Mami Wata: Heal the Children of War Through Art – Entry 14

Forgiven But Not Forgotten – Entry 14

301 innocent souls were buried on top of one another in a mass grave after Kony brutally attacked the refugee camp of Borlonyo in 2004. Moses, the clan leader, was sadly not able to part the waters to save his people this time. With his eyes cast to the ground, his heart buried beneath the soil with loved ones, he shared with us the account of the horrific day where he himself lost 17 family members. The Mami Wata Art Therapy Project is now working with hundreds of survivors from the massacre. In this world of dualities, creation and destruction walk hand in hand. The power of intention defines each soul, while liberation lives within a single choice: the freedom to love or the freedom to hate. Children are stolen from their homes, forced to murder their own family, watch their parents burn alive, endure serial rape and have even been boiled alive, and yet, children are miraculously finding the power to forgive. The power of creative healing can be seen in the transformation of the underrepresented across the globe.

With persistence our team works through the cultural differences of time management in order to get flying on our highest calling, sharing art therapy with the children. Just as it appears that the momentum in our favor, we learn of a surprise visit from Moreno Ocampo, the former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court within the United Nations. In fact, the Borlonya massacre, where we are now working, was one of the main elements that Ocampo used to initiate his case against Kony and eventually endighted him for it. Ocampo came to visit the pains written across the faces of the community, hear the voices of the abandoned child mothers, and support the psychotherapy and educational programs of Invisible Children, Children of Peace Uganda and our art therapy project. At the memorial site infront of hundreds of survivers Ocampo offers to represent the community as their lawyer and help them stand up for their rights and urge the new head Prosecutor to re-open the case as the numbers of dead reported by the government was drastically less than the number of bodies counted. This is only one of several massacres and over 70,000 children have now been abducted with less than half returning home. Kony is still at large, reported to be continuing his horrific escapade of crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Although the shift in scheduling could be seen as a major obstacle in our month long curriculum, we transform it into an opportunity. We ask the children to step aside from our regular lessons to create something special, a painting of their trauma covering the bottom third of the composition and the beautiful hope brightens the top 2/3. Out on the grass, shaded by a grandfather tree, we paint with the at-risk youth. They willingly express both their suffering and newly found dreams without struggle. Burning villages, rebels firing AK-47s at innocent people, a father burning in bed with a cartoon bubble above a standing man colored green, “This is the man who burned my father,” while education and faith dominate their compositions above the pain, along with self portraits of bright colors and fancy clothes, friends, and music. They personally gift their creation to the Chief Prosecutor, Politicians, Religious Leaders, and humanitarian workers.

Three days a week we are scheduled to ride an hour down the rural-red roads to work with two community schools, one on either side of the Borlonyo massacre site. The wind is in our hair, our baby-sound system provides the ever evolving soundtrack to the movie of life, and we jump right out of the big screen, on an Indian motorbike, riding three people strong in what can only be called Uganda-Unlimited. We arrive at Coorom school and are immediately surrounded by nearly 500 wide-eyed pupils dressed in florescent green uniforms. Due to the lack of classroom space, the students carried their desks atop their head, and our first class was initiated within their church. The holiness of the moment can be limited by zero containers, nor judgement… the creator and created merged into one. The willingness to learn in this region of the world will inspire us long after death. The innocents glowing from the whites of 400 eyes are ready fly into the creative unknown with wings painted from their own imagination.

Through Borlonyo we ride waving to both buried and walking spirits alike. Two wheels carry us down the walk-path, passing gazes from the villagers at the water wells and burning fields. Our arrival at Oritz School was it with another field full of wondering students, but this time dressed in deep purple. We enter the classroom for a small lesson and soon enough almost every child of the school is piled into the class leaving us literally pressed against the corner. Those who can not squeeze in are hanging from the barred window outside. Our spirits raved as we sorted through the rainbow of art supplies last week and yet with the realization of how many children are eager to participate in the art classes, for a split second the rainbow suddenly seemed so small. Off to the supply store the motorbike rolled with huge, smiling hearts knowing that the abundance of love will transform 500 sheets of paper into 5000.

With Love & Gratitude,
Benjamin Swatez & The Mami Wata Crew!