Introducing a new member organization: Colors of Connection.

Colors of Connection


Established in 2010, Colors of Connection is a non-profit organization pioneering the innovative work of arts-based psychosocial programming for youth and communities in conflict contexts. 

Their mission is to utilize community-based art to nurture hope, cultivate well-being, and promote agency with conflict-affected youth and societies worldwide.

Working with adolescents and their communities through the medium of art, Colors of Connection invests in building knowledge, skill sets and resources that strengthen the adolescents' mental and emotional capacities, and allow them to move beyond the mindset of basic survival brought on by living through conflict. At the heart of their work is the belief that art is a powerful catalyst that can help people heal and rebuild their lives and communities. Colors of Connection envisions a world in which everyone’s capabilities are awakened and put into action to benefit themselves, their communities, and others.

 Founders of Colors of Connection: Laurie Reyman and Christina Mallie.

Founders of Colors of Connection: Laurie Reyman and Christina Mallie.

Interview with Christina Mallie, Project Director & Co-Founder of Colors of Connection.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I am an artist and humanitarian worker dedicated to combining these two passions and loves in my life into one. My background is in fine arts, specifically painting as well as international affairs and issues of conflict and security.   

2. What made you start Colors of Connection?

In 2010, Laurie, a social worker, and the Co-Founder of Colors of Connection, was working with an international NGO in the remote and underdeveloped town of Harper in post-war Liberia. Harper is a place stunning in its natural beauty, situated on Cape Palmas at the bottom of Liberia. But the town itself was largely destroyed in the civil war, which ended in 2003. Since that time very little had been done to restore burned-out buildings and other damage from the war, and neglect caused the town to deteriorate further. Visual remnants of the war were everywhere and Laurie could only imagine what memories these physical reminders triggered for those who had suffered through the war in this place.

Laurie and I believed that a location as isolated and underdeveloped as Harper would benefit from an infusion of creative energy, and decided to test out our hypothesis in a pilot project. Art is likely at the bottom of the list of priorities in humanitarian assistance, but it was clear in this situation, where the country was heavily dependent on international aid and artistic creativity was given little attention, that many people felt helpless, dependent, and stagnant. Liberia has not had the arts taught in the schools for a generation and basic knowledge such as color mixing is absent.

Visions of Hope, implemented in Harper Liberia was our first project.  We worked with community leaders and youth to create collaborative murals that transformed the environment into one that expressed visions of the future.  For the first time since before the conflict, people were working towards something beyond the basic survival activities that consumed Harper. The community who helped design the murals, and the youth who were painting them, were stepping out of their difficult daily lives for a few hours and collectively envisioning and painting a better future for everyone to see. The community couldn’t believe that the potential to create something so beautiful existed within their children, within themselves. In a place almost devoid of the arts, the murals brought a special therapeutic energy that helped people believe in more than their immediate reality, and connect with each other through their common hopes and dreams.

After experiencing the power of this first project, we went on to found Colors of Connection.  

3. What are your plans for this year and how can Kota & The Women's Lab at CSI help?

This summer we are launching the Tunaweza Portraits Project in Goma Eastern Congo. In Swahili, Tunaweza means “we are able.” By creating posters and collaborative murals, Colors of Connection gives adolescent girls the tools to represent themselves as the powerful and capable individuals they are.  We help girls become agents of change in their communities. They are then seen differently by their families, friends, and the international public.

One of the most prominent stories coming out of the Congo is that of sexual violence, and its most visible victims are raped women. It is crucial to see that beyond the sensational violence, the heart of the problem is how women and girls are seen, perceived, and treated in society is not getting enough support. How women are seen is not getting enough support.

To give young women more positive visibility, Colors of Connection will work creatively with them, providing a safe space to ask questions, understand their reality and transform their lives.  We are excited to see these young women create imagery that will shift societal expectations.

We are excited to be located at the Kota Alliance at CSI and to be able to meet other women and projects that can cross-pollinate with ours.  We especially need as many hands on deck as possible to fundraise for this project, and to bring it to reality.

4. How exactly does your work help girls/women?

Our arts-based programming allows for the issues of women and girls to be explored and portrayed from the local perspective both within the classroom activities with participants, and in the general public through murals that portray these issues in many different forms. We seek equal participation of women and men on our community arts councils, we ensure that adolescent girls have equal space for participation and to be heard throughout every process of each project, and we emphasize activities and discussions that encourage thoughtful discussion around the issues of women and girls and gender equality. Several of our projects to date have created murals that celebrate women and girls and promote their equality in the community, as this was identified as a key issue for these communities. In addition, our most recent project worked specifically to advance the rights of adolescent girls and to end violence against women and girls. In practice, our mission to nurture hope, cultivate well-being and promote development engages with the issues of girl’s rights and violence against girls and women as relevant concerns for the participants with whom we work.

