Sitting on the floor surrounded by children excitedly painting, drawing, and working together on a mural, it is hard to imagine what lies beyond the walls of this temporary structure where these kids are active. The child-friendly space I am visiting is situated within one of the many internally displaced persons camps in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The children here are among the 500,000 people still living in tents more than two years after the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010.
A group of us traveled to Haiti to visit a UNICEF-supported project called Art in a Bag. This program provides art supplies and training to 92 organizations and community-based partners that UNICEF works with, and is being used in child-friendly spaces and community centers around the country. Over 500 child-friendly spaces will benefit from the Art in a Bag program, reaching over 120,000 children. The project, which was generously funded by The Charles Engelhard Foundation, uses art as a means of therapy to enable children to express themselves, engage positively with their communities, and cope with the stress of the earthquake, poverty, and living in the camps.
As we visited these spaces over the last few days, we saw the power of art to build children’s self-esteem and illustrate their dreams for Haiti. On Saturday, several of the children exhibited their work for us in Port-au-Prince and described the themes in their paintings. One child stood before us and explained his painting of a tidy home with people cleaning up the street outside. He explained, “If everyone does their part and cleans up their area, Haiti could be beautiful.”