Day 3 of the Magnificent Witness Stencil Project

on the wall
Today we were all smiles as we gathered at the seawall to finish stenciling at that location. We started earlier in the morning which really helped us from getting wilty. The crew stenciled vigorously and with a renewed precision which made the stencils look great.
witness wall
As we reached the end of our painted white section, we found that we had some space left. A couple of our guys suggested that I paint the word WITNESS on that section, and then we could all initial it. It was great to have everyone leave his or her artist mark on the masterpiece they created together.
nations wall
It was good that they were energized by the successful early part of the morning because we had more work to do. The next wall to stencil was the wall of School of the Nations.
nations finished
We were given permission to paint one set of eyes so, we chose the location and went to work. The sun rose higher in in the sky, but our group now had this process down to a fine science. Fortunately, this wall was smoother and flatter that the seawall, we were able to complete it just in time for lunch.
sleeping Raj
Again we were tired, but our chicken and rice gave us the strength to go on to our final location, Help and Shelter. As we were painting at School of the Nations, a couple of our creative thinkers headed out to buy a can of spray paint to see if that may work better for the stencils. They tried it out, and determined that we should try it here at Help and Shelter. The spray paint worked well, but we found that one can does not quite cover an entire stencil, so our final work of art became a mixed media piece.
spray paint
I think our stencil project was a success, and tomorrow will be my last day with the group. They now have the materials and the technique to continue covering Georgetown in stencils, reminding their community that what we see changes who we are.
help shelter finished

Day 2 of the Amazing Stencil Project

After a good night’s rest, our crew was ready to stencil. We headed back out to the sea wall and unrolled the 12 foot stencils. It’s a good thing we all like each other, because it was going to take a lot of cooperation to make this happen. We needed half our group to hold the stencil in place while the other half painted.
painting first stencil

We worked closely, side by side, to paint the first set of eyes on to the wall, and it was well worth the effort. When we peeled the stencil off the wall, it was pretty cool to see. All the hard work we did the day before paid off. The stencil looked great. We took a moment to look at it and admire it.

Now, it was up to us to continue paint stencils, alternating a stencil of eyes with a stencil of our tagline “What we see changes who we are” – JR  on the sea wall until we reached the end of our white wall. Enthusiastically we went on. However, the sun shone extremely bright today and the heat was cooking us as we painted.
hot sun

As our painters painted, some of our crew handed out fliers to folks diving by letting them know what WITNESS Project was about. Most people seemed happy to slow their cars and grab our little brochures.

A few hours went by, and as lunch time approached, we took a break to evaluate our work and noticed that as the sun beat down on us, our energy level and attention to detail began to wane a bit. We noticed that the most recent stencils have taken on a more abstract look, and that if we had continued without breaking, would eventually end up looking like a bizarre Rorschach ink blot test. Yay for lunch!
yay lunch

We hypothesized that now that we have eaten, perhaps the energy that the sun dried up, had once again returned. We decided that since I was the resident painter, I should repair the last eye stencil the best I could and the rest of the team would continue down the wall. Sadly, the sun had done it’s work. As the team finished the next set of eyes, they called to me saying, “You’ll probably have to fix this one too.”

Because projects such as these can have unexpected challenges, we planned for some flexibility. So, we decided that we will finish the stencils tomorrow. We will start earlier and we will succeed! 

First Day of our Summer Stencil Project

It all started with the amazing poster project inspired by artist JR three years ago. And every summer we put together a program with our young WITNESS Project participants that uses the arts to promote awareness for the problem of violence against women and children.

This year our project once again returns to the walls of Georgetown. Ever since our first poster project, our youth have been asking for a way to make their art more permanent. Giant stencils was the new medium of choice.

So today our stencil project began. We started this morning with an inspirational “Here’s our New Project” talk. You can imagine the looks of eager anticipation on the team’s faces as I described Phase One – Cleaning the sea wall.

“We’re going to clean a section of the sea wall today,” I said “by grabbing buckets of water from the ocean, and bringing it back to a group of us who will be scrubbing the sea wall with wire brushes.”

“Hooray!” they all cheered. Okay, maybe they didn’t cheer, but they were up for the challenge.
stencil project
So off we went to clean and paint the sea wall white.

The morning went by quickly. We scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. By lunch time we had scrubbed enough of the wall to fit about 5 stencils on the wall. We had originally planned for 20, so by a unanimous vote, we modified our goal to prepare enough wall to fit 10 stencils.
Stencil Project - fetching water from the sea
After lunch some of the group began to paint the wall while a few of the tenacious ones continued on with the scraping and scrubbing. By mid afternoon, we discovered that we had run out of white paint.

Should we stop or go on? That was the question. In a renewed passion for the task at hand, the group decided we should buy more paint and finish what we had set out to do. So our fearless team leaders set out to get more paint, and when they returned they found the group, a bit smaller than when we began, ready to complete the task. And complete it they did. By 5:00, we were finished and the weary, sweaty, salty crew headed home to rest up for tomorrow’s adventure.
StencilProject painting the sea wall

Rebecca’s Story Receives Paul Robeson Honorable Mention for a Short Narrative Award from the Newark Black Film Festival.

Newark Black Film Festival

Morgan Riles and Margaret Clemons attending the Newark Black Film Festival award ceremony.

