisan business coaching to ensure that the artisans can sustain their businesses and grow in the future. The Alliance focuses on building and maintaining a network of artisan businesses, social enterprises, NGOs and government agencies around the world to ensure that artisan businesses continue to receive the support that they need from global markets and investors to sustain their businesses. Finally, the Alliance curates and hosts global events to showcase the artisan entrepreneurs in their network to “share best practices, and uncover solutions to common barriers in the artisan value chain.”

The network within the Artisan Alliance includes 161 members that range from artisan businesses to online marketplaces. Of the more than 100,000 artisans in the 127 countries within the Artisan Alliance network, 82 percent of these are women. From the efforts of the Artisan Alliance and other organizations like it, the growth of artisan businesses plays a significant role in making the artisan sector the second-largest employer in the developing world.

Member Profiles

  • Himalayan Naari – The Himalayan Naari is an artisan business of a network of women based throughout three villages in the Indian Himalaya mountains. “Naari” is the Hindi word for a woman of strength and resolve and the women of Himalayan Naari are just that. Created in 2013, there are already over 100 artisans involved in Himalayan Naari. The artisans focus their work on knitting and weaving. The women combine traditional Himalayan weaving techniques with modern designs, creating beautiful wool pieces for sale in the U.S. and other global markets. The Himalayan Education Foundation (HEF) provides a network of artisan support for Himalayan Naari by supplying the women with the wool they need to create their products. Before the founding of Himalayan Naari, the women in these remote mountain villages saw a limited opportunity for economic growth and betterment for the lives of their families. One artisan in the Himalayan Naari network, Basanti Karki, has seen an improvement in her own life and that of her family since she joined the network as a knitter in 2010. She told the Himalayan Naari network, “Since joining [the network] I have grown in my self-confidence and can work very hard now. Naari is a breakthrough for women’s empowerment and I hope it will thrive in the future.”
  • Caribbean Craft – Caribbean Craft began in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1990. From its creation, Caribbean Craft quickly became a major provider of Haitian handmade goods for the tourist shops in Port-au-Prince. In 2006, the network became female-owned and in 2009 it purchased a showroom in Atlanta’s Americas Mart where stores such as HomeGoods and Anthropologie picked up its goods for sale in the U.S. In addition to providing a source of strong financial support for its artisans, Caribbean Craft also strives to look after the well-being and health of its artisans. Following the devastating earthquake in 2010, the organization began to provide a free meal a day to over 300 artisans. In 2011, Caribbean Craft began a literacy program with support from the Clinton Foundation, West Elm and Prodev finding success in 2014 by reaching 100 percent literacy among its artisans.

It is organizations such as Himalayan Naari and Caribbean Craft that the Artisan Alliance is proud to support. To see the meaningful growth of artisan businesses, small artisans require meaningful financial investment and organizational support to see a lasting positive impact on themselves and their communities.

Anne Pietrow
Photo: Flickr

The Healing Power of ArtWhile charities and humanitarian organizations ensure that children refugees receive food, blankets, shelter, vaccinations and malnutrition screenings, it is easy to overlook the other side of war and displacement – the psychological impact – and the healing power of art.

Refugees and Mental Illnesses

There are 25.9 million refugees around the world and over half of them are children under 18. Children refugees are more at risk of trauma and psychological disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with rates ranging between 50 and 90 percent compared to 10 and 40 percent in adults. Even major depression rates are higher among children refugees than adults.

The distress caused by war is often chronic, with one study showing 45 percent of participants still suffering from depression and PTSD three years after the Bosnian war. Fourteen different studies also show a significantly higher trend of disturbance among displaced individuals living in refugee camps than nondisplaced individuals or those living temporarily with relatives, even when nondisplaced individuals experienced significant trauma.

