Revitalizing Little Wlebo Refugee Community Through Art
“Thanks to Colors of Connection, now we are loved by the community.”
-Teka, age 16, Little Wlebo Project Participant
July 2012 – September 2012
Little Wlebo Refugee Camp, Liberia
30 youth participants
Built community and solidarity
Revitalizing a Refugee Community Through Art took place at Little Wlebo Refugee Camp in southeastern Liberia, a camp established in 2011 to assist thousands of refugees fleeing from civil unrest in Cote d’Ivoire. At the time of the project, the camp hosted approximately 8,500 refugees.
This project worked with marginalized youth in the camp to create a sense of place, culture, and self-representation for refugees of Little Wlebo.
While the goal of this project was the creation of two murals, the process of building these pieces of community art entailed many steps involving the entire community’s input and vision, and in the process facilitated community building that can be applied to other aspects of their lives.
Colors of Connection created one of the first projects in the camp focusing specifically on the needs of youth aged 10-20, a vulnerable and marginalized group. Studies have shown that youth above the age of 10 or 12 in refugee camps tend to have less opportunity to engage in recreational and educational opportunities than younger youth. The youth we worked with had no school to go to, and while they were at an age in which peer and adult support is needed to guide them through age appropriate concerns, they had no recreational opportunities or alternative spaces to give voice to their experiences or have an outlet for their emotions. The refugee camp environment itself also contributed to a difficult experience for all members of the community, causing feelings of displacement, multiple levels of bereavement, and the disruption of community and social support networks. As is the case in other refugee camps, refugees at Little Wlebo have no role in the governance, design and organization of the space and activities in their community, and few venues or forms of media for self-expression. Humanitarian workers usually are their only source of representation outside the camp, making for a mostly unseen and muted presence. Facilitating the creation of a community mural project symbolically and in actuality creates a vehicle to be seen and heard.
Over the course of six weeks, Colors of Connection mobilized 30 out-of-school youth (15 males and 15 females) in this age group to transform two walls of their distribution center into expressions of their hopes and dreams through murals. Twenty-five prominent leaders in the community formed a community arts council to advise and guide the project. They chose themes for the murals that would encourage their community and oversaw the design and painting. One mural expressed the importance of education in giving Ivorian refugee youth a brighter future and a platform from which to help develop Côte d’Ivoire. The second mural exhibited symbols and images that expressed the importance of peace within the refugee community and in Côte d’Ivoire.
For many of the out-of-school, marginalized youth this was the first time since their arrival in the camp that they were given the opportunity to engage in an organized project where they could take on transformative roles and be recognized and admired by their community for their powerful contribution. Twenty-seven youth finished the project.
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