Immediately following the devastation from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, recovery priorities included restoring communities’ access to food, power, and clean water, along with helping people dig out from the rubble. But as basic needs are met in parts of the territory, there’s also a need to do something more intangible, like find ways to boost optimism and hope.
In at least one neighborhood, Save the Children has done that by partnering with Apartial, an online community of artists that works with nonprofits to bring colorful, positive imagery back to communities where things seem particularly dark.
In late December, the two groups enlisted locals from Barrio Fronton, part of the Ciales Municipality, a remote area that was already impoverished before the storm hit. Together, they worked to fix up and redecorate a formerly popular indoor basketball court, which had been a community gathering place for all sorts of activities.
Pop surrealist mural artist Okuda San Miguel, whose work has been called “prismatic, mystical, and infused with color” agreed to donate a design. The initial sketches created an enormous paint-by-number project that community residents were encouraged to paint themselves. The project, which lasted four days, included efforts from people of all ages, with specific sections geared directly toward kids. Here’s a time-lapse video of what that looked like:
Of course, Apartial, whose artist have co-created works everywhere from Liberia (during the Ebola crisis) to Greece and in Uganda (to support uprooted refugees) sees these efforts as slightly bigger than one extreme makeover. “For Apartial, we witness the transformation in the people taking part, once they see how they are able to control their surroundings, and what they can achieve when they work together,” says Mark Leonard, cofounder of Apartial in an email to Fast Company. The group’s goal is to use art as therapy and a social networking tool “A bit of paint can be a powerful tool to bring people together and inspire hope for a better future.”
For Save the Children, it’s also a signal that their commitment to the area will continue in new ways. “The intention of the project was to inspire hope and show solidarity with a community that is struggling,” says Casey Harrity, Save the Children’s team leader in Puerto Rico in an email to Fast Company.
But the new space can also be a “catalyst” for the community, he adds, because it’s ready to be used again. It’s also a nice reminder that Save the Children plans to continue working there: The group, which began delivering supplies and solar lamps immediately after the storm struck, is planning to stick around to ensure that children receive the sort of educational services and emotional and psychological support that will go a long way toward long-term recovery.
The group’s initial emergency efforts reached about 20,000 kids, Harrity estimates. But continued support and long-term programming–they’re still fundraising for it–will hopefully improve the lives of at least 200,000.