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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

Creative arts help the poor
In 2000, the second intifada erupted in West Bank and The Gaza Strip. The conflict resulted in 4,300 fatalities over the course of five years. Located in the heart of the conflict, Palestinian refugees residing in Aida Camp were subjected to frequent military attacks and their 
inexpensively built houses were exposed to land and air raids.

Israeli forces occupied their houses and commandeered their camp for military purposes all while schools were destroyed and roads were severely damaged. In the midst of this chaos, 11 young refugees of the Aida Camp assembled a group where creative arts help the poor in Palestine.

Starting The Lajee Center

Within the year, these creative members secured a 70 square meter garage for their place of operation. Their goal was to create a space in which Palestinians could creatively address their enduring struggle to secure their rights. They called this space The Lajee Center, a place where the creative arts help the poor on a daily basis.

Today, The Lajee Center is a cultural center that provides “refugee youth with cultural, educational, social and developmental opportunities.”  It services not only the roughly 39 percent of Aida Camp residents living on less than $2 a day but is also open to all Palestinians.

According to the organization’s website, “activities are organized with the goal of fostering in participants a wider understanding of the world in which they live, focusing on issues relating specifically to their own society, culture and history, as well as the global context.”

Lajee Center Programs

The programs of Lajee Center reflect the increasing reliance on the creative arts in order to address situations of extreme poverty. In fact, UNESCO has launched several initiatives in which the creative arts help the poor in various impoverished communities.

The organization recognizes that publishing, music, cinema, crafts and design play a role in allowing for freedom of expression, cultural diversity and economic development. The group also recognizes that the arts have the ability to address emerging inequalities that have resulted from the development of new technologies and international trade.

A Therapeutic Escape

The therapeutic benefits of creative outlets are well-known — children in the camp are guided in arts and crafts in which they are encouraged to visually express their greatest aspirations. Some partake in weekly dance lessons in the traditional Palestinian folk dance while others participate in the camp’s choral group or individual music lessons. The children report that the music not only connects them to their history but it also provides them with welcomed escapes from their harsh surroundings.

Perhaps, most importantly, the creative arts are a source of identity formation. The residents of the Aida Camp continue to be subjected to military violence as a result of the Israeli occupation. Members of the dance troupe have been injured and detained while others have been banned from travel.

Healing Powers of Art

A group of 50 was once detained in a building without ventilation and then targeted with tear gas grenades; however, the troupe has continued dancing because they value how dance is a part of their identity. It instills them with a sense of belonging and strengthens their claim as a distinct people deserving of basic human rights.  

The Lajee Center has earned international acclaim for its many artistic endeavors. The Lajee’s Center’s Palestinian folk dance troupe has performed not only around West Bank but has also toured to both The U.K. and Syria on several occasions. The organization has also participated in two cultural tours around The U.K. which exposed members’ photography, film and dance to over 3,000 members of the British public.

Global Renown

Furthermore, Lajee Center has organized 30 international photography exhibits showcasing the work of the camp’s youth. These exhibits took place in 9 different countries covering 4 different continents. In addition, 4 books written by Aida camps residents have been published internationally in both Arabic and English.

When attempting to find solutions to cases of extreme poverty in the world, it is easy to focus on economic barriers, access to education and lack of basic utilities.

Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian groups readily assist in building wells, providing new agricultural technology and renovating schools. In all the frenzy, the cultural and artistic components are oftentimes overlooked; however, in order to most effectively implement these developmental measures, it is essential to understand the daily lives and beliefs of the people’s expected to adopt these new measures.

It is essential to address not only physical needs but also the emotional ones. Recognizing this importance, the Lajee Center has put culture and the arts at the heart of its grassroots humanitarian efforts and recognizes how creative arts help the poor in ways that traditional relief efforts cannot.

Joanna Dooley
Photo: Flickr

ai weiweiAi Weiwei, perhaps the most important artist alive, has found an interesting topic of study over the past couple of years: the global refugee crisis. Ai’s work has always had a social bend. He has shown his disdain and criticism of the Chinese government, particularly after the Sichuan earthquake, in many of his previous art pieces. In fact, his political activism even landing him in jail for 81 days.

Ai Weiwei: Inspiring with Art

In recent years, however, he has been working outside China in either a subterranean studio in Berlin or working in New York with the Public Art Fund. Ai Weiwei and the refugee crisis are hardly a surprising pair. Though he is veering away from the domestic politics that prompted many of his earlier works, tackling the global refugee crisis, nonetheless, inspires the same poignant and emotionally resonant works for which Ai has become internationally celebrated.

Ai’s art is certainly deserving of its reputation. “Remembering,” perhaps one of his most famous projects, was a massive art piece created in response to the Sichuan earthquake. Ai lined up thousands of backpacks along the Haus der Kunst in Munich. Each backpack represented a child who was lost in the earthquake. In addition, the backpacks spelled out a sentence written by one of the victim’s mother: “All I want is to let the world remember she had been living happily for seven years.”

The sensitivity Ai showed in focusing on the tragedy of a large number of people while highlighting the individual—in that case, the child’s mother—is how he has been able to approach the global refugee crisis. It is also that level of sensation, that which marked “Remembering” as an art piece, that should keep Ai Weiwei and the refugee crisis in the headlines.

