“The artist’s vocation is to send light into the human heart” — George Sand
I’m in Kigali, Rwanda. A developing country. There are so many basic needs here, and on a huge scale. People need clean water, food, clothing, shelter. Orphans need someone to care for them, children need to be able to go to school. As a whole, the people are still healing from the monstrosity they faced nearly 20 years ago.
Why on earth am I teaching ART? Why don’t I do something useful, like teach hygiene, or English, or help clothe people? You know what, I’ve actually grappled with this question for several years now; both on a personal level, and also in ways that effect people on a larger scale.
I always wanted to have a ministry of sorts. I remember a few years ago telling someone my dream of using my photography to help people– to promote the cause of people who couldn’t do it themselves, to teach people how to raise their voices, telling their own stories, and to encourage those who pour out their lives for others. This person told me that photography was a useless skill in the face of great need, and that I should have become something useful, like a doctor or an engineer. Well, I disagree.
So, these children at Through the Eyes of Hope amaze me everyday. You know what art does for them? It shows them beauty. It shows them that they have the choice and the ability to see and to create beauty in their own world. That they can view their communities, villages, schools, churches, families and lives with a different set of eyes. You know what beauty does for people? It brings joy. It gives an individual something to look forward to, something to live for, even. In the end, it gives hope, and hope is what empowers people to change their lives for the better.
One of the girls in the TEOH program, Odila, is just about to leave for University. She has been in Linda’s program practically since the beginning, and now helps a ton with the younger kids. She was orphaned at a very young age, and raised by her older sisters. Today, she told me that she wants to study community development at the University, because her country needs help to grow. Through the art program, she learned to see her world differently, and to think that she can actually make a difference in her native country.
“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” –Pablo Picasso
Art is important. Teaching art to children is important.
Children need some form of expression, some sort of outlet. Yes, they need to be fed and clothed and protected. But they also need someone to listen to them, to pour love, approval, and affection into them. They need a safe place to process their lives, and a healthy outlet for whatever creative energies they store up. Art and expression, whether it’s photography, painting, singing, dancing, or basket weaving is healing. I think that the children here, and the children who grow up in the inner city, and children who have been neglected or orphaned need art in their lives more than any others.
I think of different art teachers who’s stories have been told– Roberta Guaspari from “Music of the Heart” (think Meryl Streep). She taught violin to kids in inner city Harlem in the early 90’s. People thought it was useless, but she knew that BEAUTY CHANGES LIVES. Her kids grew up and made futures for themselves. I think of Zana Briski from “Born into Brothels”. She could have just gone in and rescued those girls from forced prostitution and the slave trade. But she taught them to photograph their world, and they changed their lives for the better.
“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.” –Edward Hopper
ART IS IMPORTANT. Children are important. They are our future, and how they see their world is how our world will become. Let’s teach them beauty.