According to UNICEF, 2.5 million Syrian children are living as refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In Jordan, nearly 100,000 out of the 1.4 million Syrian refugees reside in Za’atari, a refugee camp. Syrians refugees have no legal right to work in Jordan and tensions are mounting between the two populations. Humanitarian organizations are struggling to provide food, shelter and medical care, so people often overlook educational and creative activities for children.

Artolution and the Need for Art and Expression

According to Joel Bergner, co-founder of the public art organization, Artolution, “The kids, most of whom went to school in Syria, now roam the refugee camp with few rules or structured activities. They are very rough and frequently get into fights. Yet, at the same time, they are also really sweet and friendly.”

If the international community seeks to rebuild war-torn countries or reintegrate child refugees back into a functional society, then psychological treatment is just as necessary as the physical. The trauma of war will lose whole generations if people underestimate the healing power of art.

Bergner seeks to reverse the trend of trauma, aggression and marginalization by giving children something to do with their time and by recognizing the healing power of art. Advances in neuroimaging have shown that the Broca’s area of the brain, associated with speech and articulation, actually shuts down after an individual experience’s trauma. People call this change speechless terror, which makes expressing, and therefore, managing a trauma significantly harder. However, the sensory areas of the brain that process trauma also play a role in art-making. This allows creating art to become a voice for those unable to express their trauma and reconcile their emotions.

Art Therapy

The first use of the term “art therapy” was in 1942, following Adrian Hill’s service in World War I. Hill was a British soldier, author and an official war artist whose work highlighted the healing power of art-making. Since then, art therapy has taken on various forms beyond being a method for a therapist and patient to communicate. It can involve drawing, painting, dance, theatre and song.

According to the American Art Therapy Association, the art-making process helps foster self-awareness, manage behavior and develop social skills while reducing anxiety and increasing self-esteem. The most effective art therapy models, though, are those conducted in groups and that include a discussion. This helps prevent avoidance and emotional numbing often associated with PTSD.

The organization, Artolution, is a collaborative art-making project that connects children to positive role models and their peers, but it is not only that. In Za’atari camp, the Syrian artist, Jasmine Necklace, co-facilitated a community mural alongside Bergner as well as Syrian and Jordanian children. This practice allows for discussions among refugee youth so they can talk openly about their trauma.

Art therapist, Melissa S. Walker, says that she and her colleagues have seen the healing power of art therapy through its ability to overcome the speech-language barrier in veterans, allowing them to work through their traumatic experiences in a way that feels safe.

Art therapy programs such as these have found root across the world, as more organizations acknowledge the healing power of art. UNICEF helped develop a drama program in Slavonski Brod, a town in Eastern Croatia, to help children overcome the psychological effects of the Yugoslav Wars. A counseling project for Sudanese refugees utilized drawing, theatre, writing and storytelling to help children traumatized by civil war. The nonprofit organization, War Child, sponsors art-therapy projects in the Caucasus for children refugees and those damaged by war.

Just as any humanitarian organization seeks to improve the lives of children, art therapy projects help heal the psychological wounds of war. It gives refugees a channel to communicate and a chance to rebuild their communities.

– Emma Uk
Photo: Flickr

10 Charitable Subscription BoxesFrom comics to coffee, there is a myriad of subscription boxes on the market today. Whether it is the theme or the surprise inside, it is all part of the fun. But, what if purchasing a subscription box could benefit people in need. This article will focus on 10 charitable subscription boxes and how they are giving back to people in needs around the world.

10 Charitable Subscription Boxes

  1. The Bookworm Box: Founded by young adult author Colleen Hoover, the Bookworm Box boasts “good deeds, great reads.” Depending on the subscription, the box includes one or two autographed books, bookmarks, pens, journals, keychains, coffee cups and more. The best part is that the proceeds from each box are donated to charities that focus on supplying clean water, disaster relief and more to nations in need. It costs between $29.99-39.99 per month.

