The creative spirit of youth

Young people in communities around the world aren’t allowing the challenges of poverty to keep them from artistic self-expression.

Sylvia, 16, shows how much she loves dance by displaying her passion on her T-shirt. She lives in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where she often performs with her younger sister.

Young people explore talents through the arts

Education is one of the greatest assets a child can have in breaking free of a life of debilitating poverty. But a human being needs more than formal education to become a happy, healthy and well-rounded adult. A young person’s creative side must be nurtured, too.

Fostering a creative spirit is one of the ways Unbound can have a positive impact in the lives of young people, International Program Director Melissa Velazquez said.

“The beauty of Unbound is that it is a dependable and adaptable partner that seeks the good of the whole person,” she said. “So when youth set goals and pursue interests that make them flourish as people, Unbound can get behind that. The program doesn’t limit its support to basic physical needs, but also values the social, emotional and spiritual growth of participants.”

Here are three stories of young people who have benefited from that broad support.

A South American renaissance man

Damián, 20, lives in Cali, Colombia. He’s sponsored through Unbound and is also a scholarship recipient. A multitalented artist, Damián wants to produce works that help young people make good choices in their lives.

Damián, a 20-year-old sponsored youth and Unbound scholarship student, grew up in a neighborhood in Cali, Colombia, where drugs and street gangs have derailed the lives of many of his peers. He credits the example of his parents and the values formation he received through Unbound for helping him avoid those obstacles.

But Damián has another asset at his disposal and he uses it in a number of creative ways. Damián is an artist. He paints, composes music, enjoys public speaking and is a storyteller. On top of all these skills, he’s also something of an entrepreneur.

Currently, Damián is enrolled in a two-year university course in audio and video production. He wants to use his skills to produce works that communicate hope and help motivate young people with the same kinds of challenges he faced growing up. He’s now working on an audio story intended for young children, about an opossum who faces peer pressure from the other animals in the forest.

“The teaching I want to leave with this story is that we don't have to try to be someone we are not,” Damián said. “Because with what we are, we are special.”

A passion to preserve her culture

Subalakshmi, a 16-year-old sponsored girl from the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India, enjoys learning about the traditional literature of her country. She recently won recognition for memorizing a classic work of Tamil poetry.

Some students are inspired to create their own works of art and some are inspired to study the works of others.

The writings of the ancient poet-philosopher Thiruvalluvar are a cherished part of the cultural heritage of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Subalakshmi, a 16-year-old Tamil girl sponsored through Unbound, took on the challenge of learning his most celebrated work.

The Thirukkural is a collection of 1,330 couplets containing moral teachings and proverbs. It’s considered a classic work of Tamil literature. Because of its cultural and historical significance, the government of Tamil Nadu honors students who master the verses.

“Kural is the Tamil poetry,” Subalakshmi said. “I started learning Thirukkural when I was in eighth standard [grade]. … It took one year to learn the Thirukkural and I was ready for examination one year later.”

The dedication it took to memorize the verses looks to serve Subalakshmi well. She hopes she’s absorbed some of their wisdom as well, in particular this advice about getting along in life from verse 140:

“Those who do not know how to act agreeably in the world, though they may have learned much, are still ignorant.”

Blossoming talent in an unexpected place

From left, sisters Terry, 11, and Sylvia, 16, live in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Sylvia is sponsored through Unbound. The girls love traditional African dance and often perform together, an interest that’s encouraged by their parents.

Some might not think of a slum as an environment where artistic expression flourishes, but that hasn’t been the experience of Sylvia, 16, who lives in the Kibera community in Nairobi, Kenya. She’s pursuing a passion for African dance.

Sponsored through Unbound since she was 8, Sylvia lives in a small dwelling in Kibera with her parents, younger sisters and three cousins. She’s passed her love of dancing on to her sister, Terry, 11. The girls often perform together.

Despite the emphasis in Kenyan society on education over the arts, Sylvia has support at home as she follows her passion.

“My mother really encourages me to dance,” she said. “Dance can take me in different places to perform.”

Dreams, and the dedication to make them happen, run in Sylvia’s family. Her mother, Elizabeth, is an active member of the local Unbound mothers group. Like many parents of sponsored children in Kenya, she belongs to the group’s savings and credit cooperative and takes and repays small loans to help with family needs.

“In the future, I plan to take a loan and buy a place and build a house of my own,” she said.

If that happens, there’s sure to be room to dance.