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.
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.