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"Exploring Hidden Gems: A Look Inside a Small Ugandan Museum of Art"


Nestled near the banks of the River Nile in Jinja, Uganda, lies a hidden treasure called Vipawa —a small museum initiative spearheaded by passionate local artists Daniel Atwenda and his wife Sharon Namulindwa.


Here, children who lack exposure to art education in traditional schooling find a nurturing environment to explore their creativity and engage in artistic expression. For many of these children, this space serves as their sole avenue for self-expression, while fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment.


My discovery of this unique gem came about through a Google Maps search for grassroots initiatives and charities near my father's childhood home in Jinja! After delving into research and establishing email contact with Daniel, I knew this initiative was worth learning more about during my visit to Jinja with my father and my cousin.


Here's what I experienced and discovered during my visit to the Vipawa Children's Art Museum in September 2023.


The Museum & Initiatives

The museum building

The Vipawa Children’s Art Museum (VCAM) on Wilson Avenue, Jinja was founded in 2016 by Daniel and Sharon and redesigned in 2020 to dedicate space for exhibitions and art programs. They aim to amplify the voices of vulnerable children in the local communities, schools, and in the museum itself.


VCAM's recent themes focus on fostering creative expression and critical thinking through interactive exhibits, play, and family engagement to foster wider engagement of the arts. They firmly believe that children are inherently artistic and thrive on inspiration from their surroundings to realise their dreams and uncover their talents.


When we visited the Vipawa museum, Daniel showed us the expressive artwork created by the children proudly displayed on the small gallery walls. We talked about how seeing their creations showcased in galleries enhances the sense of pride for these children and their families. This highlights the importance of art not only as a means of emotional expression and building confidence but also as a pathway to broader cultural community awareness.



The Artists: Daniel & Sharon

Daniel, a self-taught artist, discovered his inspiration through self-discovery and spirituality. He possesses a profound passion for collaborating with children, sharing artistic inspiration, and fostering their talents. His artistic journey has guided him to learn more about children's art and expression, as well as the role of museums in fulfilling the needs of children, families, and communities. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Library and Information Science from Uganda Christian University and completed the SOON Bible course in England.




Sharon, a talented artist in her own right, helps Daniel when she can with the various projects while looking after their family. Sharon holds a Diploma in Fine Art from Nagenda International Academy of Art and Design and is also a fellow photographer! Sharon warmly welcomed us and showed us some of her own amazing artwork and photography.


Sharon's photography project 'Camouflage'

Sharon and Daniel worked with children living with HIV who found solace in expressing themselves through creating art and being photographed. The project provided a safe space for them to express their challenges and emotions without fear of societal judgment. The powerful photograph captured by Sharon, titled 'Camouflage,' above, emerged from this initiative.


For more about Daniel & Sharon's stories click here: https://nissirephidimcare.org/daniel-atwendas-story/



Gallery



What Vipawa Needs

Before departing for Uganda, I gathered a few donations from friends and family, and purchased various art supplies to take to Vipawa, as per Daniel's request. Considering environmental sustainability, economic efficiency, and cultural sensitivity, we made a small but useful contribution by donating reusable, second-hand, and new materials beneficial for Daniel, Sharon, and the children they teach. These items weren't available to buy from Jinja so I purchased them from the UK. To help support Vipawa further, we also bought some beautiful craft items that the children made there.


Here are some of the items we collected and donated:


Daniel, Sharon and I would like to give our heartfelt gratitude to ALL who generously contributed supplies and donations, enabling us to give the children useful and fun art resources. A special thank you to The Late Kaku Thakrar, whose quality art supplies were particularly useful. It is inspiring how our lives can continue to impact others in ways we never would have imagined!


Currently, Daniel and Sharon are seeking additional funds to procure more supplies and eventually acquire a larger facility for children's art activities.


People can also volunteer or sponsor a museum program and see details via the website: https://nissirephidimcare.org/ways-to-give/

*Vipawa are a part of the Nissi Rephidim Care, a registered NGO in Uganda, a Christian organisation passionate to support and care for orphaned and vulnerable children.


 

Conscious Travel Tips:


  • Consider purchasing products from the country you are visiting to contribute to the local economy. Even better, support local artists, small businesses, and individuals to have a direct and positive impact on the community.

  • Before travelling, research local goods and their prices. Speak with locals or those familiar with the area to understand the market and available purchases. This will aid in making informed purchases and managing expenses wisely.

  • If you're planning on doing charity work or donating items, reach out to the charity or local community beforehand to understand their specific needs. Consider providing reusable items such as cameras, books, or tools, as these can have longer-term benefits. *Keep in mind that supporting lesser-known charities can present challenges, particularly regarding transparency in fund utilization and monitoring.

  • Take into account how your presence, as well as your subsequent absence, might impact the charity and the individuals they support. Your involvement may create temporary dependencies or expectations, so it's important to communicate openly with the charity about your role and duration of stay to minimize disruption after you leave.

  • Consider whether donating used clothes or items is appropriate. For instance, Uganda stopped importing used clothing in 2023 to encourage a boost for its manufacturing industry according to the president.

 

 

More Uganda gems coming soon....


I’m glad I found this art venture gem so I can share its sparkle with you!

It was truly a privilege to contribute in a small yet heartfelt way to nurturing the arts in a city that nurtured my father as a child. What better tribute to the lands and people who have helped to shape us than to invest in their cultural legacy and creative expression. Truly priceless!



Mala


*As always, the photographs are taken by me and I retain the copyright for them.








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