Artists Striving To End Poverty Inc
September 28, 2009
I first spoke to Artists Striving to End Poverty's founder, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, at 10:00 PM in the middle of finals week my sophomore year of college. I had emailed her through ASTEP's website earlier that evening. After reading my letter, she called me, and we spent the next two hours discussing ASTEP, Shanti Bhavan and its beautiful children, and what I would be teaching them just two months later as a volunteer teacher in southern India.
ASTEP was the charity I'd always been hoping to find. I remember Googling "Artist + charity + volunteer," and constantly being disappointed with the lack of results. ASTEP is able to capitalize on the large community of artists trying to find a way to give back to the world. Often times, we are not the most wealthy group of people, but the resources we do have to offer are valuable beyond measure.
When teaching at Shanti Bhavan, a school in Tamil Nadu, India, whose name translates to "haven of peace," I was amazed at how much I grew and took from the children I was there to enrich. I only hoped I would be able to give back to them the amount of hope, joy, and love they had given me. While there, I taught theatre games and improvisation to grades 6 through 10, English literature and composition to grades 8th and 9th, and read bed time stories to the youngest children, ages 4 to 6.
Shanti Bhavan and the George Foundation purposely work with ASTEP to bring volunteer artists to its school. As artists, we provide an important link in these children's education. From the time they were born, these students were told they were "untouchable" - a part of the lowest caste system in their culture. They lived in poverty and were not allowed to drink from the same wells or worship in the same temples as their upper caste neighbors. It was also believed that they did not deserve the same opportunities as upper caste children, because they would never be able to achieve the same success. There destiny was set in stone according to many people in their culture.
Many of the children at Shanti Bhavan lived through horrific experiences at a very young age. On top of often being malnourished and frequently sick from dirty drinking water, a large number of children have been abused. One of the first things they learn at school is good touching and bad touching, so they are able to report any bad touching when they come back to school from breaks at home. When dealing with young people who have lived through things no one should ever have to experience, it can be difficult to find ways to talk about them. And because of the lack of therapy or counseling in much of the Indian culture, it is important for ASTEP's artists to use their art as a way for these children to share their stories.
Sometimes writing a poem using symbolism instead of literal explanations of a story deep inside of you is exactly the outlet someone needs. Or sometimes that outlet is playing a game where you are allowed to describe how you’re feeling that day with a color of the rainbow, a season of the year, or the weather in the sky – instead of having to say “I miss my mother who I lost a long time ago.” When given the right form of expression, these children’s voices and stories can be heard in a way that not only helps them shed light to experiences often buried away deep inside, but also allows those stories to be heard by others who can learn and grow from them as well.
ASTEP has changed my life. As Mary-Mitchell said to me one night at Shanti Bhavan, "Once you know, you can never go back to not knowing." Those children's stories, their beautiful smiles, and beautiful tears, have unmeasurable power and love that I have been blessed to know and experience. Thank you to ASTEP for allowing me to share and grow in my art in ways I never could have imagined.
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
the smiles of the children I've worked with. The fulfillment gained from helping children in need is indescribable. I am still in touch with many of my students, and since volunteering, have had two friends decide to also volunteer at Shanti Bhavan.
What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...
being able to use my art to give back. ASTEP utilizes artists' specific skills and passions, which produces volunteer work that is 100% committed and unbelievably powerful.
The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...
talented, committed, passionate, and kind. I was also pleasantly surprised at how many artists who are very successful in their fields are willing to give their time and art to those who need it most.
If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...
reach out to even more organizations who could utilize its artists, and provide more resources to the groups they work with now in India, South Africa, and the U.S. I cannot imagine how many people ASTEP could reach!
How frequently have you been involved with the organization?
About once a year
When was your last experience with this nonprofit?
Volunteer & I shared my art as a volunteer teacher with "untouchable," impoverished children in Tamil Nadu, India.