To summarize …….. and thank you.

Blog written by Sue Wallingford


After over 32 hours of flight and layovers and my first nights sleep in my own familiar bed I look out the window at the Colorado mountains I have come to love.  The early morning air coming from the window is crisp and cool and I find myself breathing deeply this fresh air.  The sky, big and wide displays an early morning thunderstorm, and familiar bird sounds bring me back home.  Such a contrast to the place I just left….and I already miss my new home……Cambodia.

I left Cambodia feeling full, and very blessed. I think we all did.

Marissa and Emma left first, on Wednesday morning, flying back home.  Meg, Katie M, Tracey, Arianna, and Aimee flew to Bangkok, to vacation on the Thailand beaches, Katie H. furthered her time in Burma, and I left late Wednesday night.  I was the last to say goodbye to the girls and staff at Transitions, our hotel family, and our ever faithful tuk tuk driver, Mr. Sothea.  I held back tears with every single goodbye.

How does one summarize an experience like the one the NCAS-I team just had for the past three weeks, one that we have worked, planned for and dreamed about for the last year and a half?  How does one bring closure to an experience that has changed us all in measurable and immeasurable ways?  There is no way I will be able to even come close to sharing the immensity, richness and fullness of this trip.  We can and have shared stories and showed pictures along the way but to really explain the depth of it all, and particularly the beauty and gracious nature of the people we met is impossible.  There just are no words.

Early on the in the development of NCAS-I we wrote the following mission statement:

“NCAS-I expands the boundaries of the Naropa University Community Art Studio from local to global. Rooted in the principle of collaboration and a belief in the innate wisdom, creativity, and interdependence of all, we, the art therapy graduate students and faculty, seek active engagement with social justice organizations around the world. We will use art therapy practices to help relieve suffering and maintain a vision of unity, as guests and learners in the communities we serve.”

I marvel at the foresight we had in the very beginning when we wrote this statement. I feel proud and deeply satisfied that we have been able to accomplish what we set out to do and that our mission was fulfilled.  Our plan to bring healing through art to the people of Cambodia was wrought with active engagement (external and internal), and collaboration.  Our aim to bring relief to suffering through the practice of art making was realized and became our own practice as we struggled to work with the harsh realities of this country.

While our intention in the beginning was to work with one NGO, Transitions Global, we found ourselves being asked to join forces with other human rights organizations.  In the three short weeks we were there we also worked with Anjali House, an organization that takes children off the streets and provides free healthcare, food, clean drinking water and education.  We talked with Ragamuffin, a grass roots NGO committed to bringing the expressive arts to relieve emotional pain and psychological damage in children and adults, about how we might collaborate in the future.  We spent some time volunteering at an orphanage in Phnom Penh that takes in abandoned and disabled babies and young children.  There we held babies, painted, danced and played with the children.  They asked us to come back next year.  We visited Arn Chorn Pond’s country home and learned from him first hand about the atrocities that happened to the Khmer people during the Khmer Rouge and the rule of Pol Pot.  We visited his Cambodian Living Arts Center and played music with students committed to bringing the traditional arts back to the people of Cambodia.  We had long conversations with the hotel staff, our tuk tuk driver, NGO workers, ex-pats and many other Cambodian people about politics, religion, art and culture.  Assumptions and personal values were constantly challenged, transformed, sometimes dropped and sometimes deepened.

Our visit to Silk Island, the Killing Fields, the National Museum, Oudong Temple Stupa, Cambodian Art Galleries, the countryside and Angkor Wat helped to teach us about the history and culture of the Cambodian People.  The bus rides, tuk tuk and moto rides exposed us to the day to day living of the Cambodian people.  Encounters with monkeys, lizards, exotic birds, stray dogs and cats, oxen, pigs, hens, fresh caught fish, spiders, crickets and other unidentifiable bugs brought us up close (and sometimes personal) to the richness of the Cambodian landscape.  The food delighted, nourished, tantalized, disgusted and sometimes made us physically ill.  The sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of this place will forever be a part of me and are indelibly marked in my soul. I fill grateful and full of every bit of it, and I am forever changed.

But mostly I will never forget the people, the warm smiles, the soft voices, the gentle nature of the Cambodian people, despite their immense suffering, fills me with love and deep appreciation.  We have much to learn and many to thank.

Thank you beautiful people of Cambodia –  the staff at Transitions, Vibol Luy, Pisey Chan Leng, Long Sola, Na Vy and Vann Nourn.   Pam Harvey, Athena and James Pond, Summer and Jenny. Sally Hetherington and the staff at Anjali House;  Li Wen and the sisters at the orphanage.  Mr Sothea, our tuk tuk driver, and all the staff at Anise, but especially Mr. Sophal, Mr. Sopheak,  and “T”; to Carrie and Kit at Raggamuffin; Mitch and all the staff at Lotus Lodge, but especially to Sydet (our waitress) and Nam, our driver; to Arn Chorn Pond, the people at the Cambodian Living Arts Center, and the crew of Cambodian “MYTV,” and all the other people who made us feel so comfortable.  Thank you to the unnamed people who shared their smiles, their pain, their outstretched hands and open hearts.  And mostly thank you to the girls at Transitions brave enough to share their art and move forward on their difficult journey toward wholeness.

Thank you Naropa University – Naropa Graduate School of Psychology, the TCP faculty and staff, Advancement and MARCOM, especially Christy Holden, Dana Lobell, Andrea Auguiste and Danielle Mason, Danielle Poitras, and Lisa Trank, and Patti Warren too; Todd Kilburn and Matt Peterson, MacAndrew Jack, Carol Blackshire-Belay, and President John Cobb.  The art therapy team, especially Michael Franklin, Leah Friedman-Spohn, and Kate Schettler. Thanks for the continued support from our fabulous art therapy alumni and ATACO community, especially Abby Jacobs, Marilyn Raye-Osmon, Jackie Vandenbovenkamp, Lisa Schaewe, Erin Brumleve and the ever amazing Mimi Farrelly.

Thank you to all the artists that participated in our fundraisers, the Painting Marathon Rely and the Small Resources=Big Possibilities Gala and the support from family and friends that could not join us for these events but held us up from afar.  Thanks to our blog followers, twitter and facebook friends from all over the world.

Special thanks to the Jenzabar Foundation,the Quota Club and Vagina Monologues, who have supported us in big ways so we can continue this work.  Thanks to all the other donors who have been behind us too, CROCS, The Cup, The Oddfellows Club, The Millenium Hotel, Guirys, Illegal Petes, Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins, Yellow Deli, Breadworks, 8 Days a Week, Serendipity Arts, Oxford Gardens, Moe’s Bagels, Three Leaf Catering Company, Eats and Sweets, Sterling Drive Studios and Open Studios, The Peanut Butter Players, Mike Kane and Emma Wallingford.  And thanks to my generous and supportive husband, Jay Wallingford.

Mostly though, I want to thank the NCAS-I team who have given tireless hours and endless dedication to this work for the past year and a half – Katie Hanczaryk, Meg Hamilton, Tracey Kane, Katie Markley, Marissa Grassmick, Aimee Paladino and Arianna Tosatta, Stephanie Andres, Averill Hovey and Mollie Reiss and all the art therapy students who stayed home. This project would never have happened had it not been for you, and your faith in our vision.  I will never ever forget you.

It really does take a village …… a global one.  Thank you, village.

And we aren’t done yet.  Please stay tuned and watch for more stories and pictures in the days and weeks to come.

One thought on “To summarize …….. and thank you.

  1. Your summary is rich in clear detail. You painted many pictures with your words. I look forward to the paintings with paint. Susan

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