Les Couleurs’ CREATE Program Brings Art Classes to Haitian Orphans
My friend Aura Copeland and I made our first trip to Haiti in May of this year, and visited several schools and orphanages. Aura is an artist, and I am a publicist, and we had recently established the Les Couleurs charity organization in New York (“Couleurs” to stand for the diversity of the world.) Les Couleurs was intended to help with the education of underprivileged kids from the start, but our experience in Haiti helped us to define our mission: to educate, heal and inspire the most vulnerable children.
Having been born and raised in Lithuania during tumultuous times, when Lithuania was getting its independence from the Soviet Union, Aura and I were both influenced and inspired by our cultural history, making us prize creativity and free expression. With an MFA in Media Arts from Hunter College, I started a PR business and traveled all over the world, taking advantage of a newly found freedom of travel and speech, the essential human right that my parents’ generation grew up without in occupied Lithuania. Aura, who studied architecture in Lithuania and accessory design at FIT, was affected by the contrast of her rigorous, traditional upbringing to New York’s free-flowing energy and freedom from authority. Traveling around the worldand immersing herself in non-Western cultures helped her find creative fulfillment as an artist.
Haiti, which received some attention after the tragic earthquake in 2010, is now basically forgotten by the majority of the world, while it remains the poorest country with the highest maternal death rate in the Western Hemisphere, leaving count- less orphans every year. Literacy rates are about 45%, unemployment is about 90% and there are over 400,000 children with- out parents. After doing some research, we found that art therapy has been success- fully used both as a form of expression and as a healing process for many children who have experienced trauma.
We realized that these least-privileged Haitian children did not have access to probably the most potent force that defines human freedom and evolution: arts and creativity. The kids, however, were endlessly curious and enthusiastic about every drop of new information, every chance to engage. Dissatisfied with our artistic and entrepreneurial careers, and of travelling the world searching only for our own inspiration or freedom, while there were those who were denied basic self-expression led us to establish the CREATE Program. It was implemented in two Haitian orphanages in Port-au-Prince, and Foyer Divin high school in the village of Villard inAugust. Initially taught by Aura, Les Couleurs now has local teachers in place who are continuing to follow the curriculum created by the team of Les Couleurs’ volunteers in New York City.
It was an incredible, emotional, over- whelming experience to witness the enthusiasm in kids to have a chance to create,to pour their souls out on a sheet of paper, whether it was a drawing class, learning how to write a letter or to sing. For kids that have never seen the world beyond the walls of their orphanage, they seemed to have an incredibly rich inner world, and for the first time they had the means to express it.
The artwork of the most talented children will be auctioned off at a monthly Les Couleurs’ event in New York City. To reach Les Couleurs Charity and to read more about the program and the founders, please click here: www.lescouleursnyc.org If you wish to attend a monthly charity event of Les Couleurs in Manhattan, email email@example.com
“Two [of the] best, most talented students at Paraclets orphanage were Louisenie and Merline. One day, I and my assistant local teacher, Natacha, took the girls out. It was their first time outside of the walls of the orphanage, and they were observing the world around with wide eyes, stunned and speechless. We took them to eat pizza and ice cream, to a bookstore, for a walk… Next day, I received a long letter and [was] sent some “gifts”: a used notebook and some hair accessories. In the letter, the girls said that I was like a mother to them, that no visitor has ever done anything like that for them, and that this was the most beautiful day in their lives. I and Natacha couldn’t stop crying when reading the letter.” Aura Copeland.