By Nell Taylor
Beyond Words International
Refugee Week is coming up June 14-20, and we, Beyond Words International (BWI), could not be more excited.
BWI is a nonprofit organization founded in Pagosa Springs, but our team is located all over the globe. We work with global communities to support and offer healing opportunities to displaced people, including refugees and asylum seekers, through the arts and psychosocial support. Because the arts are proven to be a powerful tool for stress relief, trauma recovery and positive expression, we partner with artists, therapists and those working in their communities to provide healing arts workshops and opportunities for nonverbal expression.
Since the beginning of this year, BWI has been collaborating with the Irida Women’s Center, located in Thessaloniki, Greece. Irida serves over 450 refugee and asylum-seeking women by providing language classes, legal support, skills workshops and a safe, supportive community.
Together, the two organizations launched the Women Without Barriers initiative. Through Women Without Barriers, BWI and the Irida Center are working with 15 talented refugee and asylum seeker artists who have filled an Etsy shop with one-of-a-kind, handmade items where 100 percent of all sales go directly back to the artist and their family.
Our goal is to assist these artists in developing their skills, creating a sustainable source of income, and elevating marginalized voices through the arts. The program also funds an art teacher at the Irida Center who will provide trauma-informed arts classes to women and youth.
This month, BWI was invited to participate in a United Kingdom-wide festival celebrating refugee communities and nonprofit organizations working with refugees. Refugee Week is an annual celebration of the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. This year, the theme is “We Cannot Walk Alone,” which comes from Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech when he said, “They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”
Eight of our Women Without Barriers artists are creating pieces inspired by this theme for a free virtual art gallery experience. You can view the artists’ newest pieces, as well as paintings and drawings that resonate with the theme, and learn about each artists’ message to the wider world. Through this event, we aim to celebrate the creativity of these incredible women, highlight the beauty and artistry they contribute, and raise awareness of their experience as refugees and asylum seekers.
The Women Without Barriers Virtual Gallery will launch with a live event on Wednesday, June 16, at 9 a.m. MST. The launch will include a presentation of the project and introduction to some of the artists, as well as a live Q-and-A. The gallery will then remain open throughout Refugee Week until June 20. According to Irida, the gallery will feature the work of “gifted female refugee artists who will use their artwork to share their experiences and stories from their long journey to reach safety, freedom and peace.”
How can the Pagosa Springs community support this initiative? Follow us on our social media platforms or visit our website at www.bwintl.org to find the joining details for both the live event and the virtual gallery. Check out @beyondwordsintl and @womenwithoutbarriers.us on Instagram to learn more. You can also donate to our project, including Women Without Barriers, through the “Donate” link on our website, or purchase the artists’ work on our Women Without Barriers Etsy Shop. Thank you for your support and we hope you’ll join us for this exciting event.