By Thomas Griffin, Staff Writer
A little inspiration was all it took for Kien Nguyen to turn a routine volunteering venture into a memorable event for a Greek Kindergarten.
A public artwork project of his, fixed on the inner walls of a playground in the rural Greek town of Kallimasia, is already showing lasting effects for the children living in town.
Nguyen, a sophomore at UMassD, is a regular when it comes to community service. Associating with organizations such as AISEC, Friends of Vietnam Heritage, New Hanoi ART, and Waterwise Vietnam, he started integrating volunteer work into his free time early in his high school career and has since made serving worldwide communities a habit of his.
Earlier this past summer, Nguyen was invited on a weeklong trip to the Greek island of Chios, as part of an international service trip conducted by International Volunteer HQ.
Arriving on the island on May 14, he was scheduled to lend a hand in a local kindergarten until his trip ended on the 19th.
After spending his first couple days working as a cook’s assistant in the kindergarten, he had an idea about how best to help the school: he was going to paint a mural to surround the school’s playground.
Nguyen claimed that his idea to start the mural stemmed from the heavy influence of art on the school.
“I noticed that there were drawings and handmade crafts created by both the children as well as the teachers,” remarked Nguyen. “In coupled with past experience in making public artworks, I proposed to them that I shall paint the 4 inner walls surrounding the playground and the kindergarten.”
Ideas for the project hit him almost instantly. The four inner walls of the playground would each be painted to fit a different vibrant theme, with “red for the evergreen jungle, orange for a temperate forest, seafoam green for the marine life, and yellow for the savannah.”
With the stark contrasts in both colors and themes, Nguyen hoped that the pieces would “fire the children’s imagination and thus create more connection between the children and teachers during playtime.”
He instantly began drafting and planning for the mural, despite the dwindling days left in the week.
Having initially worked as a cook’s assistant, he was left with only four days to plan and begin painting the mural. To make matters worse, the school closed for Saturday, the last day of his service. Unfortunately, Nguyen left Chios, his masterpiece remaining unfinished.
Despite being incomplete, it didn’t take long for the effects of the mural to take shape, on both a local and global stage. Both the Head of the Europe Programs for IVHQ and the Vietnamese media have acknowledged and drawn attention to Nguyen’s mural as exemplary work. He accepts such attention humbly, perceiving the positive praise as encouragement for “future international volunteers to be more confident, to use their talent to walk an extra mile when they help to better a community – in an environment which might be overwhelmingly unfamiliar.”
The local community of Kallimasia is incredibly gracious of his work of art as well. Nguyen felt that it had “left a positive influence in Kallimasia,” noting that the students and families of the kindergarten “have been fond of the project in the making” and “reached out to the volunteers in the kindergarten with nothing short of hospitality and kindness.”
In addition, Nguyen expressed his desire to someday return to Chios, in order to finish the piece he had started. Maybe then could he reconnect with the lives his volunteering has touched.