Response Art, Therapist Identity

By Emily Seagrave

Creating response art became a regular practice used to reflect on my experiences in Cambodia. On a daily basis, I found myself drawn to hands: brought together to show respect with a bow, gesturing a connection with a stranger, reflecting strength and wisdom through a lifetime of use – washing, blessing, healing, creating, holding, and embracing. My drawings capture the sentiment of some of these daily observations.

imageAdditionally, as part of the closing ceremony to mark the end of our time together in Cambodia, Sue gave us each a small piece of Cambodian clay and asked us to create an image of our therapist identity. A similar theme continued and two hands joined together emerged from the clay to symbolize the many relationships developed in Cambodia through the art process. In my therapist identity, after three weeks of serving and learning, I have come to strongly believe in art’s ability to build  relationships; bringing us together, hand in hand, even in the face of challenging histories and cultural differences.

Please note that while individual members have varying views on topics discussed in our blog, NCAS-I as a whole honors multiple perspectives, within respectful reason, and does not aim to censor material shared in our blog writings.  So please keep this in mind while reading our blogs.  And please feel free to add your perspective too.

Repost: In Honor and Celebration of the Life of Peggy Chambers, 1927-2013

Saint Peggy Shrine

Posted on March 25, 2013

Blog by Sue Wallingford

Most of you who read this blog have probably already heard the story of how NCAS-I got it’s seed money.  But with the Small Resources=Big Possibilities Gala only weeks away, and being that I am a southern girl in love with a good story, I think it needs retelling.  If you don’t know this story, enjoy, if you do, enjoy a new and improved version. Because besides being a good southern girl, I have to be a good story teller too, so the story I tell has to be more embellished than the times I told it before.

So, the story goes like this…

My mama was born and breed in the hills of Ky.  She is a descendent of a strong and prideful Scotch-Irish heritage.  True to the characterization of many forks from this descent, she is generous of heart but sometimes stingy with her finances.  It’s not that she is selfish it’s just that she wants to make sure her money goes to the right place, and the right cause, where nothing will be wasted, not even a dime.

For years my mama would give $50 to a charity in all her children’s name for birthdays and Christmas.  Even though I was happy she did this, and I approved of the charities she supported, I wanted her to give to a cause that was close to my heart, so we had a running argument about this for years.  I wanted her to donate to the Naropa Art Therapy Program instead, but no amount of encouragement could convince her that this was a worthy cause.  Did I say my mama was stubborn too?   Anyway, finally, one Christmas, two years ago, my mama gave me a check for $50 and said with a bit of sarcastic chagrin , “Spend it however you want!”

“Humph”, I thought, I’ll show you I can make good use of this money!”  Did I mention that I am stubborn too?  I carried this check around with me for months, scared to death I would spend it in the wrong place, and disgrace generations of my family honor.  God forbid, I spend it wrongly and make for wasted use of money.  Then, one day, like a bolt of lightning, while some students and I were talking about ways to make money, the thought came to me, “Small Resources=Big Possibilities, I’ll buy as many matchboxes as this money will buy, and we will have a grand fundraiser!  I’ll show my mom that I can take that money, not only put it toward a good cause, but also make money too!”  Something else my mom valued, turning a little money into a lot.

So, I went out, without a second thought (thank goodness) and bought 500 matchboxes, and still had money leftover.  Now a year and a half later, that $50 has turned into over $75,000, and has enabled NCAS-I students to travel to Cambodia and work with girls who have suffered years of abuse from the trauma of sex trafficking.  My mom is proud that the money was put to such good use.  She beams a gratified smile when I tell her the results, and of course denies the part of the story about her stinginess.  But that’s ok, because we both know it makes for a better story.

I have spent the past few days in Ky with my mom, at the home and place where I grew up.  She is very sick and her days are few now.  We have shared many memories, talked about past generations, especially as it has to do with women’s equality.  My mom has always been a good and genteel southern woman, very proper and socially graceful, but strong too in her beliefs about women’s rights.   She is also an artist, and spent her young adult years painting and teaching art, until she had her four children, and then she committed her life to raising us.  She also, like her mother and my grandmother, has a fondness for little things; she has always collected miniatures to display in her curio cabinet.  Yes, she really has one of those.