  2. Anchor of Hope: Refugees, survivors of human trafficking and others in unsafe situations are crafting items for Anchor of Hope. Each month, the curators meet with women, teach them a new skill and pay them for their work. The artisans are from around the globe, including India, Asia and Haiti. Anchor of Hope includes two to four handmade items, such as jewelry and ceramics. The proceeds go directly towards the artisans and their families. It costs $33 per month.

  3. Happy Rebel Box: Happy Rebel Box is a seasonal subscription box directed toward women with an edgy sense of style. Besides fashion, Happy Rebel Box also includes beauty and lifestyle pieces. With each purchase, 10 percent of the proceeds will go toward non-profit organizations that specialize in helping women across the globe. These organizations provide women with access to healthcare and education as well as relief for those affected by abuse, poverty and trafficking. It has a quarterly subscription of $100 or an annual cost at $380.

  4. BuddhiBox: Founded by yoga teacher Maxine Chapman, BuddhiBox is designed to complement the “yogi lifestyle.” Containing cruelty-free and ethically sourced products, BuddhiBox is intended to enhance the practice of yoga and the spiritual lifestyle. Each month, BuddhiBox selects as a different global charity and donates a portion of their sales. The cost $16.95 per month to $49.95 every three months.

  5. KirillsTea: Love tea? KirillsTea offers a variety of loose-leaf teas in three different monthly subscriptions. Using only fresh ingredients and whole herbs, KirillsTea supports enjoying a cup up tea while giving back. With each purchase, KirillsTea donates to global humanitarian aid organizations, such as The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It costs $21.66 to $47.08 per month.

  6. My Be Better Box: My Be Better Box is exactly as it sounds. This subscription box is targeted for ambitious individuals looking for self-guided improvement in their daily lives. Through wellness products and the Be Better Movement campaign, My Be Better Box encourages buyers to complete challenges. With each completed challenge, My Be Better Box will donate to Every Mother Counts. Every Mother Counts is a non-profit organization that focuses on making pregnancy and childbirth safe around the world. It costs $39.95 every two months.

  7. The Wordy Traveler: Love to travel? The Wordy Traveler is a quarterly subscription box dedicated to adventurous explorers. The box contains carefully selected travel books, limited edition artwork and even tea. With each subscription, a portion of the proceeds will go to supplying women and children with healthcare and education. This box costs $38-$89.99 for three months depending on the package level.

  8. GlobeIn: GlobeIn is discovering “the soul of craft” by traveling around the world in search of craftwork that is disappearing. Working directly with artists around the world, GlobeIn offers a variety of different items in their boxes, such as woven baskets and coasters. Each month, an artisan, or a group of artisans, is featured within the box. By supporting these artisans, not only are they receiving aid to fight poverty but also a better future through the use of their skills. In 2018, GlobeIn invested $3.5 million into artisan communities and provided nearly 2 million hours of work. This box costs $43-48 a month.

  9. Pura Vida: Pura Vida or “pure life”, was founded by two friends, Griffin Thall and Paul Goodman. After falling in love with Costa Rica and its struggling local artisans, the two were determined to make a change. Today, Thall and Goodman have teamed up with many Costa Rican artisans to create unique handcrafted bracelets. Pura Vida has expanded and now considers more than 650 artisans their family. Pura Vida has donated nearly $2 million to charity. The Pura Vida Bracelet Club contains three unique and colorful bracelets. Each month costs $14.95 or $132 per year.

  10. CauseBox: CauseBox is a seasonal subscription box created for women. Each item is carefully selected with the intent of creating jobs or empowering artisans. CauseBox has partnered with numerous organizations, such as Freedom Firm, Speak Your Silence and Trees for the Future. For example, in the Summer 2018 box, the Symbology Kimono was crafted by artisans in Jaipur, India. Through this partnership, more than 150 women were given jobs. It is not just the box that is giving back, but the products inside of the box. It costs $49.95 quarterly or $199.80 per year.

