|© US Fund for UNICEF|
|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lucy Liu collaborates with young artists from “Maria’s Children,” a studio for orphans and special-needs children.|
By Elizabeth Kiem
MOSCOW, Russia, 25 February 2007 – Lucy Liu is a woman of many talents. The world-famous actress and US Fund for UNICEF National Ambassador is also a musician, a martial artist and, of course, a pre-eminent advocate for children. Last week in Moscow, she demonstrated her artistic skills as well, during a visit to ‘Maria’s Children,’ a unique art studio in the city’s centre.
The young artists at the studio are all orphans, or have otherwise been abandoned by their parents.
“I’ve lost track of time” said Ms. Liu while at the studio. “The children came in and we started painting and drawing and cutting out all of these incredible images of birds and churches and castles and flying horses. If you asked me what time it was, I wouldn’t even know, because when you’re with children it totally takes you out of what real time is.”
Maria’s Children is run by artist Maria Yeliseeva and has been a second home to thousands of children over the past 14 years. In a country where nearly 200,000 children live in institutions providing the minimum of custodial care, the studio is a beacon of hope.
“Children are all about colors. Every color is a possibility,” said Ms. Liu.
|© US Fund for UNICEF|
|Art therapy is just the beginning at 'Maria’s Children', where children learn to help each other and build lasting relationships.|
More than just drawing
The artwork on display in the studio represents just a fraction of the collective output of its artists. Their work hangs in buildings and schools around Moscow and in personal collections worldwide.
Annual art auctions help finance additional projects and trips for the children. Additionally, private funding and grants from UNICEF have allowed groups from Maria’s Children to embark on ambitions greater than murals.
Children from the centre regularly visit local hospices and hospitals, where they entertain young patients with clown and magic shows. Last year, students travelled to Italy, where they practiced the Italian they have learned at the studio. They also travelled to Beslan in southern Russia, where they met with children who are still recovering from the tragic 2004 school siege there.
“It’s not all about drawing,” said Ms. Yeliseeva. “We give them the ability to help someone else and expand their world view.”
‘Life is full of joy’
At Maria’s Children, a high value is placed on family.
“My dream is that every child who passes through the studio will find, if not a family and parents, at least an older friend – so that their isolation is broken and they feel that someone is waiting for them and needs them,” said Ms. Yeliseeva.
UNICEF Representative in Russia Carel De Rooy noted that institutionalization undermines children’s rights. “The children who graduate from these institutions, the majority can simply not adapt to social life,” said Mr. De Rooy. “They cannot build a family of their own because they’ve never known what a family is.”
UNICEF Russia advocates early intervention for vulnerable families to help reduce the high rate of child abandonment in the country.
“In orphanages, you don’t know what family life is,” said Alexei Stroyev, an alumnus of the studio, who left the state orphanage system at age 18. “Here, you get that. You come together with people like yourself to socialize and learn. Life is full of joy.”
US Fund for UNICEF website: Lucy Liu
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