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Virgil Abloh
Virgil Abloh—designer, disc jockey, engineer and architect—has made major strides in the fashion world. His designs have also helped bring awareness and assistance to people in need.

Who is Virgil Abloh?

Virgil Abloh was appointed Louis Vuitton’s men’s artistic director in March 2018. Prior to his appointment, Abloh was running his own clothing line called Off-White. He launched Off-White in 2013 as a follow up to his streetwear project, Pyrex Vision, which he had started at Kanye West’s design agency, DONDA. His career as a designer serves as an homage to his mother, who used to be a seamstress, despite receiving a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s in architecture.

Abloh’s Philanthropic Efforts for Solar Power

Abloh participated in the Copenhagen International Fashion Fair – Spring/Summer 2019 Edition by joining model Naomi Campbell, graphic designer Peter Saville and photographer Nick Knight in bringing awareness to the Little Sun Foundation, a program focused on the use of solar power. He designed a poster in which the main focus was a solar-powered lamp that comes with a strap so that it can be removed from its stand and worn around the neck like a torch.

This lamp is especially important in areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where electricity is not readily available. People usually light their homes with kerosene lamps, which release toxic fumes that are extremely detrimental to the environment and those around it. When kerosene lamps are replaced with solar-powered lamps, users notice improvements in their health, which also results in better school attendance for school-age children.

The Little Sun Foundation was founded by artist, Olafur Eliasson, whose goal is to provide solar energy to those communities that lack electricity. The foundation also trains youth through solar-education programs. The programs “aim to provide children with tools and knowledge that empower them to shape a sustainable future for themselves and for the planet,” the foundation’s website says.

Without proper lighting, refugee camps can seem like a scary and dangerous place to live, especially for women and children. Wearing the solar-powered lamp helps users feel more at peace about their surroundings. Not to mention, the lamps provide extra light to students who need it to perform well on their homework.

Abloh’s Philanthropic Efforts for Children of War

Abloh contributed his talents in FAMILY’s creative charity initiative to design a graphic t-shirt collection with proceeds going to War Child. War Child is an organization that provides education and a safe space for children and families who have been displaced by war. They also train victims of war to be able to provide for themselves after suffering the loss of their homes and jobs. Their services are offered in Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Jordan.

With his role at Louis Vuitton, Abloh hopes to accomplish great things, not just in the fashion industry, but in an ever-changing, diverse society.

“I want to use Louis Vuitton’s history with travel to really look at different cultures around the world to help make all our humanity visible. When creativity melds together with global issues, I believe you can bring the world together,” Abloh said.

– Sareen Mekhitarian
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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

Child Soldiers
Around 250,000 children around the globe are child soldiers.

Child soldiers are people under the age of 18 who are used for military purposes. They can be boys or girls and can range in age from four to late teens. The tasks of a child soldier vary from fighting to being a messenger. Discussed below are the three leading organizations that help child soldiers recover from being involved in such activities.

Organizations Helping Child Soldiers

Child Soldiers International

Child Soldiers International is an organization based in London that has been around since 1998. Established by other leading human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Child Soldiers International works to end recruitment and use of children on behalf of armed groups.

Among things such as reduction of violations and promoting the ban on child recruitment, the organization puts an emphasis on reintegration. For instance, Child Soldiers International offers literacy and numeracy classes for girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The organization also advocates “to increase the quantity and quality of reintegration programs.”

War Child

War Child, a Canadian based organization, has been around since 1999. “By providing access to education, opportunity and justice, War Child gives children in war-affected communities the chance to reclaim their childhood.” With better education and opportunity, one can better resist the appeal of armed groups.

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF)

UNICEF has been committed to children for the past 70 years. UNICEF has played a big role in helping children around the world by releasing children associated with armed forces and providing them with assistance to return home. The organization supports a variety of recovery services such as physical and mental health, education and skills training.

Since 1998, UNICEF has helped more than 100,000 former children associated with armed groups reintegrate into their communities. The organization discourages the use of the term ‘child soldier’ as it doesn’t adequately include the variety of roles children are recruited to do for military purposes.

These three organizations helping child soldiers recover are making a difference in the lives of children around the world who find themselves caught in the conflict.

Shannon Elder

Photo: Flickr

Uganda

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) took a stronghold in Northern Uganda in 1986. Its leader, Joseph Kony, commanded his troops to overthrow the Ugandan government by abducting thousands of children and forcing them to work for him.

The Lord’s Resistance Army only had access to Northern Uganda, leaving half of the country in disarray while the other side of the country focused on economic and social advancement.

During its malevolent attacks, the LRA was known to kill the weak and old with machetes, swords, or stones. To further elicit fear, Kony would maim victims, leaving his mark on villages.

Kony’s attacks have scarred and uprooted the lives of nearly all Acholi people, who make up the majority of persons living in Northern Uganda. Due to fear, many have taken refuge and fled their homes. Many continued to stay in hiding even after Kony’s attacks became less frequent beginning in 2006.

Due to Joseph Kony’s reign of terror, nearly the entire population of Northern Uganda was displaced. Little was done to ensure that children had access to education, leaving the region with two generations of uneducated youth.

