Shay Grabowski, a New York City-based motion graphics artist, wanted to figure out a way to start an organization to bring arts programs to children in orphanages in Ecuador and Peru. So she did! Alegria’s official website launched this week, and she has her first group scheduled to go to their first orphanage in August. Read on to hear her inspiring story, and you will no doubt be reminded that we can truly do anything we set our minds to.
Love and Water- How did Alegria come to to life?
Shay Grabowski- Alegria means ‘joy’ in Spanish, and we are an arts organization bringing arts programs to orphanages in the Andes, in Ecaudor and Peru, hoping to inspire joy and hope to the kids who we work with. I’m a motion designer myself, and had been involved with an organization that helped bring arts programs to an orphanage in that area. Every time I came back from doing work with them there were so many people here in New York who would ask me how they could get involved. I started thinking of ways to bring my own group to those areas and it basically snowballed from there. I have a team that I’m taking with me in August, and we will be doing multi-media workshops with the kids. They don’t really have a scope of life outside their orphanage, and they are unbelievably receptive to the work we bring to them, and some of them are just amazingly talented. So I’m really excited to see where we can go with the programs we will be implementing.
L&W- Are you targeting specific orphanages with Alegria?
SG- We are working with one orphanage that was started 25 years ago by a man named Miguel. One of his children had died, and one day three street kids came up to him and asked him for help. He immediately took them in as his own and took care of them for ten days. One day they were gone, and he went looking for them. When he found them they said they were sorry for leaving but they had ten other brothers and sisters, and without thinking Miguel said to bring them along as well, and the orphanage began. That was 25 years ago, and since then his orphanage has grown to house 800 children. He never turns anyone away. The orphanage is in Zapallal, an extremely remote area of Lima. He has received support from other organizations, and he keeps building more houses for the kids. But they have very little- the first time we were there we gave the kids their first pillows. Many of them only have one set of clothes. So they can use all the help we can bring to them. One of the times I was there I saw a little boy being dropped off by his mother, who was pregnant. He was screaming and clinging to her, and she left him there. It was a really horrifying, yet telling experience. Many of the children come from the government to Miguel’s orphanage, and some come from the surrounding areas.
L&W- What are some of the projects you’ve done with the kids, and how did they react to them?
SG- The first year I went I did charcoal and observational drawing with the kids. They really latched onto it, and there is so much talent there. There are many happy accidents that happen while I’m there. They were working with charcoal and we were talking about the fact that it is burnt wood. One of the kids said he would be right back, and came back with some burnt wood and said, “Look! We can make our own!” This was baffling and inspiring to me, especially since we’re talking to them in Spanish but trying to find the right vocabulary to explain the tools we’re using to them. They’re so hungry to learn, and they pick things up so fast and so eagerly.
L&W- What are some of the programs you have in place for Alegria?
SG- Our slogan is “Hope Through Art.” We have a few plans in place. Miguel is a visionary, and it’s astounding how he’s able to provide for these children. Olive Branch Ministries out of Austin, Texas, has rallied around this community and meets so many of their ongoing needs – food, schooling, etc. We’re coming alongside the orphanage community and Olive Branch’s organization to create art with the children as well as support the ongoing needs of the orphanage. We want to expose them to a bunch of new mediums that they have never been exposed to. Creative art is extremely therapeutic for them, especially since so many of them have been through trauma, including sexual abuse. We want to support established orphanages. We want to tell their stories in New York City by holding exhibits of the work they do. There are so many other artists here interested in showing the work of the kids to people here, knowing that others will be interested in helping in many ways as a result. So we’re really looking forward to that aspect.
L&W- What is the most moving moment you’ve had working with the kids in the orphanages?
SG- Last time I was there we did self-portraits with the girls using India ink. India ink is one of my favorite mediums, because you can do so many things with it. There aren’t a lot of mirrors there, so the girls don’t really ever study themselves- they don’t stare at their features often. So to watch them look at themselves and to tell them that they are each unique and special was really moving. The work that they came up with in such a short time was amazing. Self protraits are really difficult as an artist, and would have taken me a lot longer to do than it took them. To see the smiles on their faces was one of the most rewarding experiences for me.
L&W- This is such a wonderful cause, and I just love what you’re doing. Are there ways for people to get involved now?
SG- For now we have our website, which just launched, that will have updates on it for programs as we move through the rest of this year, and next year we will have artist proposal forms for those with ideas or who want to get involved. So as long as people keep checking back on the site, we will be updating it frequently with as much information as we have.