Mami Wata: Heal the Children of War Through Art – Entry 8

Listen to the Paint of Children – Entry 8

The lotus flower emerges from the sludge and grows into the symbol of enlightenment. Painted by the rough hands of former debt-bonded slaves in 2011, these soft petals bless the canvas of their new life. The brush of creativity replaces the endless skin-tearing brick of the factories near Varanasi, India. Here in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, mango trees bare heavenly fruit even in the center of the barbwire jungle… and so does humanity! Africa does not wish to be seen as a charity case, as a victim, nor as a graveyard of walking skeletons that can be exploited for immediate gratification, iced with crimson stained diamonds. Africa does not want to be saved; she wants to be respected and listened to.
Ferida was an employee in the largest youth house of Eastern Europe until the day bombs dropped, the roof collapsed above her and snipers picked off her colleagues in the street, only eight years after the 1984 Olympics carried the torch of humanity into the stadium of Sarajevo a couple kilometers away. Around the same time that the stadium was converted into a cemetery Ferida hid from the war on the 9th floor of an apartment building without running water nor electricity, where she wrote a playful children’s book of letters. It has since been published and is now part of the public school curriculum in Bosnia. I was blessed to interview this amazing woman while co-directing the film, “Revival: a documentary about Hope” where we were assisting in the re-opening of the youth house and joining in on renegade art missions with the kids at 3:30 in the morning spray painting something familiar on the unrecognizable bombed city. “We do not want to be remembered only by the war; we want to be remembered for the good things.” Ferida said. Her words echo through the hearts of all those around the world who remembered the power of love in face of terror and climb up the slippery slopes of the black box to freedom.
Suffering is a global epidemic that weaves through every corner of the globe, choosing the appropriate mask for the occasion, while stitching an army of fears together with red-thread. The magnified physical suffering of the children in Africa is a direct reflection of the abandoned inner-child in regions around the world, especially those who claim a “high standard of living”. Trying to save the world from the outside-in, based on a subjective belief in order to save thyself, is the tendency in history that essentially wiped out 80% of the South American Indigenous. It is now time for humanity to release the guilt of being born that hides beneath excuses, insecurities and finger-pointing. It is time to celebrate our self worth together as one, like the underground railway of roots. Nature is worthy. We are nature; therefore, we are worthy! Over the passed months I have witnessed the courageous youth of CAMME begin to neutralize crippling fears with the strength of love, creativity and positive expression. What an inspiration this place has been for my art and my life. Africa is speaking through the paintbrushes of the innocent and I am so grateful to listen. Each and every soul I have been blessed to paint beside has added an emerald to the quality of my life. I get to bring art and they remind me of true freedom… What a dream!
Tears of joy fill my eyes as I pack with the reflection of some of the best moments of my life. There is no room for the fears, the corruption, and the threat of war in my bag. I have chosen to carry the loving moments that have touched me forever into the next chapter of my life. The Christmas in Rwanda with Nathaniel and the Lunanga family and the orchestra of African birds, the moments holding hands with the orphaned mountain gorillas, the movie nights with Jean Paul, and play time with “baby” Andy who called me Papa morning, noon and night. I am packing the moment shooting penalty kicks in the street with adorable kids and a soccer ball made of plastic bags and string, the laughter, Cathy’s kindness, Saturday slumber parties with Stewart, his wonderful wife, and baby in the oven, the Sunday family gatherings and awesome conversations with Aubrey, the photography teacher. I am blessed to travel with the unconditional love of Mamma Furaha, the moments of exercise and yoga with neighborhood friends, the spectacular tropical fruit salads, the immense depth in the smile of an elderly that reached into my heart from a block away, both wrinkled hands raised up into the air to say, “Greetings! I have no weapon, and I have zero desire to harm you”. I will bring the carved walking stick from Kams, the muscles built from catching 20+ children as they dove at my legs each day just before art class, and… “I WOULD PUT EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE KIDS IN MY BAG IF I COULD! I love them all, even the punks!” As you can see there is no room for rotten fruits of fear; it is no coincidence that my 1976 Volkswagen Bus is named “The Magical Mango”.
The plan was to take a week off in between projects, but my heart longed to be with the kids; therefore, I am teaching art class until the last hour in DR Congo. As I depart this magnificent family of CAMME, who have welcomed with open arms, I am thrilled to know that art therapy has carved a permanent niche into the curriculum. The goal of creating a sustainable art therapy project here in Goma has succeeded!!! The psychologist on site has spent the last two months studying the effects art has on the human psyche and has since declared that art therapy should be included in the psychological department at the universities across the DR Congo. He and the homegrown art teacher will be working together, along with Nadia and future volunteers, to further explore the healing practices of the arts through both individual and community exercises. Together with Nadia we are planning to create an international visual-dialogue between children around the world, starting with the youth from here, in DR Congo, conversing with the children I will be working with in Uganda next week! Stay tuned. Art shows are in the making, the mural of powerful symbolism covers the front gate, the inner-walls of the school are decorated with group art, individual canvases have been showered with insightful reflections of the soul, more than a couple thousand drawings and paintings have been created… and the Mami Wata Art Therapy Project is able to leave six months worth of art supplies. Thank you so much for all of those who have supported this dream from around the world. I could not have done it without you. This project has been profoundly successful all the way around. I give so much thanks to the family Lunanga and NGO CAMME. Without your heroic stories and commitment to love, integrity, healing and unity, hundreds of children would still be on the street and I would never have been so blessed to meet you. It has been a true honor to share this dream and contribute to this breath-taking mission of love you have been embodying since 2007 and beyond. You are always in my heart! Goodbye Goma, until next time!
LOVE BENJAMIN