SchoolArts Room

Students Rebuild: How Students Use Art to Help the World

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Jan 30, 2016

One of the regular features in SchoolArts Magazine is called Focus In. In the February 2016 SchoolArts, we featured Students Rebuild in this nonprofit, art-based spotlight. I just heard from Sabrina Urquhart, Manager of Students Rebuild, about the responses they have received from the article:


Pinwheel made from life jackets abandoned by refugees in Greece.


"A few people just signed up for our current Healing Classrooms Challenge to support Syrian refugee children; the registrants cited SchoolArts Magazine as the reason for how they heard about us...Many thanks again for including our opportunity, which we’re hopeful educators will find useful.

Right now, we’re reeling in our office because we just received a package of pinwheels a Challenge team in Greece made using life jackets from their beaches. I attached a photo of one of the pinwheels. This team is literally on the front lines of receiving and helping Syrian refugees as they arrive on their shores. You can read a recent blog post about it here. probably saw our recent blog post about it—here’s the link.

It’s amazing how art provides ways to process emotions, connect with one another and to hopefully, also provide hope and healing. We’re so grateful you’ve helped us spread the word."
Following is the article in SchoolArts: 
Students Rebuild by Sabrina Urquhart, Manager 


It seems the news is growing worse, and critical global issues can seem especially daunting to young people. But daily, youth worldwide demonstrate empathy, take action and raise funds to help their peers—by creating art for Students Rebuild Challenges.



What is Students Rebuild? How can making art help people around the world?



Students Rebuild is a free, collaborative program of the Bezos Family Foundation. We ask students to “take the Challenge” by creating symbolic art objects, which the foundation matches with funding for a worthy cause. We’ve asked students to make and mail in everything from paper beads and origami cranes to non-perishable flower garlands and bones made of clay or paper! 



We’ve matched these items with funding so charitable organizations can provide water projects in Tanzania, schools in post-earthquake Haiti, Japan and Nepal and vocational training for conflict survivors in Africa. For example, our recent Literacy Challenge matched every bookmark students made with $1—up to $300,000—to support literacy programs in Mali, Peru and Nepal.



We ask students to show they care by learning about an issue, creating and mailing in symbolic items and reflecting upon the experience. If shipping costs are prohibitive for those outside of the U.S., they can participate by submitting photos of the items they made for the Challenge and we match those just the same. 
Displaying paper beads.



Peer Interaction


By creating symbolic and heartfelt art—matched with funding—youth of all backgrounds and in almost any country creatively connect with their peers, practice empathy and integrate art into global citizenship. As Carl Wilkens said: "When you make something with your hands, it changes the way you feel, which changes the way you think, which changes the way you act." As students work together to make art that helps others, they deepen their understanding of the world and their place within it.  


The heart and soul of Students Rebuild are educators who uniquely adapt Challenges as they wish into their classrooms. To bolster those efforts, Students Rebuild provides free resources including curriculum and even international webcasts so American youth can virtually interact with peers around the world. The vast majority of Challenge participants are in classrooms but that’s not a requirement; Challenge teams include art clubs, libraries, Key Clubs, Girl Scouts and community groups. 



Artist Collaboration


What happens to items students make for Challenges? Sometimes they’re given to Challenge beneficiaries in addition to matching funds. For example, students drew inspirational pictures and letters for the Typhoon Haiyan Challenge; the foundation matched those messages of hope and healing with funding to provide storm survivors with clean water supplies, temporary learning spaces, educational materials and other support. Students impacted by the typhoon received those beautiful letters and drawings, too, which helped with the emotional recovery process. 


Sometimes items created for a Challenge have a second artistic life. When youth worldwide responded to our Paper Cranes for Japan Challenge by folding and mailing in two million origami cranes, this inspired renowned artist Vik Muniz. He created a magnificent piece titled "Large Paper Crane," using thousands of students’ cranes arranged and photographed in his Brooklyn, New York studio. The photograph became a benefit poster that continues to generate funds for rebuilding in Japan—above and beyond matching funds from the Challenge itself.



For a second time, Vik Muniz donated time and talent by crafting four portraits of Tanzanian youth—made of paper beads for the Students Rebuild Water Challenge. This work again serves as a benefit poster to raise funds for vital clean water projects. And international designer Anita Quansah wove students’ paper beads into a gorgeous gown and collar, suitable for display in a museum collection. These works continue to tell the story of youth service—and of the need for clean water worldwide.
One Million Bones



One of the most visually stunning Students Rebuild Challenges was One Million Bones, in collaboration with visionary artist Naomi Natale. Teams around the world produced handmade clay and paper bones and covered the National Mall in Washington, D.C. with 1,000,000 of them—a visual petition to raise awareness and encourage action against genocides and humanitarian crises. Matching funds for the bones provided vocational training to young people rebuilding their lives in the wake of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.



With every bone, bookmark or origami crane, students bridge geographic and demographic divides to embrace our shared humanity. Art serves as the perfect vehicle to discuss and address seemingly intractable issues—and see tangible change. Youth are clearly ready, willing and able to connect, learn and take collective action on global issues. They crave opportunities to become a generation of change makers for the world, and they can accomplish this through artistic expression with Students Rebuild. Join the movement by taking the current Challenge