BY HAMZAH DZIKRI FADLIANSYAH
Do you think the arts can make a change in society?
Many people may think arts are only meant for entertainment and aesthetics. However, there is something more than just entertainment when it comes to art. It holds the power for social change. For example, Being human, a nongovernmental organization in Tripoli, Lebanon, conducted a project called Little Picasso. They brought together young artists aged 10-15 years old from different backgrounds to collaboratively create artworks in a series of workshops with the goal to exchange ideas and get to know each other’s experiences. This project helped strengthen the bond between the different cultural and social groups in the city by using art as a tool for breaking the divisive boundaries between other groups there.
Another function of artistic expression is as a mental release. Blue Team, a group of young artists in Azaz, approximately 30 kilometers northwest of Aleppo, Syria, used art to express their challenges and opportunities in order to realize a serene haven amidst the civil war happening in their region. A group of young artists aged 16-25 created artworks to help them heal from any traumatizing experience. Moreover, they also used their paintings to influence and raise local voices to spread the dream of a harmonious community. In short, what cannot be taken for granted from art is its potential to bring peace to a divisive society.
Clashes between groups often cause vulnerable groups in a particular area to be at risk. Ukraine is one among many places in the world that are currently living with this problem. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE ODIHR) informed that there were 203 cases of hate crimes recorded by the police in 2020, with 83% of the cases taken to the prosecution and only less than 3% of the cases sentenced. Prejudices between different groups have led to violations of minority rights, hate crimes, and xenophobic attacks targeting vulnerable groups in Ukraine, such as ethnic minorities, LGBT+ communities, disabled people, and women.
As a consequence of the tension between groups, those vulnerable people get limited access to social benefits, sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), and gender and equality rights, to name a few. To illustrate, Amnesty International reported that Roma minorities in Ukraine are often discriminated against in accessing administrative services and healthcare, pensions, and other social benefits. This discrimination has been there for a long time, even getting worse due to the outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine, which has led to those being discriminated against attempting to find refuge in border areas surrounding Ukraine.
Collaborative work with STAN in supporting the rights of vulnerable groups; Image Source: STAN’s Photo Collection
STAN, a non-governmental youth organization with a focus on supporting the rights of vulnerable and marginalized groups in Ukraine, has been working on building up a creative civic society by utilizing grassroots methods of informal education. In January 2022, Child Rights Eurasia entered into a partnership with STAN under the project entitled “Diversity Ambassadors in support for human rights and peace-building in the fragile society.” The plan was to invite young artists and civic activists from minority groups in the Carpathian region of Ukraine, specifically in Ivano-Frankivsk city, to take part in developing tools for training in human rights, democracy, gender mainstreaming, and gender equality which the artists could then use for broadened context when creating works for social change. Our approach relies on open dialogue and collaborative strategies in order to create a culture of peace and understanding through expressive artworks. We therefore aim to prevent conflict and violence, facilitate dialogue, and deepen the awareness of peace-building and human rights.
However, since the war between Russia and Ukraine began in late February 2022, there has been a shift in our agenda. We reprogrammed and adjusted our activities to the current situation. At the same time, we mobilized to provide humanitarian help for the health and well-being of the civilians in Ukraine. Namely, STAN and volunteers opened a shelter in a train station in Ivano-Frankivsk city, welcoming those affected by the war. In this difficult time, the vulnerable groups in Ukraine were even more at risk. For instance, STAN reported that most people evacuating to shelters were women with babies and children. Consequently, they were in dire need of baby food, as well as hygiene products. Child Rights Eurasia helped our partner, STAN, to provide such necessities for those people. This aid came from shifting funds for another planned project, MÄMFIF, in collaboration with our partner organization, B.A.R.N., thanks to the sponsorship and approval of our donor, Dahlströmska Stiftelsen.
In the meantime, STAN also kept us informed about the latest updates in the shelter. One of the updates was the fact that one of the internally displaced people in the evacuation area brings up the issue of war with her artwork. Masha Vushedsky is an artist in Ukraine. She created drawings to express the voices of the people about the war, their struggles, and their dream of a peaceful home without a war. This spontaneous act provoked others to be mindful and in solidarity to fight for a harmonious community in Ukraine in many ways, such as donating and providing a safe place for the victims in Ukraine. It is where art plays its role to raise people’s voices, expressing the violations of their human rights.
The fact that art holds a powerful force to bring social change confirms our initial plan that art serves as a starting point to demand humanitarian actions for those in need, especially for vulnerable people who are even more susceptible during the war. With the predicament ongoing, we modified our goals and plans to adapt to the current challenges. The modified goal of the project is to use the diverse community to promote peace, humanitarian action, and human rights for the Ukrainian children and youth in the shelters during this war. We looked into the war and its impacts on children’s well-being such as being in isolation, conditions in shelters, lack of education, lack of security, and uncertainty about their future.
STAN’s Study Visit to Stockholm; Image Source: Child Rights Eurasia’s Photo Collection
Furthermore, instead of traveling to Ukraine as previously planned, we invited STAN to a study visit by attending workshops in Stockholm, Sweden. This study visit aimed to deliver transferable knowledge about peace-building, human rights, gender equality, and discrimination, especially during the time of war with a special focus on vulnerable groups such as children. During the workshops, we discussed some key concepts to achieve our modified project goals, introducing arts for transitional justice, peace-building and reconciliation, gender equality, gender-based violence, and sustainable development goals. We also organized visitations to the Police Museum, Nobel Prize Museum, and Swedish Parliament for a more nuanced approach to learning about diversity, democracy, hate speech and crimes, equality, and human rights.
Later, this knowledge can be passed on to young artists in the shelter for creating their artworks. Our plan to promote peace-building by using artwork creation will not only help strengthen the bonds between different groups in Ukraine, but it will also serve as a mental release and a medium to articulate their dream of freedom and peace.
Since the war has not ended yet, continued support is needed for those vulnerable people in Ukraine. You can support us by being one of our volunteers, member, partner, or donors or by simply sharing this information in order to inform others about our work, as well as receive updates from us. Child Rights Eurasia and STAN really appreciate any kind of support in advancing our efforts to support the vulnerable people in Ukraine and any similar efforts going forward.
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Art as a tool for local peace | CSPPS
Everything you need to know about human rights in Ukraine - Amnesty International Amnesty International
Ukraine’s Roma refugees recount discrimination en route to safety | Aljazeera