Amid Ebola crisis, 1 Liberian youth art program thrives

Amid Ebola crisis, 1 Liberian youth art program thrives

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By Blair Glencorse, Founder and Director of Accountability Lab

The Ebola outbreak is currently making group gatherings very difficult in Liberia.

However, through the Accountability Lab, one thing we’ve learned is that it is never too soon to start helping children understand the importance of transparency, accountability and personal responsibility.

The current Ebola challenges make this more important than ever. If kids grow up to be citizens and leaders of integrity, who understand their rights and responsibilities, they can solve problems on everything from healthcare to education.

The key is to engage them creatively around these issues in fun ways they understand.

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Leslie Lumeh, Director of the Liberia Visual Arts Academy, mentors two students on how to draw issues they care about in their communities.

With this in mind, earlier this year, the Accountability Lab began chatting with Leslie Lummeh, one of Liberia’s most celebrated artists and director of the LIVArts Academy, about how to use art as tool for social change and integrity.

A few weeks later this led Leslie to establish the Accountability Art School – the first visual arts program in the country that seeks to build understanding of accountability among students through drawing and painting.

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Students of the Liberia Visual Arts Academy following completion of an Accountability Arts Class pose in front of their clasroom. LIVArts Director Leslie Lumeh at far left in orange shirt.

Targeting students enrolled in LIVArts’ Kids Power Program (approximately 8 to 14 year olds), the school provides technical classes on visual arts as well as thematic messaging on issues of personal responsibility.  

The school has been incredibly popular from the outset, with classes of 25 students meeting on Saturdays to discuss the challenges they see in their communities and find ways to draw these creatively.

The art work the students have produced has highlighted a range of issues from the lack of clean drinking water, to bribery in schools, to the lack of trash collection.

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In this piece, a student encourages citizens to maintain a clean, healthy environment in their communities and calls for the government to provide clean water to Liberians.

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In this piece, a student highlights the problem of “money for grades” in Liberia. Bribery is a huge problem within schools and universities.

After each class, the LIVArts and Lab staff choose the top three drawings, which are published in a leading local newspaper the following day. It’s hugely exciting for the students and spreads their messages across the country.

As soon as the Ebola outbreak allows, we will host Liberia’s first accountability art festival, and invite parents, government officials, teachers and other decision-makers to visit the gallery and discuss the critical challenges and solutions the students have developed.

We’ve found through surveys of the students that the art classes have significantly improved understanding of the ideas of accountability, what it means to be a good Liberian citizen and how to take personal responsibility for change.

The students have also indicated a much greater sense that they can do something to fix problems – telling us that they “have learned to take care of their community” and “are ready to serve their country.”

At the moment, the Ebola virus is making life difficult and very dangerous for Liberians – and logistics are too difficult to convene the Accountability Art School – but the team has found a creative way to continue the work.

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Accountability art school students hard at work.

With the support of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Leslie, the Accountability Lab team and the students have begun to paint murals around Monrovia on walls in busy public places.

These murals use ideas and pictures developed by the students in the art classes, and are focusing initially on Ebola awareness and safety.

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