More than a number: Canton parish hopes art exhibit humanizes refugee children

More than 60 works of art created by refugee children and young adults involved in Samaritas' refugee foster care program will be presented at Resurrection Parish in Canton on Jan. 30. Each will include a reflection by the artist, some of whom will be on hand to talk about their inspiration and journeys. (Photos courtesy of Samaritas)

Resurrection Parish's Jan. 30 exhibition, 'Written Dreams in Paper,' to feature artwork created by children in Samaritas' refugee foster system

CANTON — The headlines surrounding refugees can seem impersonal, and the data overwhelming. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 153,300 unaccompanied and separated children were reported worldwide at the end of 2019. That number is assumed to be even higher today because of recent global developments and the limited number of countries reporting data.

Resurrection Parish in Canton hopes to personalize the stories of a few of these young refugees through the words and artistic expressions of the children themselves.

On Jan. 30, the parish will present “Written Dreams in Paper,” a traveling art gallery with artwork created by refugee children living in Michigan. The children are cared for by Samaritas, a Lansing-based agency at the forefront of foster care for refugee children and young adults.

The youth pictured here, who were involved in Samaritas' refugee foster program in Michigan, created a mural in 2015 that sparked the idea for the Samaritas youth art show. The traveling exhibit has been invited to events at churches, community centers, and art galleries.
The youth pictured here, who were involved in Samaritas' refugee foster program in Michigan, created a mural in 2015 that sparked the idea for the Samaritas youth art show. The traveling exhibit has been invited to events at churches, community centers, and art galleries.

Samaritas is one of approximately 30 organizations nationwide committed to caring for unaccompanied minors coming into the United States. With its mission of “serving people as an expression of Christ,” Samaritas places refugee children who have been lost or separated from their families with Michigan families who provide a safe, nurturing environment.

Some children require long-term foster care, while others need short-term transitional care until they are reunited with family in the U.S. About 30 foster families serve more than 100 children through Samaritas at any given time. Even after their 18th birthday, young adults in the refugee foster care program have access to the organization’s independent living classes, mentoring, tutoring and other services.

“As with all refugees and all immigrants, these children bring with them their knowledge, their culture, their experiences. They all have something of value they can share,” said Kayla Park, community outreach team lead for Samaritas. “So many of them have started their own businesses, are raising families here, or going back to their home country to do great things. They bring their dreams and their skills to our state, which only strengthens us as a community.”

“Reflections on a Journey,” a mural created by refugee children in Michigan, was completed with the help of a professional artist in Lansing to commemorate World Refugee Awareness Week in 2015. Small canvas copies of the piece are on display at several art galleries in Michigan.
“Reflections on a Journey,” a mural created by refugee children in Michigan, was completed with the help of a professional artist in Lansing to commemorate World Refugee Awareness Week in 2015. Small canvas copies of the piece are on display at several art galleries in Michigan.

The idea for a Samaritas youth art show began in 2015 as a public awareness event during World Refugee Awareness Week. At that time, a group of refugee children painted a mural with the help of a professional artist in Lansing. Any child in the program who wishes to submit work for the art exhibit is welcome to do so.

Park, who has worked with the refugee foster care program for six years, oversees the traveling art exhibit, which has been hosted by churches, professional art galleries and community centers.

“Every child deserves a safe and bright future. The gallery provides people in Michigan a wonderful opportunity to support these kids,” Park said. “It’s a chance for the community to connect with these children in ways that see beyond statistics — to see who these children are as individuals, while at the same time empowering our youth to share their stories and know that they’re appreciated.”

More than 60 works will be on display in the exhibit at Resurrection, including paintings, drawings, photographs and one sculpture. Most of the artists are teenagers, though some are younger and others are graduates of the program. Several artists will attend the event to talk about their experiences.

A painting of a silhouetted sunset created by a refugee named Merhawi, of Eritrea, will be part of the exhibit. "Life is a journey. I don’t know where I am going or where I will end up, but I know I am on my way to complete it," Merwahi wrote of the piece.
A painting of a silhouetted sunset created by a refugee named Merhawi, of Eritrea, will be part of the exhibit. "Life is a journey. I don’t know where I am going or where I will end up, but I know I am on my way to complete it," Merwahi wrote of the piece.

One artist, 24-year-old Ana, graduated from Samaritas’ refugee foster care program and now volunteers with the organization. She came to the U.S. in 2014 from Honduras.

“Samaritas helped me graduate, get into college, and live on my own without an adult,” Ana told Detroit Catholic. “It also helped me to be responsible with everything and most importantly, helped me get my green card. Now I’m able to visit my family in Honduras.”

Sulma, 22, also was born in Honduras and came to the U.S. when she was 16. Before reaching the border, she was kidnapped and held in Mexico for a month. She will complete high school this year and hopes to attend college “if God gives the chance.” Her artwork, titled “Everything Of My Life,” will be on display at the exhibit.

“It was very difficult to come here,” Sulma shared. “When I arrived to Samaritas, I really did feel welcome. The program treats you well and helps you in almost everything.”

Honduran refugee Sulma's piece, "Everything of My Life," is pictured. "This is my art," Sulma wrote. "This represents something of my life. The trees represent family for me and the water is life. There are bad things in our life, but the good news is the water never stops in the same place, so bad things leave with time. The sun, the color blue, all this represents how my life is. All the colors are like a happy life."
Honduran refugee Sulma's piece, "Everything of My Life," is pictured. "This is my art," Sulma wrote. "This represents something of my life. The trees represent family for me and the water is life. There are bad things in our life, but the good news is the water never stops in the same place, so bad things leave with time. The sun, the color blue, all this represents how my life is. All the colors are like a happy life."

Fr. Tom Kramer, pastor of Resurrection Parish, believes the exhibit fits with the parish’s core value of offering loving service to others.

“There’s a wonderful legacy at Resurrection based on a true commitment to Jesus," Fr. Kramer said. "This is a time in the history of our country when all kinds of things are pulling us apart, but something like this can bring us together. No matter where we are on the political spectrum, we can be together in the name of Jesus.”

Fr. Kramer hopes the art show will not only provide a visual experience for those who attend, but a spiritual one as well.

“Pope Francis talks about dialogue as one of the essentials of living the Gospel. You can only dialogue with people who you see as people — not just numbers, not just slogans, but people,” Fr. Kramer said.

“Written Dreams in Paper” will be on display from 3-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30. Resurrection Parish is at 48755 Warren Road in Canton.

Learn more

To learn more about the art exhibit or to book the gallery to come to your church, visit www.samaritas.org/youth-art-show. To support Samaritas’ refugee foster care program by purchasing prints of the art or other items featuring some of the artwork, click on the “Youth Art Shop” link on the page.

Foster families not only provide stability to refugee children, but often become a long-term connection as the child grows into adulthood. If you’re interested fostering refugee children, email [email protected].

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the time of the exhibition. It will be from 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30.



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