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Hope Academy Students: Painting a story of Peace, Equality, and Teamwork with Tenacity on 48’ canvas

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By Catherine Tong

Students from Hope Academy are sharing a story, but this story will contain few written words. It is the story of a Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman and is told with paint on a 48’ long stretch of canvases. It is the story of a woman who planted hope for her people, and it’s told by 60 students who are beginning to paint their own life stories. Listen in.

IMG_0060Wangari’s story: Wangari Maathai was born in Kenya in 1940. After attending university in the U.S., Wangari returned to Kenya only to find her homeland ravaged by deforestation and her people suffering the consequences. One seedling at a time, Wangari began a movement of tree planting, known as The Greenbelt Movement, in her village, surrounding cities, and eventually across Kenya. Although she faced much opposition, Wangari persevered in order to help her people provide themselves with firewood, clean drinking water, balanced diets, shelter, and income. While she led the way, Maathai said, “I’m very conscious of the fact that you can’t do it alone. It’s teamwork. When you do it alone, you run the risk that when you are no longer there nobody else will do it.” Wangari was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

The story of creating the mural: After reading the book, Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter, students from the 4th grade, 6th grade, and 11th/12th grade art classes at Hope Academy collaborated to design a large mural to retell Wangari’s story. Each of the groups began brainstorming ideas for their piece of the mural. Under the direction of art teachers Tasha Irving, Catherine Tong, and Elisa Fonseca, students helped sketch out a plan. After one month, meeting once to two times weekly, the mural was completed. The most challenging part, according to 4th grader, Caeden C., was “trying to work around each other with paint and agreeing on who should paint which parts”. But the payoff was great, not only in the finished project but in the learning that took place in the process. 4th grader, Javier T., loved accomplishing something together that none of them could have done on their own. Wangari’s message was sinking in.

The stories of the children: Students at Hope Academy come from a wide range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, truly reflecting the Phillips neighborhood, where Hope Academy started out nearly 15 years ago. No matter where their stories have taken them thus far, Hope’s mission for them is this: “To foster hope in God within the inner-city neighborhoods of Minneapolis by providing youth with an outstanding, Christ-centered education.” The students at Hope are excelling in all areas, not only academics. One parent comments about her son, “My friends say he has a level of honor and respect that is different.” Students are taught they can and should make a difference in their families, neighborhoods, and world. While creating the mural, 6th grade student Olanta G. commented about Wangari, “She planted trees. It inspired people to be who they wanted to be and make a difference in the world.”

The mural will be display at the 82nd annual “Festival of Nations” which will be held May 1-4 at the St. Paul RiverCentre. The festival is Minnesota’s largest and longest standing festival celebrating cultural diversity. Representatives from 90 ethnic groups will bring music, demonstrations, ethnic foods, exhibits, and dance. The theme for this year, “Peace Among the People”, will highlight a Peace Path leading to a Peace Garden in the exhibition area. Hope’s mural will be a major part of the Peace Path. Come walk the path and be inspired by both the story of Wangari and of the youth of our neighborhood. For more info visit festivalofnations.com and hopeschool.org. (Mural measures 4’x48’ stretched across six canvases)

Catherine Tong, is Hope Academy Lower School Art Teacher

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