There’s a variety of subscription boxes on the market today, but only a select few give back to those in need. By supporting charitable subscription boxes, more than just one person benefits from the purchase, and the effects can last a lifetime.

Emily Beaver
Photo: Flickr

Sex Trafficking Victims in IndiaEvery eight minutes, a child goes missing in India, becoming yet another one of the estimated three to nine million sex trafficking victims in India, many who are young girls between the ages of nine and 12. Extreme poverty, coupled with a lack of education and awareness about human trafficking, leaves women, young girls and young boys victims of sexual exploitation. However, one Indian artist has launched a campaign that uses art and technology to protect women and children from falling prey to sex trafficking.

The Artist

Leena Kejriwal grew up near Kolkata’s Sonagachi, the largest red-light district in Asia and a global sex-trafficking hub, where around 10,000 women and girls work as prostitutes. Thousands more are trafficked through the district to other brothels and sex trafficking destinations each year. “My awareness of the existence of a red light district happened as a child. I had heard tales of girls and women who were caught and put there. Every time our car passed the lane, we were told not to look to ‘that side’. Furtive glances gave me glimpses of girls and ladies standing on the roadside,” Leena described.

Leena’s childhood awareness that many women and girls around her were trapped as sex slaves spurred her to take action. She knew she had to do something, so in 2014 as a wife, mother and artist, Leena launched “Missing” at the Indian Art Fair. The goal of “Missing” is to bring mass awareness to the dark reality of the sex trafficking industry in India through a simple and engaging piece of art that speaks to everyone and transcends space and language barriers.

What is “Missing?”

The campaign is simple: erect cut-out figures of a young girl in parks, on schools, businesses and other sites throughout cities and towns, casting symbolic shadows to commemorate the millions of young lives lost in the dark shadow that is sex trafficking. Leena’s purpose with “Missing” is twofold—bring public awareness to sex trafficking and provide women, young girls and boys with knowledge so they can avoid becoming sex trafficking victims in India. Confirmed sites for the art campaign include New Delhi’s Gurgaon and Connaught Place, as well as Eco Park in Kolkata.

Leena, along with Satyajit Chakraborty of Flying Robot Studios, has also developed the “Missing” app. The app has a role-playing game that allows players to experience what a missing person goes through when she is trafficked into prostitution. The player, who assumes the role of the missing person, must assess risks and make choices throughout the game in order to find her way to freedom.

Awareness = Prevention

Leena also works in a trafficking prevention program in the remote Sundarbans area, a region that accounts for 44 percent of sex trafficking victims in India. The program, much like Leena’s “Missing” artwork and app, seeks to build awareness and empower both sex trafficking victims and potential victims, giving them a better understanding of their rights and the options available to them, along with consistent counseling.

Leena, whose motto is, “Why wait for a girl to get trafficked to save her?,” believes awareness equals prevention, and with her artwork and the app, she is opening up conversations and bringing public attention to the human trafficking industry in the hopes that Indian women and children will no longer be pulled unawares into the shadows of sex slavery.

– Sarah Musick
Photo: Wikimedia

Biggest Slum in Kenya
Known to many as the largest urban slum in all of Africa, Kibera is a community of 250,000 people in Nairobi, Kenya without regular access to clean water or electricity. This slum is rife with disease and the abuse of drugs and alcohol is common. In Kibera, the biggest slum in Kenya, artistic expression and the creation of art is not a priority and seldom is it even an option. The Uweza Art Gallery is changing that.

The Uweza Foundation

Jennifer Sapitro, an American entrepreneur, created the Uweza Foundation in 2008. The foundation funded and opened a community center for the people of Kibera. Sapitro gained inspiration from the artwork at the center and opened the Uweza Art Gallery in 2013. Alongside the art gallery, the foundation provides a variety of programs for Kibera’s youth, such as soccer and a female empowerment program. The goal in establishing the creative hub of the Uweza Art Gallery was to give the youth of Kibera an opportunity to develop their talents, a means of expression through art and access to economic opportunity.

