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Art at the crossroads

A local alternative school tries something different this year with relevant art... and chicken coops?
by: ellen spitaleri, Meyrick adjusts her goggles as she prepares to work  on her “Tree of Life” mosaic with student Kyle Deoker.

Chicken coops and art may seem to be unlikely partners, but Anna Meyrick has found a way to bring them together.

Meyrick, the art teacher at Oregon City's Crossroads School, and her students will host an art show, opening on March 6 at the Carnegie Center.

Featured at the show, which continues throughout the month, will be a student-built chicken coop, student art based on the theme of 'Global Community,' and Meyrick's art, which will be for sale.

Why chicken coops?

Crossroads students usually go on a humanitarian-aid trip every year, often in conjunction with Northwest Medical Teams, where they assist in building schools and housing.

This year, because of a variety of issues, there will be no field trip. Since students still wanted to do something to help, they have chosen to get involved with the Chicken Coop Income Generating Project in Kenya and Mexico.

Meyrick explained that the project raises money to give to women and children in developing countries, so that they can build chicken coops and raise chickens.

The women, often widows, form co-ops, and together sell the chickens and eggs to generate an income for themselves.

'This empowers the women and can pay school fees for the children,' Meyrick said.

She noted that the chicken coop project provides loans to the women, and when they pay the loans back, that provides 'seed money' for the next group of women.

Meyrick said she chose to work with people in Kenya, because one of the young men helping with the program there started out as her daughter's pen pal.

'He has to work three months, picking coffee beans, to earn $40,' so he can pay school fees, Meyrick noted.

'I wanted my students to see how hard other kids work to go to school,' she added.

Kathi Gerspach, who teaches environmental science, cultural awareness and health at Crossroads School, also is involved with the chicken coop project.

In fact, she is going with a group of Clackamas County residents to Uganda in June to work with the Invisible Children project.

'They are refugees from the war in Sudan - we are taking money and they will build chicken coops at the orphanage,' she said.

'The chicken coop project is a cool project. A family can raise eight to 10 chickens and improve their own nutrition, and they can sell the excess [eggs or meat] and bring in money,' she explained.

Studies have shown that the chicken coop project 'radically changed the quality of life and improved the health of children,' Gerspach added.

She also said that the project provides plans to build the coops and veterinarians are on-site to make sure the chickens are healthy.

'It's a good practical way to help someone in a developing country and provide a way for them to have better nutrition and an income,' she said.

Crossroads students are building a coop for display at the Carnegie Center, and they are making posters to explain to visitors the benefits of the chicken coop project.

One of the builders is Kelly Gooderham, a senior.

For him the benefit of the chicken coop is it 'makes the family self sufficient and gives them a way to create their own resources,' he said.

Mosaics on display showcase student talents

Meanwhile, back in the art world, Meyrick has asked her students to design mosaics around the theme of community building.

They are focusing on five areas she said: clean water and sanitation, food security, health and wellness, education and income-generating opportunities.

She hopes visitors will come to the opening of the art show on March 6 and chat with students about their projects and their art.

Students will also be serving a barbeque meal, with all proceeds going to the chicken coop project.

Anthony Akins, a senior, will exhibit his mosaic of a cow, to showcase his project on food security.

'Students should know more about how we get food and how in other countries kids are starving - that needs to be more publicized,' he said.

Meyrick will also show her own art, and will display a large mosaic piece she calls a 'Tree of Life.'

This piece came into being during her visit last summer to the international AIDS conference in Toronto, Canada.

She set up a 'global village' at the conference, and brought in art supplies. She then collected leaves designed by people from all over the world and attached them to the tree.

'The purpose of the tree is to symbolize the way we are all connected in a global community. I designed the piece, and my students are helping to fill in the glass,' she said.

The piece incorporates 24,000 BB's, and there are images under the clear glass tiles, Meyrick noted.

She added that she has set up a non-profit organization to 'assist with community development projects locally and globally.' Her website can be accessed at www.herainternationalcommunity.org

The 'Tree of Life' will not be for sale at the Carnegie Center show, Meyrick said, because she plans to take it with her to the international AIDS conference in Mexico City in 2008.