Ai Weiwei and the Refugee Crisis

Ai Weiwei has responded to the crisis with several art projects and a documentary film, “Human Flow,” now available for streaming on Amazon. The documentary, as well as the project of combatting the refugee crisis, is ambitious. It is grand. It is wide in scope.

The film opens with an aerial shot of the sea. A refugee reception is soon underway as refugees come ashore from their boat on that sea. The image, the tiny heads adrift surrounded by impossibly small waves, conveys the immeasurability of the scene. Yet, as the film progresses, faces are visible, close-up. And, for a moment in this opening see, the audience sees the director.

The film isn’t just about the refugee crisis; it is about the international figure Ai Weiwei and the refugee crisis. He, the director, appears in many crucial scenes throughout the film. It is his documentary and his exploration of the crisis. Yet, his image is used sparingly. The audience sees him react to people organically; they see his emotional reactions, but the focus is always on the other people—the refugees.

The documentary spans several countries and jumps from location to location; not creating a story, but an especially moving tapestry of lives woven together by the different crises they experience. Close-ups highlight the individual while aerial shots from drone cameras create a sense of scale.

Ai Weiwei’s New York Art Project

As part of his work for New York’s Public Art Fund, with proceeds also going to the IRC and the UNHCR, Ai Weiwei used portraits of 300 of the refugees he encountered doing research and creating the documentary to create banners on display around the city. The banners are part of his “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” exhibition, in which the artist also created several fence or cage installations around New York City as a commentary on the tendencies to not treat refugees with the respect and humanity they deserve.

Moreover, the images of individuals, used as part of a massive and publicly accessible art projects deal, are a testament to the massive scale of the crisis, and yet they imbue the subject, the refugee, with individuality and emotional resonance. These pieces are guaranteed to be seen when walking around New York.

The documentary and his other art projects serve to create and propagate awareness. It is not just an awareness of the refugee crisis, but of the otherwise unseen humans who are affected by the crisis. It is the emotion behind the art of Ai Weiwei and the refugee crisis itself that needs to be shared. And a readily streamable documentary along with a strong public art project serve as excellent ways of spreading awareness. His work can be seen as a call for action to address the needs of the global poor and the world’s refugees.

Ai Weiwei is far from finished making a statment on the refugee crisis. His next project, entitled “Laundromat,” will be in Qatar. The artist uses 2,046 articles of clothing left behind by refugees when fleeing the Greek island of Lesbos. In an email interview about this new project with the New York Times, Ai asserts this call for action, noting “We cannot reject the idea that humanity is one.”

William Wilcox

Photo: Flickr

inspiring actionAn inspiring action is something one thinks of when seeing a good deed done. For some photojournalists, their profession is intended to do just that. In taking thought-provoking, sometimes hard to look at, photos of a war-ravaged country or a starving child, photojournalists are inspiring action through their work for the betterment of the people in the photos.

The Inspiring Actions of Photo Journalists

Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives and Faces of the World’s Poor by author Thomas A. Nazario is a book that features photography by Pulitzer Prize-winner Renee Byer. The photographs capture the lives and struggles of people from 10 different countries living in poverty on less than a dollar a day. Byer worked as a photojournalist for the Sacramento Bee for many years before becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer.

Inspired by the reaction of people viewing her photos for Living on a Dollar a Day before the book and exhibit were published, Byer created the Youbridge-it app. The app allows viewers of her photographs to donate to specific poverty-related causes as soon as they see the people in the photos and are inspired to help.

For Example, Intrahealth International is one of the foundations that viewers can donate to specifically through the Youbridge-it app. This organization provides treatment for women with obstetric fistula in Mali, which accounts for six percent of all maternal deaths every year and is preventable. With the Youbridge-it app, people can simply pull up the app at the exhibit or when looking through the book and donate.

Aside from helping women across the globe with her photography, Byer is “…asking people to imagine that reality as their reality.” Byer believes people are desensitized to photographs of people suffering, another reason why the app is so important and effective.

Her belief in the power of photography has served as a catalyst for change. It happens in real time, as people feel empathy while viewing the pictures; they can donate immediately on the app. Connections like these are essential to inspiring action that creates change by means of photojournalism.

The Dangers and Sacrifices of Photo Journalists

Not only are photojournalists opening doors to the ills of the world but they also often risk their lives in taking these photos. Chief photographer for Agence France-Presse in Kabul Shah Marai was killed in a suicide bombing in April of this year on the job. Marai had been documenting the war and lives devastated by corrupt government rule in Afghanistan since 1998. Over the course of 20 years, 18,000 photos taken by Marai had been published, educating the world on the horrors and realities of people living in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

In countries where media is controlled by corrupt governments, photojournalism speaks truths that inspire those globally to step in. Though Marai and other photojournalists are not necessarily directly linked to any charity organizations, their photos are inspiring action among those that are more fortunate.

Neither charity organizations nor the media would be quite as effective without the photographs of the truth to go along with them. As Byer said, putting oneself in a suffering person’s shoes inspires empathy, and that empathy is what creates change.

There are millions of suffering people in the world, and photojournalists are connecting the gap between us and them. The continued innovation of apps like Youbridge-it and the bravery of the photojournalists behind such projects will help people living in poverty around the world by inspiring action from the more fortunate.

Hope Kelly
Photo: Flickr