Artists for Hope
In the summer of 2009, my friend Roberta VanderZwaag said to me:
Did you know that someone developed a nutritional supplement that actually tastes good to kids who are malnourished?
Immediately, what Roberta said became of the utmost importance to me. That often happens with things Roberta tells me. Her passion is contagious. Until that day, it had never occurred to me to be concerned whether life-saving nutritional supplements tasted good to kids or not.
Roberta’s next statement was:
It is being used at the Rescue Center in Haiti with great success! I think I will go check it out.
While I was agreeing that we should indeed look into it, Roberta was mentally preparing a visit to Haiti to see how we in Omaha, and specifically Artists for Hope, could more effectively partner with the Rescue Center in helping Haitian children.
The Real Hope for Haiti Rescue Center
The main goal of the Real Hope for Haiti Rescue Center in Cazale, Haiti is to treat malnourished children and return them to their families.
They are truly in it for the Haitian people.
An average of sixty-five children live at the Rescue Center at any one time, many with a protein deficient form of malnutrition called kwashiorkor. They are nursed back to health and returned to their families when they are well, while the families are provided education on nutrition, if needed. The barrier to the children’s well-being is not unwillingness of parents to provide for them, but a simple lack of resources, as the average wage of a family in Haiti is the equivalent of two dollars a day, and jobs are scarce.
Artists for Hope
In 2008, Roberta and some artist friends formed Artists for Hope. They were sure other artists would be willing to join them in creating and donating art if they knew their work could help children in Haiti.
The group provides free advertising for participating artists by displaying their art and providing links back to their own webpages. Artists have joined from across the country, including Omaha artists Roberta, Joey Breed, and Alexis Studenberg.
Artists for Hope has been a good blend of helping and doing what I like.
All of the proceeds from the sale of the art go directly to the children of the Rescue Center. Everything bought through Artists for Hope directly benefits Haiti.
The Initial Trip to Haiti
In December of 2009, mere weeks before the recent series of earthquakes in Haiti, Roberta and three other women from Westwood Church in Omaha (Dawn Scott, Gina Lofberg, and Karen Bush) traveled to Haiti to learn more about the Rescue Center and the nutritional supplement they had begun using, called Medika Mamba in Haitian Creole, which means "peanut butter medicine."
On the first trip, I got to see how dedicated the Rescue Center is to their mission and the kids.
Returning to Haiti
In April of 2010, Roberta made another trip to Haiti, this time with her husband, to begin to teach women in the community how to use their skills to support their families. They laid the groundwork for an artist co-op in Haiti, where artists could make their crafts, have them sold in the United States, and have the proceeds returned to them in Haiti.
Thank you. A lot of times we feel like no one thinks of us, and it is encouraging to know that people in America do think of us. — A women at the first Artists for Hope art class in Cazale
The women were eager to learn and learned quickly. They had more people interested than they could accommodate. Half of the students were earthquake victims starting over from the beginning. Roberta brought home some of the bracelets make by the Haitian women, and they quickly sold out, with 100% of the proceeds going directly to the women who had made them.
We could really, really tell how much Haitians want to work.
Roberta plans on sending many of her photographs taken on the most recent trip back to families in Haiti. For many of them, these will be their first photographs of themselves and their children.
What’s Next for Artists for Hope
The greatest need of Artists for Hope right now is publicity. When I told Roberta that everyone will love spreading the word about such a unique and wonderful group, not to mention a positive story about Haiti, and that there must be more we could do to help, Roberta’s eyes lit up and she began to talk about her dreams for the future of Artists for Hope and Haiti.
She would like to bring more Haitian art to the United States. Many wonderful things are made in Haiti simply because they are needed. For instance, women make beautiful, intricate baskets because their families need to carry water. Haitians make incredible organic soap from a plant grown only in Haiti, simply because they need soap.
If buying the gorgeous Haitian and American art is not enough, you can create art yourself to donate. Anybody is welcome to participate, from full time professional artists to hobbyists and newbies. There is no limit to medium, style, or art project. For ideas, check Artists for Hope’s Etsy site. Or let your own creative, artistic mind be your guide.
Roberta is gathering team members for a third trip to Haiti in 2011 to teach more art classes and further develop the Haitian Artists’ Co-op. Put your suitcase down! I told you Roberta’s passion is contagious! The most helpful thing we can do right now is spread the word about Artists for Hope. Once you have spread the word, feel free to pick up a paintbrush, buy some art, or…finish packing and join Roberta on her next Haitian adventure.
For more information about Artists for Hope or to find out how you can participate, e-mail Roberta at artistsforhope [at] gmail [dot] com