Hope Travels: AOI Uses Art To Drive Conversations On Mental Health In Uganda And Zambia

Nancy Bartosz’s travels to Uganda and Zambia shared a common thread of encouraging self-expression, using art as a tool to drive the conversation on mental health, and leaving lasting impacts in communities.

Group photo in front of the newly completed “Hope” mural with Zambian artist Dwain Whitaker. Credit: Nancy Bartosz

Group photo in front of the newly completed “Hope” mural with Zambian artist Dwain Whitaker. Credit: Nancy Bartosz

HFTD Agent of Impact, Nancy Barosz travelled to Uganda for the second annual Afri-Cans Street Art Festival. Forty artists from Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Canada, Italy and Zambia travelled to Uganda to take part. One of the founders of the event, Sparrow Uganda, described it as a culmination of his vision to allow artists to connect and share knowledge while strengthening the community and, naturally, create street art. This year’s theme was “The Power of Women.”

The night before the festival began, Sparrow and his co-leader Mos invited the artists to introduce themselves and speak about their inspirations and goals. Sparrow was the first to talk, emphasizing the importance of supporting and empowering young Africans.  With each artist’s introduction, a central theme began to emerge: one of unity, collaboration, and art’s power to affect change.

Active and supportive communities are critical in breaking stigmas and promoting positive conversations about mental health. They are central to the Hope For The Day tenant of We Are In This Together. Art and community support allow people self-expression and a healthy outlet to release pressure before reaching a crisis point.  A strong community that promotes self-expression, like the artists Nancy found in Uganda, is exactly what Hope For The Day works to emulate in communities around the world.

Rach and Nancy with the Hope Mural she designed. Credit: Nancy Bartosz

Rach and Nancy with the Hope Mural she designed. Credit: Nancy Bartosz

The next morning, the neighborhood of Kitintale, just outside the Uganda’s capital of Kampala, was suddenly overrun with artists and onlookers as they used whatever surface they could to create art. Many of the locals living in Kitintale eagerly offered the outer walls of their homes as canvases to the swarm of painters. Nancy, with design input from artists Rach and Zebia, designed a mural of her own: the word “hope” surrounded by a heart. The mural was painted with the assistance of Rach, Zebia, and dozens of local children. Zebia has continued to use art as a vehicle of positivity and is making a Kindness Rocks garden in Uganda that will be covered in greater detail in the future.

The energy and spirit of the event allowed Nancy to reflect upon the positive atmosphere and bright future of Uganda. Young leaders like Sparrow and Mos are setting a tone of collaboration and empowerment within the community.

“[Afri-Cans] was about the establishment of youthful and innovative leadership roles within Kampala . . . As a teacher, these are the kind of moments we talk about and dream of: the transition of power focused on good where we have a chance to learn and grow from the next generation of visionaries. They were a reminder to me of the shift of finding inspiration— not from our mentors, but from those who are forging new paths,” Nancy said.

Taking a break from the spray paint to teach origami in Uganda. Credit: Nancy Bartosz

Taking a break from the spray paint to teach origami in Uganda. Credit: Nancy Bartosz

Art is a vehicle for emotion and expression, especially when it is a collaborative process like the murals of Kitintale.  It is something that can be experienced across borders and languages to send a message of unity and support. Hope For The Day’s collaborations with musicians and tattoo artists reflect the belief that positive mental health conversations can stem from the creation and appreciation of art. From murals in Uganda to concerts in London’s Wembley Arena, the message to Have Hope travels through art.

Nancy experiences and facilitates collaborative creation everywhere she goes. When she arrived in Zambia, she was presented an opportunity to take on a new field of art and also to expand the collaboration across continents.

Black Pith Zambia is a group of young poets who use their poetry to support and develop their community. Pith is the soft tissue at the heart of a tree that transports nutrients and water. A name Nancy notes “is not only reflective of the solidly rooted poetry they share, but symbolic of their deep character.”

Black Pith repping HFTD during community service. Credit: Nancy Bartosz

Black Pith repping HFTD during community service. Credit: Nancy Bartosz

The Black Pith group had a busy weekend planned, starting with a Friday night performance at a restaurant in downtown Solwezi, Zambia. Saturday morning was spent teaching Nancy in local customs and culture before visiting Cheshire Home in the afternoon. Cheshire Home is a boarding school for young people with physical challenges but boundless spirit. The Black Pith poets put on an interactive show that encouraged the children to be “overcomers focused on achieving their dreams.”

Sunday, Nancy and Black Pith went to the local correctional facility where they host regular poetry workshops for some of the prisoners. The inmates and poets shared a focus on self-improvement and the ability to change and grow. This particular workshop centered on imagery and included a group of the inmates sharing what they wrote. The afternoon was a welcome time of leisure for Nancy and Black Pith as they kayaked, ate pizza and danced.

Nancy and Black Pith on their way to a performance at the Cheshire Home in Zambia. Credit: Nancy Bartosz

Nancy and Black Pith on their way to a performance at the Cheshire Home in Zambia. Credit: Nancy Bartosz

The afternoon was a reminder that things do not always need to be full throttle. Self-care is a critical component of mental health. Finding a balance between leisure, discovery and service during travel is an admirable and attainable goal for everyone. Hope Travels is founded on the principle of discovering and developing communities of support and positive conversation around the world. Anyone can help hope travel by simply taking a few hours of their time during a vacation to start a conversation or support the local community.

The group of poets from Black Pith eagerly took to the message of Hope Travels and Hope For The Day. Their focus on community support and development perfectly meshes with the We Are In This Together motto. Nancy connected them with Chicago poet Adam Gottlieb and together they developed a Hope For The Day poem and performance. As a group they emphasize hope, self-improvement and perseverance. The video of their collaboration will be released soon.

Next week will be the last catch-up post of Hope Travels, covering Nancy’s travels to Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq where the balance between vacation and outreach is further explored. To learn more about Hope Travels visit the Facebook group, read the rest of the blogs here and follow along on Nancy’s personal blog. The Black Pith Zambia Facebook page can be found here.

Jackson Kilpatrick