Creativity + Friendship = Success

For almost a year now, a group of 7-10 women have been meeting at the Wave Pool and learning art techniques from Cal Cullen and other local artists. What began as a journey of “let’s teach some art,” has led too much more. Friendships have evolved, uncontrollable laughter, an election, pink pussy hats, tears of joys and sadness, frank discussions about the human anatomy shared in each language, a beginning to a deep understanding of our inner soul and unconditional love for one another.  A community was built amongst strangers.

As two artists, a woman and her daughter in law, mourned the loss of a son and husband, they found comfort and friendship from their new friends. As a Syrian woman wept and shared through the little English she knew that each time her eyes closed she saw bombs exploding and feared for her children that she left behind in the camps in Jordan, a new picture was painted for her through art. This one was of beauty and joy, pomegranate seeds.

The most unexpected, yet exciting gift to each of these women, was the realization they were capable of creating something so beautiful. This has given them purpose and passion. This passion has led to an extra day each week on Thursday’s to share techniques with those that couldn’t make it on Monday or Tuesday, and to experiment further.

The Thursday class began at Tikkun Farms and is now hosted at the new Welcome site in Camp Washington. Thursdays are filled with laughter, children and visitors. People paint, sew, experiment and just sit idly enjoying the conversation. Around noon food starts coming out of cloth bags and lunch is casually eaten while the projects continue on. The kids relax, read, play and wave to neighbors while sitting in the window reading nook areas.

The Welcome site has provided an area for friendships and healing.  Many who attend have faced trauma that they haven’t been able to express because of language barriers.  Their art and sewing enables them to heal through the meditation and creation of the project.  Their perspectives have broadened as guest artists and volunteers teach them new skills and they visit galleries filled with various exhibits.

After a recent visit to a nature trail with artist Amber Stucke, to create herbariums, the participants commented that they would never look at greenery, weeds or flowers the same way.  After mounting their collected nature on pages to be displayed in Amber’s gallery exhibit, Emergence, at the Wave Pool, they now see not just a plant but art.

Sometimes sidewalk chalk and projects needing to dry adorn the front sidewalk. Neighbors pop in and curiously ask what’s happening today. It’s a place where all feel welcomed and comfortable. The ladies are now beginning to sell the items they’re making, teaching workshops and accepting custom orders.  If you’d like to visit our new site Welcome or learn more about it, details can be found at Welcome.

Art – The Universal Language

A few months ago I received an email from Calcagno (Cal) Cullen asking to meet with me to discuss refugees living in Cincinnati. She stated that she was an artist, art teacher, and owner of the Wave Pool Art Gallery. She had recently finished a collaborative project with refugees living in a camp in Southern Italy. She did several art projects related to their hopes, dreams, and memories and worked to turn some of their art into a wallpaper design that now benefits the UNHCR (read more here: http://www.telephoneheart.com/#/wearehere/). We arranged a meeting in late March and the creative adventure began.

Many resettled refugee adults and youth are natural artists and spent their days drawing and creating art to pass the time in refugee camps. Upon arriving in America, art falls to back burner while they try to manage and acclimate to their new life. We noticed their passion for creating and were using art as a way to expand their vocabulary and friendships along with feeding their soul. After meeting Cal there was a new excitement.

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Ram Rai’s acrylic painting depicting life in the refugee camp.

I wondered what could we create when led by a true artist? Little did I know that creating art with her would be the tip of the iceberg. The relationship blossomed into so much more. Continue reading “Art – The Universal Language”

Memories

During my recent road trip out west with my family I was able to share many childhood memories with my kids. As we were driving towards Illinois, I shared the multiple visits I made to my great-grandmother’s home along the same highway while being cramped in the back of a ’63 Barracuda with my brother and uncle. While in Mt. Rainier National Park, I asked my children if the mountain landscape reminded them of our visit to Nepal and the Himalayan mountains they had seen there. Over the course of 7,000 miles in the car we had ample opportunity to share stories about my childhood memories and theirs.

