The Humanitarians – Building Connections Through Art

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A t Agora Gallery we know that art is not only about the fast-paced auctions and search for that perfect landscape; it is also about contributing to the world. ‘The Humanitarians’ focuses on artists who use their artistic skills to bring creativity, comfort, and confidence to those who are in dire need of it.

We spoke to Australian artist Jessica Watson-Thorp who spent a week in Moshi, Tanzania in a bid to experience the culture and give back to the community.

Jessica Watson-Thorp in Tanzania
Jessica Watson-Thorp in Tanzania

What was the purpose of your visit to Tanzania?

In February 2017, I spent a week in Moshi, Tanzania, which is a small town nestled at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. My purpose was to take a creative retreat and find out more about the project my fellow artist and friend Heather Haynes has implemented over the past few years.

Can you tell us a little bit about the project and its objectives?

The PUMOJA TUNAWEZA GIRLS AND BOYS CLUB supports underprivileged youth, specifically Street Kids between the ages of 17 and 21. It is a time when these children can no longer attend school but do not have the resources or support to pursue higher education or employment. The children receive a hot meal and a shower daily, as well as a payment equal to what they would make on the street in a day. Through talks and demonstrations of skills, the Club’s programs focus on practical creative training and producing items that can be sold for further support.

Who is the Club run by?

The Club itself is run by leaders who were once street kids themselves, who understand the perils of life on the streets of Moshi and its surroundings. Heather Haynes and Shay Bell oversee and fund the club. Heather spends a few months of the year onsite and Shay, who runs a guest house nearby, is there throughout the year.

How do the children become members of the Club?

If a child visits and decides to become a regular member, they must be at the gates before 8 am and show a commitment to regularly attend. They are also expected to assist in cleaning the Club’s premises before any programs for the day begin. The premises itself is a basic cement house with an outside workshop.

What kind of art do the children produce as part of the Club’s creative programs?

Heather teaches techniques to those who are drawn to painting, then brings the artworks back to her gallery in Kingston, Canada where they are sold with all proceeds going to the Club. Some products the children make are copper bracelets with Swahili phrases that are packaged and sold to visiting tourists to Tanzania, as well as in Canada. Glass bottles are collected and ground down to be sold as funky retro drinking glasses. Loads of traditional beadwork and artwork are made. Canvases are even created by stretching old bedsheets on basic wooden frames with a coat of house paint on top for primer.

What were the aims of your trip? Did you achieve them?

When I embarked on this trip, my aim was to experience, give and provide. I hoped to share skills and techniques in paint, and other mediums. While I did some of that, what I discovered is that everything in Africa takes time. I spent most of my week getting to know the leaders and members of the Club, and how the organization is run. In the end, it was the children who ended up teaching me techniques, like their traditional beadwork and also about life in Tanzania and Africa.

Will you return to Moshi?

Moshi and its surrounding areas is a gritty, edgy place, with dirt roads and very basic facilities, but the scenery and ‘feel’ are warm and beautiful. I will definitely return to be a part of the creative life of The PUMOJA TUNAWEZA GIRLS AND BOYS CLUB and to continue to be inspired by this truly wonderful place.

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