On her way to the school she works at as an art teacher, ugliness, ash, grey colours and dirtiness are all what Maha Zein sees daily. Looking to be the catalyst she wants to see in the world, her abilities in beautifying and designing her surrounding community could only be applied in the school she works at, with the help of her female students.
With only EGP 60 as an allocated budged for the arts curriculum in the public school where she works, recycling current resources was her only available option to make her dream of seeing the school walls covered with bright coloured art portraits, come true.
With the help of preparatory students, Zein recycled the timeworn, unused desks, and drew on them to end up with dozens of colourful portraits of different shapes and sizes, all sharing the same theme: coloured and drawn on by the hands of young hidden talents.
“As a teacher in one of the public schools, I had to come up with a way to apply the developing talent programme I’m supposed to teach my students in the arts curriculum. Yet, with dwindling resources, doing so is almost impossible without finding an alternative source to come up with the materials,” Zein told Daily News Egypt.
It was a random day when Zein accidentally witnessed the school administration renovating the old broken students’ desks.
“It was the beginning of the school year, and I saw them throwing away the desks at one of the school’s corners into the trash. Meanwhile, next to them I saw the tree leaves falling, before it suddenly dawned on me, ‘I can use this wood for the students to draw on, with the help of the tree leaves to decorate the drawings!’,” she explained.
With only EGP 60 to spend on nine classes, each with an average of 38 students, art period is more of a free class for most of the students in public schools, a thing that Zein was determined to change.
Old desks were only the start of Zein’s journey in decorating the Egyptian Preparatory School.
For the materials used in portraits, she asked her students to collect all of the unused materials in their homes.
“Most of the enrolled girls in the school come from a working social class, so asking them to buy materials is impossible. Yet, using unwanted items in their homes is not” she clarified.
Old accessories, torn clothes, broken zippers, old chips carton boxes, empty plastic bottles, as well as plastic boxes were some of the items students started collecting.
“Some brought broken wood from their fathers carpentry workshops, while others brought nails and bolts from their fathers who are car mechanics,” Zein said.
Zein’s main goal was to teach students that art is a state that is not linked to financial abilities or a certain social class.
With plenty of material resources, Zein used the allocated budget to only get the glue and the colours.
“I knew that where these girls come from, art is not commonly appreciated or understood. Most of them come from families who are struggling to educated them well. But that did not mean their children do not have the right to be artists,” she added.
With the help of 15 students, Zein started letting them draw on the wooden blocks, whatever shapes they feel reflected their personalities.
“I knew that some of them are extremely talented, and only needed an opportunity to show it,” she indicated.
Every day, Zein spent her mid-day break time with her team to draw and colour the wooden portraits.
“It wasn’t long before all of the school’s students were either passionately spending their time drawing and colouring the desks, or watching their mates while doing so,” she said proudly.
Despite not quietly understanding the purpose of the project at first, most of the school’s students ended up happily participating in it.
“We wanted to decorate the whole school, but the only thing that stopped us was that we ran out of colours, and with no available budget, we had no other option,” she lamented.
By posting the pictures of the project’s final results on her personal Facebook page, Zein did not expect it would go viral among people with thousands of shares and praises for the idea. “I was only doing my job as a teacher, nothing unusual, I thought” she indicated.
Recognising her efforts, the educational administration the school follows, requested from Zein to apply the project in several other schools.
Zein is currently seeking a way to raise the budget allocated for art classes in preparatory schools, fighting to prove that art is as important as any other taught curriculum.