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Simple Acts Become Transformational

Art makes me happy. It’s messy and unpredictable. It’s fascinating to see friends with real talent bring inspired images to life, expressing imagination with seemingly little effort. Some seem to create beauty out of nothing. It’s not fair. When I was a kid I spent hours on those paint-by-number water color kits, strictly following the coded system, just so my pictures would be recognizable.

Last week I sat on the beach watching one of the last amazing California sunsets before heading back to the Middle East. It was a spectacular sunset – with every color imaginable. No matter how many photos I took to try and capture the beauty, they just didn’t compare to the real deal. It’s a bit like that for me in refugee camps. Nothing really compares to being there; it’s the real deal and it’s hard to capture.

I can’t believe it’s been nearly four years since I began this work. I still remember composing a five-year plan in early 2015 that seemed nearly impossible. But, here we are about to hit that mark; unbelievable.

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I’ve learned a lot in the last few years. Some painful lessons have come from failure and many have been difficult personal reflections, but through it all I’ve found gratitude and thankfulness. Most of all, I’ve learned that it’s generally the simple things that have the biggest impact.

This past year we thought we’d try something new. We didn't have a grand plan, we just thought it would be fun for kids to do some water color painting.

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It was much more than just fun; it was transformational. We watched as not only children, but parents, and grandparents put brush to paper; as memories of home flooded their way onto canvas. The chatter, laughter and joy as they showed off their creations was infections and we observed the entire atmosphere change in the camp. It’s like a brilliant sunset that lasts for a brief moment; undeniably beautiful but hard to fully express to those who have never seen one. To say it was an “aha moment” is an understatement.

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Refugees approach art with abandon and forget, for a while, the harsh situations that plague their lives. They paint in the dirt...some renderings are crazy, unexpected and wild, while others express memories, feelings, or family. Some paint meticulous strokes, while others take no precautions and fill the page. There is no right, no wrong, no rules, no hindrances. There’s a blank canvas, and it feels good.

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Now, art and music therapy are becoming part of our on-going programs; something we never anticipated in our five-year plan. We stay the course with our medical, educational, vocational, and trauma programs, but continue to create space for, seemingly, insignificant acts with big impact.