The initial Harambee Arts groups were held in Nairobi in 2008 and have been ongoing since that time. Originally we were approached by the Kenya Institute of Education to work with children with special needs at the City Primary School in Ngara. Simon, Salim and Fahima are among the children with whom we have developed deep bonds, like family, for the past 8 years.
Also in 2008, the Langata Women’s Prison requested a week long “body mapping” workshop for the HIV + women inmates. The workshop was so successful that they asked us to continue to facilitate a bi-monthly support group. The women have to be voluntarily tested for HIV in order to qualify for the program. Many were disappointed when they tested negative because they were not able to attend the very special group.
The Kibera KIDS4PEACE group in Kibera was born as a partnership with young local artists who reside in the slum. Every Saturday we brought large tins of paint and 60 + children to paint murals along a whitewashed wall in Kibera. The program soon grew as a leadership and mentoring project and still continues.
At Langata Women’s Prison we’ve created a support group for women inmates—most of whom are imprisoned for petty crimes and who are HIV positive. By making art, dancing and sharing stories, the women experience joy and hope even in their highly restricted prison environment. Harambee Arts groups provide a moment of feeling normal. The women are not seen as criminals, but rather as capable, powerful and strong. Their strengths are emphasized and acknowledged.
Some of the women in our group have been arrested for murder, most commonly of the girlfriend of their husband. One said, “I walked into the house and they were together in the family bed. I grabbed a pipe and couldn’t control myself.” Those women are the “condemned and they wear a different color uniform from the others—grey. They are not allowed to do common chores such as sweeping or cleaning. The opportunity to attend the Harambee Arts group is a life-line for women who are constantly harassed, made to stand most of the day, don’t get proper nutrition and live empty lives.
In Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, we host a healing arts program for children who live in squalid conditions. Within an environment of rivalry, crime and conflict, children of different tribes learn to collaborate and express their dreams, joys and fears.
What really stands out about the children of Kibera is their openness, warmth and enormous spirit. “How are you, how are you?” will echo down the alleys, repeated hundreds of times. The children invent games with a piece of dusty plastic, an old tire or some sticks and they entertain themselves for hours—laughing loudly. The goal for most is to collect enough money to purchase a school uniform, a pencil and small notebook and to pay school fees. The opportunity to attend school is an enormously sought after privilege.
Harambee Arts hires young people who are former group participants. They assist in the groups and receive a small stipend to assist with school fees.
At City Primary School, we provide art programs for autistic children, those with Down Syndrome and others with other mental health challenges. The children are highly shunned and stigmatized in Kenya, often tied to a table all day while the parents work. A mother is commonly ostracized from the village with the child and left to her own devices. The fortunate children attend the City Primary school “special unit”, started by a mother of an autistic child.
At the very beginning, in 2008, we were told that we could draw shapes and that the children, with help, could fill them in. Instead, we offer beautiful and abundant brilliant colors, clean brushes and good paper. Our beautiful groups LOVE to paint and each has developed his/her own style. They have amazed the staff and parents. Several years ago we were asked to exhibit their art work at the Museum of Modern Art in Nairobi. It was a huge success. Many of the children occasionally still say “museum, museum” spontaneously, with a sweet smile.
Your 100% tax deductible gift to Harambee Arts: Let’s Pull Together TM directly helps provide art programs for vulnerable children in an environment that fosters their sense of joy, creativity and exuberance.