CRC@30 art workshops encourage children and young people to visualise change

Creating the space for children to exercise their right to expression and participation

Arwen Kidd
A child paints a drawing during an art session in Bo, southern Sierra Leone as UNICEF Communication Officer looks on.
UNICEF Sierra Leone/2019/Kidd
15 January 2020

It’s a drizzly Monday morning in the city of Bo, Sierra Leone. Yet, despite the rainy season weather, and the fact that school holidays are now in full swing, the back porch of Bo’s Southern Model Academy school is buzzing with activity.

All along the covered porch of the school, young people are busy mixing up batches of brightly coloured paint, and brushing it carefully over large white canvases. Before them, a range of lively scenes are slowly coming to life.

Some portray happy, positive activities – such as one painting featuring young girls smiling while they play football with their male counterparts. Others feature more sombre scenes – such as the one picturing a small boy digging through a restaurant garbage can, in the hopes of finding some food to eat. Yet, despite their differences in tone, each painting depicts a version of the same theme: the artist’s own thoughts about the current situation for children in the country.

“The idea behind this project is to engage kids in the international commemorations for the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” explains Harriet Mason, UNICEF Communication Officer, who has travelled to four regions to engage with children in this exercise. “We have identified kids from all over the country and engaged them in workshops to encourage them to express themselves through art – discussing how they would like their lives to be, and highlighting issues important to them through their work.”

“The intention is to showcase the finished paintings and invite politicians to see them, to give speeches in response, and make commitments related to the issues portrayed within the art. So that is the overall goal: to influence policy makers to take decisions that will impact the lives of kids in a positive way.”

15-year-old Kadiatu Kainessie works on a painting of children in a classroom, during an art session in Bo, southern Sierra Leone.
UNICEF Sierra Leone/2019/Kidd
15-year-old Kadiatu Kainessie works on a painting of children in a classroom, during an art session in Bo, southern Sierra Leone.

Near the end of the porch, 15-year-old Kadiatu Kainessie is working on a painting of a classroom. In it, three students sit in a row, while the girl on the end is being addressed by a male teacher – who, Kadiatu explains, is trying to convince her to have sex with him.

“Unfortunately, these are things that happen in so many schools here,” says Kadiatu, quietly. “When students sit for their exams, some don’t have the money to pay the exam fees – so they can easily become pressured into agreeing to such affairs.”                            

“My hope,” she explains, “is that the President will see my painting, and be encouraged to continue helping children across the country access free, quality education at all levels. If more girls did not have to worry about paying for school or exam fees, they would feel less pressure to have sex for grades.”