Needs no translation
B.R.I.N.G. I.T. invites refugees to talk through art
By Adam Coughlin firstname.lastname@example.org
It is said a picture is worth a thousand words, which can be true, especially when those words are spoken in 25 different languages. That is why the community organization B.R.I.N.G. I.T. (Bringing Refugees, Immigrants, and Neighbors Gently Into Tomorrow) is using art to reach out to students from across the world who are now calling Manchester home.
In March 2005, noticing the large influx of Somalian refugees, Family Understanding Nights (F.U.N.) were started. These nights, which happen about once a month, allow refugees, people forced from their native land because of unstable conditions, to listen to speakers, ask questions and become aware of services that are available.
Turnout became so high, according to Jodi Harper, B.R.I.N.G. I.T. program director, that this year they began to divide the evenings into communities.
“We work with the community leaders to find out what is going on,” said Harper. “Each community has different needs. The Bhutanese refugees, for example, have high levels of English so they don’t need help on writing a check. But they want to learn about the American policing system and what to do if they get a traffic ticket.”
While the parents have opportunities to learn the intricacies of their adopted homeland, students at school also needed some encouragement. That is why Beech Street School Assistant Principal Brendan McCafferty, the Manchester School District and the Manchester Boys & Girls Club began B.R.I.N.G. I.T. about three and a half years ago.
The afterschool program, which is held Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Beech Street School, brings kids together to play soccer and take dance classes. While the kids bond, the parents take English classes. This program is open to all students, and those who attend speak more than 25 languages and dialects.
These activities, dance and soccer, have no need for translation, which got those involved thinking about other transcendent activities. Naturally, they came to art.
Thus began this year’s pilot program, a collaboration with the NH Institute of Art and the Currier Museum of Art. Thirty-five kids, primarily from the West Side, spent 15 weeks working on art projects, which are now on display at both art facilities.
“We are always looking at ways to expand the program and reach as many kids as possible,” Harper said. “We know not every kid is going to like soccer or dancing, and so art is another avenue.”
Suzanna Canali, chairperson for art education at the art institute, said she taught the first class. She gave the students an emotion and asked them to draw it. But for happy, they couldn’t just draw a smiley face. They had to try to visually represent the words.
“One of the words was ‘masculinity,’” Canali said. “It was great to see the differences and similarities between the drawings of a Manchester native and a Nepalese boy. It allowed us to have a conversation.”
“With art, the students were revealing so much more than they would have if they were just using words,” Canali continued. “They didn’t even realize how sophisticated their art was. We want to continue working together. There’s not a lot of places you can be exposed to such a diverse group. We teach the kids but they also teach us.”
The students spent half their time doing fiber arts at the Currier, taught by Cheryl Holbert, the Currier’s community outreach coordinator, and the other half learning fundamentals at the Art Institute. Those classes were taught by students at the institute who got practice working with kids with remedial English levels. The work that was created will be on exhibit until June 14.
Participants come from different countries and different life experiences; B.R.I.N.G. I.T. puts all these kids in the same room.
“They become friends with kids they normally would not talk to,” Harper said.
Most of the refugees, forced from their native lands because of circumstances beyond their control, do not choose New Hampshire (500-800 new refugees come to the state each year) but are brought here by resettlement agencies. Do these families consider themselves Americans or are they biding their time until their homelands settle? According to Harper, it truly depends on the family.
“Some encourage their kids to acclimate as much as possible,” Harper said. “While others don’t want to lose their identity. For many, they have two homes.”
“Some refugees or immigrants might not think of coming to the museum,” said Karen Tebbenhoff, director of marketing and public relations for the Currier. “But there are no barriers here. Art speaks to everyone, regardless of their language.”