As the Acholi people began to feel safe enough to return to their homes, they became aware of the destruction that happened in their villages. There were no real jobs available, there was no access to education and there was no infrastructure.

Unlike in the rest of Uganda, where children have a chance to receive an education, the dire lack of facilities in Northern Uganda reinforces the cycle of poverty.

Many international organizations are trying to give Acholi children access to education and to help break the dreadful cycle of poverty that is looming over them. For example, War Child is an organization that seeks to ensure that children’s lives are not ruined by war.

War Child is helping by sending 2,000 of the poorest Acholi children to school. This involves training and giving grants to parents, siblings and other family members. In some cases, the grants are given to children directly, so that they may set up their own income-generating enterprises.

The organization is also training teachers in Northern Uganda to teach at a higher standard and to run schools efficiently. War Child also has a Youth Entrepreneurship Operation which provides loans to young Acholi people money to start their own businesses. War Child provides not only funding, but also mentorship and verbal support.

Between getting children in school, hiring and educating teachers and providing entrepreneurship starting blocks, War Child is bringing hope back to a recovering region. The humanitarian community hopes that other organizations will soon be inspired to undertake similar initiatives, in order to help rebuild lives in Northern Uganda.

Bella Chaffey

Photo: Flickr

David BowieDavid Bowie was unique among famous figures. Not only was he a superstar in the music world, he was also a superstar in the world of helping the hungry, sick and poor. His death in January 2016 came as a blow to both worlds.

David Bowie’s charity work involved supporting causes related to disadvantaged children and youth, human rights, poverty and hunger, women’s issues, disaster relief and AIDS relief/reduction.

According to Look to the Stars, David Bowie took part in many charity activities, including 21st Century Leaders/Whatever It Takes, Every Mother Counts, Keep a Child Alive, Save the Children, the Lunchbox Fund and War Child.

According to their website, 21st Century Leaders is a nonprofit foundation with the mission of influencing well-known people “to raise awareness and funds for international development causes, thereby leading the way in promoting positive environmental and sustainable human development solutions.” David Bowie was one of their leaders.

Whatever It Takes is a project through which artists donate artwork or sign products to raise money to fund global development causes, including environmental protection, the alleviation of poverty and the provision of child services. Bowie designed a plate for Whatever It Takes.

Every Mother Counts is devoted to making pregnancy and birth safe for every woman. Bowie donated a song to their cause, which raises money to help maternal and childcare programs all over the world.

Bowie also performed songs for Keep a Child Alive, a nonprofit organization with the mission “to realize the end of AIDS for children and families, by combating the physical, social and economic impacts of HIV,” according to its website. The organization works in South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and India, helping 70,000 people a year.

Bowie also contributed to Save the Children and the Lunchbox Fund. In 2014, Save the Children worked in 120 countries and helped 166 million children. The Lunchbox Fund is a nonprofit organization focusing on “education via nutrition by providing a daily meal for orphaned and at-risk school children in township and rural areas of South Africa,” according to its website. The lunchboxes simply provide a meal to a child who goes to school, offering an incentive to stay in school.

David Bowie donated songs to albums for War Child. War Child is an organization that “works toward a world in which no child’s life is torn apart by war,” as stated on its website. The group has helped almost 100,000 children and adults directly and 500,000 indirectly.

Through these charities alone, David Bowie’s charity legacy lives on and continues to have an effect.

Rhonda Marrone

Sources: Look to the Stars, 21 Century Leaders, Whatever it Takes, Every Mother Counts, Keep Child Alive, Save the Children, The Lunchbox Fund, War Child
Photo: The Imaginative Conservative

education_despite_war
Elementary school is a time that is remembered by new backpacks and the smell of fresh pencils and erasers. Small children proudly sport new outfits and seek out new friends in various classes.

This is the idealized picture of what a small proportion of the world’s children is able to enjoy. In war-torn developing countries, though, elementary schools look very different.

A recent article from The Guardian found that “Almost 50 million children and young people living in conflict areas are out of school, more than half of them primary age, and reports of attacks on education are rising.”

Multiple studies done over the years have found that when it comes to war, education is one of the first casualties. War and other such conflicts cause damage to buildings, displaced families, necessary certificates to be lost, and a change in priorities.

While this is often the case, new programs are springing up that provide access to school even amidst such turmoil.

UNICEF, for instance, has been working with the Ministry of Education to find solutions.

In an article focused on Yemen, the UNICEF site stated that they are, “working with the Government to help organize catch-up classes for those who have missed their education and encourage as many children as possible to return to school for the new school year.”

The combined efforts of UNICEF and the Ministry of Education have also worked to help children take exams that were missed due to schools being closed during the fighting.

War Child is another organization that has been working in several war-torn countries to improve education despite war and conflict.

On their site they shared, “In Afghanistan we’re providing education for the street children who use our drop-in-centres. We’ve also opened 20 Early Childhood Development Centres to provide 620 children aged 4-6 with a pre-school education.”

Similar work is being done in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Uganda and Syria.

These programs allow for children to receive the education that is needed to help end the cycle of poverty in these developing nations despite the negative impacts of war.

Katherine Martin

Sources: The Guardian, UNICEF, War Child
Photo: Google Images