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Our Mission:

How to Draw a Lion is a program founded to provide art classes for children, raise money for their education with shows around the world, and to create awareness about child welfare and conservation in sub-Saharan Africa .    

Why it works:

How to Draw a Lion is a full re-evaluation of the non-profit model in Africa.  We work with African-led, community-based organizations in a multi-national network of partners all working toward the same goal - educating children and empowering communities.  With an extremely low overhead and no administrative costs we are just an art class in a suitcase, creating a sustainable model of art education and fundraising.  Our student-teacher program allows former students to grow into educators working with young artists in their own communities year round.

Who we are:

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John Platt, Founder

John Platt was born and raised in New York City, immediately exposing a young artist to the worlds’ great capital of art and culture. Early visits to the Museum of Modern Art opened his mind to the possibilities of being a painter, a career path that took him to The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he graduated in 2007. Platt has established a reputation in contemporary art circles for realist portraiture and gestural abstractions and has exhibited his work around the globe.  In 2014 a visit to Tanzania would lead to the foundation of How to Draw a Lion.  The program has grown rapidly and as of now, Platt has taught art to hundreds of kids in East Africa, working with 12 different NGOs across 5 countries

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Hamza Kimera, Director of Operations, Uganda

Hamza Kimera is an artist based in Kampala and is the head teacher for How to Draw a Lion in Uganda.  As an artist Hamza's work knows no limits - fashion design, murals, fine art, graphic design, body painting and performance - Hamza has done it all.  By the time he started working with HTDL in 2019 he was already teaching kids within his own curriculum and producing performance works with themes of environmentalism, pan-Africanism and Black Lives Matter.  His two-dimensional work is inspired by nature and the culture of his native Uganda.

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Samuel Kinyua, Director of Operations, Kenya

Samuel Kinyua first started with How to Draw a Lion in Nakuru, Kenya in 2017 and in only 3 years - and at the age of 24 - has taken over as a Director for the whole country.  This is indicative not only of his immense talent but also his unstoppable work ethic. All by himself Sam has built a loyal Kenyan clientele for his animal paintings, commissioned portraits and abstract works.  In addition he started taking on his own students and was able to take over classes at HEAL - Raising Our World from HTDL founder John Platt in 2020.  He continues teaching and painting in Nairobi and travels throughout the country on projects and to cultivate new young talent.

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Michelle Russell, Board Chairman

Michelle "Miki" Russell has been a supporter of How to Draw a Lion since it's very first show. She has extensive experience working with vulnerable children and families in New York and East Africa; including at two of our partner organizations: The Small Things and Rift Valley Children's Village in Tanzania. Miki holds a Bachelors degree in Psychology from Loyola University and a Masters Degree in Social Work focusing on international policy and child welfare. 

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Kathleen Lahey, Board Treasurer

Kathy is a Vice President in the Goldman Sachs Family Office based in New York City. The Goldman Sachs Family Office provides Multi-Family Office services for highest net worth client families, including income tax, philanthropic and estate planning, insurance and benefits planning, as well as retirement and cash flow planning.  Prior to joining Goldman Sachs, Kathy worked at Price Waterhouse as a Certified Public Accountant.  Kathy earned her MBA from Columbia University and graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting with a minor in Information Systems.   She, is a New York State Certified Public Accountant and has her NASD Series 7 and 63 certification as well as insurance licenses.  

Teressa Walsh, Board Member

Teressa is the Director of Development for The Small Things, an international NGO that operates in Nkoaranga, Tanzania and serves over 150 children and families. While pursuing her undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology at Stony Brook University, she conducted independent research in the Meru District on challenges and gains of orphaned and vulnerable children in the developing world and has spent a significant period of time living and working in the East African region. She is particularly interested in supporting lean initiatives that work to build organizational capacity, as HTDL so effectively does. 

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Dr. Sophie Bellenis, Board Member

Sophie Bellenis (b. 1988) is a pediatric occupational therapist from the North Shore of Massachusetts, who believes in art’s incredible power to help children develop their creativity, emotional regulation, and fine motor skills.  Initially brought to Tanzania by a joint love of working with children and travel, she landed at The Rift Valley Children’s Village.  Since then, she has spent much of the past five years providing education enrichment and occupational therapy services in this area.  In May of 2017, Sophie finished her doctoral work at the MGH Institute of Health Professions. This focused primarily on non-profit program evaluation and cultural competency at The Plaster House, a wonderful pediatric post-surgical rehabilitation home in Arusha, Tanzania. 


Gabrielle Rechler, Board Member

Gabrielle Rechler was fortunate enough to volunteer at the Rift Valley Children’s Village in 2013. She then attended Marymount Manhattan College and received her BFA in Acting and her BA in Business with a concentration in arts management. After graduating summa cum laude in 2017, she worked in her alma mater’s Office of Institutional Advancement, where she focused on fundraising for the MMC’s Annual Fund, as well as helped develop the College’s Alumni Outreach program. Today, she is at the helm of her family’s foundation, Rechler Philanthropy, whose objective is to spearhead social, economic and environmental change on a local and global level.

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