6 March

New Project: Helping The Refugee Children In Need: Lighting The Creative Spark.

by Jon Katz
Helping The Refugee Children (Above. Rachel Barlow’s son Ethan)

Rachel Barlow, an illustrator, author and painter, has launched a desperately needed and wonderful project for the refugee children called draw.paint.create.  It is designed to help children who have recently come to America and are struggling to deal with enormous cultural and practical challenges.

She is seeking to raise $900 to get these creativity kids into the hands of refugee trauma victims.

These are the children in the greatest need.

They have lost almost everything in their lives, have few friends. In many cases – there are language, money, transportation, trauma,  and other barriers to a normal life – these children have lost their culture and means of natural expression.

Barlow, a well-known Vermont artist and writer,  has designed art kids for children who are sometimes housebound, sometimes in foster care, have yet to acclimate to their new world, or are recovering from trauma.

So many are.

Recently, I met a young girl from Syria who is eight years old. She has been in America for a few months, thanks mostly to the U.N. Refugee program. Her father was killed in a bombing raid, her mother was burned to death in a religious execution.

She and other children like her are in dire need, they are here legally, they pose no threat of any kind to Americans or their families.

This girl speaks little English, has no friends of yet, and her foster parents are afraid to let her go out of the house alone, they are frightened by the new politics of immigration, and the sense that they are not wanted here. They hear of attacks on immigrants all over the country, and fear they have stumbled into yet another nightmare. I would say to them that that what our country is about.

This girl’s foster parents are terrified they may not be able to stay here themselves, and they have no idea what her fate would be if they come to harm.

This young girl draws all the time, but has no real artistic tools, and the kits Rachel are assembling  will give her the tools she needs to draw, sketch and paint – brushes, paper, pencils and markers,  ideas. She and her foster parents are afraid to have her photographed.

Rachel wants to get 60 of these tools into the hands of children who have recently arrived in America. She has already made a dozen or so of these kits, she is seeking the $900 to make all 60.

It is hard for me to imagine a better cause, many of us have been contributing to the Refugee Gift Page set up by the U.S. Committee on Refugees And Immigration, this work is targeted very precisely on some of the new Americans with the greatest need. These children have suffered greatly, are in a strange and sometimes hostile environment, and spent much of their time alone or inside.

There is considerable evidence that creative expression is a powerful healing element in trauma care. Creative work is more than entertainnent, it is a way for these children to build their confidence, improve cognitive development, communicate with their peers, and occupy their time in a meaningful and productive way. These are not kids who have grown up glued to screens and Facebook.

I am aware that this community is not wealthy, nor am I, it is sometimes difficult to know what to give to or what to do.

My belief is that rather than arguing,  I wish to do good every day in one way or another. Sometimes it involves money, sometimes support and listening and compassion. A friend of mine keeps asking me what I will do down the road when things get to a turning point.

I told him I am not concerned with what I might do down the road, but with what I am doing right now.

These children are at the epicenter of human identity for me, if we cannot help innocent and suffering children, then our hearts have turned to stone and we have lost our sense of humanity. This for me is about the celebration of a noble spirit, our own individual ideas of social justice, our highest human potential.

It is not about what politicians say or do, or what the left or the right says or does. It is about what I say and do and feel. Moral choice is about individuality, not the group or the mob. I have to respect the face I see in the mirror every morning.

I wish to help these children right now. I want them to know they are loved and cared for.

In my own life, I have seen the power of the creative spark to liberate and transform people. In the Kabbalah, God says the only thing human beings ought fear is to fail to light the creative spark within them. Here, we can help children to light it for themselves. You can donate any amount you wish to the draw.paint.create program designed by an artist who knows whereof she speaks, creative work has lifted her out of trauma, abuse and depression. You can use Paypal or major credit cards.  $5 is as good as $100.

This week, I am going to do all I can to try to get Rachel the money she needs to complete this very great work.

She is in touch with refugee volunteer workers in New York State, they will make sure these kits get into the right hands. I thank her for doing this, I thank you for listening.

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