Friday, March 2, 2012

Inspiring Words about Kroo Bay from Batik Instructor Mohamed Kamara

"I don’t want to say that they are the most difficult or the hardest students I have ever worked with in AEI programs, but I would rather say that they are the most traumatized kids I have worked with. Because they are used to living on the streets and engaging in prostitution, at first they didn’t understand the value of AEI programs. They were so desperate to make fast money, and so worried about how to survive, that they would hardly listen to what I would say. But with the help of Audrey Sanchez’s teacher leadership workshop, and my own approach having grown up in Kroo Bay, I’ve been able to encourage them. Together we have given them the hope and confidence that no matter what they can do better. I know now that these are exactly the kinds of young people who need our programs. I am so proud that my students now have the skills to make batik and earn a living with dignity instead of turning to prostitution. I have begun to achieve my goals. Thank you Sarah for helping me with my goals and report cards."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hats Off to Young Artists!

    Youth in Arts and Arts Education International are teaming up for an innovative new take on pen-palling.  The 27 eighth-graders at Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito are participating in a “hat exchange” with 27 students of Arts Education International in Sierra Leone, West Africa. With the help of artist Keith “K-Dub” Williams, the students are designing and painting their own trucker hats to send to Sierra Leone, in exchange for a hat designed and painted by their pen-pal abroad.  The hats are accompanied by digital story-telling projects that feature the voice and picture of each student displaying their design and describing what it means to them.

    “The purpose of the exchange is to connect the kids YIA serves in Marin County with the children we serve in Africa through the arts,” says Sarah Geller, Executive Director of Arts Education International.  “We hope that this project will help the kids on both sides to articulate their own identity in a way that is fun and creative, and to consider that identity in a larger context of global awareness.”

    "We want youth to have a broader sense of the world around them, and what better way to do that than through an art exchange?" says Miko Lee, Executive Director of Youth in Arts.  "We view this as just the beginning of a strong partnership with Arts Education International."

    Frankie, a 13-year-old from San Rafael wrote “Latino” on the brim of his hat.  Frankie suggested that, perhaps, a student in Africa might not know what it means to be Latino in America.  “Latino means that I speak Spanish,” he explains to his pen-pal in his voice recording, “I’m Hispanic, and I’m from Guatemala.”

    Jennifer wants her pen-pal to know about her life as a 14-year old from Marin City.  “Living in America is not easy,” she explains in her spoken letter, “You have to earn your way through life.  If you want something, or have to buy something, you have to earn your way to get it.”  Painting stars on her hat she explains, “I designed it this way because no matter where you are or if people can see you, you’re always shining.”

    The eighth-graders at Willow Creek will receive the hats and stories from the children in Sierra Leone in January 2012.  For now, it seems that the experience is already a powerful one for the students involved.  As Adreaizana, age 12, records her letter to her pen-pal in Sierra Leone, she squints and focuses hard while looking out into the bay, as if imagining the distance her words and work will travel. “No matter where we are or how far apart, no matter how rich or poor,” she says, “we are all equal.”

Monday, October 31, 2011

"Child Labor in the City": A Play by Shola Sesay, performed by the AEI Drama Troupe in Makeni

