Syrian Refugee Art Therapy Project – Chapter 1

Syrian Refugee Art Therapy Project – Chapter 1

We sit on the roof tops of Aqaba, Jordan just before sunrise. Harmonizing voices scattered across the city echo the song of this astonishing view of glowing mosques, silhouetted mountains and the Middle Eastern culture reflecting off the Red Sea. This areal perspective of a peaceful and welcoming country warms the chilled air and within a week since our arrival, countless authentic interactions with beautiful Jordanians have revealed that this land truly is an oasis, amidst the surrounding territories of chaos.

Upon flying into Amman, the capital, the homeland security politely borrowed my knife, the team’s drone and Glen escaped with only one camera. Although we left the airport with far less equipment than we entered, we parted with smiles, as the captain was so kind that he almost took his brown, leather jacket right off his back as a gesture of friendship. I drew his portrait upon his request to pass the time while being held up for hours.

From airport to dance floor, Lea Anne arranged social gatherings of family and friends for Glen and I to feel so welcome. We danced it up in a post modern library-by-day, club-by-night venue to shake out the jet lag and get the juices flowing, smiling from ear to ear. Come first light, we hit the road on a mission. Down the Dead Sea Highway we drove with pinks and reds painting the lowest elevation in the world and crystallized white salt deposits outlined the edge of the saltiest body of water known. This land is sprinkled with history beneath every step. We passed modern road signs that indicated the precise locations of this rich history, solidifying that yes indeed, we are in the holy lands. Check points and friendly conversations with military stopped us every 20 minutes, but the one pit stop by choice was at a little tent that swam in the wind and dust where a kind elder from a Bedouin tribe brewed us coffee.

Immediately upon entering Aqaba we sought out paint. Paint is measured in kilos here, not gallons nor liters. Lea Anne knows her beautiful hometown inside and out and our rental car bounced around like a silver pinball, acquiring all the materials for the first chapter of this project. Youth of all ages were eagerly awaiting our arrival under a tent. Sparkling eyes offered us such a warm reception. Everyone was ready to get the paint flowing. To the wall we marched and to my surprise the wall was anything but small, in fact it is 3 x 40 meters, around 12 x 120 feet, the outside face of a school right along one of the major boulevards of the city. Perfect! Let’s do this!

Colors brush, fly and spill over the cement wall with the intention of creating a base foundation. There was no stopping the inspiration of the next generation. The youth were thirsty for guidance and thrilled with any new techniques that they could add to their arsenal of expression. The interest, drive and passion is erupting from these kids; their longing for artistic guidance is now being quenched and the flood gates of new possibilities are opened. Goats, boats, birds, sharks, palms, Bedouin tents, camels, fish, dolphins, faces of locals in the mountains, the Red Sea, the Dead Sea, the treasury of Petra and a happy “smart phone”. Some of the Jordanian youth knew not that art was about raw, uncensored emotion. Some believed that art was only the copying of the “real world”, but now they understand that art can defy gravity, expand beyond “reality” and is an exploration of the ultimate freedom; the only limitations come from that for which our imagination has yet to explore.

What an amazing addiction to have: the will to paint! Those who had the touch and those who were touching a brush for the first time, they were all so excited to participate that my shirt stretched a full size from the kids tugging on it so much asking what they can do next. A master Arabic calligrapher painted beautiful reminders into the silhouetted mountains in the distance for the street to feel every time someone walks, drives, or flies by. “The youth are the future” – “spread the love” – “the bride of the sea” – “be the change you wish to see in the world” – “remember God” – “welcome” – “oh captain”.

Multiple cars pulled over and families emerge asking to add some paint. Security dressed all in black blow kisses from their truck in gratitude for making this incredible city even more beautiful. Glen and I entered Aqaba as strange foreigners and with the help of Lea Anne and the paint, literally within a few days we have become celebrities with endless invitations to eat, drink coffee, and converse with the locals. We have received requests to paint on a mosque, private residents, restaurant, local businesses and hotels throughout this mural process. What an honor! This is just the beginning of a six week project… Stay tuned!

After four days of painting with a couple hundred hands and souls, the first painting of the Colors of Love is complete. While stepping back and admiring the composition we feel so blessed and grateful to have created this beautiful composition that juxtaposes professional technique with the child-like innocence. There are so many cans of paint on this wall! The kids want more and more and more and we are so touched by this response. The next mural begins with Syrian refugees first thing tomorrow morning! Thank you the Colors of Love team, Aaron Wagner, Voices of the Children, Chime-in, OMAI, Salma radwan, the people of Jordan and city Aqaba. We could thank people for days, you are all amazing and you know who you are!

Colors of Love.

Benjamin Swatez

Glen Taylor Shackley

Lea Anne Omar Almetwaly

Voices of the Children