A section of the mural that Apo Leo painted for WAM. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

You’re alive for a reason

WAM's storage container was the canvas for Apo Leo's emotional work of art. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

WAM’s storage container was the canvas for Apo Leo’s emotional work of art. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

A traditional canoe with a lagoon backdrop features grandly on mural artist Apo Leo’s new work of art at the entrance to Waan Aelon in Majel , but the work’s main focus has an even stronger meaning than this depiction of the powerful Marshallese icon.

“The words on the painting reflect the WAM program and the need for us to be out there talking to the people,” the non-profit program’s counselor Tolina Tomeing said. “It’s saying your life is important and to not take it away. There is a reason to live.”

WAM Director Alson Kelen said the painting is “dedicated to the young people in RMI who had to go through a hard time” and took there lives as a result.

The mural was sponsored by the Single State Agency’s program Substance Abuse Prevention Treatment program, run by Julia Alfred. “WAM approached us with the project and we felt that art says a lot and is another medium to spread the word,” Julia said. “We have been in partnership with WAM for over 10 years and their canoe building is another medium in which WAM provides a sober-alternative activity.”

SAPT's Julia Alfred, WAM's Tolina Tomeing, and the artist Apo Leo. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

SAPT’s Julia Alfred, WAM’s Tolina Tomeing, and the artist Apo Leo. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

The words on the wall

Likit peim ioon menono ne am, kwoj ke enjake? Etan mene ej wun kwoj mour rainin kon wun ko, kon men in jab epwer.

Place your hand over your heart, can you feel it? That is called purpose. You’re alive for a reason, so don’t ever give up.

Apo’s magic murals

The WAM mural marks a year that Apo Leo has been adding color to Majuro’s walls, with his first works of art showing up in Bilimon’s Alley, Uliga. Since then, Apo has particularly enjoyed engaging youth in his painting. “I love to get people involved in the process,” he said. “But doing the canoe at WAM wasn’t so great,” he said, tongue-in-cheek. “I was pretty much done with it and the trainees and staff started coming over and telling me that this rope was in the wrong place, or that rope was tied to the wrong part… They wanted it to be exact.” And so he did just that.