I’ve never been a huge fan of hearts — I have to admit that right away. But one day, in a classroom in Ethiopia, that all changed.
I was working with two fantastic musicians from my home state of Michigan, Seth Bernard and May Erlewine Bernard. They were playing music for the sweet kids at the Ethiopia Reads Kindergarten in the Merkato district of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and I was guiding the art class in which the music served as inspiration. Seth and May stared playing a classic Beatles song as a warmup, and it struck me: The song was “All You Need is Love.” The lyrics made me ponder my students, poor even by Ethiopian standards, living in the tiniest of corrugated metal and mud single room “homes,” with few, if any, possessions. But they did have love. The sense of community in these depressed neighborhoods never ceased to amaze me.
I often interview my sweet ones’ mothers or caretakers. After I’ve heard all the very real, all-too-common sad stories, I always ask, “If I could tell my friends in America what is good about your life, what would it be?” The ladies always pause, then smile and say, “Bunna, my friends, my community.”
Bunna is the Amharic word for coffee, and coffee in Ethiopia is not ever consumed alone, but as a community. It is served as an event, a ceremony. The women roast and crush the beans, and the next thing you know, you’re sipping some amazing Ethiopian coffee — but much more importantly, you’re gathering with your neighbors.
I have often heard American mothers comment in horror about the number of very small, very young Ethiopian children that show up by walking themselves to school. I try to explain that an Ethiopian child is never alone; the eyes of the community are always on them, always!
So this is why the song struck me. All my students did need is love, and so I took it as a sign to guide the day’s lesson: We all did heart paintings that day. The kids closed their eyes and listened as the musicians sang, and we contemplated all the ones we loved who loved us and created a beautiful painting to reflect all that love.
It is those paintings that inspired my heart series, and it’s because of those sweet kids that I always donate all proceeds from these paintings back to them. Now I love hearts, because all you really do need is love, and the love from these pure, sweet children radiates. I guess we all blossom with love!