Fostering a Sense of Belonging through Art

By Jennifer Corriero and Adrian Assoufi

Photo credit: TakingITGlobal

When we ask young people from around the world to describe feelings of belonging, they reference a sense of connection to family, friends, even people they have met for the first time and their experiences shared. If you take a moment to reflect on a time when you experienced a strong sense of belonging, what are the feelings that arise? How can we ignite and increase a greater sense of belonging as a way to promote peace and prosperity across cultures?

In reflecting on the very first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) related to ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, it is important to consider the role of fostering a sense of belonging. As stated in a research paper titled Social Isolation and its Relationship to Multidimensional Poverty by Sameul, K. et al, "One dimension of poverty that has been often overlooked is social connectedness." We can also see how belonging and social connectedness links closely to other SDGs such as ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. A sense of belonging is a human need, like the need for food and shelter and who we are is shaped by the people who we are connected to.

Photo credit: TakingITGlobal

While at the 2016 Winter Youth Assembly at the United Nations in New York last week, participants at the Engagement Expo had an opportunity to participate in conversations about belonging while interacting with an international art exhibit produced by TakingITGlobal. One participant from Niger spoke about the importance of being able to communicate across languages, another local participant from Queens shared her experience working with children in schools in the Bronx where belonging means survival and the key factor in life success. Two young women from different countries who had met at the conference for the first time felt that that belonging was an innate feeling of wanting to know someone and the desire to share stories about life experiences and hopes for the future.

Photo credit: Ionut Vacar/Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, Inc.

TakingITGlobal is an international organization based in Toronto, Canada that inspires youth to engage as leaders within their local and global communities through the power of their creativity and digital technologies. In partnership with the Samuel Family Foundation, TakingITGlobal launched a Global Gallery project inviting youth in every continent to express their imagination, voice and perspective on depicting visual representations on the theme of belonging so that we tackle the issue of isolation together. Our plan is to curate an online collection and exhibit to showcase at international conferences and events to inspire decision makers in policy making and action, the Winter Youth Assembly being a powerful conference to inspire generations of leaders.

Photo credit: TakingITGlobal

One of the images submitted to this Global Gallery collection from a youth participant in Nigeria links a personal sense of belonging with citizenship and right to vote. "Someone that belongs to a community, is eligible to join in making decisions that affect his/her community. People take part in making decision through voting into power whom they want to represent them."

Another youth from Pakistan shares their artwork entitled Longing for a Family is Belonging: Lost or Buried describing the absence of family or the disintegration of any real foundation of belonging . "There is little cohesiveness - no belonging - indeed it is fracturing, and this can be a very troubling lack for those affected by this absence in their lives."

Photo credit: TakingITGlobal

The metaphor of a puzzle was portrayed in an image submitted by a participant from Tunisia who is representing many aspects of culture, identity and expressions of freedom within the artwork. "I tried to compile in an aesthetic manner our prominent archetypes that best describe who we are...In a word, our authenticity, traditions and culture is our only warrant for a harmonious community and an enforced sense of belonging."

Photo credit: TakingITGlobal

A sense of belonging is a human need, like the need for food and shelter and who we are is shaped by the people who we are connected to. Young people can play a critical role as community builders on our path to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. At TakingITGlobal, our hope is to create opportunities for youth to project their imagination and creativity while emerging as leaders in a global movement of fostering social connectedness.

This post is a part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Friendship Ambassadors Foundation following the 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations held on February 17-18, 2016. The winter session tackled the role of youth in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To see all posts in the series, click here.