HEBRON — Lifelong friends Avery Jurek and Rachel Brouwer know first-hand the power art can have on one’s development and self confidence. The teens will now share that feeling of empowerment with girls (and boys) this summer through their work with an art education camp in Malawi.
The first-ever, two-week long art camp is the culmination of an independent study for the Hebron Academy juniors, which is being facilitated by the Hebron-based nonprofit, Go! Malawi. Avery and Rachel will travel to the East African nation in July to teach art and work as counselors on the Go! Malawi campus and nearby elementary school in Mpamila Village, which is in the rural district of Ntchisi.
“There is power behind every art piece and finding your ability to create is an incredible hidden gift in everyone,” Avery said. “Participating in the arts helped define me. I want to help other girls also find themselves and feel confident with who they are.”
The young women are both self-proclaimed feminists and want to show the girls and women of Malawi that they can be more than just a mother, wife or daughter.
“I remember creating a world in which I molded and sculpted and painted my own world and then I got to decide the way I wanted it to be,” Rachel said. “Imagine if those girls could do that … build their own worlds and create their own universe. I want girls to be able to express themselves and decide how they stand in their world.”
They realize that it isn’t as simple bringing art over from the United States to Africa to help empower women. That is why they have worked closely with Go! Malawi Executive Director Janet Littlefield and Associate Director Bill Flynn – both Hebron Academy faculty members – to develop the curriculum for the art camp to help break down barriers that exacerbate the gender gap. This includes helping women reach economic independence and addressing how they view themselves.
“The goal eventually is that women can be independent,” Rachel said.
“And they’re successful,” Avery added.
Littlefield – who has worked in Malawi since 1998 – weighed in on the art camp’s goals.
“The overarching goal is to break down those barriers and the gender gap to promote empowerment and feminism. You can be a mom, too, and also have a job and go to school and do art or do math,” she said. “We are hoping that learned helplessness will wain and they will all just have that opportunity to feel empowered and confident through art.”
After speaking with the teens, Littlefield help them to start the art camp through her nonprofit.
“Avery and Rachel they were just explaining to me how much they felt empowered through art – how their confidence … increased,” she said. “I love when … young people … see their privilege and want to help those less fortunate. … I am just inspired by them saying, ‘We need to do that. Let’s have this art camp.’”
The art camp will also be run by Malawian female artists, musicians and performers. The teens also created night courses for women and men, because while they’re all about female empowerment, they want to share their gift with everyone.
“We don’t want to exclude males from the opportunity at all,” Rachel said.
Rachel and Avery have been friends since they were 1 year old. They grew up in the arts center at Hebron Academy as Avery’s mom is the head of the Art Department. Their love for art goes back to the days were they were little tykes, making cotton ball and pine cone owls and pasta art and playing together in the garden.
More recently, both teens have gotten into painting more – Rachel with acrylics and free-flowing watercolors and Avery with oils and pallet knives. Avery also loves clay since she grew up playing with it and enjoys the abstract work she can create with pallet knives.
While creating free-flowing and abstract art has helped them grow, this year they have focused on making pieces that contain a message. At the beginning of the year, they chose 10 different values and set out to create five works each.
Avery crafted an oil painting focusing on the word vulnerability. She painted a stormy ocean with a fall-colored leaf floating in the water.
“I pictured myself as the leaf,” she said, adding she focused on “how I feel when I am vulnerable. It makes you aware.”
“Take chances,” Rachel added. “You have to go through that to be strong.”
One of Rachel’s pieces centered around the idea of kindness. It’s an abstract acrylic painting, full of texture with oil paints on top. She used contrasting warm and dark colors and painted “a helping hand reaching out.”
“It’s something we hope to do – to be that facilitator and help people come out of their shell,” she said.
Throughout the year, Rachel and Avery discovered there is a lot more to running an art education camp than hopping on a plane and teaching art. They conducted research, learned all about grant writing even though they couldn’t find any to fit their criteria, and have worked through the logistics.
They’ve gathered art supplies from the greater Hebron community and have had to figure out how they’re getting them overseas since shipping to Malawi is expensive.
“Both of us are going to have suitcases full of supplies,” Rachel said.
Some of the art supplies they can purchase in Malawi, but others like easels, they won’t purchase over there since they can cost upwards of $100 each, they said.
“We have to think more resourcefully,” Rachel said. “We’re just going to have to build our own easels.”
They also plan to incorporate found objects and natural supplies that will be at their and the campers’ disposal in Malawi.
“This is the first year we’re doing this,” Rachel said. “It’s definitely trial run. The dynamic could be totally different than what we’re expecting.”
Littlefield first fell in love with the East African country when she did a stint in Malawi with the Peace Corps in 1998.
“The nickname is ‘The warm heart of Africa’ because the people are so friendly and kind,” she said, adding this is in despite of the poverty that plagues most of the country.
Seven years ago she started Go! Malawi, which grew out of a different organization. Originally it was Friends of Little Field Home, which was an orphanage in the Chigamba Village that was founded in 2004.
After a few years in operation, Littlefield realized this wasn’t the best way to help the people of Malawi. Go! Malawi was formed in 2010 and moved to Ntchisi. Since there is no public education after eighth grade, the nonprofit began providing scholarships for secondary education and college, along with hosting education classes, after-school English program, conservation programs, preventative health care, coffee farming, professional development, and now the art education camp at its current location.
There are spots this summer for those interested in traveling to Malawi to work as an art teacher, camp counselor or help with other local projects. For more information, visit www.go-malawi.org or contact Littlefield at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another important lesson Rachel and Avery learned through their independent study is that no one would foot the bill for them to travel to Africa.
“We had to figure out how we’re going to get ourselves there,” Rachel said. “Money doesn’t grow on trees. … We definitely learned things along the way.”
So the teens have been busy fundraising all year long. This will help them get to Malawi for the art camp and then they plan to spend a week on a safari near Lake Malawi.
To donate to their trips, visit www.gofundme.com/rachels-service-trip-to-malawi and www.razoo.com/story/Dxe3of.