I spent my childhood in an occupied country, where self-expression and free-flowing creativity were not possible. Controlled by the Soviet Union, Lithuania was the zone of massive censorship and punishments for expressing free thought, a territory where everyone was a suspect.
Then, with weakening Soviet empire and pressure from the West, the Singing Revolution happened.
People took to streets and squares in masses, singing Lithuanian songs that were officially still forbidden, raising national flags up into the sky and breaking the chains of a 50-year occupation.
Still, some victims were required. After a failed coup in Moscow, the Russian army tried to make its last attempt to take back Lithuania – tanks and armored troops entered Vilnius, the capital, where they were given orders to take over the most important media centers and to drive directly into the crowd of peaceful people, who were protecting our TV tower with their bodies. More than a dozen died and many where injured. They will always remain national heroes.
At the same time, the Singing Revolution was becoming a force stronger than any oppressive regime, stronger than armies and tanks. The crowds were growing, and in the end almost everyone was participating – young and old, women and children, everybody united by music, connected by the power of song lyrics created by our ancestors. Some were traditional resistance songs, and others were just poetic odes to Lithuania’s beauty and nature.
Finally, Lithuania became free and the oppressing regime crashed. The people got the right to express their thoughts, to build businesses, to freely create art, to write books they wanted to write, and to travel the world.
I took advantage of this newly found freedom by moving to New York to continue my university studies I had started in Lithuania, and chose to study for Master’s degree in Communications - creative expression, especially through writing, has always been my natural inclination. At the same time, I fully indulged in the exciting life of this vibrant, limitless, energetic, pulsating international city.
Even if it wasn’t always easy to create life in a foreign, sometimes hostile, big city, I always had two strong allies on my side: freedom and education, which helped me break through many doors and opened up new horizons. By having freedom and education, I could start my career, travel the world, and eventually start my own business in PR.
By having the ability to freely choose my path in life, I still never forgot to value the freedom that my parents grew up without. And while traveling in different countries, I saw with my own eyes childhoods oppressed not only by political regimes, but by poverty, neglect, abuse and abandonment. Yes, I grew up with limited expression rights and closed country borders, but many powerless, vulnerable kids are growing up today in far more constricting spaces – behind the walls of orphanages and shantytowns, under oppression of despair. These walls not only prevent them from expressing themselves creatively, but deny them the very realization that they have the power of creativity and dignity as full human beings.
A recent trip to Haiti was one of the most heartbreaking experiences for me and Aura Copeland, my friend and Co-Founder of Les Couleurs Charity. We visited some orphanages, where children are growing up behind grey concrete walls, with no idea about what’s happening in their city, country or the outside world, without the understanding that they, too, are creators.
So here’s a warning - visit a Haitian orphanage, and you run the risk that your life will be changed forever. Shy, sad and cautious at first, these children start to trust you, slowly, and then you find yourself surrounded by many pairs of curious, exploring eyes, hungry for contact, appreciation, and attention.
Just like we were endlessly curious about the colorful world outside of the boarders of the Soviet Union, the orphans of Haiti are relentlessly curious and enthusiastic about every drop of new information, a new lesson, any chance to engage, to learn and participate. Human spirit cannot be constricted, and it will hang onto each chance to break the chains of oppression.
This trip helped us define the goals of our new non-profit organization. Aura, an artist, and I, a publicist and writer, instinctively felt that art and creativity could be the ultimate way of self-expression that can transcend the grimmest walls of any orphanage, and crush down the heaviest barriers, the same way that the peaceful Singing Revolution crushed the walls of Soviet occupation in Lithuania.
We are starting a program called CREATE that is already being implemented in Haiti orphanages, and teaches children the basic principles of art, drawing and creativity. Eventually we want to include language, music, dance and creative writing, and other forms of creative expression that we believe can heal, inspire and educate some of the most vulnerable children in the world.
Creativity gives wings and allows you to fly, high above your Manhattan apartment or your Haitian orphanage, into the world of limitless opportunities.
Every child that gets the wings is worth all the effort.