by, Aimee Palladino
As we transition from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s largest city and the country’s capitol, we are excitedly starting our work with Transitions, the organization with whom we are partnered. Yesterday, NCAS-I attended an orientation with Athena Pond, founder and director of Transitions, to learn more about our collaboration with them. This meeting was the culmination of several months of laborious planning, fundraising, and anticipation. After so many hours devoted to making this collaboration a reality, the actual moment of sitting and engaging with Athena was inspirational and affirming. All our aspirations about this organization were confirmed — Transitions, and the people who run it, are phenomenal. Their work in providing after-care and rehabilitation for young girls who have been sex trafficked is informed, heart-centered, effective and culturally sensitive. They offer holistic rehabilitation services that focus on successful and sustainable reintegration. At the foundation of this process is shifting from approaching the girls’ future based on survival to potential — as Athena said, freedom for these girls “begins with a dream”.
I approached this meeting full of questions and wonderings. Through my past week in Cambodia, I have found myself churning and swirling with all of the layers of this experience — the personal (and transpersonal), educational, and professional. I am at once a traveler, an artist, a student and an emerging therapist. As NCAS-I’s mission statement says, I am a “guest and learner” here. As a result, I entered our meeting with Transitions replete with thoughts — how does Cambodia’s traumatic past inform their collective psychology? How can opportunities for creative expression empower individuals within a country where artistic expression has been so arrested? How is sex trafficking embedded with cultural gender norms and socioeconomic factors? Our meeting with Transitions helped me sink more deeply into the complex, shadowy and nuanced aspects of this work. It clarified and contextualized the role we will play over the next few weeks here.
As art therapists, we offer the unique ability to offer ‘art as therapy’. Staying true to NCAS-I’s roots as a community art studio model, our art projects with the girls will provide opportunities for them to deepen their relationship with the creative process and manifest imagination, emotion and unique expression through various art materials. This model becomes particularly effective given the trauma of sex trafficking and perhaps even the collective trauma that Cambodia experienced under the control of the Khmer Rouge (artistic engagement was nearly eliminated under their leadership). Cultural openings for unique artistic expression seem to just now be reemerging in Cambodia. As a result, NCAS-I’s work with Transitions crosses an interesting intersection of art, culture, history, and trauma.
Over the next few weeks, we will be offering six arts-based experientials, staff trainings in arts-based therapeutic work and self-care, and a mural project. Tomorrow is our first meeting with the girls where we will be making handmade journals! We are extremely excited to offer this opportunity to engage in creativity, community and relationship. In addition to facilitating this first art project, tomorrow NCAS-I will also be visiting The Raggamuffin Project, an INGO that has been introducing creative arts therapy to psycho-social organizations in Cambodia. As we further shape our global understanding of art therapy, this meeting will certainly contribute to our knowledge about arts-based healing in Cambodia. We imagine tomorrow will bring rich and amazing experiences and we hope you check back to hear stories from the day!