Following decades of oppression and a denial of basic rights, the Rohingya minority in Myanmar faced the unimaginable beginning in August of 2017: the military began systematically entering villages to rape and murder innocent people of all ages, then burning every house to the ground. As these acts of genocide began repeating in community after community, hundreds of thousands of terrified men, women and children fled for their lives, walking long distances and crossing the Naf River into Bangladesh, scores perishing along the journey. Now the Rohingya find themselves in a precarious situation in which a million refugees are crammed in a series of camps, struggling to survive and traumatized from their experiences. While various organizations have rushed in to provide much-needed food, medical care and other services, there is a critical lack of creative, educational activities for children to focus on, nor are there projects that focus on building community and fostering healthy ways of working through trauma.
To respond to these needs, Artolution has organized an ongoing program in which our Rohingya-led team of artist-facilitators are now engaging youth throughout the camp in community-based public art projects. Artolution co-founder and co-directors Max Frieder and Joel Bergner have led capacity-building educational workshops with our team, who have also brought their own cultural and creative knowledge to the program. Despite having experienced tragedy and displacement, these enthusiastic 4 women and 4 men have become leaders, working to build a sense of community as they promote positive connections and resilience among the youth.
In our Rohingya program, refugee children discuss important issues in their lives and have the opportunity to shape their own narratives through public murals, sculptures, performance and a variety of creative activities, from story-telling to songs to arts-based games. Through the Artolution method, they define their identity and form healthy relationships with their peers and adults in their community, along the way adding color and hope to their desolate environment.
In a partnership with UNICEF, Artolution facilitated a mural on canvas as a gift to Rohingya children created by hundreds of people at the base of the World Trade Center in New York City. It was then rolled up and brought to Bangladesh to present to the children in the camps and permanently installed in a youth center. Moved by this artistic show of solidarity, the Rohingya Artolution artists and children then created a response mural to be sent back to New York, where it will be presented to the community.
To make our Rohingya program possible, Artolution has partnered with some incredible institutions who we are proud to work with. These include Chime for Change, UNICEF, Save the Children, UNHCR, and the World of Children.