In Malawi, Africa, there are gifted artisans who’s work will never be seen. While I was there, I visited countless villages, markets, and near the end of my time there, a refugee camp. I met exceptional painters, fashion designers, furniture builders and printmakers. I saw ingenuity. I saw creativity, resourcefulness and inspired site specific design. I witnessed with my own eyes the ability to build what has been designed by another person, on the spot, with little to no literacy skills, no machine tools and no formal training.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. The eye opening fact that you can do so much with so little is what resonated with me the most. Despite the meager circumstances of the Malawians, I still felt a strong sense of vitality, resilience and happiness while I was there. From my experiences throughout the country, I walked away with a renewed inspiration to design and empower local artisans to realize their dreams. They have the innate ability, they just need the technical foundation in order to empower others around them.
My goal is to create an empowerment cycle of artisan teachers and students by facilitating design workshops in Malawi. The teachers train the students how to design and build, and the students eventually become the teachers. If they gain the necessary tools to make their businesses sustainable, they have the power to design and build their own future.
From walking through the densely built, handmade villages, to teaching art classes at a school for orphans. From seeing the deepest levels of poverty I’ve ever witnessed, to feeling the greatest joy I’ve ever felt. As an artist, I really wanted to connect the dots. I wanted to understand their stories. I asked a fashion designer and a printmaker how they developed their talent. They told me it was developed here, at the refugee camp. Their passion was fostered and their business was created despite escaping hostility in their home country.
Malawi is known as “The Warm Heart of Africa.” The faces, the personalities, the people and their stories are all unforgettable. It is a strong community of people with incredible talent, even while living in circumstances that aren't imagined in America. As I was preparing to return home, I heard kids laughing while playing on a pool table made from scraps in the middle of the refugee camp. That picture resonated with me. That you are, where you are- and you can be happy anywhere.