Listed below are specific ways that our work thus far has advanced adolescent girls’ rights and worked to end violence against women, and we will continue to utilise them in our future work:

  • Have overarching goals to shift community perceptions about girls and their role in society.  

  • Utilise an assets building approach that shields adolescent girls from the risks associated with sexual violence and expands their opportunities to build economic, social and personal resources in their lives (as defined by the participants  themselves). These asset include creative assets.

  • Utilise recruitment tools that are designed to reach the poorest girls in the poorest communities.  

  • Utilise art as a tool for empowerment and healing to promote post-traumatic growth.

Learn more about Colors of Connection here.

Observations from CSW62 at the UN

By Jaana Rehnstrom

 Group discussions during The Kota Alliance's NGOCSW62 parallel event

Group discussions during The Kota Alliance's NGOCSW62 parallel event

At the end of the two weeks of events at the UN of CSW62 (Commission on the Status of Women), as well as hundreds of parallel events in the vicinity, a roomful of women from all around the world came together under the auspices of NGOCSW to ponder the achievements. The theme of this year’s CSW was the status of women living in rural areas.

Susan O’ Malley of NGOCSW noted that access to the proceedings had been severely limited by US consular officials in several countries not granting visas to women from rural areas. There were at least 50 such cases, possibly over 100 (data being collected).

Also women with disabilities faced structural barriers to access even at the UN! Natalia Lozano, youth representative of “Right Here, Right Now” reminded that non- English speakers also faced barriers to participation. Blessing Digha of Women Deliver/Nigeria reminded that the people we are talking about, ie. women living in rural areas, most often never have the means to travel and represent themselves at these proceedings, therefore funds need to be found to sponsor them. Is it not the right thing to do to hear directly from the people affected by decisions taken that affect their lives?

Memory Kachambwa of FEMNET pointed out that language is an extremely important empowering tool. Why, for instance, talk about women as “small holder farmers” instead of just “farmers”; or discuss women in the context of “micro” economics but leave them out of “macro” economics?

NGOCSW had representatives monitoring the work going into the final outcome document produced by the CSW62. Although not legally binding, the document is important, as it represents the agreed upon conclusions by all governments, and becomes a benchmark against which local NGOs can hold their governments accountable.

In response to the official document, the NGOCSW has its own version, which despite many additions and specifications manages to be no longer than the 16 pages of the official version.

An oral summary of the differences between the two documents was provided. The official version manages to water down the language, and contains a lot of loopholes and vague statements and conditions, such as “as appropriate”, giving governments leeway to decide what is “appropriate” and lean back on local law and customs rather than international instruments.

It was also startling to hear that language that was approved in documents produced in prior years was again taken up for debate. You would think that country representatives coming to the UN would do their homework and not spend taxpayer money reinventing the wheel?

To give them the benefit of the doubt, admittedly governments change and representatives may be overworked and not have time to read everything that was done in the past – but should they not then be provided (by the UN) a draft document that includes all language approved in the past highlighted as not being up for discussion? With a president of the commission who cuts off debate on these items? How is anything ever going to move forward if agreed upon issues are rehashed all over again? No wonder the UN has a reputation for “just talking”. It was also noted that most of the delegates at the CSW62 were men! Men debating women’s status. Ambassadors are often men, but surely within their delegations there are women who could represent the country? At the NGOCSW meeting, it was suggested that at least 50% of the commission should be women.

Still, it was felt by many delegations that coming to the CSW proceedings gave them opportunity to access their country’s official delegations easier than back home - where they often find a lot of red tape or closed doors – to get commitments and pledges. They hoped for more inclusion in the official delegations, and particularly the US activists were very disappointed this year about the lack of NGO inclusion. Everyone agreed next year they really wanted to be in the room when things are discussed. This year, they had to resort to mostly tweeting their comments prior to the sessions. Therefore even more important for NGOs to engage in the CSW process with their national representatives prior to and after the sessions. We need to start paying attention to this earlier in the cycle before the next one.

Our new partner organization: Hope and Dreams Initiative

The Kota Alliance is proud to present out new partner organization Hope and Dreams Initiative! Read below the story of Nguzo Ogbodo, the founder of Hope and Dreams initiative.

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The desire to launch The Hope and Dreams Initiative started while visiting Nigeria, my then six year old daughter, an avid reader, requested that I take her to a children's library, as it is tradition in my household to go to the library every Saturday.