The Uweza Art Gallery

The Uweza Art Gallery provides materials and space for Kibera’s young artists to express themselves and create artwork. The youth are also in charge of marketing their art at the gallery, which is located in an old shipping container, a testimony to the scarcity of proper institutions and resources in Kibera.

The way this gallery works is that 60 percent of the money from a sold item goes back to the artist and the other 40 percent goes to the gallery in order to fund more art supplies and pay the rent. If the artist is under 18 years of age, the gallery allocates the money they make from selling their art for their schooling. If they are over 18, the gallery utilizes the money to pay for whatever the artist may need, such as food or water.

Thanks to the Uweza Art Gallery, many artists over the age of 18 are able to fully support themselves through sales. In addition, this creative space hosts free art classes twice a week for Kibera’s youth. Children as young as five years old go to the art gallery to participate in learning the basic skills of art. As they continue attending the classes, the gallery prompts them to paint their own artwork. Once they become more advanced in their art and they have learned the necessary skills, the gallery encourages them to become a part of the gallery and to continue painting in order to sell. They also take trips outside of the slum to visit museums and art galleries.

This program is significant because not only does it give artists in Kibera a means of expression, but also gives them a chance to be economically self-sufficient. This is so important because it can be the ladder that gives them access to climb out of the dark hole that is poverty. The more successful they are selling their art, the better their chances are at overcoming poverty. The art they make can financially contribute to a better lifestyle.

Another way that the Uweza Art Gallery is beneficial to Kibera is that even though it is based in the biggest slum in Kenya, the art is easily accessible to buyers around the world. Artwork created by people living in slums helps to spread global awareness of the problems these individuals encounter. Living in Kibera presents a lot of adversity, but the Uweza Art Gallery is a creative hub that is a beacon of hope for the people of this slum in Kenya.

– Paula Bouza
Photo: Flickr

Art for Refugees
Throughout history, art has been a respite for many who lived through trauma. Refugees live their lives in an almost constant state of precarity. Refugee children typically have a higher rate of experiencing many mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Art for refugees can help them express their feelings, grow in self-confidence, and develop problem-solving skills. There are a number of art initiatives which aim to help refugees cope with psychological stressors. Some are located in refugee camps, while others are located in resettlement cities, but they all have the same goal of providing an outlet for expression. Some such initiatives are listed below.

The Za’atari Project

The Za’atari Project is an art therapy program started by Joel Artista in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Za’atari is composed of Syrian refugees. This project serves as a bridge between the Jordanian and the Syrian communities and serves as a way to foster further understanding.

Adult artists and educators team up to create programs to enhance the lives of children living in refugee camps. These programs are both expressive and educational. They teach children about topics such as health and hygiene all while fostering healthy ways of articulating feelings. These projects include painting murals, wheelbarrows, tents and kites that allow the children to play.

The Exile Voices Project

Exile Voices is a project started by renowned photographer, Reza. This project offers a photography program to refugees in the age group of 11 to 15 in the Kawergosk camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Exile Voices aims to tell refugee stories through the voices of refugees themselves.

Partnered with the UNHCR, Reza set out to empower these children on how to use the most powerful tool that they have–their own voice. Photographs from many children in the Kawergosk camp were lined along the Seine River in Paris, France in 2015 to show people the importance of art for refugees.

Art for Refugees in Lebanon

In 2017, 1 out of every 6 people in Lebanon was a Syrian refugee. This put significant pressure on schools to make the resources available for education. To tackle rising tensions in schools, the Skoun Association started an art therapy program within schools to help refugee and Lebanese students express themselves in healthy ways.

The art therapy program allows the students to overcome the trauma they experienced and helps to strengthen social bonds. It allows students to see themselves as children first. It also helps them forget the places of disconnect.

