Monday, December 5, 2011

AHOPE, art and supporting kids' development

This post can also be found at my friend's blog,

Hello “Under the Acacia Tree” followers! My name is Gina, and I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Ethiopia for two weeks with the gang known as the “mudulamamas”-I am a mom of two, our youngest daughter is Ethiopian. I am an artist, and much of my artwork is a reflection of my internal dialogue about Ethiopia, adoption and family. During my trip, I had the opportunity to meet with a wide range of Ethiopian artists- from a traditional religious artist to a world- famous and beloved patriot of Ethiopia, to visiting a gallery showing of an incredible abstract artist who is paralyzed and works on a massage table facing the floor, to male and female contemporary artists that are making a name for themselves both in Ethiopia and around the world. The need to create art is universal and unique in its own way. It was an incredible experience. Along with this, I had the treat of spending time and doing artwork with some kids
at AHOPE. (to learn more about AHOPE and all the incredible work they do, click here:

Several of the “mudulamamas” spent one Saturday morning at AHOPE, working on a craft
project with both the younger and older group of children at AHOPE. I spent some time with the younger kids working on a canvas bag project- the kids were all excited as they travelled in groups, first spraying colors all over the bags, impatiently waiting for the bags to dry, and then running to a shaded corner to draw on the bags. I was asked by one of the social workers to do an additional art project with the younger kids, since the older children soon arrived to work on their canvas bags. I had not planned on doing a separate project, but I figured no problem- “chigger yellem”. I figured kids are pretty fearless when it comes to art and just going with it- it’s the adults that get that “deer in the headlight” look (I’m speaking of myself) when you are faced with a blank piece of paper.

I asked the kids to work in small groups of four (there were six groups), and the first part of the project was for each group to spend about 3 minutes discussing and deciding upon a theme for their piece of artwork. Large pieces of poster board were handed out to each group, and each group shared what theme they were going to draw out as group- dinosaurs, a religious cross, a horse and landscape, a picture of their family home, etc. The kids all worked cooperatively during the drawing time, each group quickly delegating the drawing to the “best drawer” in the group and discussing what to draw where. It was going along swimmingly. And then it was time to bring out the art materials- to color the images, to embellish their artwork- I had brought some art supplies to AHOPE, but wasn’t really sure what they needed or had on hand- I figured they must have a pretty well stocked supply of art supplies. I brought several tubes of paint (they did not have any paint brushes and I had a huge pile of brushes back at the guest house where we were staying). I had pastels back at the guest house (they had no pastels). I had watercolors and watercolor paper back at the guest house (they had no watercolors or paper). I think you get the picture. I remembered I brought a large package of colored tissue paper that I often use in my mixed media pieces- AHA!!! All we needed was glue sticks! No problem, right? Wrong. All that was available was ½ of ONE glue stick- to be shared with around 25 kids, and clear office glue that I wasn’t sure the kids should use. I showed the kids how to do collage work with the tissue paper, and all the kids shared the glue without any complaints. Thankfully, sharpie markers (from the canvas bag project) and crayons were found and the kids kept busy working on their masterpieces. As time quickly approached to stop the project, I explained to the kids that their work is not yet complete, that I hope they continue to work on their pieces, and to remember to sign their artwork before it is hung for display in their rooms. Several children came up to me and thanked me for working with them- it was such a fun experience, and they appeared to have a lot of fun, despite the lack of basic art supplies. Once again, it opened my eyes to what I still take for granted- the assumption that “what you need” is going to be there just because it’s what you expect. That is not reality for AHOPE or many other programs in Ethiopia.

I have struggled with the feeling that bringing art supplies to Ethiopia is low on the totem pole, ridiculous, foolish even. Art does not fill your belly or keep you from getting sick. But, I DO know that art soothes the soul, makes you feel good from the inside out, what helps you make sense of the world. I remember as a child spending hours drawing and imagining pictures in my head- I see it in these kids as well- it’s universal- the need to create and make sense of things. Why else would there be professional artists in Ethiopia, trying to make a living in a country where most of the artwork is purchased by foreigners and a very few wealthy Ethiopians? I think they are gambling on the idea that someone will look at their work and connect with it. Maybe one or many of the kids at AHOPE will someday want to become artists. Maybe, maybe not, but they deserve the chance to find out for themselves.

1 comment:

Courtney and Paul said...

Beautiful post, Gina. I was crying thinking about not having those art supplies we all take for granted here. I clearly remember visiting AHOPE while on our trip, which makes the image all the more real. Thank you for making this trip and keep posting your blog postings to FB or I'll never remember to come over here to read them. :) Much Love.