While the global pandemic has been hard on all of us, there are some groups who have especially lacked “color” in their lives. Lika Torikashvili, 23, and her group of friends, who together founded Paint the World, an international NGO, are bringing exactly these “colors.” In an interview with GEORGIA TODAY, Lika tells us more about the organization and how it started, their new project enforced through Zoom video calls, and what she thinks we can all do to “Paint the World”.
“Paint the World is an international youth movement, which started in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2012,” Lika says. “Together with a group of friends, we wanted to do something for children having cancer treatment in Iashvili Hospital. I remember we watched the Patch Adams movie, and it really motivated us to also make children smile and brighten their day. The idea was born that maybe we don’t need billions of dollars to “paint someone’s life”- we wanted to try and make children smile and support them with what we had, our youth and our creative energy. The idea was simple- we would cheer up children in public hospitals by doing art with them, like organizing performances, bringing musical instruments to their wards and singing their favorite songs together, doing short plays, organizing carnivals and showing up at the hospitals dressed as Disney characters, doing magic shows, dancing… All this was the emotional support that children undergoing various treatments really needed, especially in developing Georgia. What also made this movement unique was the fact that the whole organization was set up and run by teenagers.
“Paint the World did not stay in Georgia for long, soon finding its way into a whole new dimension. When I left Georgia to continue my studies at UWC Atlantic College, I met Aziza Aznizan, my now best friend and companion, and we decided to take the Paint the World idea to Malaysia. Soon after, we were organizing international projects all over the world, adjusting our programs to the culture and needs of the countries that we visited. Throughout 2017-2019, we organized projects in Georgia, the UK, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Serbia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Timor Leste, Oman, Qatar, Lebanon, Syria, Eswatini, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Panama, Jamaica, and Bangladesh.
“Our goal is to have ongoing projects with and for youth all over the world!”
Tell us about the changed format of Paint the World’s work during the ‘remote times’ of the pandemic.
COVID-19 affected everyone’s lives. Most of us learned to live in this new world, but the most vulnerable members of our society are still struggling to get used to the new normal. As a research project for my field work team at Bennington College, I decided to try and adjust our Paint the World events to the “new normal” and shift them online. I wanted to try to find a new, innovative way do art therapy with children battling life threatening diseases, but remotely, through video calls. My hope was to show the world that anything can be done remotely, even Paint the World. I reached out to our members from Paint the World Georgia and set to work. We decided to have calls with the beneficiaries of a center for people with disabilities and children from Firefly World Hospice.
How has the project panned out? Have you received support from the “celebrity” side, and what has been the feedback on the receiving end?
The first couple of “trial calls” were a bit difficult because of a weak internet connection, but we managed to fix the issues and it turned out that Zoom calls are just as entertaining and fun as in-person events! We started off with calls with magicians: Sasha Crespi called from Italy, Georgian magicians Avto Tsitskishvili, Lasha Gelashvili, Giorgi Chiqobava also joined it. It is amazing to watch some magic tricks over a video call, not just for the children that we call, but also for me. I remember how Lasha made US dollars appear out of the ashes of fire during one call!! Then musicians joined our calls. Nini Gogichaishvili was on fire- with a leg injury, she still managed to dance for the kids and sing for them and with them. We all learned some cool dance moves over that video call. Famous young singer Sopo Batilashvili also participated in our calls, children enjoyed singing “Iagundi” along with her. We even tried to do handcraft over video call with Mika Kipiani and his “Black Boxes” – gift boxes filled with interesting quests and games.
What are your future plans – are you planning to keep going with the online calls?
We definitely plan to continue our calls, and hopefully reach out to more artists and celebrities to participate in them. Children are asking if actors from Comedy Show could call them, I am working hard to make that happen! I also realised that these Paint the World calls have the power to connect not only young Georgians during this pandemic, but also youth from around the world. I invited my international artist friends to call Georgian children: famous Malaysian singers Ahmad Ammar and Aziza Aznizan joined from Malaysia, Chase joined from Oman, magicians Sasha Crespi and Thomas Finegar joined from Italy and the USA. I think that the fact that we are all stuck in our homes makes us all the more eager to support each other and do good for others. It is so easy to make someone’s day, even without leaving your house. This pandemic did not kill kindness and humanity. We all need to support each other, and it makes us feel good too.
As a Fellow of the World Jewish Congress, I am also working a lot on interfaith dialogue amongst young people. Previously, together with founder of Paint the World Malaysia Aziza Aznizan, we would make sure that our projects are diverse and tried to bring young people from different cultural and religious backgrounds together to “paint the world.” This year, the goal is to bring Jewish, Muslim and Christian young people from all over the world to participate in Paint the World Zoom calls. I think this will demonstrate once more that we, the youth of the world, want peace, and are ready to fight for it.
Aziza and I are currently leading Paint the World projects internationally. Aziza is a Muslim and I am a Jew. When we call the children for our online events, they don’t see us a “A Jew” or “A Muslim,” they see us as humans who call them to have a good time. We all need to learn from those kids and be able to see friends in each other, humans in each other, and not view our differences as a reason for conflicts. We are all humans and we are all united in a special way. I think this is another important message that we are trying to send with our projects.
What do you think others can do during these tough times to Paint the World, especially for those who are experiencing it in darker colors?
For me, Paint the World is more than a project. It’s a philosophy of life. I believe that we have the unique ability to paint our worlds, and other people’s worlds. It’s all about the positive energy that we generate, human connection and love. All these are so easy to share, we just need to find the power within us to understand how to do it.
I’m glad that our Paint the World team managed to adjust our projects and ideas to the COVID era. I hope that this example will show young people all around the world that we should not sit at home waiting for this pandemic to end, but we should act now and do what we can with what we have.
Huge thanks to Bennington College for all its support! And huge thanks to Nini, Sopo, Mika, Avto, Lasha, Giorgi, Aziza, Chase, Ahmad, Thomas and Sasha for participating in our events!