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!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Peeking backstage at the Dress Rehearsal

Peeking backstage at the dress rehearsal! 
Preparing for the community recital in Ward 21 of Daru, Sierra Leone.

Cosi Mansaray: Look how far he's come!

We are so proud of Cosi and the other Future Planners of Makeni, Sierra Leone for their completion of the AEI six month intensive training program! Check out this picture of Cosi's first pop and lock class!

Watch our Student Profile Video on Cosi here:

Friday, July 29, 2011

AEI Spotlight on KROO BAY

posted by Sarah Geller

When I first laid eyes on Kroo Bay, the largest slum in Sierra Leone, I could have easily mistaken it for a common landfill site.  The thousands of small shanty houses are nearly camouflaged by the seemingly endless heaps of garbage, encroaching into the sea where there was once a fishing town.  There are thousands of children here, most of whom are living primarily on their own, scouring the heaps of trash for plastic bags they can sell on the street, abandoned by drug-addicted parents or orphaned by the devastating civil war.

I came to Kroo Bay because it is the childhood home of Mohamed Kamara, senior artistic administrator and batik instructor for Arts Education International.  Mohamed recalls growing up in Kroo Bay.  “Oh I suffered so much.  My parents left me to go work and I had to stay with an old lady who couldn’t look after me or give me what I needed.  I had to beg for food and try to find my own way.”  
As we navigate the maze of garbage heaps and puddles of sewage, Mohamed is in good spirits.  It seems like everyone knows him.  “Med-a-KRACK!” an old woman shouts, calling Mohamed by his nickname.  He hugs her as she kisses him on his cheek, then quickly turns to greet a group of young men he grew up with.  “Every time I come here the people who knew me when I was a young boy cannot believe their eyes.  They even cry!  Who can think that this small bobo begging for food would someday be working for an international organization?  Teaching art to so many children?”  I smile, happy to see him so proud.

Mohamed and I walking through Kroo Bay
When we see a group of children no older than 6, ankle-deep in sewage and searching for the piece of discarded treasure that may bring them their next meal, Mohamed shakes his head.  “Oh,” he sighs, “I can see myself in these children.”
We stop to greet the high chief, Alimamy Kabempa, to discuss our plans for a new arts outreach and vocational training program in Kroo Bay.  He tells us he would be happy to offer the community center for our workshops, and is eager for us to help the hundreds of abandoned children in his township.  Our programs, slated to begin in December 2011, will provide training in practical arts including batik fabric-dyeing, t-shirt and sign printing, embroidery, crochet and beadwork.  We will also provide drama workshops that focus on child rights education, HIV and AIDS awareness, and peaceful conflict resolution.  Additionally, we will offer workshops in contemporary and traditional music and dance, facilitating student internships at renowned Freetown recording studios including Forensics Records, and placing students with professional dance troupes

Meeting at the Kroo Bay Juvenile Remand Center
Our next stop is the Kroo Bay Juvenile Remand Facility where we will offer a satellite vocational training program for juvenile offenders.  Many of the children at the Kroo Bay Juvenile Remand facility commit petty crimes and are intentionally caught by local police officers simply for the assurance of shelter and food that the remand center provides.  Under these circumstances, the rate of recidivism is incredibly high.  Our program will not only provide emotional rehabilitation and community reconciliation through the arts, but will also provide vocational training and career and educational opportunities for children for whom no other opportunities for economic advancement exist.  By facilitating mentorships and providing access to marketable skills, we will not only treat but prevent the desperation and destitution that leads to juvenile crime and recidivism in Kroo Bay, Sierra Leone.
To donate toward our new initiative in Kroo Bay, visit

Executive Director Sarah Geller with AEI artist Mohamed Thullah in Kroo Bay

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Registration Day for new classes in Makeni!

Cosi's new Pop and Lock class is so popular!

 Susan stands with her class of 15 future artists!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Graduation Ceremony in Makeni

This month, ten amazing students of our program in Makeni, Sierra Leone graduated from our intensive training program and are moving on to teach other orphaned kids in their community.  Congratulations to the Future Planners of Makeni!  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Check Out Our Rockstar Supporter Russell Kahn!

Check out these pictures of Russell Kahn reppin' AEI at the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market! Russell sells amazing bags and backpacks that he makes out of duct tape and all the proceeds go to AEI. 
Thanks Russell!

Saturday, June 11, 2011