I decided to join the mission trip almost immediately afterthe opportunity was announced during a church service. I grabbed my dear friend, Wendy, and said, “let’s do it!”. Little did I know that spur of the moment decision would be one of the best of my life…
As a pediatric physical therapist and director of a multi-disciplinary pediatric clinic, I am used to working with children with differences and committed to helping them stretch and grow to their fullest potential. One of the ways I connect with children is through art activities. When we decided to join this trip I thought that one way for me to participate would be to lead children in art experiences. What I didn’t really think about until I stepped into a group of 70 kids in the first village, was that they really had no access to basic art exploration and because of this most of the children really don’t have opportunities to create and let their imaginations soar.
The “self-portrait” project – where children look in a mirror to discover what they look like and then paint a picture of themselves was a way to connect with kids. I was overwhelmed by the number of kids in each village squeezed together on benches or the floor, all ready to paint – something they have never done before! At first the kids seemed a little shy and had a hard time getting started. But, as we passed around mirrors their drawings began to emerge. Children were amazed by their reflections in the mirror and giggled when they saw a friend with them. It was beautiful to watch each child try and capture their own unique look and fascinating to see how deliberate they were in their approach to get it “just right”. It was fun to see the reactions of the kids as they looked at each other’s drawings – smiling, pointing things out and re-checking in the mirror.
It was immediately apparent that if given the opportunity, children will create and imagine and this is an essential element for child development. It was remarkable to be able to give over 700 children an opportunity to play, create and dream – something that happens every day for kids in the U.S. The smiles on the kids’ faces as they decorated a butterfly with paint and jewels or looked in the mirror to see what they looked like was such a joy! It was amazing to be a part of something like this – giving a “first-time” experience for children and watching them express themselves and really take off. It was hot and dirty, we were crowded together and kids had to share all supplies but you would have thought they were being given Christmas gifts. I was overwhelmed by the sheer happiness of the shared experience. In village after village, the children all responded with excitement and they were so proud of their art! One of the boys finished his painting and held it up and asked his friends, “does it look like me?” and they giggled and said, “yes!!”. He hugged me and said, “thank you!” and in that moment, I realized that this trip was going to bring me so much more than I could ever give. These children who have so little and who work so hard every day to help their families, are just children. They have the same desire to imagine and create. What a blessing it was to be able to give them an opportunity to just be a kid, even if it was only for one day.