Walking among the Syrian refugee children, Jean Bradbury praised their artwork. Stopping by one particular boy, she noticed a helicopter with a line leading down to a house. Bradbury asked the little boy if that was his house that got shelled. Shaking his head no, the boy said it had been his best friend’s house. He had been there and seen it all.
Bradbury is a professional artist in Seattle.
Sunday, Bradbury shared her experiences of going to a refugee camp in Jordan at Seattle’s Affordable Art Fair at the Seattle Center. Her goal, she said in her presentation, was to bring the children happiness through art.
“It’s been really great working with her,” said Melissa Netecke, an employee at the fair. “We actually saw her on Good Morning America; it was right when all the things were happening in Syria, and we contacted her right away. We knew it was a really powerful subject matter, and we knew people would be really interested in it.”
About two million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and even Iraq.
“It’s a vicious war where children have actually been targeted for various reasons, including murder and torture,” Bradbury said.
Once refugees make it into Jordan, the Jordanian army takes them to the refugee camp and they are not allowed to leave unless they are going back to Syria. This is where Bradbury went March and September of this year.
“They often don’t carry anything with them because it would single them out as refugees, and they would become a target for government forces,” Bradbury said.
Bradbury had friends in Jordan who were related to people on the Syrian border since she has been teaching art to rural farm communities there for years. Wanting to do something, Bradbury said she thought about what she had to offer. She wasn’t a doctor, but she knew where to get art supplies.
After getting connected with the organization Save the Children Jordan, Bradbury was invited to visit the refugee camp.
“[They invited me] to go and not just deliver art supplies to the refugee camp, but to also teach. For a rather timid artist who’s used to being totally alone in [her] studio, I said yes,” Bradbury said.
The living conditions in the refugee camp were basic. There were three options: a United Nations tent, a small trailer or whatever people could build out of scraps. Most of the housing doesn’t last in the desert winds and dust tornados. For Bradbury, though, they cleared out a whole caravan for her to use to teach.
The first day, about 200 children came.
“We just opened the door, and children just started coming,” Bradbury said.
After that first day, the number settled to around 150 children.
“I don’t aspire to be an art therapist. I don’t try and get them to express their trauma’s they’ve been through,” Bradbury said. “If I can give them a happier day, I’ve succeeded. That’s my goal, really.”
Bradbury said the children came in and made a big, loud mess, but Bradbury thought that was just what they needed. She encouraged them to have fun with art, and even brought supplies for the kids to use. They stayed away from paint because of the mess it would create, and instead used pastels. Bradbury also gave them quality paper, not just printer paper.
Some days they would run out of supplies and would have to use pencils and crayons.
“In Arabic I know about 12 different words to say ‘good,’” Bradbury said. “And that’s pretty much my job — to go around and say, ‘Here, you’ve run out of red? I’ll get you some red, and you did a great job.’ And that’s all they need, and they just go for it.”
Now that she is back, Bradbury said she wants to keep going back to the refugee camp.
“God only knows what [the refugees] experienced before being in the camp,” Bradbury said.
Bradbury said she wanted to do what she knew she could for the Syrian refugees and plans on returning this January.