Laurie Reyman, Project Director of Visions of Hope speaking with a Patrick Gono, a student at the ChildArt Liberia art center on the outskirts of Monrovia.
In the capital of Liberia, Monrovia, Laurie and I have been purchasing supplies for the project as well as food to sustain us during our stay in Harper. There are approximately 20,000 refugees and returnees from the Ivory Coast that have arrived in Harper in the past two weeks, which may possibly cause a food shortage for the Harper Area. The Ivory Coast border is 1 hour away from Harper. In Monrovia we have been meeting with the Executive Director of ChildArt Liberia, our sponsoring organization to discuss the workshop we will hold in May to teach Harper teachers how to teach art in schools.
ChildArt Liberia is the only national non-profit organization in Liberia devoted to teaching children art. The one man running this organization, Mr. Fato Wheremongar, shares the same vision as our project goals: to bring the arts to Liberian youth, which is the reason for our partnership. Mr. Wheremongar’s goal is to bring the arts to every school in Liberia, believing that art has a positive affect on learning as well as healing trauma in youth. He privately trains youth at his arts center in the outskirts of Monrovia, and travels throughout many of the 15 counties of Liberia to lead trainings and workshops, covering a large territory for his small operation each year. Mr. Wheremongar has been bringing his findings on the positive affect of his work to the Liberian government. He is using this as proof to support his lobbying efforts to include art in the Liberian School curriculum.
It is a good feeling to be brought face to face with a man who is clearly dedicated to bringing art into people’s lives, and who for the years has observed how it changes and affects people for the better. It also is clear that he knows through his life experience as a Liberian what life is like without art, something as an American that I have not known. In our conversions with Mr. Wheremongar the need was made palpable for visual arts to be a part of a child’s life here, as well as the need for teachers to become aware of the visual signs that help children learn as well as affecting their emotions.
Wheremongar explained that color is powerful enough to set off a post traumatic stress episode for a child. The color red could remind a child of violence s/he has witnessed, evoking the bloodiness of violence. Today, most teachers in Liberia don’t understand how color can negatively or positively affect a child in the classroom. A teacher might wear a red dress to work for example and a child will begin to misbehave, unable to focus on learning. The teacher, not understanding, will react by punishing the child. Children here may also express their PTSD by drawing with only red to the point that even when a drawing exercise is specific, the child might make the entire page red. From the standpoint of a teacher, not knowing how powerfully color communicates and affects how we feel, the teacher will think that the child is purposefully misbehaving instead of responding naturally to his/her circumstances and memories. Mr. Wheremongar also points out that when we learn, we often will absorb information visually. His work in training teachers how to teach with visual aids is to create a more comprehensive learning environment.