“Healing strokes”: Malawian children brush away pain with paint

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

Have you ever beheld a thing of beauty –your bride walking down the aisle, or your new-born baby taking her first breath—and felt as if your whole soul had been renewed? As if you were lifted out of yourself, and drawn into it so fully that, for that brief moment, beauty was your only reality?

There is something cleansing about gazing into a work of beauty; something hopeful—as if a reminder that beauty exists somewhere, even if it is not apparent in our current circumstances.

And there is something even more powerful about creating that work of beauty. The creative process itself is healing. You hold a brush in your hands, and suddenly you hold the power of choice: you can transform the blank canvas into anything you please. You pause, retreat into the calm of your mind, dig deep, perhaps take an inward journey into the vast hinterland of your mind. Then your hand travels across the canvas and more possibilities opening up: what begins as a curved line becomes the beak of a bird, becomes the crescent moon, becomes the upward curve of your mother’s lips – the possibilities are infinite, and all is yours to choose from.

There is a certain liberation in free-play.

When you complete the piece, you realise there is something special inside you that you can bring into the world. You can bring joy to someone, connect with someone and hear them say, ‘Aha, you’ve said just what I was thinking!’

This work of beauty is but a small reflection of the greater beauty that lies in you.

Sbongi is an orphan from the distant rural area near the Zambian border. A crippling disability had left her in the hospital for years, where she received no visitors and spent many months isolated and emotionally starved. So, when Masimba showed up as a volunteer to conduct art therapy sessions at the hospital, his bright crayons brought a much welcome splash of colour to her life. The stimulation and emotional engagement that came with creating together with other children raised her spirits and benefitted her wellbeing greatly.

 Gloria Simoneaux, who runs the Harambee Arts programme, tells of numerous stories like Sbongi’s. Her non-profit organisation works with homeless, orphaned and other neglected children in various African and Asian countries, employing art and play techniques to develop their sense of self-worth.

During one of the art therapy sessions in Malawi, children were told to reflect on things which they love the most about themselves. Here are some of the children’s responses:

For many children who have been through traumatic experiences, art and play therapy provide a non-threatening way for children to work through their experience without having to relive its horrors. By indirectly expressing their stories in the form of paintings, dance and play, children can come to terms with their thoughts and feelings, whilst being able to share them with a supportive crowd. This provides a cathartic experience as well as a safe space where the child can receive affirmation and feel loved.

They were given an opportunity to share their authentic selves…to become visible in the eyes of many who don’t take the time to connect with children living in poverty.” - Gloria Simoneaux

While researching this article, I couldn’t help feeling moved by these lovely images of the children with their creations. From a place of pain, they were able to produce such expressions of hope and simple joy. In crafting these works of art, they have also re-created that beautiful experience for every viewer.

For more about Harambee Arts, visit their webpage here


At Aestheletic, we believe in making art available for all. 10% of all profits go towards Covid relief.

This post is part 2 in our series of “5 Inspiring projects that bring Art to the people”