Before the 2009 Bioneers conference, I’d never heard of Lily Yeh. She was one of the main speakers and I cried through her entire presentation. Yeh is an artist whose mission is to heal. Among other courageous things, she went to Rwanda and made art with the survivors of the 1994 genocide. Below is an excerpt about it from her new book, Awakening Creativity. (from the foreward by Robert Shetterly):
“…Lily Yeh asked me if I would travel to Rwanda with a small group of Barefoot Artists to continue the work she had begun in a village of survivors of the 1994 genocide. I agreed, but with considerable trepidation. I had read the accounts of the genocide. Rwanda seemed a frightening place. And I had also read about how poor this village was. After the genocide the new government built a few villages to provide a safe place for the victims. But cement floors had not been poured, water and electricity was never hooked up, septic tanks never completed. No jobs provided. The bureaucratic agencies tasked with this job had disintegrated into half-measures as the funding dried up. Extreme poverty was compounding the trauma of genocide and reinforcing it with the trauma of neglect.
After our group arrived in Kigali, we were driving several arduous hours in the back of a jeep to Rugerero and the survivors’ village. I’m no longer sure what I expected when we arrived, but certainly not what happened. The back doors of the jeep were thrown open and there was a throng of joyous children calling for Lily. “Turabi Shimiya!” they shouted. “Turabi Shimiya!” “Happy to see you! Happy to see you!” On and on—ecstatic! Lily, not much bigger than the children, descended into their midst and shouted the same back at them. They all began running, shouting, around the village, on the hard dirt between the unfinished houses that had recently been painted with murals designed by these same children under Lily’s direction. Bird and beast and decorative motif murals transformed the depressing gray mud brick. Then came the warm embraces of the adults, bending close and inadvertently exposing machete scars on necks and arms and legs. Then came the singing and dancing. As friend’s of Lily’s, we were all their best friends now. What had happened in this land of grotesque violence to provoke such joy?
Yeh says that the places that are the most broken are the ones that are most ready for transformation. Her website is http://www.barefootartists.org/