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Liberia - Country in crisis

Real lives

Fighting halts art therapy for war-affected Liberian children

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© UNICEF/Liberia/2003/Page
Maleke, age 12, at a Monrovian classroom. Liberia, 2003.

MONROVIA, August 2003 - On a Sunday afternoon in May 2003, 12-year-old Maleke sat in a Monrovian classroom deep in concentration as the war raged on elsewhere in Liberia.

Maleke, who moved to the Liberian capital after his family was forced out of their home when fighting spread to their village two years ago, was busy drawing.

“When I draw, I forget about all the problems in my life,” he said that spring afternoon. “I forget about everything except about what I am drawing. When I have my pencil and paper in my hands, it makes me feel fine and good…that’s why I love our art class.”

Until fighting spread to Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, in late May, Maleke and hundreds of other war-affected children in Liberia took part in a UNICEF-supported art education project called Child Art Liberia.

The project, which offered classes on Saturdays and Sundays, gave children the opportunity to draw under the encouragement and guidance of a professional Liberian artist – a process that enhanced the children’s education, confidence and self-discovery.

Since the fighting engulfed Monrovia, however, the classes offered through Child Art Liberia have been suspended, depriving children like Maleke of much-needed refuge from his country’s civil war.

“By participating in the Child art education project, the children are exposed to a number of important lifeskills including the importance of discipline, perseverance and creativity,” said Sarah Gudyanga, UNICEF Liberia’s Chief of Education. “By learning how to draw, the children also develop mathematical and dexterity skills.”

Gudyanga also said that by allowing children to be surrounded by their peers who are also interested in art, they develop social skills and that by being absorbed in their work, they are able to temporarily forget about their problems. 

Maleke expressed his hope that the children’s art programme might help the world understand what was happening in Liberia.

“I want to draw pictures of people shooting and people killing and homes burning and people running away scared,” Maleke said. “It’s important to draw these things because then people will understand that the war here is too bad and they will know what is happening in my country.”

Just before the capital came under siege, UNICEF hoped to take the programme into some of the camps for internally displaced persons around Monrovia.

“Child Art’s benefits are a proven success and we are sure that many of the displaced children will not only enjoy and benefit from the recreational and educational aspects of the project but we also want to bring the healing power of art to these displaced children,” said Dr. Cyrille Niamego, UNICEF’s Liberia Representative.

Niamego added that he believed the artistic process, in collaboration with UNICEF-supported psycho-social programmes, was an important step in the healing process for thousands of children affected by war.

UNICEF hopes to resume the programme as soon as possible.


 

 

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