International Thanks to a nation-wide organization, refugees are sharing their artwork with U.S. consumers.
Love Without Borders is a non-profit organization that showcases and sells art made by refugees across the nation. The organization aims to help refugee artists situated in Greek camps from home countries of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Through the organization, led by founder Kayra Martinez, these refugees are able to sell their art to U.S. buyers with a 100 percent return of profits.
According to Martinez, the organization has sold hundreds of art pieces since it came to fruition in 2016.
SF State alumna Vicki Trapalis began volunteering with Love Without Borders in 2017 and has since helped put together the organization’s North American art shows. Trapalis, a Bay Area native, graduated from SF State in 1989 with a degree in social science and was greatly inspired by her studies at SF State to give back.
”It was one of my professors in my undergraduate studies that stirred me in the direction that I ended up in,” said Trapalis.
Trapalis was also inspired to pursue Love Without Borders by her experience volunteering in Greece in 2016 with non-profit organization Danish Refugee Council.
“It was life-changing to see the way people are living and to see children living in tents […] their basic needs aren’t being taken care of,” she said. “It was depressing to be back, because we have so much here and people had nothing there, and it felt like people here didn’t care about what happened to people there.”
After witnessing the living conditions in Greece, she became invested in aiding refugees.
Through this volunteer opportunity, Trapalis met Afghan refugee Shakiba, who drew what Trapalis describes as “mind-blowing” sketches and launched her connction with Martinez.
From there, Martinez and Trapalis worked together from then on to aid refugees and discover and sell their artwork.
“[Martinez] ended up taking one of Shakiba’s pieces to a show in Boston and it sold, and from there we started to work together,” Trapalis said.
Trapalis finds her volunteer work rewarding in fostering a connection with refugees.
Martinez realized the potential impact of the project when she posted a refugee’s art to social media, received many inquiries and realized she could provide refugees with a form of income.
“I realized that was the best way for us to raise money for them,” Martinez said.
Martinez supplied many children in the Greek camps with art supplies to encourage their artistic abilities. Trapalis has tried her best to educate North Americans on refugee struggles and let them know how they can do to help.
“I started speaking at schools in San Francisco and in Marin County … sharing stories and opening people’s minds a little bit so they know there’s more going on in the world besides what’s happening in their bubbles,” Trapalis said.
Trapalis and Martinez spoke about Love Without Borders at SF State in professor Mahmood Monshipouri’s Middle East and North Africa international relations class. Their presentation specifically highlighted the Syrian Crisis.
Monshipouri believes Love Without Borders’ work is especially beneficial to the children they serve, as he believes they are most affected by war and displacement.
“Adults have ways they can handle war […] but the kids, they don’t know any better,” Monshipouri said. “To give them a chance to express themselves in painting is putting a human face on this tragedy.”
Amanda Shoars, SF State student in Monshipouri’s class, believes that the organization encourages refugees to pursue creativity.
“When someone finds beauty in your creation and is willing to purchase it, it lifts you up, it makes you feel important,” Shoars said.
SF State student Crystal Seoud agrees with Shoars.
“I love the idea of selling the refugee’s artwork and giving the money back to them,” Seoud said. “It allows for them to work and save their own profits for a better future instead of relying on non-governmental organizations or government assistance.”
In the years that Trapalis and Martinez have been supporting these Greek camps, they have seen their conditions improve.
”When I first started working in the camps several years ago, they were living in tents and they had to go outside to use the restroom,” Martinez said. “At night it’s not safe for women, there’s no kitchens, now […] some of them have kitchens and bathrooms, but not all of them.”
As Trapalis continues to spread awareness of the refugee crisis, she hopes to bring happiness and stability to the lives of refugees. “Volunteering with Love Without Borders is important to me because it enables me to have an impact on the refugees’ lives from afar, it prevents me from forgetting about the refugee crisis and it provides me the opportunity to share the refugees’ stories with people who might not otherwise have learned about them,” Trapalis said.