So, it seemed right that I make a matchbox, with my mama, while I have been home, as a way to honor and commemorate her life.  She has been an unsung hero for the most part, with my dad getting most the accolades, even though she was a master bridge player and the first woman in my hometown to serve on the city council.  She raised four kids over 35 years (we were spread apart), she was a elder in the church, and recently was honored as an “Elder Emeritus,” by the Presbyterian church, which she is very proud of.  And she taught me everything I know about being a good woman, a good mother, and an artist.  She has taught me about what it means to fight for what is right, and to spend my money well.  She is my hero, my mama, and I am blessed to have her.

So in making this little matchbox, entitled “Saint Peggy Shrine,” my mama told me how she wanted it to be designed.  Did I tell you she is a little bossy?  She picked out the colors.  She loves blue and gold, and she picked out the wallpaper in the background, She picked out the dress I gave her.  She loved the idea of being enshrined as a queen.  :o )  The embellishments are all from her costume jewelry collection, and the words, like her, are beautiful, simple and from her heart, “Life is a Gift.”


My mom is a gift to me, and she has been a gift to this project, and I want everyone to know that.  Thanks for letting us share this story.  Maybe next time it is told, it will be even better.

Contracting & Expanding

By Bethany Wells

For some of us it is the halfway point of our trip, others are nearing the end, and there is much to process. We have just arrived in the southernmost region of Cambodia, an incredibly lush, serene, tropical and rural area near Kep. A stark contrast to the bustling city of Phnom Penh where we spent the last week. I am grateful for this moment to reflect as I feel full to overflowing with stories, information, connections, beauty, sadness, confusion, helplessness, and guilt… the weight of it all.

Some of our original plans in Phnom Penh had fallen through and I was nervous about the lack of direct “client contact” hours, as I am eager for experience in the field of cross-cultural art therapy. However, in the way that life and adventures like these unfold, I was reminded of the importance of trusting the unknown; trusting what needs to arrive.It turned out to be a wildly educational and deeply impactful week. With the wide range of experiences I was in a constant dance- contracting and expanding, expanding and contracting, feeling my heart break open with stories of suffering and tragedy, and then watching it soar with every inspirational person who crossed our path, bravely speaking their truth, helping others to grieve and heal, and actively working to change things. We have met many people who despite what they have lived through, and what they hear about and witness on a daily basis, haven’t lost their light, joy or humor. These are my heroes, my guides.

We visited Choeng Ek, or “The Killing Fields”, where over 20,000 men, women and children were brutally executed. We walked through Tuol Sleng, or “S-21”, the largest security prison in Cambodia, which was used for detaining and torturing people. Visiting the National Museum and the Royal Palace revealed more information about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, as well as Cambodia’s current political system, the significance of spirituality, relevance of ritual, and connection to the past. It is fascinating to be in a place where every single individual is so presently affected by war.

While exploring this energetic city and eating on the river front we were confronted with the deeply disturbing and largely enigmatic industry of sex tourism, and intense poverty. To further our research several of us went to a “girly bar” on a strip that men frequent in search of Cambodian prostitutes. We sat at the corner of the bar and shared a pitcher of beer, knowing we would be uncomfortable which is okay; it is after all why we’re here. After many young, heavily made-up women scoped us out and determined we were not their usual customers, they offered us board games like Connect Four and Jenga, and proceeded to mercilessly beat us at them. They also laughingly taught us Khmer dance moves and made fun of us because our hands didn’t bend the way theirs did. Most of the girls actually seemed to be enjoying themselves, though this appearance could be well trained. There was one girl however that I felt especially curious about.  It was her first night there and she looked miserable. She tried to fake flirtation and enthusiasm but her eyes just kept looking off, her thoughts far, far away. I wanted so badly to hear her story but the language barrier kept us from sharing in words. All the girls were touching us, asking if we wanted massage, playing little games like “I got your nose”, but this particular woman just took my hand and held it to her heart for what seemed like hours. Her face was so sad. All my wonderful Naropa mindfulness techniques came to the surface and I was able to just be there with her, even though I felt rage, felt sick, felt so lost and helpless, felt guilty, felt all kinds of things, but with her heart in my hand I had a surreal calmness and strength which is why I believe we shared a quiet connection throughout the night.

