Laurie’s notes from the field:
We’ve completed our first two weeks at Goudoubo Refugee Camp and things are on track! We’ve met with the community leaders and other humanitarian partners working in the camp and the project has been well received. The process of gaining the support and acceptance of the community leaders has been somewhat easier than the process at Mentao Refugee Camp back in October of last year. We think this is because there are a lot of connections between the two communities due to the fact that many of them come from the same families and communities in northern Mali, and the success and value of the project in Mentao has been conveyed to the community here. We’ve recruited our five project assistants and are almost complete with the recruitment of youth participants for the program. Classes are on schedule to start next week.
The process of recruitment was quite a hectic and difficult one. There are so little opportunities for the refugees to get a paying job, or even for kids to be a part of a program where they’ll gain some useful experience, that the response during recruitment was overwhelming. Two of the program assistants we were looking to hire will be assigned to help Christina with teaching the classes, so they need to have some artistic skills in order to be a good fit. Thus, the application for these positions is a drawing of their choice. On the first day of the recruitment, the office was flooded by men wanting to apply for these positions. (Much to our disappointment no women applied for these two positions, even after asking the president of the women’s committee to recruit some.) It was slightly comical seeing all of these grown men crowded around the desks doing amateurish drawings of camels, houses and people with colored pencils. At the same time there was something profoundly sad about it. Under normal circumstances, the majority of these men probably wouldn’t dream of applying for such a position. Many of them didn’t have much skill in drawing and it was somewhat surprising that they would apply. But, given the desperation of the economic situation in the camp, perhaps it’s not so surprising after all.
The recruitment of the youth on the other hand, although also hectic, was much more uplifting to be a part of. Their application process was also done through a drawing and we had over 50 children apply. With no tables available due to other activities in the office, we had the youth sitting in chairs and lined up along two benches that they used for a drawing surface. Watching the kids drawing camels, houses and people (everyone generally drew the same types of things) felt like more of a joyful experience, and there was a more relaxed and natural, less desperate type of energy to the process. While some of the kids hesitated, not quite sure of what to do with the pencils and paper put before them having never had the experience of drawing before, others were much more at ease with the process and helped those who were less certain. Some smaller kids who were too young to apply were eager to draw pictures as well and hung around until all of the other youth had finished so that they could have their turn. We know all of the healing and developmental benefits that come from drawing and other arts activities, and that is why we are here. We’re just lucky that this type of learning and therapy can also be just plain fun.
Witnessing the struggles of the refugees here reinforces our reason for bringing this project to Goudoubo. We hope that being involved in a creative and colorful program within this difficult environment will be a profound experience for everyone involved; an experience that our activities so far has shown us is deeply needed.