UNICEF UNITE Houston is Building Bridges between Communities via Art

April 8, 2019

UNICEF USA in Houston offers a variety of volunteering opportunities through the UNICEF UNITE program. UNITE teams are UNICEF’s front line advocates for child health and protection here in the United States. UNITERs take action to help children and amplify their voices here and abroad. They take the next step beyond just caring — they are actually doing something to help.

'Building a Bridge between Communities via Art' workshop is an example of such a project. This workshop brought the Houston community a step closer to harmony, cultural understanding and diversity inclusion. It was a collaboration project between UNICEF USA and Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, executed by the UNITE team in Houston and generously sponsored by the Levant Foundation. This art workshop helped establish an open dialogue between the refugee community in Houston and local residents.

There were 59 participants who represented 36 countries. Half of the participants were youth refugees from the following countries: Syria, Yemen, Eretria, Iraq, Somalia, Congo DRC, Tanzania, Afghanistan and Rwanda. The children from UNICEF came from the UNICEF Kid Power Program, Trick or Treat Program and UNICEF High School and Campus Clubs. Other participants come from the UNICEF UNITE program.

Mr. Selven Jarmon, a renowned world artist led the 'Building a Bridge between Communities via Art' workshop. The art was 'beadwork' and it resulted in an art sculpture called 'Leisure Tower'. Leisure Tower Series is being created as a series of social sculptures developed in the same spirit of Mr. Jarmon's previous work, mainly the “360 Degrees Vanishing Project”. This project looks at the immediacy of a specific ill in a particular culture to springboard a conversation regarding meaningful ideas/ identities vanishing in other cultures. The Leisure Tower series rest within the historic notion of migration patterns of people around the world that have moved from one place to another with a built-in image of what the new destination would be – “seeking a better life”.

Community building is similar to beading, one event at a time, nice celebration of our connections.           - Ms. Maja Dimitrijevic (Facilitator, Lanier Middle School)

A viewer wondering upon this art piece immediately will see an odd, “almost” rocking chair, beads and a sign that spells “LEISURE” but yet means; welcome, rest, peace, in whatever state their mind confronts the work. To the participants who worked on this work, we hope we went further in capturing their imagination over a weekend in a way that links them to one another while stringing beads with each other. Perhaps if there is nothing as intensifying along the lines of leisure in their memory banks then maybe this activity up to now will be a defining moment in terms of raising their idea of leisure or creating better life images.

 

This workshop was an amazing experience for me. I have grown up in Houston my whole life, and I got to interact with people from all over the world through a shared goal. From what I experienced, the kids opened up to us and were able to see a project to its end, which made them proud. I hope it helped these kids feel more comfortable here.        - Shivani Mukhi (UNITE Houston Community Lead)

The beading activity provided a place for participants to learn about other cultures and make new friends; however, it was also an invitation for conversation between UNITERs and new Houstonians. At the end, the kids were friends, shared songs from their countries and danced around the art. They all came together from different walks of life because of a common belief that the world is better when we are global citizens. 

We can not thank the Levant Foundation enough for enabling this project.

"You [Levant Foundation Representative] are such a visionary and I so appreciate how you consistently use your artistic talents to make the world a better place for children…in this case, one bead at a time"                                         - Nelson Bowman, UNICEF USA Managing Director for the Southwest Region

 

Besides the art workshop, the UNICEF UNITE team in Houston has organized and supported numerous other activities and events. If you are excited to join the Houston UNITE team, please sign up at unicefusa.org/unite or contact the Houston Community Engagement Fellow, Olivera Jankovska at ojankovska@unicefusa.org