Middlebury

Painting a Brighter Picture

ansally

It wasn’t your typical summer job.  Davis UWC Scholar Ansally Kuria, Middlebury College Class of 2012 and native of Kenya, spent the summer before her senior year raising awareness about child abuse and painting cartoons on the walls of a Nairobi hospital.

It was all part of a project she called “Let Children Be Children.”  Ansally, a double major in neuroscience and women and gender studies at Middlebury, wanted to make a difference for survivors of gender-based violence in her home country.  It all began with an internship at The Gender Violence Recovery Center (GVRC) at Nairobi Women’s and Children’s Hospital, a nonprofit providing free medical treatment and psychosocial support to approximately 2,500 survivors per year.  Almost half of the victims are children.  “I felt I must take a step beyond empathy or sympathy and do something to help these children heal,” Ansally says.

She was particularly struck by the lack of resources for these children and the adults helping them.  The rooms designated for play therapy were stark and depressing, with white walls and scant, broken toys.  Ansally thought the children deserved more.

She knew she couldn’t stop the violence, but she could surely wield a paintbrush. “Play and art activities are proven methods for helping children freely express their feelings,” she says.  “A counseling room should be safe, comfortable and far from dull. It should be a place that is designed to let children be children—where they can begin their journey to healing.”  She had a vision of bright and cheerful therapy rooms filled with toys and games.  But where would the money come from?

Ansally decided to ask the Middlebury community for help.  Last spring, her project was posted on “MiddStart,” the College’s online “microphilanthropy” network.  The Web site advertises small-scale student projects and invites donors to give to the initiative that most excites them.  Ansally’s project struck a chord.  Within two weeks, it was fully funded, yet donors kept contributing.  By the end of the fundraising campaign, she had enough extra money to expand the scope of her project, giving the hospital pediatric ward a creative paint job, as well.

In addition to helping survivors, Ansally also wanted to contribute to the prevention of child abuse.  An obvious place to start, she thought, would be in schools.  The very school where she had been educated was among the institutions she approached.  She organized essay-writing competitions designed to educate students and get them talking about the issue. She also recruited enthusiastic and talented students to help her paint.

When she returned to Middlebury for the fall semester, Ansally left behind a brightened paedriatic ward and three redecorated therapy rooms for survivors of violence and their counselors.  In addition, she hopes she enlightened scores of young people about the wrongs of child abuse and their own personal rights.  What would she do differently?  “Next time, I’ll bring other Midd kids with me,” she says.  There’s still so much work to be done.