By Danielle Rifkin
Yesterday was finally our first day at work in Cambodia, where we had the incredible opportunity to spend the day making art with over 60 children at Anjali House, one of the many NGOs we are partnering with while we are here. Anjali House is based in Siem Reap and offers free healthcare, food, drinking water, and education to children and their families that might otherwise be working on the streets. As their mission states, “We believe that no child should be forced to beg or work. We believe that they have the right to enjoy their childhood—to learn, play, make friends and grow in a safe and happy environment. These are basic rights that no child should be denied.” Anjali House was first started by the Angkor Photo Association, a non-profit in France that puts on a photography festival every year in Siem Reap. They taught a week long dance and photography workshop for street kids that ended with a performance and exhibition. The successful ending lead to the kids finding “a sense of empowerment, pride, and personal achievement.” Since then it has slowly grown into the much more extensive “House” it is today, working to find more moments for the children to celebrate.
With all this in mind, while at Anjali House, we decided to build a sand tray and miniatures that gave the children an opportunity to create a small world for storytelling and creativity. In art therapy, sand tray can often play out stories that parallel the children’s own lives in safe way, see the universal in their challenges, and lead to the potential for resolution through play. In order to make sure the children had all the necessities for storytelling, we established five stations of art making including: creatures (people, pet rocks, and felted furry friends), transportation (bikes, tuk–tuks, cars, buses), nature (trees, flowers, grass), structures (homes, ladders, bridges, tables), and food (fruit, treats, cambodian cuisine, coke). We had two groups of children, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and within those half days, the children rotated amongst the stations by class. At the end of the art making, we gathered outside to share the creations and demonstrate how to use the sand tray to build a world and then play out a story.
There are so many moments I will hold on to from this day, and I am sure each one of us could ramble on for hours about how we were touched by this experience. Here are a few I am lucky enough to share with you:
- I was greeted by a sweet, smiling girl named Daney. I told her my name was Danielle. In realizing how similar our names were, her smile got even wider and she gave me a high five.
- An intensely focused boy building an incredibly sound house giving me constant directions on where to glue
- A sweet little girl with a large bow in her hair sneaking closer and closer to me to observe what I was doing until we touched hands and shared a smile
- Two little boys sitting in the corner using the tuk–tuks and bicycles to create their own story
- Teaching children to make flowers out of tissue paper without the need for words
- Seeing the pride of one of the girls when I asked for her autograph when she showed me some photos that she had published in a book
- Watching other people in our group lead introductions and demonstrations and being blown away by their skills, presence and engagement
- The amazing inventiveness and resourcefulness of the children, putting my creative skills to shame
After a long, active, and hot day, I sat in a tuk–tuk heading back to the hotel glowing – not only from my sweat, but from an appreciation for the amazing work Anjali House is accomplishing and for allowing us to join them for a day of art making and play. I also wondered if any of the children were impacted as much as I was by the experience and if they learned as much as I did from working with them.
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