World Humanitarian Day: Ashok Sinha & The Cartwheel Initiative

In honor of World Humanitarian Day, Behance is supporting the United Nation’s campaign by profiling users who have created projects with a particularly humanitarian focus. This year’s World Humanitarian Day theme asks the question “The World Needs More _________”; brands, organizations, and individuals can then sponsor the words to raise money and awareness.

We spoke with Ashok Sinha, a New York based photographer and founder of The Cartwheel Initiative, a nonprofit organization that uses creative media to empower children in the aftermath of crisis. Sinha began The Cartwheel Initiative after a 2010 visit to Sri Lanka, noticing the stark difference between the pristine tourist beaches and the obvious trauma visible in northern Jaffna. The organization aims to provide workshops to help youth affected by the war harness art therapeutically, while also sharing their experiences with the world. The program conducted four workshops in Northern Sri Lanka in 2011. The Cartwheel Initiative held another round of workshops this year; films produced by participants will be screened at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York. We spoke about his project Children of Post-War Sri Lanka.


The theme for World Humanitarian Day is: The World Needs More _______. In three words or less, what do you think the world needs more of?
Cross-Cultural Understanding

Why is it important that The Cartwheel Initiative reaches out to kids using art?
Art is a non-political tool that can be used to spark conversations and help young people build bridges within their communities and across ethnic and social divisions.



“Art is a non-political tool that can be used to spark conversations and help young people build bridges within their communities and across ethnic and social divisions.”


What was different about working on this project, Children of Post War Sri Lanka, as opposed to other work you’ve done?
The scope of this body of work is much larger than the others I have done, since it is tied to the mission of the nonprofit Cartwheel Initiative. It is also in some ways one of the best (yet toughest) projects I have undertaken and the resultant humanitarian work has become a lifelong commitment and a very big part of my career going forward. This series of portraits was created as a complementary piece to the work of The Cartwheel Initiative and puts a face to one of the communities of young people that we work with.

What have been the most challenging aspects of taking on this project?
Striking a balance between the workload of taking on commercial projects yet making sure that Cartwheel Initiative keeps moving forward.

What does it mean, to you, to be both a humanitarian and a creative?
I think I am extremely lucky to be able to use my creativity to do meaningful work as a humanitarian. I want to demonstrate that art can be used to create meaningful change in communities, and that creatives are a very important part of a healthy society. The work I do at Cartwheel also allows me to try out new ideas and collaborate with other talented artists which in turn allows me to explore avenues of creating multi-disciplinary art.



“I want to demonstrate that art can be used to create meaningful change in communities, and that creatives are a very important part of a healthy society. The work I do at Cartwheel also allows me to try out new ideas and collaborate with other talented artists which in turn allows me to explore avenues of creating multi-disciplinary art.”


Two years in, Cartwheel has completed two different projects (the first involving photography, the second involving stop motion animation.) What do you see in store for the future?
With this year’s project, I believe we have created a sustainable format of including stop-motion animation, still photography and music in an all-inclusive multimedia format that can be easily distributed over the Internet. We are very excited to premiere the finished project at the opening at Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York later in the Fall. Going forward, we will refine the model and invite artists from time to time in order to add to the overall finished piece as we see fit.

What are the biggest lessons (personal or professional) you’d like to share?
Positivity is infectious, so surround yourself with like-minded people. Always dare to dream big and make things happen with whatever you have at the present moment, no matter how small. Seize opportunity by the horns.

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