The Susan K. Black Foundation has funded programs in several states in the U.S., but the organization now has an international reach with its sponsorship of art education in Uganda.
Janet Gibson, Susan Kathleen Black’s sister, serves on the board of directors for Children of Grace and lives with her family in Jinja, Uganda, to work with the children of the area. The organization reaches out to more than 800 children, improving their education and health. When the Gibsons noticed that the arts were essentially non-existent in their local school, they contacted the SKB Foundation to see if the organization would be willing to fund a grant for art materials. The SKB board supplied Children of Grace with $500, with which the Gibsons purchased colored pencils, markers, crayons, paper, and watercolor kits.
“These kids had never seen a crayon before,” recounts Janet. “They did not know what colors were.” The children immediately took to the art materials and colored with fervor. “They were very meticulous about staying in the lines!”
Janet’s teenage daughter Cassidy helped the kids in the school with the creative exploration. Her memory of those first few days in the art classes is poignant. “At first they were coloring pages out of coloring books, just to get them familiar with the materials,” Cassidy says. “Then, one week we had them draw something that they thought about when they thought about love. A lot of them drew food.”
Most of the population that Children of Grace serves is extremely poor and often hungry, but the arts can still have a place in their lives, giving them tools for self-expression and a way to experience the joy of creativity. One child who benefited from the SKB grant has really been bitten by the painting bug. His name is Isaac, and when SKB lent him the money to buy some paints, he took them to his school and proceeded to paint a large mural on one of the walls. The authorities at the school were going to stop Isaac, but relented when they saw his work and his enthusiasm. Isaac is happily saving to repay Children of Grace for their loan.
The SKB grant allowed Janet to expand the variety of ways Children of Grace enriches the lives of area children, but it obviously meant a little more to her. “It was a way to connect with something I love–I am passionate about art–but the connection with Susan was huge,” Janet says. “It means a lot.”
Susan Kathleen loved Africa and attended safaris there about twice a year. Her connection to the continent and its people and wildlife infected her sister. “I was always intrigued with her travels to Africa and we always talked about me going with her. But it wasn’t until after she passed away that I went there,” Janet recalls.
SKB’s grant continues to have an impact. Janet says the materials are still used by Children of Grace, providing a fun and educational activity for camps the group organizes. More than 150 children attend each camp sponsored by the non-profit charity.