Written by Amy Moore
On the Atlantic coast of West Africa, nestled with palm-lined beaches and lush tropical forests, the Country of Liberia is a dichotomy of views. Seeing the golden sand of the coastline as our plane approached the airport, was a stark contrast to our drive from the airport to the PaintFest event in the community of Paynesville. School children dressed in their freshly pressed uniforms walked along the dusty road as our SUV whirred past. The one major thoroughfare lining the coast was littered with half constructed homes, lots of corrugated steel shanties, and community wells where families would pump their daily water. Liberia struggles with poverty.
Traffic at times swelled to a crawl with an overabundance of motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and aging cars which crammed unmarked intersections in congested communities on our path to the Hospital. We arrived at our destination, a nondescript tan building named Benson Hospital.
Benson Hospital was established in 2003 by Dr. Jimi Benson. It was used as a field hospital during Liberia’s long civil war, struggled through the Ebola outbreak of 2014, and suffered a devastating fire which took the structure’s roof. It now provides much needed deliveries, surgical services, child care, and general medical services for the community of Paynesville.
We were warmly greeted by hospital staff and set-up in an area close to the labor and delivery rooms. One by one, we placed the canvases along long narrow tables as curious onlookers peeked through the open doors to see what the fuss was about. As the PaintFest event began, the room filled with patients, community members, and a rotation of hospital staff that would drop in as they got a break, all wanting a chance to pick a color and brush off the worries within their world for a few minutes.
One by one, the lines of each of the six canvas bloomed with color filled in by loving hands, and at one point the room filled with song, as the participants joined their voices together. What a poignant moment to experience what felt like a different level of healing. This is exactly what the Foundation for Hospital Art is about.
We met some amazing people at this event, a pastor who has dedicated his life lifting up the less fortunate, a passionate medical student whose personality is as big as her heart, a woman nervous about the birth of her first child, and a transportation operator who didn’t engage in much conversation but his smile spoke volumes. Everyone we encountered was warm, engaging and lovely. Even Dr. Benson took a few moments to stop by in between seeing patients and reflected on art’s ability to transcend a patient’s ailments. Confirmed by all the smiles in the room.
The tan exterior of Benson Hospital faded in the rearview mirror as we headed back to the airport, the inside now blooming with color that will brighten the hospital walls for years and for many patients to come.