Art Helps Lift the Haze of Despair ; A Program Designed to Foster Harmony and Community in New York City Now Aims to Bring Hope to the Youths of War-Torn Bosnia

By Krongard, Randall | The Christian Science Monitor, February 5, 2003 | Go to article overview

Art Helps Lift the Haze of Despair ; A Program Designed to Foster Harmony and Community in New York City Now Aims to Bring Hope to the Youths of War-Torn Bosnia


Krongard, Randall, The Christian Science Monitor


The drawing is of a vacant stone bridge. Two sailboats slip underneath its hefty, vaulted arches, and a few trees and clouds dot an otherwise blank landscape. "It's called 'Friendship Bridge,' " says Elana Haviv in the Manhattan office of her nonprofit Children's Movement for Creative Education (CMCE).

"What's so interesting," Ms. Haviv adds, "is it's a picture of a bridge meant to unite people. However, there are no people on it."

The portrait is by a teenager from Sarajevo. It is one of dozens that were exhibited for two weeks at the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in New York. For Haviv, the feeling of hope and despair symbolized by the desolate bridge represents the mood among today's youth in Bosnia.

"These kids feel alone and face such a lack of opportunities," she says. "A teacher from Sarajevo referred to them as a 'lost generation,' and they really are."

Haviv and longtime friend Kate Chumley, who is codirector of the project, spent two weeks with 40 students, ages 15 to 22, at the Arts Secondary School and First Bosniak School in Sarajevo. Most of the students were of Muslim background.

Each class began with stretching exercises followed by several minutes of meditation to release pent-up energy. Then the students would paint, draw, or write down their hopes for the future and views of the past.

The Bosnia program is an extension of Haviv's efforts to bring an artistic approach to education in her native New York.

Haviv, whose father is Israeli and mother is American, began CMCE in 1995 after graduating from Bryn Mawr College outside Philadelphia. But she had already been using art as an educational tool for some time.

In fact, she began developing nontraditional approaches to teaching while studying sociology and anthropology as an undergraduate. Her curriculum was heavily influenced by her love of acting. Its aim was to help students who, like her, learned best through movement and creativity.

"I like to use the energy the kids have and connect it to what they are doing," she says.

For her senior-year project, she met with 15 students once a week at an elementary school in south Philadelphia. After a warm-up of movement and meditation, the kids would put together a dance demonstrating how atoms are created, or make up a poem using the day's spelling words.

After graduation, Haviv returned to New York, and following a brief flirtation with an acting career, founded CMCE. The group, which is funded by Board of Education grants and private foundations, consists of seven part-time staff who teach in two lower schools and run training seminars in several other schools throughout New York City.

Among these is P.S. 31 in Brooklyn, where sixth-graders watched flames swallow the World Trade Center from their classroom windows on Sept. 11, 2001. Haviv encouraged all of the school's students to draw and write about the attacks as a way to deal with their feelings. Their work was exhibited for several weeks at the Empire State Building and at a Sept. 11 remembrance at the White House.

When asked why she chose the former Yugoslavia for her next venture, Haviv removes a book from the shelf, "Blood and Honey." It's a compilation of photos by her brother, Ron Haviv, a photojournalist in Bosnia during the war.

The title comes from the Turkish words for Balkan: "bal," blood; and "kan," honey. Her brother's involvement and his stories of snipers targeting civilians, including 3-year-olds, left her with a deep attachment to the region, especially its young people, and a deep conviction that art could give them the helping hand they needed.

Haviv will return for two weeks this month, accompanied by Ms. Chumley and art therapy expert David Henley from Long Island University. The three will meet with local officials to plan the curriculum for a five-month program. Then, in April, Haviv and Chumley will return to oversee the same 40 students who participated in the project last spring. …

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