Time to paint on this fine summer of 2021 at Khaled Bin Waleed School and St George Assyrian School in Beirut.
Children draw their brushes and get ready to add color to a big white wall in the playground. Colors, paint jars, pencils and drawings cover the ground. Children’s voices burst forth with joy; and Marie-Joe Ayoub, a young artist/painter, tries to channel the group’s overflowing energy to complete the mural that is starting to take shape.
This activity marks the completion of the rehabilitation work carried out by UNESCO and UN-Habitat in the two schools after the Port explosion on August 4th, 2020, with the support of Education Cannot Wait, which has helped rebuild 40 damaged schools within the framework of UNESCO’s flagship initiative “Li Beirut”.
"This mural helps children feel that they have a role to play in the beautification of their school after the Port explosion”, explains Marie-Joe Ayoub.
“This allows them to leave their mark in their school. Now, they are a part of it. Today, we need a new active generation to take the initiative. Art is crucial to help children express themselves. It increases their concentration, focus, patience, and serenity, especially amid the pandemic. Children want to get together to work and interact with each other”.
To carry out this project, Marie Joe Ayoub has organized brainstorming sessions with the students to teach them about murals.
“It is important for them to know that there are jobs out there that need artists and illustrators”, says Marie-Joe. “We started with the history of murals, from caves to American graffiti. More importantly, we talked about why we draw. Murals often carry a message, and I opted for a message centered on education for health and well-being," she added. The children – of different ages – interpreted the theme in their own way, drawing sketches that inspire them, then reproducing them on the large wall, which now sports big words like "Peace" and "Freedom”.
“I am drawing food”, says Hani, a child, while decorating the wall in his school. “Food helps our bodies grow. I also drew bad things like cigarettes and candy, to compare”. On her side, Sally is adding the final touches to the wings of a large butterfly. "It symbolizes freedom, and it's colorful", she says. “Just like my school! Years from now, I'll be happy to return to my school and see my drawing, my mark, engraved on the wall..."
Li Beirut is an international flagship initiative launched from Beirut by the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, in the aftermath of the explosions, on August 27, 2020, to support the rehabilitation of schools, historic heritage buildings, museums, galleries and the creative industry, all of which suffered significant damage in the deadly explosions.