By Arbresha Beqiri, YES 2016-2017, hosted by American Councils in Cedar Falls, IA
Over the course of three weeks in November, I held four workshops on addressing community issues through art with 23 seventh grade students at Muharrem Shemsedini Middle School in the suburbs of Ferizaj with help from Visar Zeka (YES 2014-2015 hosted by AYUSA in Prosper, TX) and Andolin Sylejmani, the seventh grade class advisor. I called the program “Creativity and Community.” This was an unforgettable experience that will remain with me and with the children who participated for a very long time.
During each workshop, participants developed critical thinking and debating skills through discussions on topics such as “Is life better in a village or a city?” and “Should animals be used to test new products?” Each discussion was followed by an opportunity for participants to express their thoughts and feelings through painting and drawing. It was amazing from my side to see how the children understood these topics, and how they could come up with so many ideas and different drawings and paintings to explain how they saw various issues from their perspective.
During our last workshop, participants worked together in groups of five or six on a topic they chose themselves: “Should students be legally responsible for bullying?” They put all their ideas on a big paper using words, drawings, and stickers. We concluded the workshop by discussing what part of the workshop was their favorite over pizza. “It was awesome that we could do all this fun stuff: paint, draw and work on groups about topics that we liked,” one participant reflected. Another praised the program as a “chance to talk and express my thoughts, [which] I usually don’t do,” citing a preference for drawing and painting over conversation.
Most of the participants, however, started the program with the phrase, “I am not good at drawing or painting.” By the end of the program, participants were certain that they could use art in so many different ways. “I [previously] thought that you have to have talent,” one participant explained. “but [now] I understand that you can do so much with art, more than we think.”
This project was inspired by my participation in the IDEAL Workshop for YES and FLEX alumni held in Prishtina, Kosovo, in March 2018, where I was a participant in the “Utilizing the Arts as a Tool for Social Change” theme group. The project was also supported by the 2018 IDEAL Workshop grants program funded by the U.S. Embassy in Prishtina.