Harambee Arts Founder, Gloria Simoneaux

Gloria
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gloria

Founder Gloria Simoneaux currently directs Harambee Arts in Kenya and Nepal. She also does consulting for other international development organizations. Gloria started Harambee Arts, Let’s Pull Together, as a Fulbright scholar in Nairobi in 2008.

“My work draws from three sources — profound love and respect for children, an understanding of the powerful benefits of art and play as healing tools and a belief that everyone has something of value to contribute to society and deserves an opportunity to give back.

Throughout my life, I have felt compelled to reach out to underserved children. Since age thirteen, when I volunteered in a pediatric hospital in New York City, I have used art to connect with disturbed and traumatized children. After high school, I traveled for twelve years and lived in isolated villages on mountaintops of various continents with pure hearted people. When I returned to the United States, I created an arts program for children with the most hopeless cancer diagnoses at an experimental cancer center in San Francisco. The children taught me to listen attentively and to sit with pain. In 1989 I initiated DrawBridge: An Arts Program for Homeless Children, which has successfully served more than 15,000 children in San Francisco Bay Area family shelters and safe houses. DrawBridge is 26 years old and going strong.

I am in awe of the women and children struggling with unspeakable loss and suffering on the African continent and in Nepal. And I am grateful beyond measure to the people with whom I have journeyed. They survive with grace, dignity and humor and have informed the methodology that we use at Harambee Arts. I have witnessed their support of one another in the spirit of Harambee, a Swahili word meaning, “Let’s pull together.” For example, I have trained Zimbabwean grandmothers in rural villages who are pre-school teachers. They are teaching because all of the teachers are dead. The grandmothers also raise their orphaned grandchildren — up to twenty young children. They enthusiastically request training so that they can become the best teachers that they can be. They deserve our support. In Nepal we work with survivors of human trafficking who are now trained in the Harambee Arts methodology and train others. These women are powerful role models as they travel around Nepal and lead workshops to empower girls and prevent trafficking. They deserve our support. Autistic children are shunned and stigmatized in Kenya. Some are tied to a table or a bed all day long while the parents are at work. And they have so much to offer. They deserve our support.

I stand with those who are invisible, and have lost all hope. Together we make a difference and heal wounds through the strength of community and love.

In addition to my professional life, I am an artist, a writer, a salsa dancer, a mother, a grandmother and an adventurer.”