We have seen lots of men, old and young, wealthy and not, mostly from the states and Europe, expressions of power, excitement, hunger, arousal, entitlement on their faces. It’s maddening. Knowing what we know of the trafficking and prostitution industry here, the connections we made with the women at CWCC, my emotions range from compassion to outrage and everything in between. I am constantly recognizing my privilege, how different my life has been, how different the roles offered and expected of me, and how important it is to not only be a witness, but to connect deeply to what I am seeing, and use my privilege through whatever methods or outlets I have to help facilitate lasting and effective change.

In addition to seeing the dark and grim realities of many Cambodians, we had several fascinating and inspirational visits with people who are actively involved in making things better, and are enthusiastic about collaboration with NCAS-I. Arn Chorn-Pond was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970’s. I just finished reading Never Fall Down, a book about his life, upon arriving to his rural hut on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. His experiences are utterly unfathomable, and his story is one of profound courage, intelligence, generosity and resilience. He is perhaps the single most beautiful person I have ever met. To be in the presence of someone who has lived through unthinkable inhumanity and witness his ability to suspend judgment, his capacity for forgiveness, and his seemingly inexhaustible positivity inspires me to never ever complain about my life again.

In addition to Arn, we had the great fortune of meeting Carrie Herbert, who runs Ragamuffin International, a mental health center in Phnom Penh. Carrie has a perspective, vibrancy, and way of being in the world that is captivating and restorative. We met with her for a morning of professional supervision and art making after our time spent at the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center and some of these more difficult activities. With care and grace she offered support for the grief we are experiencing for those who cannot hold their lives with choice, for those who had no say in the time or the way they died, and for those who don’t have the privilege of making meaning of it. Always reminding us to live with intention, and incorporating ritual, honor and connection to everything we are witnessing and learning about. I would love to come back here and work with her for the invaluable wisdom she has to offer.

No matter what horrors I learn about in this country, with the women at CWCC, with Arn, at the Killing Fields, with the poverty and injustice I see all around me—I still see smiling, happy faces everywhere I look. After learning about the multiple layers of trauma, I expect to see hardened, hurting, angry faces. Instead, in the cities I have visited, in the people I have encountered, there is brightness, openness, contentment and laughter. Generosity, sweetness, bravery, and vitality. I am floored and inspired by the human capacity for resilience. With every story of pain and suffering there is one of courage and survival. I am constantly striving to employ a larger perspective, not denying the shadow, but recognizing the depth and complexity of trauma and holding the darkness alongside the light.

In order to work with survivors of severe trauma, we must go to very deep places within ourselves. Carrie posed these questions which I am continuing to think about: What is this information, this visceral experience of witnessing the horrifying inhumanity of others bringing up in my own history? How can I let it connect to that place in myself? She reminded us of the importance of always remembering our lineage and the generations we are connected to, our country’s presence here. The importance of using art to give voice to the skulls and teeth rising up to the earth’s surface, and the bodies of women who are forcibly used for men’s pleasure. As an emerging therapist I will continue exploring the space between dissociation and over-identification; diving into the depths of the ugliness while not forgetting the strengths in myself, the support of those who are alongside me, and those who have gone before me.

Please note that while individual members have varying views on topics discussed in our blog, NCAS-I as a whole honors multiple perspectives, within respectful reason, and does not aim to censor material shared in our blog writings.  So please keep this in mind while reading our blogs.  And please feel free to add your perspective too.


Making Worry Dolls with the CWCC

By: Lisa Lamoreaux

For my intervention with Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC), I chose to introduce “Worry Yarn Wrap Dolls” with the staff and clients. Symptoms of trauma often include feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame, anxiety, and/or fear. The intention of this art directive was to help the participants to identify these concerns and disconnect from their issues or worries, allowing for “emotional energy” to be freed up (Nieves-Grafals, 2005, p. 196). The dolls would be a container capable of safely holding the fears, negative thoughts, or worries of the participants who made them.

Before leaving for Cambodia, I gathered what I thought would be a sufficient amount of supplies for making the dolls, including a bag of yarn donated by someone in the community. Upon arriving at the CWCC and seeing how many participants there were on the first day, I began to worry that I did not actually have enough yarn for everyone to make a doll. I was leading the “Worry Wrap Doll” intervention the following day and had no time to go buy more yarn. At this point, I began to get even more worried. The only thing I could do was try to alter the doll so it required less yarn to make. After brainstorming and changing things around, I had to simply wait for the next day to come and hope that we would not run out of yarn. When the time came to make the dolls, I introduced the intervention and everyone began working. As I walked around and helped the participants create their dolls, I forgot all about my worry and was able to have a great time engaging with the group members. In the end, we had yarn left over and everyone got the chance to create their own beautiful and unique dolls.

