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At a glance: Indonesia

‘Art in a Bag’ programme helps Indonesian children express their feelings on conflict

© UNICEF Indonesia/2008/ Stechert
A young student in Indonesia illustrating Acehnese folktales as part of the UNICEF-supported 'Art in a Bag' programme.

By Anna K. Stechert

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, 14 May 2008 – Walking through the great hall of the Aceh Ministry of Education, one cannot help but be drawn to the illustrated scenes of peace, which line the walls as part of an exhibit of children’s art. The illustrations were created through UNICEF’s ‘Art in a Bag’ programme, which has been running in Aceh for the past two years. 

The goal of Art in a Bag is to give children in grades four through six an outlet to express their feelings regarding the brutal, three-decade long civil conflict in their country. The programme idea was simple: Engage children in Acehnese folk stories read by teachers and turn them loose with their imaginations and a good supply of coloured pens, colouring books and workbooks. 

The young artists were then encouraged to find creative ways to illustrate the tales.

“I have been learning so much about Aceh’s history through the stories,” said one sixth-grader, Windari.

“We are reading folktales and drawing the illustrations together," added Rahmat, also in grade six. "Sometimes we act out the stories as a mini-drama. It is so much fun! And I think it is useful because we find out more about our skills and likes. For example, some kids really like to draw and are good at it.”

© UNICEF Indonesia/2008/ Stechert
This 'Art in a Bag' exhibit in the Aceh Ministry of Education shows drawings of peace illustrated by students in conflict-affected areas.

Encouraging artistic expression

The UNICEF-built SD Muhammadiah school in Banda Aceh is one of the schools that participated in Art in a Bag in 2007. Since then, the programme has been integrated into the school’s regular curriculum.

Twice each week, the students hold activities in art and culture class. After the school exhibited several of these paintings, the students said they were exhilarated.

“We are proud!” said Rahmat. “People from the community and from other schools and even from the government came. We could show them what we have been doing!”

Creating confidence

Ibu Lelawati, one of the teachers trained by UNICEF to conduct activities for Art in a Bag, believes the children are now much more confident expressing themselves. Ms. Lelawati’s students recently received a runner-up prize in a province-wide drama competition.

“Before, the children were really shy when they were asked to read aloud or to act in a drama. Now, I almost have too many volunteers,” she said, laughing. “They have changed a lot.”

So far, 96 schools in six districts are participating in Art in a Bag. Because of the programme's success, UNICEF is adding 11 more schools in two additional districts to the programme this year.

UNICEF and the Ministry of Education hope the exhibit of children’s drawings will help inspire government counterparts and other institutions to continue encouraging and promoting children's health and development through artistic expression. 



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