When I told her that it wasn’t possible, there is no children’s library around, she said, 'Mummy why don’t you gather your friends together and raise money and build one for the children of this community and I will invite Michelle Obama to come.' At that moment I was moved by my child’s idea and dreams to do something.

Since 2011, Hope and Dreams Initiative have created 9 WASH reading rooms in 9 different schools in Delta State and Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. Every room is filled with fiction and nonfiction books, books on washing, posters on hand washing and hygiene, a hand washing station in front of the reading room. We have also helped to give about 150 young girls, 5 days back during their menstruation, by ensuring access to sanitary pads and thereby keeping them in school. They are reading and learning the importance of hygiene during and after menstruation. Girls, in the long run are fulfilling their life purpose, which is getting an education.

Nigeria is the third country on the list of countries with the highest level of illiteracy and with the poorest sanitation in schools. Our goal is to change that concept and give young girls and youth the opportunity they deserve in life which is access to basic human rights. Schools in Nigeria do not have adequate sanitary facilities, no water, no power and at times students and especially girls are forced to stay home during their period.

Hope and Dreams Initiative is taking one child, one school, one community at a time and will continue its hard work until no girl or child misses school again because of lack of access to sanitary products, and until every school in every community has a WASH reading room and every child is reading and writing.


Women Online, Are They Welcome?

By Suvi Helko


A female friend of mine in Finland called out a local parliamentary election candidate in a comment section of a public conversation on Facebook about refugees. She pointed out that a comment he wrote was racist, and politely asked him to delete it. As a reply to that, she received an angry private message from him: he wished that she would be beaten and raped by asylum seekers, declaring she would “get what she ordered”.

If this interaction occurred today, a screenshot of the conversation shared on her feed containing the threat would probably go viral, cause a scandal and bring consequences for her adversary. However,  because the incident happened in September 2015, before the #MeToo  movement, the post was soon forgotten after it was shared by me and a few other friends.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a presentation at SAP in New York titled “Women in Power and Sexism Online” by Faye Raincock, head of communications for Havas UK. I was shocked (although, sadly on the other hand - not so shocked) to hear how common hate speech and sexual harassment online towards influential women actually is. Over a six month period, Raincock and her team conducted a study examining tweets received by 150 powerful women, including global leaders, entertainers, broadcasters, politicians and athletes. From the 50 million tweets received, over six and half million tweets were categorized as abusive. This means on average 200 abusive tweets per day were sent to each woman.

These messages were sorted in four categories: gender-specific slurs, intellect and ability, and sexual harassment and violence. Sexual harassment constituted the majority of the adverse tweets among global leaders, entertainers, broadcasters and athletes, while politicians received hateful tweets mostly about their intellect & ability, as well as threats of violence.

Sometimes people try to justify the harassment and blame the victims. Raincock shared that she often hears comments like, “Taylor Swift is shaking her ass to the camera in bikinis, she’s begging for it”. Her usual response to people claiming that women ‘had it coming’ is: “When was the last time you saw Emma Watson or Hillary Clinton shaking their ass in bikini?”.

The numbers were not the only poignant aspect of Raincock’s presentation; what surprised me the most is that half of these abusive tweets are coming from women as much as they are from men. As a matter of fact, the study showed that there is actually a slightly higher number of women sending gender-specific slurs to women in power. How can this be? What makes a woman send a demeaning message to another woman they don't know personally? Is it the result of the society we live in, in which anyone can openly question, comment, criticize and judge women?

Raincock and her team are not alone in their research results on the commonness of online harassment towards women. According to Amnesty International research, nearly a quarter of women have experienced harassment online, and in almost half of these cases the abuse or harassment was sexist or misogynistic in nature. A research by digital security firm, “Norton” in Australia, reveals that nearly half of all women experience abuse or harassment online, and 76% of those are under the age of 30. According to yet another study, 70% of women find online harassment a “major problem,” as reported by the Pew Research Center survey on online harassment in the US.

The aforementioned examples are only a handful of the many reports out there. So what can be done about the problem? Laws that make online harassment punishable are a potential step towards creating a more respectful internet. For example, in the United States 28 states and D.C. have criminalized revenge porn. Online companies can also do their part by improving their policies and tools against online harassment, hate speech and illegal content. For example, Facebook allows users to report hate speech to a team of hundreds of employees monitoring the complaints 24/7. Additionally, schools can discuss the norms of respect in online behavior. The New York Times encourages teachers to talk about the issues of sexual harassment with their pupils with the help of a resource package. However, let’s not forget that it is also up to us. Let’s always keep in mind our role in being respectful and civilized in our own communication, both offline and online. Finally, let’s not hesitate to support women who call out their abusers online.