NCAS-I Invited to Speak at the 10th International Conference of the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA)



Seeds Sown From the Killing Fields: Tending to the Lotus Flower

The Cambodian people are among the most brutally traumatized people in recent history, marked by years of inexplicable violence, political corruption and economic despair. The effects of the Khmer Rouge and the plan of Pol Pot’s regime to “purify” the country by killing nearly a third of the population still resides in the minds and hearts of every Cambodian today. 

It is hard to know how or if the Cambodian people will ever overcome this horrendous past and how it permeates their present day to day lives. Vulnerability is still high and the task to just “stay alive” is what most Cambodians, especially the very poor, wake up to every day. 

While on their 3-week service-learning trip to Cambodia in May of 2012, it became apparent to this panel of faculty and students that there was a larger economical and political landscape informing the prevalence of human rights violations taking place. In particular we saw the past inherited by young girls rescued from the sex trafficking industries in Phnom Penh and poor children who had been taken off the streets of Seim Reap.  The history of all these children is entangled with abuse and neglect, domestic violence, addiction, HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty – relics from years past.

Our idealistic goal to actively engage with NGOs toward social justice was a much more serious endeavor and humbling mission then we ever imagined – there was little change our suitcases full of art materials could make.  It was easy to have such a lofty goal given our privilege as educated, white Americans. We had much more to learn from the Cambodian people than we could ever expect to share with them.

What we hoped to gain on this trip was more than realized.  We introduced art therapy techniques to train staff how to help themselves and their clients.  We taught ways toward self-care and helped to develop art based curriculums that would yield more expression.  We talked about trauma, pain, and the efficacy of art making to heal wounds. We made art with many children, engaged in silent dialogue and made meaningful connections that transcended the need for words. We drew, cut, glued, colored, stitched, stuffed, made and wove and every now and then caught a glimpse into the pain and promise the children of Cambodia hold.  And we learned a lot about ourselves too.  Our own need to “fix” and make better, our assumptions of how we could, and our own pain in realizing what little we actually could do, other than allowing ourselves to be still, open our minds and hearts, and listen deeply.

There were many valuable resources that informed our work in preparation for this trip, books such as Art Therapy and Social Action (Kaplan, 2007), Art and Action (Levine & Levine, 2011), Art Therapy in Asia (Kalmanowitz, D., Potash, J.S., & Chan, S.M., 2012), Never Fall Down (McCormick, 2012), Sex trafficking (Farr, 2004), Half the Sky (Kristof & WuDunn, 2010) and many more but nothing informed us more than the people of Cambodia themselves.

 This panel will discuss our learning goals and how we were able to meet those goals, which includes 1.) Cultural Learning, 2.)  Art Therapy Learning, 3.) Personal Growth, and 4.) Project Development. 

Sustainability of our efforts is a must; continued participation with the organizations we formed partnerships is the only way to make an impact in bringing art therapy to these populations, and it is not something to be done alone. This is a collaborative effort on many fronts that involves a global community and all constituents are important members.  This includes not only the NGO’s and our team, but artists, therapists, social activists and all people interested in stopping human suffering.


Farr, K (2004) Sex trafficking: The global market in women and children. Worth Publishers (1st edition).

Kaplan, F. (Ed.). (2007). Art therapy and social action.  Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.

Kristof, N and WuDunn, S. (2010) Half the sky: Turning oppression into opportunity for women.  Vintage

Levine E., & Levine, S. (Eds.). (2011). Art in action: Expressive arts therapy and social change. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.

McCormick, P. (2012) Never fall down. Balzar &Blay.

Ngor, H. with Warner, R. (1987). Survival in the killing fields. MacMillen Publishers.





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