Diary project will help ease isolation

By: Cathy Thompson

It’s been known to help juvenile offenders w ho leave prison overcome their sense of isolation and also to enable teenagers from poor families or with disabilities to break down prejudices and learn new skills – this is how American Mark Scheflen describes his Diary Project USA/Kenya/South Africa.

The first time he presented letters and photographs written and taken by Kenyan teenagers to their counterparts in New York , “the American kids were riveted,” he says.

Scheflen is a professional photographer who has traveled between the United States , Kenya and South Africa to “introduce” young people to each other through their art, letters, poetry and photography.  A favourite activity is the making of masks and diaries.

He concentrates on “economically depressed urban and rural areas” and has also done work with deaf youngsters.

The project has caught the interest of the United Nations agency, Unicef.

Scheflens’ next trip will be to Russia and he hopes to have a world-wide network of youngsters who correspond with each other through art and writing.

He is a member of St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, a 200-year old Anglican parish in New York that vigorously supports the arts in the form of poetry and dance. 

The Anglican Diocese in Klerksdorp hosted him during his visit to this country, when he visited, among others, township schools and a juvenile detention facility.

Scheflen has also managed to acquire a grant from the American government’s prestigious National Endowment of the Arts programme.

This helps fund the project with camera equipment and other resources.

“I would hope the children could learn about each other through the project and break down racial barriers between people. There are also many educational benefits as they learn photography, literacy and other skills in the process.”