Thang Van had to escape his native homeland of Myanmar several years ago and live in Malaysia before being randomly placed in the Quad-Cities as he immigrated to the United States 14 months ago.

Aroa Afef escaped Iraq with her family about seven years ago but had to live in Lebanon and Syria for years before being able to immigrate here last year.

Their stories are reflected in their art that now is being displayed at Maduro Arts in Bucktown Center for the Arts in downtown Davenport. It is a match with Revive that some say will help area immigrants display their artistic talents and, in the process, further their careers.

Revive is a grassroots organization, in affiliation with World Relief Moline, whose mission is to empower area refugees to pursue self-sufficiency and sustainability through ethnic artistry. The concept for Revive initially was formulated over the winter by Megan Hankner, employment specialist at World Relief Moline, and former staff member Lindsey Hornbaker, along with a former intern, Kyle Bennett.

"Revive came first, and Bucktown heard about Revive," Hankner said. "We already created it and were looking for ways to showcase some of the things. It is not just limited to Bucktown."

But right now, Bucktown is the only place displaying the works. She said 100 percent of the proceeds go directly to the artists.

"Each year, World Relief Moline helps hundreds of refugees — victims of war and persecution around the globe — replant their lives in the Quad-Cities," Hanker said. "World Relief staff and volunteers walk alongside newcomers, providing support as they adjust to their new community. Many of the refugees who arrive in the United States have unique artistic skills, and Revive was created to provide them with the opportunity to showcase their talents in addition to helping them provide for their families using the skills they already possess, as 100 percent of the proceeds return to the artisans."

According to its website, World Relief Moline is a nonprofit agency providing services to refugees and immigrants in western Illinois and eastern Iowa. World Relief’s mission is to serve vulnerable populations in and through partnerships with local churches, agencies and the community. Its programs provide financial, emotional, cultural and spiritual support to refugees who are being placed in the Quad-Cities.
Hankner said several of the artists are planning on being vendors at the Quad-City Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, or QCAIR’s, Festival D’Ete. It is its first-ever fundraiser from 2-8 p.m. July 13 at Schwiebert Riverfront Park, Rock Island. Other future events are being planned involving refugee artwork. Further information on the project will updated periodically at

Currently, Van and Afef are the only refugees with their works on display and for sale at Maduro Arts at Bucktown, 225 E. 2nd St. Those two are a painter and a photographer, respectively. Other refugees' work soon will be on display. Overall, featured artwork and handmade products are done by refugees from Myanmar, Nepal, Iraq and Ethiopia.

Kim Aust, who owns Maduro Arts, said the association with World Relief is a good idea. It all started after a customer went into his shop seeking artwork from refugees. After contacting World Relief and hearing about Revive, the partnership was formed.

"The World Relief artists are there for free on display," he said. "Some of their stuff have been purchased."

Afef, 22, escaped Iraq and used cellphones and a small camera to take pictures for years while she had to live in Lebanon and Syria.

"In Syria, there was no way," she said. "You cannot go outside. You cannot take pictures outside."

But she did anyway.

She said that during her younger days in Iraq with Saddam Hussein in power, "he was crazy, but it was safe. There were no murders there, and it has become worse. The problem is, women can do nothing. Muslim women do not have rights. The government can do nothing."

But in later years in Iraq and Syria, she said conditions were not good.

"Of course, it was dangerous," she said. "We would see people killed every day. Every day you go to school and don't know if you will come home."

But she was able to take some photography courses in Syria.

Today, she lives in East Moline with her parents, mom, Amira, her dad, Khaled, and brother, Ahmed, 21. Aroa works as a housekeeper at a Davenport hotel.

According to, Burma, or Myanmar, has been under military rule since 1962, and its fortunes have steadily declined. Today, it is one of the "world’s least developed and least free countries. It is also the source of one of the world’s most protracted refugee crises."

Van said he painted many of his most recent paintings by memory from his days in Myanmar and Malaysia.

"I have others not finished," he said. "I like people to draw."