"Art For Animals" inspiring Africa's children through artistic endeavors to care for their wildlife.

Anne London - AFC
February 26, 2014 share
Artists for Conservation

Several years ago in a remote dusty village in Zambia I was sitting on a log drawing the village and its surroundings when a shy young girl sat next to me intent on seeing what I was doing. Within minutes she was joined by 20 or so others all scrambling to get a better view. It was then that I realized not only were these children mesmerized by my materials but also by the emerging animals I was drawing. I handed out pieces of charcoal and paper from my sketchpad indicating they could have a try. Their fascination but unfamiliarity with drawing as well as with their native animals struck a chord with me. The notion of introducing art to African children started to form in my mind. The question that followed was, but how?

Art has had a long, arguably "ancient" tradition in Africa but today it languishes for lack of basic materials and exposure. Those children who followed their curiosity and picked up those pieces of charcoal had never been given the opportunity to draw before. Then there was the other problem, how could it be that these African children had never before seen a live elephant or giraffe? Wildlife, like art, is also an important part of the heritage of these children. I asked myself, ‘How could I help ensure wildlife could continue to be in their future?'

It wasn't long after this experience that while in Zanzibar I met my husband, Jim Hart, a marine conservationist. The idea of joining conservation, our common love for African wildlife and creativity evolved into an answer to my questions. A program based on using creativity with conservation which could be used to educate children and make a difference in their lives. We called our program, "ART FOR ANIMALS", and combined interesting and important information about wildlife and habitat issues with drawing techniques.

In the summer of 2013 Jim and I put together basic drawing kits for several hundred children and designed a poster demonstrating simple approaches to draw animals linked with messages about wildlife stewardship. We printed the posters and some of my artwork on vinyl so it could be used indoors and out and be left for future inspiration. With the help of a friend who develops educational programs at home in Louisiana, we wrote lesson plans for teachers (both trained and untrained) to carry on the program after we left. We planned the introduction of "ART FOR ANIMALS" to rural villages and schools in the areas we visit on our annual trip to Africa.

Our first class was held in Botswana, for a small San Bushman tribe in the hot Kalahari Desert. Although Bushman cave art dates back over 3500 years, today few children are exposed to any art or drawing. In the shade of a leafless thorn tree, we strung our poster to the branches with scrap wire. The elder San came to watch and when our interpreter repeated my questions to the group about the changes they've seen in their environment and on discussions about their own wildlife heritage, San would give us a thumbs-up in approval and encouragement.

Despite using an old door on two stumps as their shared desk with only desert sand as their seating, both the children and the adults were thoroughly engrossed in our message. It was a moving experience, as Jim and I watched the excitement and enthusiasm in the students, and their elders, as they learned about drawing and the importance of saving their wildlife to their future.

A week later, we offered our lessons again in the shade of a much greener tree in Zimbabwe, at a rural school started four years ago by a woman with a simple goal of offering education to three children in a tent. There are now over 350 students attending the school. We were received with smiles and hugs from some of the most polite and well-mannered students I've ever met. As we worked with the children under that tree, we were again deeply touched by the enthusiasm of these students and the distinct feeling we were making a difference both in their lives and in the future of wildlife in Africa.

Today, our program has been adopted by, "Children In The Wilderness", the cultural/conservation outreach arm of Wilderness Safaris, one of the largest and most visionary tour operators in Africa. Together, over the next five years, we aim to expand the "ART FOR ANIMALS" program into villages near their Safari camps all over Africa.

One of my childhood dreams was to somehow have a positive, direct impact on the future of our planet's wildlife. When I was very young, art brought me to a personal appreciation and devotion to animals and I always wanted to share that magic. Through a simple start and even with very limited funds, I feel like I am fulfilling that dream. Jim and I feel privileged to open the door to creativity and stewardship for these inheritors of Africa's wildlife, and hopefully the success and joy that comes with it.

Learn more about Anne London and Art for Animals at her AFC website.

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