The Amsterdam Painting Project

In Amsterdam, refugees are housed in the Bijlmerbajes prison. The Amsterdam Painting Project aims to turn the prison space into something more welcoming, one that is full of renewed hope and life. This project aspires to serve as a bridge within the community and empower refugees to become more involved with one another.

The project was founded by Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn. These two Dutch artists set out to promote community art by improving living conditions. The Project is funded by the Favela Painting Foundation, a group that has also completed projects in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Florence, Italy.

Clothes, food, shelter and other basic necessities will always be required in refugee camps or in resettlement cities. There is, however, also a need to ensure the mental wellbeing of refugees and create an outlet for them to share their experiences. Art is an excellent way to create this outlet. It allows refugees to tell their own stories and to express themselves productively. Most importantly, the idea of ‘art for refugees’ is one of the most effective ways to heal those minds that have been traumatized for a long period of time.

– Isabella Niemeyer
Photo: Flickr

Ars gratia artisArs gratia artis” the classicist may shout—“art for art’s sake!” Yet, there is often no way to divorce many pieces of art from the function and politics that they serve. When looking at art, “art for art’s sake” often rings false. This is particularly the case for many pieces of public art designed with the intention of raising awareness for a certain issue. Being open and receptive to this issue is often how public art fights global poverty.

Public Art and Communication

As a means of spreading awareness, public art is exceptional. Public art is often large, accessible and easily observed; its public nature proves distinctly advantageous in comparison to private art hidden away in homes or museums. Public art in cities with sizeable populations and heavy foot traffic has the potential to be seen by millions of people, such as the case for New York’s Public Art Fund, which exhibited Ai Weiwei’s “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.

The Public Art Fund’s mission is to bring to New York’s “broad audience” work on an “international scope and impact.” In other words, The Public Art Fund means to share important works of art with a large number of people often to raise awareness of certain issues.

On display from March to October 2018 is Yinka Shinobare’s “Wind Sculpture,” which addresses the movement of people, including the artist, whose childhood was split between England and West Africa across space and time. The piece asks empathy of its audience and for them consider the vast experiences of migrants around the world, an important statement amidst a global refugee crisis. “Wind Sculpture” offers viewers the chance to look at movement, using the wind as an adept metaphor for humanity. Thus, public art fights global poverty through its aspirational tone.

Another major piece of public art, Yoko Ono’s “Wish Tree”, allows passersby in various cities to share their aspirations for the future by attaching them to the branches of the eponymous tree. Themes emerge from the messages dangling from these trees: hope for peace and happiness and an overall sense of equality and camaraderie among people. Public art offers the chance to reflect on one’s hopes for the world and inspires the fight against global poverty.

Public Artists Sending A Message

Of course, as Banksy and The Guerrilla Girls have shown, it may be the case that public art fights global poverty in a more confrontational way. The Guerrilla Girls, active since the 1980s, have used street installations and posters to tackle political and social issues around the world often through clandestine means. They projected criticism of The Whitney Museum right on the side of the museum in 2015. Meanwhile, Banksy is an internationally renowned street artist. His art is noted for being controversial, but frequently addresses human rights issues and political corruption.

Perhaps one of the best examples of public art working as a form of global poverty advocacy is, however, The Water Tank Project, which is an exhibition using the water tanks above New York City to raise awareness of international water issues. The project also provides a platform both for emerging artists as well as New York public school students. It coincided with the founding of the “Trace the Tap” educational campaign, which provides a curriculum to teach students about water through ecological, social and economic perspectives among others. And, of course, the public art project features some incredibly beautiful murals decorating the walls of New York’s water tanks.

In a 3-year Gallup study, aesthetics such as public art and social spaces were found to be integral to community building and community attachment. This affirms the importance of public art. Moreover, with the rise of sustainable art, and with the shifting nature of international politics and the refugee crisis, there is a need for more public art. Public art fights global poverty, and, thus, it is a mainstay of urban development and U.S. culture.

William Wilcox
Photo: Flickr