In leading the intervention for the “Worry Wrap Yarn Dolls” with the participants of the CWCC, I realized the importance of being flexible. I also learned to trust that things have a way of working themselves out and that maybe I didn’t need to worry so much. While at CWCC I had the great honor of meeting a wonderful group of people. I saw incredible resilience, strength, and humility. I felt so much joy when welcomed so openly into such an amazing community. I came away from this experience feeling I learned much more than I ever imagined I would.

new orlian and cambodia 198

Nieves-Grafals, S. (2005). Brief therapy of posttraumatic stress disorder in refugees. In T. A. Corales (Ed.), Trends in posttraumatic stress disorder research (p. 196). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Please note that while individual members have varying views on topics discussed in our blog, NCAS-I as a whole honors multiple perspectives, within respectful reason, and does not aim to censor material shared in our blog writings.  So please keep this in mind while reading our blogs.  And please feel free to add your perspective too.

Stories of Shadow and Light

By Erin Shannon

IMG_6247One of the unique tools of art therapy is the way it allows what is dual in nature to coexist. In the same drawing, the same painting, the same sculpture, you can create a home for opposing forces. Spending time with duality manifest can create discomfort, tension, peace, confusion, healing. Training to be an art therapist, I have learned to use this tool as a way to explore and validate the complex, conflicting and ultimately beautiful experiences of individual clients. Being human, after all, threads earth shattering beauty to heart breaking pain.

I witness this truth as I travel through Cambodia. It manifests in universal ways and in ways particular to this place. For instance, not unlike most corners of the world, there is evidence of sexual violence. I see it in the art assessments of the women and girls we worked with at Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC) and I see it in their body movements. In fact a critical part of our training here is to understand how trauma manifests in the body and why art is proven to help alleviate it. (If you missed it, see Emily’s post to learn about CWCC)

This universal shadow of sexual violence will live on as long as there are those who exert power over others, as long as raping a woman can earn you status and respect, as long as there are some who will turn a blind eye.

Shadow does not, however, exist without light. I see light in the staff and clients of CWCC. They are living proof that healing takes place in community. They are resilient. There is light in the comprehensive programming of organizations working to eradicate violence by counseling survivors and perpetrators and the communities they live in. CWCC in Cambodia and The Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN) in the United States are notable examples. If you know of others please add websites to the comments below.

IMG_6117I have witnessed shadow and light particular to Cambodia. I spent a few hours this morning walking around the Choeung Ek Genocidal Cetner in Phnom Penh. Over 20,000 people were murdered here. This is just one of 300 killing fields the Khmer Rouge maliciously designed to torture, murder and bury millions of innocent people. Wandering these grounds was a sobering experience. Every few months, the keepers of this place collect teeth and bones and shards of clothing that rise to the surface of the earth. Rainwater saturates the land, beckoning those who perished here to seep into the light of day. They cannot be ignored.

IMG_6225Can light be held to the shadow of historical trauma endured in this place? I cannot presume to know. What I can share are the messages of hope and calls to action shared by individuals I have met here.

Vanday drove us to the killing fields and along the way spit wisdom, openheartedly, with conviction. He implores us to speak truth. Today. If you die tomorrow, Vanday says, the truth lives beyond you; it can never die. He has written 2 books and will write his 3rd when he returns to university at the end of the year. He writes about fortifying the human resources of a country if it is to thrive. He believes strongly in the power of education.

Vanday is not the 1st person we have met to speak openly about politics in Cambodia. Danielle from our team travelled here 6 years ago and reports this is a major shift. There was, and continues to be, a great deal of fear about speaking candidly. Because the Khmer Rouge killed so many, Cambodia today is a nation of young people. Vanday predicts in another 20 years, these are the people who will come in to power. They have the potential to do so with reverence for human resources and human rights.

IMG_6200There is one more light I must speak of. We had the incredible fortune to visit Arn Chorn Pond at his home on the Mekong River. Arn’s story is incredible He was forced to become a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge. The atrocities he lived through are unimaginable. Arn survived the genocide because he played the flute. He was forced to play songs of propaganda to drown out the sounds of people being murdered.

