Two years ago, I joined the Standing Voice team in an
epic fundraising trip to the west coast of Scotland, canoeing and cycling hundreds of miles to support the building of the Umoja Training Centre on Ukerewe Island.
Travelling to Tanzania to see the new centre with my own eyes -- and train the local community in the ancient art of woodcut printing -- was an opportunity I couldn't resist.
Arriving at the centre, I was blown away by what the community had created: not just a functional training facility -- with workshop spaces, offices, and clear avenues of economic enrichment -- but a beautiful space of integration, where marginalised voices could finally be heard. It was humbling to see what my fundraising efforts had helped to create all those years ago.
For this project, I was lucky to be part of an incredible team of volunteers hailing from the UK, USA and Africa. Our mission: to use our various talents, disciplines, and trades to help the local community develop new skills and knowledge. Workshops would deliberately target not just people with albinism but their families, friends, and peers as well: true inclusion, and equality of opportunity for all.
We worked with 45 adults and children, whose enthusiasm and talent appeared to know no bounds. Together, they produced an array of stunning works about family, hardship, trauma, and hope. Each participant began with a plain block of Japanese plywood and an idea. Then came the challenging part: in woodcutting, whatever image you would like to print must be drawn onto the block in reverse. The marks made on the block appear in the image as a void. It sounds simple enough, but it's actually very different from drawing or painting. The next step was inking the surface of the finished wood cut, then finally placing a piece of cloth on top to transfer the final image.
Lydia, my translator, was brilliant at communicating the practical techniques of printmaking, especially when the language barrier became difficult to negotiate. By the end, she had become a competent instructor herself!
I got to know my team better with every passing day. It was wonderful not only to see their joy exploring the printing medium, but also to listen to their stories and experiences, and hear what's important to the kids of Ukerewe Island today!
Volunteering with Standing Voice for their inaugural Summer Skills Workshops was one of the best artistic decisions I've made. The charity and their excellent team were incredibly supportive: not only helping me to fundraise, but believing every step of the way in my ability to run a weeklong workshop that would translate my craft to an unfamiliar audience in a totally new place. Over the last decade I’ve steadily honed my own skills through studio practice, and now I enjoy sharing this versatile medium wherever I can. Before the Summer Skills Workshop, though, I had never had the opportunity to invest time and money in a workshop with such socially profound consequences. The magic of this experience will never leave me.
I would strongly advise anyone with spare time and enthusiasm to invest in a week or two on the beautiful island of Ukerewe. You will meet incredibly courageous children and adults -- many with histories of trauma -- who will cherish the opportunity to work with you. By sharing your skills to ignite their passions, there is no limit to the number of futures you can transform.
The works featured below, all created by the participants of the workshop, each depict an individual story: some celebrate a love of fish, or commemorate the hours spent playing football as a child, or even highlight the importance of wearing a hat to protect delicate skin from the sun. Paschal, the gardener of the Umoja Training Centre, settled on an image of the house Standing Voice built for him as an escape from a lifetime of discrimination and abuse, capturing his personal sanctuary on canvas.
All images credited to Harry Freeland.