World Painting Tour: Chapter 9 – Orphans with HIV/AIDS paint their hearts with every beat

With change in the air and turmoil shaking up the world, the orphans of the #Aashray home for children with HIV/AIDS in Jaipur, India, have inspired my being to the core with their smiles, their positive outlook on life and their desire to learn in every moment. An average life expectancy for children born with HIV is 25 years and these beautiful youth remind us all that it is not about the quantity of time we have, it is about the quality of time in this blink of an eye we call life. In a culture that disowns people with this disease, the children are thirsty for hugs, laughter and friendship. On the last eve of the mural/ art project boys braided my hair and I drew their portraits upon request… at first I thought the drawings were for them, but then I learned that they were gifting drawing of themselves to be remembered. A powerful lesson of detachment and that we do not die with stuff, we die with the love and friendships that we have shared along the way. “There is no where else in the world that I would rather be at this moment,” I thought.

Livia Riboldi is a Brazilian who had volunteered at Aashray in 2016 and made life long bonds with the children and the staff. She was moved with such emotion that she vowed to return and this time invited artists to help spread the Colors of Love over the new orphanage that is being prepared to house over one-hundred orphans in the beautiful country side of Rajasthan. Thanks to Ms. Riboldi, the Aashray staff and the youth, I have had an experience that has touched my heart forever. We painted all day everyday and completed three large murals with the brushstrokes of almost all of the staff and the residents. Upon return from the new orphanage covered in paint every night, we ate dinner upon throw-rugs on the floor with the kids and then I had art class before their bed time. These children are like sponges, soaking up as much information as they can. Seriously, within forty-five minute art classes they could draw human emotions, realistic animals, shading techniques to give life and even explored surrealism without the normal restraints from the laws of “reality”… and at the beginning I was looking over the shoulder of the older boys to help them refine their brushstroke and technique and at the end I asked them to paint something and off they went with confidence, excitement and real dedication. They earned my respect a million times over and I am so proud to see them blossom into amazing artists practically overnight!

In Taoism it is said that a child is an un-carved block, giving reference to the endless potential before experiences, environment and choices sculpt them. What astonishes me is that these courageous children have already experience severe pain, loss and persecution, and yet, they have CHOSEN to be happy. They have chosen to soak up as much of life as they can with eyes wide open. They are painting a new story every single day! Many children we have worked with here in India do not understand that there is a world outside of India, while most of these youth can speak English, and bits of Spanish, French and Portuguese. One amazing boy drew my house, my bus, Livia’s house and an airport. He was thrilled to hear that Livia had flown in an airplane before and when a plane flew overhead while we were painting, he pointed to the sky with such excitement, saying, “Look, look, look!”

Each member of Aashray helped shape the compositions of these three murals on the new orphanage. We discussed the message we wished to convey and chose symbols accordingly to ideas and feelings expressed by the youth and the staff. Some trees have peacock feathers for leaves and the peacock of the divine feminine is looking eye to eye with the wild stallion, free spirits. The mother and child in the tree are one with nature and expresses that every child deserves to be loved and feel safe. Gandhiji is painted with his walking stick, strolling through the mountains reminding us’ “An eye for an eye will make the entire world blind” and that we may not see the results of our actions in this lifetime, but if you do nothing, nothing will change… “Be the change you wish to see in the world. It was also requested to paint mother Teresa, not as a religious affiliation, but as a symbol of unconditional love and the warmth this orphanage shares both inside and outside of the walls. Silhouettes of children and a woman doing yoga on top of flowers, auras glowing and the hearts expanding! The flowers, painted by everyone, demonstrate the abundance of love in their hearts and the vibrant colors of life they wish to share with the world. Everyone was so excited to add their brushstroke of love to this collaborative work that sometimes we would be driving home after a day of painting with fourteen people crammed into a minivan, singing!

My heart is glowing from this experience and I cannot express my gratitude enough to the children who I now travel with forever in my heart, the staff of Aashray who are there day in and day out bringing the love the best they can with the resources available, and doing an amazing job and Livia Riboldi for inviting me and making this project possible! Huge love to all of you!!!! AJO!!! And thank you to Robert Markey, although he was not here physically, he was with me with every brushstroke!