Sitting together in a thatched hut near the river, listening to him play music and speak of his work, Arn posed the question to us again and again, “why not?” Why not seek out masters of traditional Cambodian music and have them teach young people? Why not teach 1 then 30 then 120 then 100,000 street kids skills to improve their lives? Why not? Why not purchase a bus? Fill it with musicians and carpet the countryside of Cambodia with music? Why not?

Arn knows music transforms pain. He tells us artists must come together. He knows – perhaps better than most – it is possible to be engulfed by shadow, to be angry, to isolate yourself. But we must come together and Act or the lives of those lost to injustice were lost in vain.

When I feel the darkness of shadow I sometimes lose hope. I can get mired in fear and certainty my action will never be enough. The injustices are too great. Too grave. I know amazing artists, activists, mothers, teachers, lawyers, warriors, and more, who see injustice and Act. Not to do so is not an option. I admire their energy and fortitude.

The light radiating from Arn is undeniable. I am inspired to keep my eyes open to the shadow around us and keep my heart open to the blinding light. I am inspired to use the privileges afforded me to help heal and prevent suffering. I will use art. I will seek community. I will fuel resilience. I will Act.

Why not?

IMG_6180Please note that while individual members have varying views on topics discussed in our blog, NCAS-I as a whole honors multiple perspectives, within respectful reason, and does not aim to censor material shared in our blog writings. So please keep this in mind while reading our blogs. And please feel free to add your perspective too.

Creativity: A Resource for Health and Well-Being

By Emily Seagrave

“Art therapy helps people experience increased well-being through a number of creative pathways that uniquely illuminate purpose and meaning and increase positive emotions and engagement” (Wilkinson & Chilton, 2013, p. 5).

So many of the experiences I have had in Cambodia – from working at Anjali House and CWCC to meeting human rights activist, Arn Chorn Pond, and countless other inspiring individuals – have highlighted the joy, hope, and strength alive in a country where there has been so much destruction. Each new experience I have informs those that came before it, adding more depth and meaning to my overall learning. And as I absorb my surroundings, more and more each day, I gain a better understanding of my role and my purpose in being here as a developing art therapist.

In particular, working with the staff and the clients at CWCC provided a clear example of how effective the creative process can be at providing, what Carrie Herbert, Arts Psychotherapist, as well as Co-Founder and Director of The Ragamuffin Project, called a reservoir of health and well-being for the people of Cambodia. While I continue to sit with many heartbreaking stories of individuals who have endured unimaginable traumas, I have witnessed joy and strength brought forth through art and the creative process. Watching the transformation of art materials during the “Open Studio” evenings at CWCC offered such rich experiences for bearing witness to the resourcefulness and strength born from creative expression. Balloons and newspaper intended to be used to create paper bowls suddenly transformed into beautiful lanterns embellished with hand carved stamps. Art materials exchanged hands and loosened the boundaries of the different art activities planned for the evening. The single individual who used her creative resources to transform the art materials into something unique pulled others in with the joy evident in her process, and by the end of the evening, a string of balloon lanterns adorned the doorway.

Bowls and lanterns 001IMG_6144Bowls and lanterns 005

Bowls and lanterns 003As Arn Chorn Pond and Carrie Herbert have both emphasized, creativity really is essential for communities to thrive. Working with the staff and children at Anjali House and the staff, women, and children at CWCC is proof of art’s capability to create an environment where individuals can utilize their own unique strengths to thrive. As a developing art therapist, I feel it is my job to identify and facilitate for clients those creative opportunities which do have the capacity to bring about individual strengths and ultimately promote health, well-being, and greater resilience in the face of future struggles.

I am grateful to those who have shared their stories of injustice and struggle and am equally moved to have witnessed their perseverance and resilience. I hold neither in vain, and I am fortunate to have such personal experiences informing my future work as an art therapist.

Bowls and lanterns 009Wilkinson, R. A. & Chilton, G. (2013). Positive art therapy: Linking positive psychology to art therapy theory, practice, and research. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 30(1), pp. 4-11.

Please note that while individual members have varying views on topics discussed in our blog, NCAS-I as a whole honors multiple perspectives, within respectful reason, and does not aim to censor material shared in our blog writings. So please keep this in mind while reading our blogs. And please feel free to add your perspective too.

The Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center


By Joanna Loftus

Over  the last three days we worked with a non-profit organization called The Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC).The organization was established  in 1997 by small group of women concerned about the affects of violence on Cambodian families. The mission of this organization is to support human rights  and provide assistance to women and children affected by  domestic violence. The CWCC also works with the perpetrators .

The time we spent at the CWCC was divided  into sharing theoretical knowledge about the use of art therapy with trauma and presenting practical interventions that can be used with the clients.  Our day of work included three parts.  In the morning, Sue Wallingford presented  material on Trauma Informed  Art Therapy. The presentations  were followed  by  practical interventions designed by  the students. This part of the day was closed by a discussion with the CWCC staff.

It was interesting to learn that a lot of the work done in the shelter already involved art therapy interventions. Although neither  of the counselors working for CWCC have a formal education in art therapy, they have been  successfully using art with their clients. One of the counselors shared with me how reassuring it was for her to learn that the techniques she has developed on her own have a theoretical base and are used by other therapists.

The second part of the day was open to both the staff and the residents of the shelter and was devoted to applications of art therapy. It was incredible to see how receptive and involved everybody was in the art making. All participants, even the youngest children, were able to sit for hours and work on their projects. The support and sense of community that united the staff and residents was something I had never seen before.

The day closed with an open studio during which the residents of the shelter were encouraged to engage in different types of art activities. This part of the day was much less formal and very playful. During this time I learned much about the individual participants and how important a sense of community is to Cambodians. I was really sad that I could not speak the language in order to  better connect with them. At the same time, the lack of ability to speak Khmer made me more vulnerable and, as result, more accessible. One of the women who had a difficult time interacting with others was able connect with me while she was trying to teach me some Khmer words. It was the only time I saw her laugh and look me in the eyes. I also think that for me, as an emigrant who is still learning English, it was much easier for me than for the rest of my classmates to interact on a nonverbal level. Still, I wonder how different my experience would be if I was able to understand the people I was working with. Also, I have no way of knowing how much of what I was trying to communicate was lost in translation.

Cambodia has a long and tragic history of violence that still affects many of its people today. The CWCC and other human rights organizations are collectively working toward preventing  violence and supporting survivors. The CWCC understands the need for a change. They are actively involved with political leaders and law enforcers to protect human rights. They also work directly with families affected by domestic violence. I feel  honored that I have had this opportunity to work with the CWCC and I am looking forward to applying the knowledge I have gained in my professional work.

Please note that while individual members have varying views on topics discussed in our blog, NCAS-I as a whole honors multiple perspectives, within respectful reason, and does not aim to censor material shared in our blog writings. So please keep this in mind while reading our blogs. And please feel free to add your perspective too.ImageImageImageImageImage

“Happy Garden”

By Alexa Pinsker


This past Friday, May 31st, I led the final art intervention for the CWCC (Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center) staff and clients.  I originally intended to have participants make “treasure boxes” from matchboxes.  These “treasure boxes” made from matchboxes could hold special objects, representations of their hobbies (my sample had a mini disco-ball), and other items that were close to their hearts.  I wanted to share the matchbox art project with them because it has been so integral in both the fundraising and spreading awareness of our service-learning trip.  As I worked with the staff and clients throughout the week I realized that I wanted to offer a second option as an art intervention which seemed more appropriate for the final day.  I presented them with the idea of making a “happy or special garden” from matchboxes and various remaining materials from the other art interventions and the matchbox gala. The directive was to make a garden using matchsticks and beads to make flowers  and to utilize the moss/grass.  The flowers represented dreams, wishes, prayers, hopes, and memories.

The combination of it being  the last day we would all be together making art,  and the simplicity and ease of making gardens created a very serene and calm atmosphere where people were speaking quietly and creating their magical little garden worlds.   After three days of intensive art making it seems   we had all settled into a comfortable routine of making art as a community.  The clients and staff exceeded any creative expectations I had for this project.  There were gardens with fences and stones, gardens with trellises covered with flowers, gardens that looked covered and private, and gardens that were lush and inviting.

