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Bringing Smiles, One ‘Happy Room’ at a Time

A widow uses vivid colors to transform rooms into places that lift people’s spirits.

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Bringing Smiles, One ‘Happy Room’ at a Time

, South Pacific Adventist Record

Iris Landa decorated her first “Happy Room” a few years after her husband died.

It was time to move on from her grief and make some changes. She moved all the old brown furniture out of the study, repainted it in bright colors, had orange carpet laid, added green seats, murals on the walls and colorful shelves. The room was transformed.Iris Landa, left, with a friend. (Facebook)

Then a friend from Africa, Alice Ouma, visited and sat in this room. Alice smiled and said how happy she felt. After she returned to Africa, Alice showed photos of the room to the widows she ministered to and it had the same positive effect on them.

When Iris heard this, she decided she would do more about spreading happiness by creating more Happy Rooms.

A decade later she has decorated 27 rooms in 10 countries and brought smiles to hundreds — perhaps thousands — of people across the world. And in the process she has earned the nickname, “The Rainbow Lady.”

Iris recently visited Papua New Guinea at my invitation. Iris and I had previously painted Happy Rooms in Kenya. This time we blitzed Pacific Adventist University, outside Port Moresby, painting a hallway in the School of Nursing and an elementary school classroom on the campus. Many eager students and some budding artists joined the fun.

The second place to paint was the Haus Clare Crisis Centre activities room in the city of Lae, where unwanted, hurting, abused and runaway street children are cared for until safe longer-term accommodation can be found. Painting this room was a delight for everyone, and each of the 23 children, aged 3 to 15 years, was able to paint their own fish or piece of coral with Iris’s patient and careful guidance.

Iris Landa, left, standing in a repainted "Happy Room" with Joy Butler in Papua New Guinea. (Facebook)

The final stop was Sopas Hospital, high in the misty mountains at Wabag. The pediatric ward now has paintings of six colorful and spectacular species of bird-of-paradise on its walls as well as a rainbow, Iris’s signature piece. Although she has lived in California for many years, Australian-born Iris was excited to bring her Happy Room ministry to her “own” South Pacific Division for the first time.

She described Papua New Guinea as beautiful in every way and was always positive and enjoyed every moment. She radiates happiness and joy to everyone she meets. Iris endeavors to inspire those who assist her and patiently teaches and guides their eager hands. She described the trip as one filled with “explosive blessings.”


New Zealand national Joy Butler is a retired church and community volunteer based in Papua New Guinea. To see more of Iris Landa’s work, visit her Facebook page.

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