Canvas, connection and Kevin O'Hanlon restores lost hope in Haiti

They'd been sleeping on the streets.

The fortunate ones in tents and makeshift shelters, the rest in conditions unimaginable.

Many, just children, their need dire.

Haiti, January 12, 2010: Life had just become even more difficult for the impoverished people of Port-au-Prince.

The earthquake enormous, ripping apart lives and the ramshackle structures that those sifting through the rubble had once called home in indiscriminate fashion.

People used to having little, left clutching even less.

Lost lives, lost families, lost homes, lost hope.

Then unannounced, into their midst one morning, came Kevin O'Hanlon and things began to change.

The people had been crying out for food, shelter and something clean to drink but, from the United States, Kevin brought canvasses and other art supplies.

The result, remarkable.

For in feeding their souls and nourishing their imagination, Kevin rekindled optimism, restored lost hope and breathed fresh life into those once so close to giving up.

Kevin is a talented man, an artist and film-maker, a friend of our studio here in Saunderstown and an inspiration for ourselves and our OMs.

Until now, however, we hadn't realised he had such vision or such healing hands.

Had it not been for his foresight or his restorative touch, those rebuilding their lives and their communities this Christmas might still be down and out amongst the dust and the debris.

Connection comes in all shapes and sizes, as Kevin and his colleagues have proved these last 18 months. Consider these eye-catching images for a moment.

Brilliant all, you'll be sure to agree.

These artworks, the result of Kevin's mission, for having arrived in Haiti, he discovered 100 children from the ruined Maranatha School and Orphanage and provided the means for them to, in his words, 'pour their dreams onto canvas'.

In collaboration with the Haitian-born artist Richard Laurent, Kevin challenged the children to sketch out their hopes for the future, to put down in paint the things in their heads, and to use the canvasses he had delivered to express themselves like never before.

To quote the man behind an extraordinary project, 'This was one of those mutually-abundant situations; we got to experience the mindset of these amazing children at a pivotal moment in their lives, while bringing so much joy to kids who had never held a paintbrush or seen a blank canvas before. The project empowered them, affirmed their artistic abilities and set them on a creative path to their own solution. They're Haiti's future, the generation who will rebuild'.

In painting their hopes and dreams, the children showed themselves to be modest and practical, craving the things in life that most take for granted, the things that connect us as human beings.

Things like a home for themselves and their families, things like clothes for their backs and perhaps a car to travel to town in.

Little did the children realize that, in committing their dreams to canvas, they'd taken a huge step towards shaping a brighter future for themselves and their kin.

You see, Kevin brought the paintings back to the United States and, having exhibited them to great acclaim in New York City, raised, in the process, sufficient funds to take back to Haiti and rebuild the Maranatha School and Orphanage.

If that were the story's end, it would be extraordinary, but it isn't, for this most inspirational tale goes on. You see, having themselves seen the exhibition in Chelsea, Frank and Caroline Fleischer, who run a non-profit charitable organization called Franca Art and Fashion, were themselves inspired to get involved.

The result is that the children's art, created on that memorable morning in Port-au-Prince, has been printed onto the finest cashmere scarves.

The scarves, which will be launched in NYC this weekend, will go on sale worldwide a little later this month. The proceeds will go to Haiti.

They'll be put towards building a sustainable community for the children of Maranatha; creating a more secure future for them; providing education and developing the means for a stable food supply; designing a model for better living in Haiti that will provide hope and inspiration to neighboring communities and Haitians as a whole.

The most inspirational aspect in all this, that it has all sprung from the children, from that initial creative act, from those paintbrushes and canvasses, from their own expression and their own imagination.

It also came from Kevin O'Hanlon, who has demonstrated to us all what can happen when we reach out and lend ourselves to the service of others.

It's called connection and in doing it, we can touch lives and make the world a better place.

Here's to those remarkable children and their astonishing artwork.

Here's to all involved in this amazing project.

Here's to Kevin O'Hanlon.

We are all connected.