Diaspora

Teaching Art to Orphans in Haiti | Detroit Jewish News – The Jewish News

As multimedia artist Gail Rosenbloom Kaplan sadly reads about the devastating problems facing residents of Haiti, she also looks back on the six days she happily spent in the country as a volunteer art teacher.
Kaplan’s travels to Haiti, at the end of summer, were busy times although even then it was not safe for her to visit the spaces outside the orphanage where she had volunteered.
The Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage, in Port-au-Prince, is run by writer-broadcaster Mitch Albom, who has reported on bringing youngsters to America for additional schooling and medical treatment.
“The kids at the orphanage were fortunate to be isolated in many ways,” said Kaplan, a University of Michigan art graduate who has painted, sculpted, displayed and taught her work for 40 years. “Our days together were filled with learning, playing and experiencing art to communicate feelings.”
Kaplan had been asked to volunteer at the suggestion of a woman she met while doing similar work at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, where she was teaching youngsters how to paint T-shirts and create three-dimensional projects. Kaplan worked with in-patients for nine years before the pandemic.
“Connie Vallee, who looks after the children from Haiti, first wanted me to work with the Haitian youngsters being treated in Detroit, but I explained that I was only allowed to help those who were staying at the hospital,” Kaplan said. “I did invite the others to my studio to create projects.”
Vallee arranged for the visiting children to participate and, from those experiences, Kaplan met Albom, who set up the sessions in Haiti.
“I planned projects for the youngsters and was joined and helped by my sister, Anne Klisman, a retired school counselor,” Kaplan said. “I wanted them to have experiences that would be meaningful for the youngsters and the adults who cared for them.
“The boys and girls who work with me know that I wear a smock, and they like to do the same so we brought smocks for the children to share.”
Kaplan was very impressed by the way the children responded to her.
“The orphanage was a fantastic place, and they had a fantastic school program,” she said. “It was at the end of their summer vacation and before school started when we were there. We had traveled with Mitch and his wife, Janine, an amazing team.”
Kaplan did not have to pay for supplies. They were provided by Albom and the business people who regularly handle her product needs.
After painting T-shirts and pillowcases for everyone regularly in the building, participants went on to making art of colored sand placed on a sticky board. They also framed images for rooms in the building and constructed a permanent glass mosaic 7 feet wide to reflect life at the orphanage.
“Imagery that we did showed children playing,” Kaplan said. “We have an image of the Haiti flag logo design, which is a drum and a palm tree.
“We did a mosaic as a triptych because it was easier to transport the wooden boards on which over 5,000 tiles were placed. Everybody cut and placed the tiles because it’s really their artwork, and it shows their community.”
 
The types of work that Kaplan planned were met enthusiastically by the children, Kaplan said.
“The triptych was an exciting project because they went from the design to completing it and really working together,” she said. “We talked a lot about   working together on a community project, and I explained about measuring the designs and ordering supplies.
“It’s not just doing a design. It’s about how to execute the design and order supplies. It became a little bit of a math lesson for the kids to try to understand what goes into being a working artist and planning for something like this.”
Working days were from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. with Albom making visits to see how they were doing. After dinner, they were ready to go to their rooms and think about the next day.

Although the children’s center is Christian, Jewish structures and symbols entered into their interests and projects. The sisters from America brought iPads and phones so the kids could look up ideas.
“They were very thoughtful children, and faith plays an important part in their lives,” said Kaplan, a member of Congregation Shaarey Zedek. “They made a community sand art installation to be hung in the building. We talked a lot about working together.
“One of the most touching parts of the visit for me happened when a young girl asked how I say ‘love’ in Hebrew and asked me to draw the Hebrew letters,” said Kaplan, who showed her. “The girl, to my surprise, then made me a T-shirt that said ‘love’ with Hebrew lettering for ‘love’ [ahavah].”
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