Getting water for the people of Te Okot is heavy on my mind every single second of every day and I’m excited to see how that progresses, but you should also know that the other Vigilante Kindness projects are gaining momentum. Today here’s a story of how I used Vigilante Kindness Work Study money to support Ivan, my young student artist who paints to pay for his school fees and for the fees of his sister.
“What is it?” Ivan looks over the long, black bag I’ve just handed him.
“Open it and see. It’s a gift from my Aunt Nancy, the artist.”
He opens the black bag and pulls out the metal pieces. Carefully he unfolds the tripod and stands the easel up, adjusting the legs so that it stands tall next to him.
“Thank you so much! It’s so nice!”
“And these are for you, too.” I hoist my shoulder bag, heavy with art supplies onto the table in his studio.
Ivan unpacks the brushes and charcoals and pastels and paper and blending tools and a host of other art supplies my aunt has sent me with. I don’t even know what half of them are or do, but Ivan does.<
His eyes well with tears. “Thank you for supporting me, Alicia. I don’t know how to repay you.”
“It wasn’t me. I’m just the messenger.”
“I don’t know how to repay your aunt. Maybe I’ll make her a painting?”
“I think that’s the perfect way to repay her. Let’s record a video message for her as well.” I smile at him. “Hey, Ivan, I was at school on Friday. Why weren’t you there? Were you sick?”
“No, I couldn’t pay my school fees, so they sent me home.”
“How much do you owe in school fees?” It’s a candid question and I feel glad that our relationship has earned me the right to ask and also given him the freedom to answer without shame.
“130,000 shillings.” $50.
I think of the Vigilante Kindness Work Study shillings in my wallet for kids who want to work to pay their school fees.
“I can help with that. Which of your paintings are for sale?”
He shows me and I pick out two for a total of 150,000 shillings. I don’t care to barter here, not with Ivan who paints to pay his school fees and the school fees of his sister, Lillian.
I stick around the art studio watching Ivan and his partner Calvin paint. I snap photos of their paintings and of the two of them at work.
Later that night, I post the photos on Facebook so that Ivan and Calvin can have some clear shots of their work. It’s hard to find a camera here, even harder to find a camera that takes clear shots. I post the photos with a note that the paintings are for sale. Within minutes of posting, the paintings begin selling to my friends and family at home. I go to bed dreaming of the locked door at the back of their studio and of the gallery room that waits behind it.