By Meg Hamilton, Art Therapy Student
photograph by Meg Hamilton from Didi: Sister, A Conversation on Nepali Womanhood
The NCAS-I team has been working with enthusiasm and purpose to ask local artists and art therapists to participate in the Small Resource=Big Possibilities Art Auction Gala. Again and again we are finding this project to be meaningful to everyone we talk to. We have endless inspirational stories and synchronistic moments.
While these stories have fueled our success and motivated us to strive to seed the project for the next three years we have not forgotten the underlying purpose we began the project with: to contribute to and grow from the collaboration of cross-cultural art therapy research and training.
Recently in a discussion about the project a student was asked, “Why not just raise $20,000 and send it to Cambodia directly?”
We thought this was an important question. One that deserved our thoughtful attention and response. It is a complex issue and sorting out the various degrees of globalization, privilege, and economics is a bit daunting.
However it is in considering such a question that we are able to examine our individual intentions for participating in the trip, to recognize our assumptions, and to begin noting the tangible learning that is taking place.
Here’s our answer to that question: One of our primary reasons for investing in a global partnership and social justice issue is that increasingly we are become aware of what has often proved to be the detrimental affects of globalization on developing countries. Often the influx of Western culture and ideals leaves these cultures permanently altered and dependent on developed nations for support. In considering participating in a globalized world we feel one of the most appropriate ways to collaborate is to share skills that offer empowerment rather than dependence. These things don’t run out; money does.
This brings me to my next point- the role of a “privileged helper.” It is a slippery slope to enter an unfamiliar culture with the intentions of offering help. Power hierarchies form rapidly- and are inherently in place when privilege plays a role. And privilege plays a big, big role. Simultaneously art therapy is field that is categorized as a helping profession. So how do we navigate the privileged idea of help while also acknowledging this is in fact what we would like to do?
We are dedicated to the idea of mutual helping; as we strive to offer skills and training that may benefit Transitions we are also receiving immense help ourselves. This help comes in the form of invaluable education about the culture, the issue of sex trafficking, and relational growth. The collaboration we hope to engage in is rooted in the value of community and the profound impact of being seen and learning to see in an unfamiliar environment. This is the core of why we want to go on this trip. In participating relationally the benefit of a global partnership has the potential to be magnified well beyond the limits of dollars and cents.
This learning happened for me when I travelled to Nepal in 2007 to examine sex trafficking there. I worked with women living in a safe house, some of whom had been trafficked. On my last night in Nepal I sat with the women who lived there and we shared our stories. One woman told of how she had been sold by her husband at the age of 14. She lived in a brothel in Mumbai for 9 years before escaping. I shared my story after each of the women had a chance to tell theirs. Abuse played a significant role in my life and it was important to me to share this. When I finished telling my story, the woman who had been trafficked looked at another woman and said, “Her story and my story are the same.” I am still amazed by the profound feeling of being seen and of sharing healing that I experienced in that moment.
It is with these experiences in mind that I am motivated to continue this work. In building relationships and teaching skills those of us traveling to Cambodia will constantly be challenged to check the role of privilege in our intentions and actions. The mutual learning we hope to engage with by doing this is what motivates us to go rather than to send money.
I say all of this and simultaneously acknowledge the fact that it takes a.lot.of.money. to run an NGO as large and successful as Transitions. We hope that our fundraising allows us the opportunity to contribute to their financial success as well. But at the end of the day it is our desire to learn, to see, and to work with the suffering of the world that inspires us to move forward. And we are honored to have the opportunity to do this with Transitions.