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.