As this was the closing activity I wanted the metaphor to extend to the closing circle.  When we were finished creating our gardens we all gathered in the shade outside in a large circle.  There were babies and children, and dogs included in this circle, as well as the clients, staff and NCAS-I members.  We made enough matchstick flowers so that each person would have one for their garden.  I explained that each person could choose a flower and add it to their garden and we would all share a memory, hope, dream, prayer or thought about our experience working together at CWCC.


It took time as about 40 people shared and we waited for the language to be translated from Khmer into English or vice versa, and it was hot and humid in the late afternoon.  Some people’s words were short and sweet, others more poetic and eloquent, but everyone took time to share even those that appeared painfully shy.  For me the moment that touched my heart was when a girl around the age of 12 shared that the last 3 days of art therapy had helped her to forget her troubles  temporarily while creating art, and for that she was grateful.  I am so grateful for the experience of working with CWCC. The clients continued to inspire me with their resilience, their lightness and humor,  their creative expression, and their strong sense of community.ImageImage

Please note that while individual members have varying views on topics discussed in our blog, NCAS-I as a whole honors multiple perspectives, within respectful reason, and does not aim to censor material shared in our blog writings. So please keep this in mind while reading our blogs. And please feel free to add your perspective too.

A Grateful Heart, full of sparkling moments- PART II

By Emily Wilson

My preparation for any project is generally quite extensive. Often, I over prepare as a way to quell anxiety. After the preparation is over, I am better able to let go and be in the flow without a sense of anxiety. It was the same for this intervention, but I had to wait until we arrived in Cambodia to purchase many supplies and fully prepare. I was nervous about things like the process of bargaining for fabric, assuring that there was enough rice, and prepping for any unknown. My intervention was to create a sewed “Healing Heart”. The purpose was to make a comforting safe place to put personal thoughts and hopes, as well as to serve as a soothing sensory object. When working with survivors of trauma, providing choices and control is vital (Malchiodi and Steele, 2012). I met this need by offering choices of cloth, stencils, and a variety of decorations, along with acknowledging the client’s choice to participate at all. Successfully completing an art project can help to build ego-strength (Kramer, 2000), and recognizing hopes, wishes and dreams after trauma is part of resilience (Malchiodi and Steele, 2012). This intervention provided an opportunity for the women and girls served at the CWCC to build resilience. It was also an opportunity for the staff to see an art intervention led in a big group as well as to create a soothing object for their own self-care.

So, after all of the preparation, rationale, practice, and groundwork, the day came to facilitate. What an amazing and fun experience. I enjoyed being a part of the flow when leading the group. Even more, I enjoyed seeing clients, staff, and NCAS-I students interacting without needing to speak the same language, because they all had the language of art. I was floored by the skill level for sewing and the immense creativity in each person. The heart is a strong, powerful, living metaphor. The heart is a tender, personal space; it can be broken and it can be healed. Love comes from it, and it can be an emotional and raw place. Creating healing hearts can set intentions, hopes, and dreams. It can serve as a metaphor of mending ones’ own heart. My own heart has been broken open, knowing some of the stories of the clients’ unimaginable trauma, wanting to hold and help, knowing that my presence although authentic, is temporary, hoping that I do no harm. My heart is holding amazing memories of the work we did in a community, sharing joy. My heart feels the fear, sorrow, and anguish of those around me, and it also feels the happiness, excitement. My heart swells when I hear that a young woman did not think about her trauma in the last three days while creating art. My heart breaks when I hear the ages of the clients, some as young as two years old. My heart is continually broken open, filled up, healed, broken open, filled up and healed, again and again on this journey. For this I am grateful.

”Stop the flow of your words, open the window of your heart and let the spirit speak” –RUMI.

Please note that while individual members have varying views on topics discussed in our blog, NCAS-I as a whole honors multiple perspectives, within respectful reason, and does not aim to censor material shared in our blog writings. So please keep this in mind while reading our blogs. And please feel free to add your perspective too.








Please note that photographs are of CWCC staff, NCAS-I or of unidentified clients only, to assure the protection of the women and girls served at CWCC.


Steele, W., & Malchiodi, C. A. (2012). Trauma-informed practices with children and adolescents. New York, NY US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Kramer, E. (2000).  Art as Therapy: Collected Papers.  London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Heart. (2010). In A. Ronnberg & K. Martin (Eds.), The book of symbols: reflections on archetypal images. (p. 392) Cologne, Germany: Taschen.