Mami Wata: Heal Africa Through Art

Mami Wata Art Therapy Project: 
Heal Africa Through Art
Project Duration: December 2013 - April 2014 

A Conclusion of Colorful Resurrection – Entry 17

Will you lay on your death bed wishing that you had done something different with your life? When children are forced to murder their family, laugh at a severed head stuck on pole, eat a friend alive… and after it all find the courage to forgive, we must ask ourselves: “What are you NOT willing to risk to find inner freedom?” It was my pleasure to exchange a broken rib, a ripped tendon in my left knee, and gift the red Earth the flesh of my pinky finger torn from the bone for the opportunity to share the colors of love with 800 survivors of these horrific wars. By taking the leap of faith one dream became the dream of hundreds and the Mami Wata Art Therapy Project has touches countless lives around the world. The sun has now set over my final day of this life long dream; two wings carry me through the darkness over Africa. The light within each glowing soul guides me into the next chapter of life.


This miraculous journey completes a full circle as my psyche undergoes the closing interviews in the identical corner of the Johannesburg International airport that I spent my first evening in Africa. Five months and 8 days ago I arrived in Africa with a vision: “To be the example I wish to see in the world.” It is not about trying to save the world, it is about loving the world. Over the years I have learned that fear is not the enemy, it is the opportunity. “Fearing fear is like fighting fire with fire, but loving the fear and consciously stepping into this fear with courage and respect will set us free.” The children of the Mami Wata Project embody this wisdom and want to share it with the world. I carry some of their visions of freedom, peace and love, on my back even now with the intention of inspiring the western world to remember how blessed we are, celebrate life with gratitude and join the action towards freedom for all. The fires of Central Africa are burning bright and will continue to be stoked with the timber of creativity freedom long after my departure. Thousands of paintings have been completed by the hands of the underrepresented. THE MIRACLE OF CREATION WAS IGNITED FROM THE FIRST MOMENT THE CHILDREN HAD EVER TOUCHED A PAINTBRUSH.

In addition to the amazing work NGO CAMME RDC is already doing, they have enthusiastically embraced art therapy and are currently implementing it into their permanent curriculum! David, a former student artist and Jack, the psychologist on staff, work together merging the psychological field with the power of artistic expression. Shira Shvadron arrived to the project in Lira with three weeks remaining, shared her soul long after the last brushstroke and has been so inspired that she is now working to acquire a visa for the Democratic Republic of Congo with the intention of adding a heart full of love, a brilliant artistic eye and her wise hands to the incredible intention of the Lunanga family and NGO Camme to bring service to the forgotten children. Thank you!

Thomas at the NGO FRIENDS OF ORPHANS in Padertown, Northern Uganda, translated the lessons of the Mami Wata Art Therapy Project nearly every day for one month. He has suffered at the hands of the Lords Resistance Army as a child soldier twice recounting stories that will leave you with nightmares. “When I was escaping I vowed that I would shoot anything that got in the way. Only with a gun could a man pave his way back then.” He ran alone from the Sudanese border all the way home at the age of 15. He found his faith and calling in life thereafter, and now says with a beautiful glow in the eye and lips curved upward, “The paintbrush is more powerful than the gun!” He has committed to continuing on the art therapy in the Pader district. We love you THOMAS!

Throughout this project it has been a true blessing to receive a number of interested parties, among them is Jarevic, from VSO, who has become a good friend. He asked me if I would consider staying in Uganda and spreading Art Therapy across the country, working as an external service provider in the psycho-social support sector. All domestic transportation, living expenses and art supplies would be funded by VSO. It is a great honor; however, my life is guiding me in another direction at the moment. Instead, I connected him with NGO CHILDREN OF PEACE UGANDA and they are currently discussing the opportunity to spread art therapy to the citizens of Lira District, Pader District and Gulu District… three of the regions of Uganda most effected by the war for the past 30+ years. SamSam, the psychologist who accompanied my team each day in the communities has adopted the curriculum I revised over the passed 4 months, stemming from my work over the passed twelve years, and he is excited to share this through his future work. He is a committed, intelligent, loving man who inspired trust within the youth daily and taught us so much. AMAZING!


This project has been truly successful in the quality of time spent with inspired souls in the process of deep healing, the number of children we have touched and who have touched us, the promotion of art therapy in the field of psychology, and the SUSTAINABILITY long after the “Mazungus” leave. YES! YES! YES! I have been touched forever and carry the strength of the youth that have blessed me with their presence everywhere I go! Thank you CHILDREN!!! Gratitude beams out of me with the thought of all those who have come together to make this dream become a reality larger than life itself. Thank you Jacquie for your labor of love throwing a Yogathon in Victoria and finding the courage to show up here in Africa thereafter, overcoming all odds. Thank you Steven for your friendship and work on both fronts. Thank you Lennard for being REAL and throwing the beautiful dance evening in Victoria, BC where we danced our hearts out for ourselves and the love of humanity. Thank you Emma Tall and Emma Small, Seka and Chad; thank you Luc for your unconditional support throughout my life, Loren, Kendra, Katy, Rio, Ndidi and the entire Family around the world. Thank you MOM, DAD, LINDA, ARIEL, ADAM, ASHER AND JOSHUA! Thank you Savior Faire; we were able to leave over six months worth of art supplies in all three locations! Thank you Chartpak, 2nd Ascent, and Artist & Craftman. THANK YOU EVERYONE!
 Pader, Uganda Team @ Friends of Orphans: Benjamin Swatez, Emma Louise Bles, Seka, Emma Walsh Kurtz
 Lira Team @ Children of Peace Uganda: Benjamin Swatez, Shira Shvadron, Jacquie Divina, Steven Foord 