Last week Morgan Riles accepted the prestigious Paul Robeson Honorable Mention for a Short Narrative Award (Rebecca’s Story) from the Newark Black Film Festival. The Festival celebrated its 40th year of recognizing worthy films this year. It is part of the Newark Museum. The evening began with a reception at the Newark Museum main hall followed by the awards ceremony in the Museum’s auditorium. Morgan spoke beautifully and received the award on behalf of the WITNESS Project youths and MCF. The award included a beautiful glass plaque AND a monetary award made payable to MCF.

What an incredible evening! Following the awards we drove to Newark’s City Plex Cinemas and there watched Rebecca’s Story on a HUGE screen in a large theatre.

We were so proud to see the hard work of our young team up on that huge screen and so grateful that this hard work has been recognized and honored. We are absolutely overjoyed for our wonderful team! It’s a challenge to get accepted to screen a film at any of these film festivals let alone receive such an honor! We have been accepted at a number of film festivals AND now we can refer to RS as an award winning film!

Congratulations to everyone!

WITNESS Project team begins filming PSA series

Using the knowledge gained last summer during our short film production, our team is moving forward to produce Public Service Announcements that will be shown in Georgetown, Guyana. These photos were taken during the first day on the set. We are excited for the opportunity to use the medium of television to bring our message of positive change to more people. 

Screening at Queen’s College, Georgetown

By: Teriq Mohammed, Nicholas Peters (volunteer) and Rosheni Takechandra

Team WITNESS was welcomed by the Queen’s College Admin and students to facilitate the screening of Rebecca’s Story. This was followed by an engaging discussion about the role of witnesses of violence and abuse. Students were eager to ask questions:
1. What do we do if our friend is being abused but she is not empowered to leave the relationship? How much support can we possible give? What would this support look like?
2. What do we do when we report it and the Police do not act?
3. If our neighbour is being abused, should we tell our parents and let them deal with it and fix it? These questions generated a lot of discussion among the students. Because the auditorium was so huge, their voices would echo.

This challenge was well received as the students had to exert more effort to make sure they could hear their colleagues and participate in the discussion.

When give then opportunity some of the quieter students made the following remarks:
A young girl: we have to speak out, this is wrong.
A young boy: we have to break the cycle.

By the end of the session about sixty students registered to volunteer with the WITNESS Project.

Screening at Queen’s College, Georgetown, 5th June, 2014 from WITNESS Project International on Vimeo.

Rebecca’s Story to Be Screened at the Belize International Film Festival July 16-21, 2014

Belize Film Festival
We’re so excited as we see our film Rebecca’s Story making the film festival rounds. We’ve just been informed that it has been officially selected to screen during this year’s Belize International Film Festival which will be held July 16-21, 2014.

If you happen to be in Belize and want to cheek it out, you can find more information on the festival website at

Dream for Today Foundation Presentation

An amazing time well spent with the members of the Dream for Today Foundation as I shared Rebecca’s Story with them. It opened a ground for grave and open discussion amongst members. The discussions surrounded the film but it was astonishing how bravely it was linked to society and the ways it appealed to each viewer. As we went through various aspects the film pointed out, many agreed with the messages that were sent.

‘The film is direct to the point, that shows and ‎expresses social issues which needs to be made aware of to the general public. It’s everything better than those boring educational shows that they show in schools where u have to spend time sifting through what the point of the film is’- Dream for Today Foundation Member

All in all it was a great time spent discussing realistic social issues in our Guyanese society, and it was amazing listening to my fellow youth discuss these issues and find solutions to problems. I do believe that this tool, once used to generate ideas and to highlight various ills in our society, will open ground for a greater level of thinking on a positive standpoint since I do believe that good things do come out from those who engage in positive and important conversations.

“Being a Witness is not alien to anybody, just by seeing someone being abused; orally, emotionally or physically m‎akes you part of that, if you do or say something or just show a blind eye to it. It doesn’t change the fact of what happened, we are all part of it even if it doesn’t happen directly to us. We need do something cause if it happens to us, I bet we would need that someone to just make that first step if we can’t find that ground to step on”- Dream for Today Foundation Member

“I believe that this tool is much more and will function much more effectively in creating discussions in highlighting and making the general pubic aware since it’s not a pamphlet, or a discussion that requires a facilitator. Since I can see my self with my family sparking conversations on what the film portrays, I bet even my little sister would join in on this cause its very clear and their audience target was well established since I believe both young and old can understand the film without any hesitation”- Dream for Today Member

With these varying positive testimonies about ‘Rebecca’s Story’ I must say I can’t wait to share it with a wider audience for I believe this is the beginning of something great that has been accomplished by the Witness Youth in their need to break the chains of Domestic and Child Directed Violence within the Guyanese Society.

CAFA Film Nights, Guyanese edition

CAFA Film NightsA trip to Guyana on assignment as a private investigator led New Yorker Margaret Clemons to the country’s culture of violence, and the youth she would later inspire to tell their tale through photography in “Rebecca’s Story,” a short film which premiered to rave reviews at the recent CAFA Film Nights, Guyanese edition in Brooklyn.

Clemons, who started Witness Project International — a foundation to engage youth communities in arts-based programs, spoke passionately about using this medium to address violence because of the way art appeals to people.

“We are affected by what we see, and awareness makes us want to do, and change things,” Clemons said.

The gripping narrative about violence at the hands of Rebecca’s grandmother, and how the youth escapes the brutality by dreaming of the jungle — raises a serious issue about the epidemic that continues to threaten the lives Guyanese youth.

Rebecca’s new life comes through a literacy program from a neighbor who was a ‘witness’ to violence in the yard of the family’s home.

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