Congolese refugees and local Tanzanian children learn about art techniques side by side. Photo: UNHCR/S.StarkeIn a novel way to impart new skills to children while improving their social interaction, the United Nations refugee agency has sponsored an arts workshop for refugee pupils from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Tanzania, where they were introduced to the basics of painting with water colours, pastels and acrylics and making collages.

About 140 pupils from primary and secondary schools, 100 of them Congolese from the Nyarugusu refugee camp in north-western Tanzania attended last week?s course, organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) and the Ujamaa Art Gallery based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania?s commercial capital.

?This is like fresh air for the refThis project has brought the two groups [refugees and Tanzanians] closer together and fostered their interaction.ugee children. They are excited,? said Belgian art teacher Soline de Laveleye, who conducted the workshop with three of Tanzania?s top artists ? Obadia Mbise, Thobias Minzi and Haji Chilonga. ?They help each other and are keen to share their experiences. Some are even making new friends,? she said.

The initiative is the first of its kind in Nyarugusu refugee camp, but UNHCR and the Ujamaa Art Gallery are considering continuing the project and incorporating other art forms, such as drama, music and literature.

?This project has brought the two groups [refugees and Tanzanians] closer together and fostered their interaction,? said Oluseyi Bajulaiye, UNHCR?s representative in Tanzania.

Baraka Danford, 16, said: ?This is like magic, it is a big gift to me,? adding that he had never used colours before but could sketch.

The youngsters painted and drew, experimenting with line, colour, shadow and light. Some depicted the things they saw around them, while many delved into their traumatic past for inspiration, including images of soldiers and guns in DRC.

An exhibition of the best works created by the young Congolese and Tanzanians at the workshop will go on display starting 15 February at the Ujamaa Art Gallery.

Proceeds from the sale of paintings, drawings and collages will be used to organize more art and educational projects to benefit refugees and host communities.

?These kids are hungry for it and we would like to give them a chance to develop their skills and make a positive impact in their life,? Larna Mashiba, the gallery?s director.

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