In many cases of extreme trauma the memories are too painful for the victims to verbalize, or even remember at times, but through art the human psyche begins to release the inner suffering and liberate itself from the pains of the passed. Creative expression improves the quality of life around the world, and it is time to come together and share the blessings of freedom with those less fortunate. Benjamin Swatez, an International Artist, has worked around the globe sharing the healing arts with the under-represented. He will now be leading an art therapy project, Mami Wata: Heal Africa through Art, into Central Africa with the goal to share the power of art therapy with former child soldiers, former sex slaves, and orphans that have been rescued from the streets.

The Mami Wata Project is an independent project that will work side by side with integral and heroic Non Profit Organizations in the field of both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda in a collaborative effort to help rebuild the lost hope and confidence of the children who had their innocence stolen away. 

NGO Camme - Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
NGO Friends of Orphans - Pader, Uganda
NGO Children of Peace - Lira, Uganda

The Mami Wata project will first journey into the conflict zone of the Democratic Republic of Congo for the first two months in order to work directly with those who have been rescued from the current war that has claimed 5.5 million lives; 2.5 million of the deceased have been children. The winds of change are upon us as creativity carries the gift of healing. An abundance of artistic techniques and therapeutic practiceswill be utilized to release the traumas of the passed. Every child deserves a childhood and the opportunity to dream big!

The project will then lead Benjamin into Pader and Lira of the Northern regions of Uganda, near the Southern Sudanese border. 60,000 children have been abducted to be used as child soldiers and sex slaves. Since the peace treaties of 2006 and the relocation of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) into neighboring countries, thousands of former child soldiers wander the streets of Uganda with only their traumas and pains to accompany them. Numerous studies show that art therapy can be a vital addition in the journey of rehabilitation, reintegration and the empowerment of victims with severe trauma.

Supplies such as: paintbrushes, acrylic paints, watercolors, pencils, charcoal, crayons, and canvas will be carried in for the art therapy project.  Simultaneously, paints will be made from the pigments of the local ecosystem; therefore, the colors will never run dry long after the formal project comes to a conclusion. Both school teachers and volunteers will serve as translators while shadowing the course work of the Mami Wata Art Therapy program. This is a vital piece of the project as the intention is to lay a foundation of art therapy that will continue offering a powerful presence in the lives of the youth for years to come.

It can be seen in the previous work of Mr. Swatez, in both first and third world countries, that his teaching methods have been highly effective, opening the doors for healing through positive expression, while laying a foundation for others to follow in his footsteps. "It is not about parachuting in and out for an adventure; it is about sharing the voice of freedom, and improving the quality of life, with as many people in the world as possible." Benjamin says. You may view his last project and be inspired by the touching stories and art of the former slaves of a brick factory in Utar Pradesh, India. The Bahari, India Project 

By offering an artistic vocabulary to these beautiful souls their ability to share their voice with humanity will increase. One final painting of each participant will return to the United States in order to share their voice of freedom with the world. A documentary will also be made witnessing the beauty of children rediscovering their imagination and innocence once again. Through the deepest gratitude of freedom flowing through their eyes, the first world will be reminded to never take our blessings for granted. This cross cultural project will also shed a brighter light upon the study of Art Therapy in regards to its effectiveness directly after the traumatized victims have been rescued from slavery, war and the streets. Love in the form of colors will shower over the less fortunate. This is not about people trying to run around and save people, it is about sharing the love of freedom with our brothers and sisters around the world. It is about open the doors for people to save themselves.

Thank you for your interest and support! If you would like to receive more information about how you can help, please contact me directly at


Benjamin Swatez

Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo - 2014 - Oil on metal gate - Benjamin Swatez and the beautiful children of war - In collaboration with  Ngo Camme RDC
Choorom Primary School, Lira District, Northern Uganda - 2014 - Oil on wall - Benjamin Swatez, Jacquie von Lantern, Steven David Foord, Shira Shvadron, Samsam, and the amazing children from the Borlonyo Massacre - In collaboration with Ngo Children of Peace Uganda
Orit Primary School, Lira District, Northern Uganda - 2014 - Oil on wall - Benjamin Swatez, Jacquie von Lantern, Steven David Foord, Shira Shvadron, Samsam, and the amazing children from the Borlonyo Massacre - In collaboration with Ngo Children of Peace Uganda
Lira Integrated Primary School, Lira, Northern Uganda - 2014 - Oil on wall - Benjamin Swatez, Jacquie von Lantern, Steven David Foord, Shira Shvadron for the amazing children from the Borlonyo Massacre - In collaboration with Ngo Children of Peace Uganda