Lehigh Valley

Refugee artist uses struggles to make a difference

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A local artist who moved from Pakistan to the Lehigh Valley is using his paintings to influence young people and keep them off the streets.

In a small apartment above a Seventh Street business in Allentown, Moen Haider is changing childrens' lives.

"In this neighborhood there is no gallery no museum no painting no books. They had no idea because before me they have never seen these things, I mean they were struggling to survive," he said.

Haider has introduced young people to his source of survival, which is art.

From wall to wall, Haider's murals cover the apartment and tell stories 19-year-old Dom Papa says touch his soul.

"It's just because they are true. I look at them and I saw oh wow this speaks truth," Papa said.

But the apartment wasn't always this way.

"It reminds me of when I came here just like the dungeons when I was in Pakistan," Haider said.

In Pakistan, Haider said he was tortured and thrown in prison for fighting for human rights and teaching women how to read, but instead of getting upset at the memories the apartment brings back he looks at the dark place in a whole new light.

"I thought why not enjoy that miserable situation and have some new meaning of it," he said.

In three years, he transformed the apartment into a showplace, but with paint brushes and pallets scattered there's no room for a bed.

He sleeps on the floor.

Haider said it's all worth it to teach children who he says may not have the most money, but have the most passion.

"More educated than the kids I saw in Lehigh and Pakistan, higher education institutions," he said.

"So they can see it better than the rich people and wealthy people that are lost in everything that they have," Papa said.

Haider said he's had ups and downs, but understands how the underdog mentality brings out imagination. 

"You have to be robbed in your life, you have to be beaten and you have to be humiliated and it gives you more insight than a person who has never been," said Haider.

Unfortunately, the inspirational artwork that he says shifted kids in the right direction won't stay.

Haider has been forced to leave the apartment, but he's doing shows and exhibits all over the city because his artwork may have been washed away on Seventh Street, but his influence will never fade.

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