Making Art in Uganda

Lawrence, having a ball.  Photo credit Ekisa Ministries

Lawrence, having a ball. Photo credit Ekisa Ministries

Sometimes you get a chance to do the unexpected. 

I didn't expect to begin 2018 by painting a mural in a foreign country. But three weeks ago, I boarded a plane (actually, three planes), and made the 33 hour journey to Jinja, Uganda. There is a place in Jinja called Ekisa Ministries, which is a home for 19 children with special needs. Every year, a group from Fayetteville called 99 Balloons, (also an organization for children experiencing disability), travels to visit Ekisa. This year, they asked if I would like to join them so that we could bring a little bit of artwork into the Ekisa children's home. 

Painting elephants with Blessing.  Photo credit Ekisa Ministries

Painting elephants with Blessing. Photo credit Ekisa Ministries

Whenever a big opportunity presents itself, it usually comes with a mixture of feelings. I immediately wanted to go, but I also felt nervous about taking the time away, raising the money, and preparing for the project during my busiest time of year. Thanks to the encouragement of friends and family, I went for it. I'm so glad I did. 

Matt, the hippo master.

Matt, the hippo master.

Jordan, painting all the yellow.

Jordan, painting all the yellow.

The big project during our time there was to create a mural that would be hung in the main living space at the Ekisa children's home. When I pictured this trip, I expected to be the one doing the artwork, while the rest of my team (mainly teachers and behavioral therapists) worked with the kids. But my expectations were wonderfully wrong. There was no way I could single-handedly create a 24 foot mural (in three days). So my team, every one of them, lent a hand and took part in the painting.

This creative process was a new one for me. Much of the time I played the director, selecting the correct brushes, mixing accurate colors, showing others where to put the paint. It was a wonderful practice in letting go and embracing the beauty of a collaborative effort. Every hand made a mark that helped bring the mural to life. 

Hilda (an artist who works at Ekisa) and Kirstin were my detail queens.

Hilda (an artist who works at Ekisa) and Kirstin were my detail queens.

One of the days while we painted the mural, the kids got to paint their own creation. What a BLAST. We taped off a pattern on some wooden boards and the kids went to town. I'll never forget that afternoon of smiling faces covered in paint, laughing, squealing, and the unrestrained joy those kids expressed while making their artwork.

What a reminder that art-making is and should be an act of joy. I so often lose that joy in my effort to control the outcome or try and make something "perfect," but the joy is much more important than the perfection. 

Jackson, focused on his piece.  Photo credit Ekisa Ministries

Jackson, focused on his piece. Photo credit Ekisa Ministries

One of the completed panels.  Photo credit Ekisa Ministries

One of the completed panels. Photo credit Ekisa Ministries

As I look back on the experience, I'm grateful it didn't go as I expected it to. I see now that my main purpose there was not to create art for others, but with others, embracing the beautiful, imperfect process of making art together. ♥

The finished mural.  Photo credit Ekisa Ministries

The finished mural. Photo credit Ekisa Ministries