Growing education through art

I am sitting at my studio window that overlooks the mountains and rice fields of the Sapa valley. It is dawn, and a rose and blue sky is the backdrop to the magnificent landscape that rolls down the valley into the purple haze of distant hills, villages, waterfalls and bamboo groves.

I had never been to Sapa before when I arrived wide eyed in early June to be the artist in residence at Sapa Rooms for four months. I had been invited to spend a cool summer in the mountains in return for a contribution to the owners’ charity endeavors that supports one of the poorest schools in the district. I started by meeting the 140 children of the remote school who spent a frenzied morning drawing everything they know from mountains to pig sheds and caged birds to roaming roosters. They produced hundreds of drawings that would be the inspiration for my work and their labors were rewarded with sacks full of donated shoes that we had brought up from Hanoi on the train.

The next stage of my induction was to walk the trekking paths of Lao Chai, Ta Van, Ta Phin and Ban Ho to meet the people, visit their homes and experience the magic of walking through these timeless farmlands where rice, corn and fruit have been grown in the same way for hundreds of years. Ancient carvings on huge boulders along the lower slopes of the valley offer evidence that some of the rice paddies, still cultivated today, may be many thousands of years old.

It has been a rich and fulfilling summer. I have designed products that will be sold to provide a sustainable income for the schools. My final exhibition has morphed into Sapa’s first annual art festival. The many and varied artists of Sapa wanted to support our efforts and are donating a percentage of any sales to the children. Their enthusiasm and friendship has fuelled my creativity these past months. I only have a few days left in this mountain paradise. The festival opens on September 20th and runs through to October 18th. Next year, I will be back to set it up again and hopefully, through this event, we can raise the profile of the art of Sapa and continue to raise money for education for many years to come. I arrived as the last fields of rice were being planted and now it is harvest time in the mountains. The corn was gathered in a few weeks ago and the traditional wooden houses are festooned with perfect strings of corn cobs drying in the sun to make flour. The mountainsides have turned from green to bright yellow. In the late afternoon sun as mists rise up from the river, the orange September sun turns the fields to burning gold. It’s time to move on.

A professional artist and author of A Week in Hoi An, Bridget March specializes in urban landscapes and aims to reveal the hidden treasures of city life and small town cultures through her illustrations. Bridget offers art classes and sketching tours in Ho Chi Minh City. For more of Bridget’s work, visit bridgetmarch.co.uk