Arts Education International (AEI) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide outlets of expression and positivity through the arts to orphaned and abandoned children in West Africa. Many of the children we work with are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; in Ghana they have been orphaned primarily by the AIDS epidemic. In Sierra Leone, they have survived a decade-long civil war, and many were enslaved as child soldiers and made to fight from as young as age eight. We have focused our efforts in particular in Sierra Leone because of the deplorable conditions the children were forced to endure both during the war and in its wake. Many of the child soldiers were rounded up from post-war refugee camps and left with foster parents who volunteered to house them. They now exist as little more than indentured servants who must work at home instead of going to school. In most of the communities we work in, it is considered very taboo to discuss one's emotional state and the traumatic events they have experienced. In addition, schooling in both Sierra Leone and Ghana is not compulsory, and fees to attend are expensive. Participation in the arts, both practical and expressive, helps to heal the emotional scars of traumatic childhoods, while providing the opportunity for children to take pride in their artistic accomplishments. By providing sustainable, community-based arts outreach programs, we offer opportunities for healing through the arts, connections with successful artists in their own countries who serve as mentors, and career opportunities in visual arts, dance and music. Many of the kids we work with have gone on to join professional drumming and dance ensembles, record albums, open t-shirt printing shops and teach younger orphaned and abandoned children in their villages the skills they have learned as a result of our programs.
To realize this mission, AEI holds two-week arts camps at orphanages and children's homes. We hire traditional visual artists, writers, musicians, dancers, and songwriters indigenous to each site’s location to teach workshops and lessons for the kids.
We also donate arts supplies and musical instruments to orphanages and children’s homes for the kids to use during the camps and all year!