Klementina Budnik wants to liven up the lives of immigrant and refugee children.
But she can’t do it alone.
For three years, Budnik, the founder of a small Germantown production company called KXB Studio, offered free motion picture animation classes to northeastern Philadelphia elementary and high school students from all over the world, from places like Iraq, Syria, Somalia. , and Afghanistan.
Together, the children learned the intricacies of techniques such as stop-motion animation, a painstaking process in which clay or plasticine figures are moved very lightly, filmed, and then moved again. They also created paper superhero versions of themselves and added drawings and music to the productions, which were shown to family members and friends at special screenings. Some of their films have found an afterlife on the Internet.
Budnik, 28, said the children have enjoyed a respite from the challenges of living in an unfamiliar country, gaining self-confidence and creativity. But the program, held every Tuesday at Gilbert Spruance Elementary School, ended last December when its sponsor, HIAS Pennsylvania, restructured its after-school programming to focus on individual instruction at other sites.
âKlementina used her artistic skills to inspire our children to express themselves in ways they had never done before,â said Daniella Nahmias Scruggs, spokesperson for the nonprofit HIAS Pennsylvania, which provides support services to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. âUsing animation was a great way for kids who felt uncomfortable speaking English to share their stories. “
Now Budnik is looking for ways to restart classes and is hoping that a new sponsor or agency might come forward.
Among the fifty children who participated in the program are the two daughters of Ali Arif, originally from Baghdad. âThey learned a lot,â he says. “It’s not just about learning the specific activity, it’s about bonding with other kids.”
He, his wife and daughters arrived in the United States in 2017, authorized to enter due to their work assisting the United States military forces in translation and cultural understanding after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
His first job here was as a tour guide in the Middle Eastern galleries at the Penn Museum. Today, he and his wife, Lara, work for the Philadelphia School District – he’s a bilingual council assistant, she’s in administration – and are looking for opportunities like the Girls’ Animation Course.
âThe program was amazing,â said 9-year-old Yara Abdalstar. “We take clay and create our own character, then our art teacher will take a photo of it in motion.”
Her sister, Roz Abdalstar, 11, added: “I loved the way we can use clay.”
Home to nearly 45 million people born in another country, the United States has more immigrants than any country. At the same time, the world is facing its worst refugee crisis since World War II, with an estimated 26 million people driven from their homelands, according to the United Nations.
It comes as the doors to the United States have been narrowed by a Trump administration that has worked to reduce virtually all forms of immigration. The annual ceiling for refugee admissions has been lowered several times, with the administration seeking a ceiling of 15,000 in 2021. This is down from 80,000 in 2010.
Budnik knows what it’s like to come to a new country.
She was born in Kiev, Ukraine, and her family immigrated to southern Jersey when she was 18 months old. In Cherry Hill, a preschool teacher noticed his ability to draw, which prompted Budnik’s mother to enroll him in art classes.
She graduated from Cherokee High School in Marlton, then a dual program at Tufts University and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
âThe classic story of immigrant parents is that they want you to be a doctor or a lawyer, but they’ve always been incredibly supportive of my art,â Budnik said.
She has worked as a freelance artist and has taught animation in after-school programs and summer camps. In 2015, she established her own animation studio in Boston, then moved a year later to Philadelphia, where she expanded the business to include videos and commercials for musicians and businesses.
âAt the time, there was a lot in the news about migrant children and their placement in detention camps. And not to have a childhood, âshe said. âIt touched very close to home for me. I wanted to do something about it.
For Budnik, the street protests did not seem to be appropriate. She wanted to volunteer and contacted HIAS Pennsylvania to offer the animation course, where the children were 13 years old or less.
âThey were so drawn to the creative stuff,â she said. âSome of the kids used art to process their feelings. They’ve been through a lot.
Now the pandemic has limited social contact and strained the resources of nonprofit groups that could offer support. Programming has moved online even for children. However, she is certain that there is a way to revive her program and help the children.
âWhether they get something artistic out of it or not, they have rested immigrants and refugees in a new country,â she said. “They could just let go and see what happened.”