|Photo by Teresa Yeh|
Lily Yeh founded Barefoot Artists in 2003 to bring the transformative power of art to people whose communities have been buried in poverty, dilapidation, and despair. In the past twenty-five years she has worked with people all over the world, from her native China to Kenya, Ecuador, Italy, and Rwanda, to North Philadelphia, where she lives today and where Barefoot Artists was founded. At Radical Joy for Hard Times we are honored to have Lily Yeh on our Council of Advisors.
Recently Lily received an invitation from Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, a leader of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, to come to Balata, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank, located near the city of Nablus. Balata is currently home to 23,000 people, all living in an area of less than one square mile. There are only two schools, the unemployment rate is very high, and the young people are homesick and without hope.
Lily worked with volunteer artists, members of the Balata Women’s Center, students at the Balata Girls’ School, and local participants to create art that would reflect their deep pain, their intense longing to return to their homeland, and their hope for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. This mural they made is called “The Palestinian Tree of Life.” It depicts an old and rugged olive tree filled with blooms and upholding the sacred Dome of the Rock. Doves, symbol everywhere of peace, fly through a starry sky. Amidst the cramped streets the mural is a sign of creativity, resilience, and yes, even joy.