Millennium Fellow Lunanga Michel Ushindi and Mkilania Esther Isack partnered to launch their Millennium Fellowship project, Life Through Arts. This initiative encourages and advocates for creative cultural activity in all its forms. In this article, Michel and Esther share what inspired them to start this project and how Life Through Arts became a resource for children to cope with traumatic events and learn that they are not alone.
Walking Through Untold Stories
Written by: Michel Lunanga & Esther Mkilania
Esther interviewed Kataliko Jean, an eleven year old boy in Mbezi town in Dar Es Salaam Tanzania. His positive attitude and contagious smile towards everything stood out more than his ragged clothes. He always saw the good even when things went wrong. With intense curiosity, Esther asked him how he does it? How does he always stay positive even when things fall apart? He said, "I don't allow myself to be victimized by bad thoughts. If it ever gets too much, then I take a deep breath and thank God. After that, I always feel better." This stands out to us because we also experienced traumatic events.
Michel was born in conflict due to the ongoing strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He grew up with uncertainties of whether he will go back home safely or lose his family due to the chaos. This led to physical, financial and emotional trauma. On the other hand, Esther is a rape survivor. The single night has affected Esther in all aspects of her life - often leading her to feel nervous and discouraged. The continuous struggle and mental trauma made recovery a battle.
For us both, art and creative work helped us slowly recover and cope with the daily post-traumatic stress and struggles we experienced. Through writing and blogging, Esther was able to reach and connect with people who shared similar stories which helped her realize that she is not alone. For Michel, media and photography helped him take his struggles and use it to empower other at-risk young people.
In addition to being International Business Administration students at the United States International University in Kenya, our passion for art and shared vision brought us together to launch the initiative, Life through Arts, promoting pertinent issues such as human rights protection, gender equality, and supporting disadvantaged and marginalized groups of people by reviving arts in all its forms. Our goal is to support children and young people in rural communities in Congo and Tanzania through arts and encourage them to use art as a medium for self-expression.
Throughout the Millennium Fellowship program, we learned the power of having a vision, which supports our core values of empowerment, integrity and passion. We believe in a world that embraces all forms of art and highlights the local or international challenges such as poverty, unemployment or human right violations. Art provides a sense of hope to people when they're lost and struggling by seeing the world through a different angle and exploring different perspectives in life. As leaders, we need to understand that we are not protagonists, but we are sidekicks.
Kataliko Jean was one of the twenty kids we supported over the past few months. Each child we met was unique in their own way. Michel recently met a young girl, Laura Ntumba, who was going through psychological disorder after witnessing the slaughtering of her family in the Beni region in Congo. After spending time with her, Michel learned that she enjoyed drawing and painting using imagery. Through Life through Arts, we provided Laura with the tools to help her continue drawing. For Laura, drawing helps her deal with anxiety and think about something else other than memories of war. Through painting and drawing, she was able to dream of a new world - different from the one she witnessed. A world where she feels loved and protected. We are confident that by time, art will be able to heal her and allow her to look at the world positively.
We have just concluded our Millennium Fellowship program, but our journey is not over. We are excited to continue our work and support more children. As we reflect on our experience through the Fellowship, one advice we would like to give other Millennium Fellows and young leaders working towards social change to be be honest and passionate. Make sure you put yourself out there, build connections with others, and keep impacting the world most of all. As the late Nelson Mandela said “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. ... It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
About our Millennium Fellowship project:
Life Through Arts is an organization that encourages and advocates for creative cultural activity in all its forms by joining everything from traditional amateur arts and crafts to digital format. This project was carried out by Lunanga Michel Ushindi and Mkilania Esther Isack, powered by Millennium Fellowship Class of 2020.