Taking My Talents to Africa


We all have those magical moments, those keepsake memories that shape who we are. For me, one of those moments happened in preschool when my teacher poured a cup of blue water into a cup of yellow water—and suddenly there was green! Today art is what I do for a living, as a graphic designer with Children of the Nations (COTN). And this summer, that job led me to a place I never expected to go—Africa. 

There I was in Lira, Uganda, drawing a color wheel on the blackboard with 40 second-graders staring up at me. They knew the names of all the colors, but when I explained that mixing colors together made new colors, I wasn’t sure they believed me. With an odd sense of déjà vu, I found that I was now the teacher. 
The children at COTN’s school in Uganda loved learning about various art forms
The children at COTN’s school in Lira, Uganda, loved learning about various forms of art during a summer art camp.
I poured the blue water into the yellow water, and the room filled with oohs and aahs, murmurs and giggles of excitement. When I explained that we were going to paint, one small girl in the back row looked like she had just won a trip to Disneyland. Everyone made a color wheel that day, and every face wore a huge grin when the students held up their work for a class picture. 
The children were so excited to learn how mixing two colors makes a new color.
                         The children were so excited to make their color wheels and learn about mixing colors.
Color wheels were just the beginning. I had come to Uganda with a team of friends, and together we held a four-day art camp for the 300 children at COTN's school in Lira. During the camp, the children played games, drew self-portraits, made all kinds of craft projects, learned about art history and photography, wrote poetry, wove baskets, and even learned to dance hip-hop style. The children were like sponges, soaking up every new experience they could get their hands on, with eagerness and excitement. 
Their excitement was at an all-time high when we brought three marimbas to the school. This was the first time the children had ever seen a marimba, and the sound of children plunking out notes on all three instruments at the same time was like a symphony of musical raindrops that could be heard all over the campus. In three days’ time, these first-time musicians performed “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” a brand new song to them, in front of the entire school and a huge gathering of community members. Now that’s impressive!
Children performed “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” on the marimbas the team brought
                    Children performed “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” on the marimbas the team brought to Uganda.
Nothing impressed me more, though, than the extraordinary paradox I saw in every person I met. In Uganda, I didn’t just meet a group of 300 students. I met 300 walking miracles. These children know where they come from. They have seen war. They have known tragedy. Many of them live in mud huts smaller than my bedroom. But despite all this, they know where they’re going. 
After reading the children a story about a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, I asked, “What do you want to transform into when you grow up?” Hanna wants to be a doctor. Barbara wants to be a pilot. And four-year-old Jonathan—he wants to be president of Uganda. And that’s just the beginning of the list. I have never seen such a hunger to learn and an eagerness to dream like I did in those children, and I can’t wait to see what they become!
COTN art camp in Uganda
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