"Every child is an artist."
"The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up?"
This past Saturday, a group of us Roamers volunteered at the Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj Home, a local orphanage in Belgrade. The orphanage houses kids ranging from 5 year olds to teenagers and all with different situations. Some kids live in the facility, while others live there temporarily due to unfortunate events at home.
We didn't really know what to expect but I think we were all shocked within the first minute. As soon as we entered the building we noticed two kids (a boy and a girl) sitting outside smoking a cigarette. They warmly waved to us and we all waved back with a stunned smile. These kids couldn’t of been older than 14 years old and they were casually taking a smoke break. The director kindly explained that the orphanage couldn’t enforce any rules on the kids, especially the teenagers, for the simple reason that they are not the parents. Granted, smoking is the norm in Belgrade, but for an outsider looking in, it was a bit shocking.
When we arrived, the kids were finishing up their music class in the auditorium. This gave us time to set up in a smaller classroom that must've been the reading/game room. It was filled with books on one wall, board games and kid paintings. The building itself was pretty big, well maintained and decorated with artwork everywhere. You could tell this place valued the arts and was proud to display their artwork.
We brought art supplies and spent the morning getting creative with markers, clay and paints. The idea was to have them teach us Serbian using their creativity. The kids barely spoke English but somehow we all managed to communicate with smiles, hand gestures and laughter. And when we really felt lost, the translators in the rooms came in handy. Selmir was my buddy from the start. He walked in, immediately sat next to me and started talking to me with such enthusiasm. Unfortunately, I had no idea what he was saying but that didn't stop us from having fun. Even though I could barely understand him, we worked together to build a solar system out of clay and an astronaut, who got sleepy half way through his outer space mission. Selmir was sweet enough to make our exhausted astronaut a blanket and pillow and then sang him a lullaby to go to sleep. It was the cutest thing ever, to hear him sing in Serbian while I tried to sing along in English. I love seeing how far a child's imagination will go. At one point, there was even a snake in outer space accompanying our astronaut.
I had such a great time interacting with these kids. Watching them draw and paint reminded me of how much I used to love drawing at their age. When it was time to go, I felt sad to know that I was probably never going to see them again but they will forever remain in my prayers. I pray that one day they will find a home and that their creative flame never dies out. There is so much good we can do in the world and I encourage you to reach out to your local orphanages. Every kid deserves to have someone believe in his or her creativity and that somebody could be you!