Saturday, November 22, 2008

Project FOCUS & World AIDS Day

December 1st is World AIDS Day and Project FOCUS is participating in a Boston event commemorating World's AIDS Day at St Mark's Congregational Church in Roxbury.

St Mark's is a prominent African American community church that seeks to create a dialogue about AIDS in the African American community and help memorialize those who have been lost to this devastating virus.

Project FOCUS will display our HIV/AIDS quilts from Uganda and discuss how stigmas and struggles faced in Africa are similar to those that exist in the United States. We will also participate in a panel discussion about AIDS and women of color.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On Saturday, November 22nd, Project FOCUS members Madelene Griffin, MAAT and Meg Wolf, MAAT will present at the Annual American Art Therapy Conference in Cleveland, OH.

The Art of Discovering: Re-defining Art Therapy Within the Context of Ugandan Culture

In 2007, a small group of artists and art therapists traveled to Southwest Uganda with an organization called Project FOCUS and implemented four pilot projects intending to educate, empower and inspire through art. This workshop explores their discoveries during a challenging 5-month journey using images, personal narratives, and examples of artwork created with local materials.
Project FOCUS: Creative Dialogues Exhibit
November 13th - December 31, 2008

On November 13th, Project FOCUS celebrated the opening of its first exhibit in New York; Project FOCUS: Creative Dialogues. The exhibit features photography by Gloria Bernard and the artwork created by the community members of Lyantonde.

The exhibit will be up through December 31st, 2008.

Gallery Location:
The Bronfman Center Gallery
7 East 10th Street NY, NY 10003

Gallery Hours:
Monday-Thursday: 8am-10pm, Friday: 8am-4pm, Saturday: CLOSED, Sunday: 9am-9pm

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Election Fire

I have to begin with recognizing the amazing achievement that is Barack Obama! This monumental moment in history gives me hope that sometime in the not-so-distant future, the work of organizations like Project Focus will be operating abroad to compliment the positive impact of American foreign policy, and not simply attempting to alleviate aspects of the suffering directly caused by it. I know I'm not the only one with these lofty hopes, as I was fortunate enough to spend the days surrounding the election in Kenya, where the electricity had to rival places like Chicago and New York. As you know, most Kenyans claim Obama as their "son in the White House", and see him as a new source of national pride. The streets were electric with chanting marchers, taxi drivers worked their horns and voices to death with Obama's picture taped to every inch of the vehicles and newspaper salesmen – ten to every corner - proudly wielding the victorious front-page headlines - "Yes We Did". I literally just got off of a 20-plus hour bus ride back to Uganda (15 of which in the back seat, if you know the roads here you feel for me now) and still couldn't wait to get to a computer.


The weeks leading up to the elections were just as exciting for me in Lyantonde. I spent the bulk of my time holding community meetings in the 7 villages that were home to lasts year's project participants. I returned to each community to update the members on the work of PF since leaving Uganda last December, listen to any changes they have experienced in their lives, and share with them our aspirations and course of action for the future. I presented to them the extent in which they will be expected to contribute to the development planning and implementation process, and although some of the meeting started off with words of skepticism and doubt, most ended with the communities scheduling elections of their own to establish project planning committees. I explained to them how communities like theirs are usually represented in the mainstream media outlets of the West. They laughed in disbelief, and agreed that the sharing of their stories of suffering and cultural richness, frustration and perseverance will build a better understanding of the complexities of their daily lives. I left each village chairman/chairwomen with a translated list of project criteria that will be explored thoroughly before we can begin finalizing any proposal. Those who seemed genuinely interested expressed a solid understanding and appreciation for our approach. An extremely summarized version of the criteria looks like this: Sound Financial System, Community Investment, Sustainability, and a Trusted Implementing Partner/Committee.

Prince Primary School – the first of the 7 development projects – is moving along at a comfortable pace. A local engineer has completed a topographical survey of the school's property. I've received a topographical map (including levels, size measurements and existing buildings) and price quotes for the leveling of the site and the cost of completing an actual architectural blueprint of the future site plan (including a list of specs and bill of quantities). I plan to check his numbers against other engineers and organizations with experience in school renovation. I also look forward to having our first Ugandan board of advisers meeting sometime this month, beginning Price Primary's pen-pal program (in partnership with an Falcon Heights Elementary School in St. Paul, Minnesota) titled "Citizens of the World" and Bitone's journey to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for their performance in the East African Theater Institutes's annual cultural festivals.

Movie Night

One night after a late dinner last week, I was walking home through Lyantonde and passed by the local theater. Because the power in the rest of town was off, I could better hear something out-of-the-ordinary coming from inside - something about "Chicago", "Harvard" and "his wife Michelle". I hadn't even started to shift my eyes toward the building to see what I was hearing when one of the dozens of theater salesman had me by the arm and was escorting me in. "My American brother"… "you will like" , "you will like" , "Obama" , "you go" , "you go"… "give me 200." Next thing I know I'm in the theater that's usually home to bad action videos from the states (Nick Cage, Steven Seagal, etc, dubbed in Luganda at insane volumes), Nigerian soap operas, or English Premier League football matches. I never thought of setting foot in that place before that moment, due to its bad reputation as a "thieves den", and now I'm sitting with at least 50 young Ugandan males in dead silence watching an Obama documentary in English. My eyes burned from of the overwhelming smell of Waragi (Ugandan's national drink originally named "war gin" by British soldiers during WWI) which added to the surreal experience. Everyone was glued to the screen, and I can't imagine that too many others besides me could fully understand the film's narration. That's what made it so powerful. The world is waiting for this man, or at least what he represents, which to me is a renewed sense of service and personal responsibility in each other. The same sense that makes a room full of 20-something Ugandan males – already labeled as thieves by their community - sit down and try to educate themselves by watching a documentary in a language they don't speak, about a man in whom they see hope.