Life is Wonderful
By painting a large, colorful mural Peace Corps Volunteer Theo Davis and his artistic community members found an innovative and effective way to educate others about the importance of AIDS/HIV prevention. With a message of "Life is Wonderful" this mural shows that what is often a difficult subject to talk about can be expressed in a way that not only educates, but shows that life is full of hope and celebration.
Hi, my name is Theo. I'm originally from Seattle, Washington, where I worked as an architect. I decided to join Peace Corps because it was something I always wanted to do since hearing about it as a kid. I feel so fortunate to have fulfilled my dream!
Upon joining, I was assigned to a place I did not even know existed. My skills and work experience were requested in the Community and Business Development program of Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan. The picture shows me with the U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, who personally congratulated me on my assignment.
Kyrgyzstan is located in central Asia, high in the mountains near Russia, Uzbekistan and China. When I was a kid, it was a part of the former Soviet Union. It is a very small country of only 4 million people. I lived and worked there for two years.
The Kyrgyz people taught me that no matter where you live, what clothing you wear, your religion or wealth, we all want to be happy and enjoy life.
There were many wonderful things about my time in Kyrgyzstan, but one of the best was when I worked with my community to create this huge mural. A mural is a very large painting, usually done outdoors on the side of the building.
The students who participated loved to paint and draw. They were so excited to have such a large canvas that the whole community would see.
In the small city where I stayed, the community had a tradition of painting murals. I thought this type of project would be a great way to educate the community and create something beautiful. By designing and painting the mural together, community members were able to develop their artistic skills, and provide a positive and effective message.
It is not easy to create a large mural like the one we made. It took lots of cooperation between community officials, artists, students and other local and international organizations to ensure its success. However, because it was such a simple and good idea, and held the support of the community, the project practically ran itself!
Here you can see some artists planning what the mural would look like.
Our mural contained many parts, but the main idea was to raise community awareness about HIV/AIDS—a problem affecting people in Kyrgyzstan and around the world. As a widespread disease with no known cure, HIV/AIDS can be a difficult subject for people to talk about. Our hope was that the mural would help start conversations about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it. We also hoped to send a positive message of life with the mural, so people who stopped to enjoy the painting might spend a moment reflecting on how wonderful it is to be alive.
Large stencils or templates were used to help us transfer the art design from a small piece of paper to the very high and big wall.
The ladder was hand built and donated to the project by a neighbor.
In this photo , Kalia and Jyldyz are painting doves. These doves look a lot like the doves in the Peace Corps logo. All over the world, doves represent peace.
The writing on the mural is known as graffiti. This is Elia; he is an expert in graffiti writing.
Just like kids in America who like to do graffiti art, Elia from Kyrgyzstan likes it too.
The words behind him are written in Russian and mean "life is wonderful." If you were to say it in Russian it would sound like, ?jeet eh-toe prek-ras-no.?
When you go to a new country to live or even just to visit, it can be difficult to speak a new language. It took me many months to learn. The great thing about our mural is that even if you didn't know what all the words said, the pictures alone tell so much.
Some of the symbols we used included red ribbons, colored balloons, and a couple embracing each other. What do you think these symbols mean?
Although the mural's point was to warn people about a disease, the artists were able to deliver the message in a very positive, powerful, and beautiful way.
Here you can watch the entire mural being painted.
[Video of community members painting a wall of a building.]
Painting was only one part of the entire process. In order to carry out this successful project, there was plenty of planning and collaboration by the artists and community members.
I have learned many things during my time as a Peace Corps volunteer, one of the most important is that all of us, no matter where on earth we may call home, what color our skin may be, or even what language we speak, we can create beautiful things if we all work together. I will always remember the kindness of the Kyrgyz people, their love of life and the wonderful mural we all made.
OSH Mural Arts Project
Vision: "Using urban beautification to create community pride and address local social issues."
This project was in collaboration with local community, professional artists, government officials, non-governmental organizations: D.C.C.A., Rainbow and New World Public Association together with university art students and a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer.
This project was funded by a grant from the U.S. President's Emergency Proposal for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and in-kind donations from the community.