In July 2017, I went to a film screening at Thornton Heath Art Week. The film was about a child travelling across Europe to flee a war zone, seeking a safer life. It struck me so much, even though I already knew we aren't born equal. Many times in life we just take things for granted. Things like water, a bed, food to put in our mouth, or just the ability to smile.

I am only a graphic designer, I can't change the world or end a war, but I think within my skills, I can bring a smile to a child's face. the  I reached out and asked the manager of an asylum seekers’ accommodation site if I could run an art and craft workshop for one hour a week for the children. That’s how Free Art started.

The support I received from the local community has been amazing. People donated art materials and many joined me in running the workshop. At Christmas, my living room was filled with presents people sent to the children. 

The children's families come and go every few weeks. When they first arrive, they are all so lost but after the first workshop, many of them start greeting me with a smile when I arrive. Their liveliness and creativity fill the room with noise and laughter. Sometimes we have 12 children, sometimes there aren’t any as have moved on. 

Some of the children speak English but many don't. It doesn't matter so much as after a week we find a way to communicate and understand each other. I live locally so sometimes I just pop to the shop and hear kids shouting my name from the other side of the road.

At Christmas, our local group Thornton Heath Community Action Team ran the Christmas market with an ice rink. We managed to get 50 free tickets for the children to skate. I asked one 6-year old boy from Albania: "Did you skate? Did you have a good time?" His reply was: "I fell a lot" with a big smile on his face. It made everything worthwhile.

Running the workshop is good fun. PINS, one of our local artists who runs the sessions whenever I am away, says "It is very therapeutic!" The hardest part is saying goodbye. In fact, there usually isn't any saying goodbye. We just come one morning, preparing for the workshop but all the familiar faces have gone. Only once in the year doing this I had the chance to bid goodbye. The family was about to move to Wales and the children said they didn't want to go. We told them it would be an exciting adventure. They will meet new people, new school, make new friends and there will be a lot more art and craft workshops there.

We now have an arty-crafty wall at the hostel. The children are so proud putting their artworks on the wall and the adults join in as well. It could be a colouring of Cinderella or a map of a beautiful scenery of Afghanistan. Every week I come for the workshop, the first thing I do is check the wall. Some artworks drop off the wall and might be swept away to the bin. Others are newly added. And some are still there from the children I met at the very first workshop.

Wherever they are I hope they are happy, well-treated and they can smile and believe in this world.

Vân

FreeArt.org.uk