Traveling to Sierra Leone a few years after a brutal civil war ends isn't something that every 21-year-old girl does, but Sarah Geller felt it was the place she needed to be. Microfinance opportunities were trickling across the border, but Geller learned that healing and educational opportunities for the country's 320,000 orphaned children were, and still are, severely lacking.
You have kids dealing with intense traumas that are taboo to talk about and that they are ashamed to talk about.
In 2006, after Sarah's sophomore year in college, she started Arts Education International and brought music, drama, dance and art to orphaned and abandoned kids in West Africa. During the most difficult times of her life, including when her brother passed away, Sarah found solace in music. The arts, Sarah says, "provide kids the opportunity to confront trauma on their own terms in a way that nothing else does."
Sarah first started a program in Ghana. Soon after, she made the trip to Sierra Leone. In these countries, she says, "You have kids dealing with intense traumas that are taboo to talk about and that they are ashamed to talk about.... To be able to write a play about child labor or sexual exploitation, and to work through a lot of those issues in front of their community, is incredible."
The artists that work with Arts Education International not only teach, they also train teens to become teachers and facilitate recording sessions for young singers. There, Sarah says, kids "can record songs about their experiences as orphaned children and also promote their own visions for the future of their country."
Sarah is now 25 and has impacted the lives of more than 700 kids.
Her hope, she says, is to continue to provide places for forgotten children to heal, learn and be loved.