Note From the Field: A Wonderful Day for Children in Côte d’Ivoire
We wanted this day to be a memorable one for the children. Wednesday, May 19, was meant to be a day full of fun events – crafts, painting, and storytelling – for children who attend clinics supported by the Foundation in Côte d’Ivoire
. It was also a way for our office to celebrate the Foundation’s 20 years of fighting for kids living with HIV in the U.S., Côte d’Ivoire, and around the world.
Children created their own pieces of art
at the event. Photo: EGPAF
But the day before, we experienced a downpour of heavy rain which threatened the celebration. We were wondering what the weather would be, and prayed and crossed our fingers, full of hope. The next morning, we were up before dawn, and it was as if God himself had answered our plea. It was a vibrant morning under a perfectly clear sky.
We traveled to Bingerville’s Arts School, where the event was going to be held, and joyfully started setting up the stage and performing all the last minute checks. Everything was soon ready with the support and help of the art center students and all others involved.
As planned, the three buses appeared with the children dressed in yellow t-shirts produced especially for the event. We welcomed them and tied small ribbons to their arms to easily identify the group they belonged to. The children then proceeded to a small breakfast with the help of community counselors.
All in all, we had more than 100 children attending the event, coming from five different pediatric sites supported by the Foundation. Their ages ranged from 4 to 13 years old.
Shortly after they finished breakfast, the children lined up quietly to visit the exhibition booth, featuring works from the students of the art school. The painter “Jacob Bleu,” who served as an art teacher for the event, wanted to introduce them to the world of painting so they would have a sense of what they would be creating later that day.
After the visit, the social workers organized a warm-up session to break the ice and mingle with new friends. The children formed a circle, danced and sang, and stretched and jumped around for fifteen minutes. Then we followed with individual art workshops consisting of painting and pottery.
The children were chaperoned with the help of the art school students in a relaxed and fun environment. We provided paint colors, paper, and stencils to start their work. We enjoyed watching one of the youngest children who was fascinated by the tiny handprints that he made all over his papers and clothes.
Foundation staff read to the children.
We had also arranged a place with several mats on the ground for storytelling, where tired children could rest while listening to engaging stories read by Foundation staff. I witnessed Nelly Kouadio, our Finance Manager for Budget, lying down among the kids reading in character, as well as our accountant Suzanne, sharing stories, smiles, and snacks with other groups of children. Dr. Joseph Essombo, our Country Director, spent the entire day with the children, and ended up being surrounded by kids who playfully painted on his shirt.
Children made clay pots to take
home with them. Photo: EGPAF
After making individual clay pottery, the children proceeded to group painting, where they were given the opportunity to add their personal touch to the collective work. And the true highlight of the day was the entertainment time with music, a clown show, and magic tricks.
The children were so excited throughout the day, that they forgot their illness and danced, laughed, and cheered endlessly. Basically, they were able to just be kids. I knew that they would treasure this day for years to come. One painting read, “Today is the most beautiful day of my life.”
We saw the smiling faces of several little angels, fiercely and courageously fighting this terrible disease. We had a chance to review the work done by the children, and we saw some drawings that reflected the children’s pain, fears, and doubts in their daily lives. But we also saw paintings expressing hope and a brighter future, symbolized by the shining sun on most of the drawings.
It reminded us of the painting drawn by Elizabeth Glaser’s young daughter Ariel. She saw the world as a beautiful garden, kept bright with sunshine and surrounded by love. Her painting serves as the Foundation’s logo, representing hope for children everywhere.
We ended our celebration by sending off the bedazzled children, who had the chance to leave with their new clay pots and heads full of good memories.
Gilberte Koffi is a Communications Officer and Jacqueline Dreesen is a Technical Writer in the Foundation’s Côte d’Ivoire office in Abidjan.