After arriving in Seattle my mother inquired if we had seen a newscast where they had highlighted a local community garden filled with refugees, called the Namaste Community Garden:

http://www.king5.com/news/local/community-garden-helps-refugees-rebuild-their-lives/272514804

I told her that I hadn’t but while we were there we had to visit. I wanted to compare it to the community garden that we have locally, The Franciscan Ministries Community Garden at 110 Compton Rd.

We planned the visit during a day we would be sightseeing in the area. I looked up the address for the Namaste Community Garden. We drove through a suburb and found it nestled neatly at the end of a road on the property of St. Thomas Catholic Church. Upon arriving, the entrance opened up to a large green area, with the garden being on the left and a brick building and parking lot further up the road. The kids asked if I was sure this was place, since there wasn’t a sign. I quickly replied, “Of course, see the sticks?” The sticks used for trellising are a signature technique for Bhutanese gardeners.

We entered the gate and were quickly greeted by an elderly Bhutanese man, Jit, the garden caretaker and shed key holder. He couldn’t speak English but was able to share information about it with my husband who speaks Nepali. He was so excited, as were the other gardeners that we stopped to visit. Everyone shared their gardens and offered us produce.

Jit went and summoned Paul Hardin, a part of the St. Thomas ministry, to meet us. As Paul and I were discussing both community gardens and our work with refugees, I realized how similar the issues and benefits were. We both recognized that the garden is what reminds refugees of home. Many refugees from Bhutan, Africa, Burma, and Laos were avid gardeners. Working in the soil, growing the food that they are familiar with, participating with their neighbors and harvesting with their family are their memories from home that they can share. Gardening becomes their social event, a mental connection to memories they left behind and a way to share with the community one of the many gifts they brought with them. Paul shared that they had expanded to add 30 more crops to their garden this year. I laughed and said yes, we could have 5 acres tilled and it still wouldn’t be enough.

I spoke with other gardeners about their experience in the U.S. and Seattle in particular, and asked if they knew anyone in Cincinnati. The gardeners took the time to answer my questions related to composting, gardening and fencing techniques – and I answered theirs related to cost of living in Cincinnati. In a short hour a lasting friendship was formed. People started asking if we had a place to stay, if we needed dinner or anything else. I was amazed – strangers an hour ago and now friends, because of far away connections.

They were curious if I saw the similarities between Nepal and Washington. I explained that this was the first thing I thought of when I saw the mountain range near Mt. Rainier and the green that surrounded us. Some shared that seeing the mountain range comforted them and others said it made them sad because it was a reminder to the home they had left behind.

As I reflect on this trip and the memories that were made with my family, I pray that my children will be able to share this same journey with their families. For refugees and immigrants that have been forced to leave their homelands behind, my heartaches for them. I am glad that community gardens provide a way to fill a void in their lives that is needed.

In Cincinnati at the Franciscan Ministries Community Garden, refugees are given opportunity to participate in gardening education with Turner Farms and have become community crop plot garden leaders and members of the community garden committee. Their enthusiasm and knowledge of gardening has been instrumental in the success of the garden that coincidentally began the year that Bhutanese refugees began arriving in Cincinnati, 2008. The refugee population now makes up over 50% of the garden plots and the garden donates an average of 1000 pounds of produce to community food pantries.

Each ethnic gardener takes so much pride in the crops they produce and boast how they are able to not only feed their family but their extended families. On a rainy day you can drive by and notice an umbrella with a man or woman underneath tending to the soil. As they tell me, the dirt provides them comfort and reminds them of home. I often see their children sitting in the garden or helping them while their parents quickly speak their native tongue and I wonder if they’re sharing their childhood stories and memories with them.

 

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Sorting and preparing the vegetables at Namaste

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Namaste Community Garden in Seattle
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Jit – The Garden Manager
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Franciscan Community Garden
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Organizing a volunteer workday at the Franciscan Community Garden
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Managing paths in Cincinnati

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Compost overload.
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Creating a trellis for the beans.