Child Labor in the City
A Play by Shola Sesay and the AEI Drama Troupe in Makeni
AEI Drama workshops build on the traditional West African practice of social reform through public drama.  In this spirit, our workshops focus on child rights education, HIV and AIDS awareness, and peaceful conflict resolution.  The play Child Labor in the City, performed by the AEI Drama Troupe in Makeni, confronts an all-too-common issue in Sierra Leone: child labor and exploitation.  Many of the children we serve live with foster families that treat them as little more than indentured servants, refusing to pay school fees and demanding grueling physical labor in return for food and shelter.  For these children, our programs provide the only free education and vocational training opportunities available.
Act One
The play begins with a traditional welcome song, calling everyone in the community to come and watch the play.  In welcoming the fambul dem (a Krio term meaning literally “all family,” but used to refer to the community or nation) the children acknowledge the importance of the support and attention of their township peers and elders.
In the opening scene, we see a mother toiling on her farm in the village.  She is complaining that her work is so difficult, and that her finances are very poor.  She calls her two daughters, Fatu and Maggie, to come and sit with her, and laments that she can’t afford to send them to school.  As if hearing their plight, Auntie comes to visit from the city.  She takes pity on the family and offers to bring her two nieces to live with her in the city.  She says that she will pay their school fees so that they can be educated at the best primary school in the city.  The mother is so happy and agrees to send her children away.  She thanks her sister for making all of her dreams come true, and says goodbye to her children.
Act Two
We next see Fatu and Maggie at their Aunt’s home in the city.  Their Aunt comes to wake them up early in the morning, and forces them to collect water to go and sell on the street.  The Aunt has tricked her sister, and was never planning to send the children to school, but only wants them for their labor.  Fatu and Maggie sell water in the streets for ten hours each day.  The Aunt, however, sends her own son to school and insists on the very best education for him.  She buys him anything he needs: shoes, a uniform, a knapsack, all with the money that Fatu and Maggie earn.  One day, a friend of the mother is passing through Freetown and recognizes Fatu and Maggie.  She immediately reports the Aunt to the police, and runs to tell their mother of the abuse.  They play ends with Mohamed, a young student, warning the community audience to send all of their children to school, and not to use their foster children as “traders.”  He warns that the abuse of children not only hurts the child, but the community.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Foster Children of Makeni Speak Out Against Child Labor

In Sierra Leone, tens of thousands of orphaned children are treated as indentured servants by the foster families they depend on.  They are forced to perform grueling labor in exchange for food and shelter, and denied the right to education, healthcare, and childhood.  You can help AEI empower these children financially and socially, by providing them with free education, vocational artistic skills, caring mentors, and a voice in their community.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bekris Gallery and Arts Education International invite you to:
Discover the Next Generation of African Artists

    Friday October 21st, 2011
    7:00 - 9:30 PM

    Bekris Gallery
    49 Geary St, Suite 235
    San Francisco, CA

$50 Suggested Donation
Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served. 

Please join us at Bekris Gallery as we celebrate the power of the arts in Africa in support of Arts Education International programs in Ghana and Sierra Leone.

The evening will include: 

* an exclusive viewing of WordScapes, a collection by Wosene Worke Kosrof, alongside
* the artwork of young AEI students in Sierra Leone and Ghana, and
* a screening of plays written and performed by AEI students from the township of Makeni, Sierra Leone. 

Bekris Gallery will donate 25% of all art sales at the event to Arts Education International.

Arts Education International (AEI) is a nonprofit organization that uses the arts to empower orphaned and abandoned children in West Africa.  Serving a population of children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic and the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone, Arts Education International provides children with the skills they need to survive by organizing, funding, and executing arts outreach programs and vocational training workshops. By providing mentors, supplies, and skill-building workshops, AEI delivers a development model of service, fiscal empowerment, emotional rehabilitation and community reconciliation for orphaned and abandoned children in West Africa.  Furthermore, AEI workshops create jobs, foster new industry, and create opportunity in war-torn and economically disadvantaged communities. AEI currently provides arts outreach programs and vocational training for over 700 children in Sierra Leone and Ghana.

To learn more about Arts Education International visit:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Update from DARU

Each month, our artistic administrators Mohamed Kamara and Nathaniel Jones travel to Daru to visit and report on our ongoing arts initiatives in Wards 20 and 21.  During their week-long trips, they observe classes, hold meetings with the high chieftaincy, lower chiefs, local councils and school administrators.  Most importantly, they get to watch an AEI student showcase displaying practical crafts created by our students at daily, year-round classes taught by the incredible, Daru-based Arts Collective Vision Stars!  Enjoy the highlights from this month's trip!

The Girls of the AEI Daru Embroidery Collective Display their Newly-made Baby Blankets! 

Girls from the AEI Daru Crochet Collective hold up their pot holders

Yajoh, Q-Biz, and G-Tuff of the Vision Stars travel from Ward 20 to Ward 21 for Class on the AEI motorcycle!