Light and dark: heights and the depths of human capabilities by Emily Wilson

The theme of the dichotomy of light and dark continues to emerge and evolve for me as I reflect about my experience on our Learning Service practicum.  This is a theme that I have worked with in my art and in my own life for many years.  It is a theme that others in our group have pondered and reflected on including Erin’s post: Stories of shadow and light.  While traveling in Cambodia, art helped me to process the opening of my eyes, the breaking open of my heart, and the pain and inspiration that accompanied.

During this Learning Service practicum, cultural exploration, reflection, learning, and humility were important aspects.  In light of this, I was so incredibly grateful to visit some of the greatest, oldest, most auspicious temples in the world, including Angkor Wat, Ta Prom, Bayon, Banteay Srei, Banteay Samre, and Pre Rup.  The beauty, peace, and wonder that I experienced spending two days wandering through these reverent places filled my heart with light.  I experienced oneness with Spirit and with other people.  I felt peaceful and quiet; small and big.  I walked with mindfulness, found small retreats to be alone in such huge complexes, chanted, mediated, and drew.  I was blissful and filled up with the amazing feats that man can do, creating beautiful structures, intricate carvings, and mammoth places of worship.

Juxtaposed, were the visits to the sites remembering the genocide and atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.  “During the three years, eight months and twenty days that the Khmer Rouge held power, it is estimated the around 2 million people perished, over one quarter of the total population.  Some died of brutal torture or execution, while others coughed their last in miserable circumstances of starvations and untreated illness” (Fawthrop & Jarvis, 2005, p. 14).  The Cheung Ek Museum, or Killing Fields was an incredibly dark and terribly sad place.  I also spent much time wandering in this place, sitting in mindfulness, chanting to myself.  I felt deeply and let my heart crack wide open.  I experienced a closeness to Spirit here too, but in a different way; understanding the capacity of people to destroy rather than to create; the capacity for great suffering; the fleeting life that is in all of us.  I tried to walk around the bones that were reaching up from the ground, asking to be noticed, but inevitably I walked on some.  I mourned and wept, I drew and wrote, and I noticed all that was emerging inside of my soul.  I was somber, and felt a need for quiet, for solitude.

Visiting the Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21) was equally as heartbreaking and dark.  This place felt less reverent and more shocking; even more “real”, more graphic.  I felt the horror and misery of those tortured and killed in this grisly prison, which was once a high school.  I met a survivor, Chum Mey and was struck by the light he carried despite what he went through.  I spoke to the tour guide, who was holding so much pain from her own tragedies of the Khmer Rouge.   I imagined the lives of the millions of people and families that perished and for moments, I touched into impact of this genocide.  The heights and the depths of human capabilities, the light and dark of these experiences, was a lesson both in the culture and history of Cambodia and its people, and the nature of human kind.

A commonality in all of these experiences was my desire to be creative in order to process.  I sketched, wrote and painted as a way to cope with intense emotion.  I found time in coffee houses alone, while I sat in temples, on benches outside a mass grave, and in our group response art time.  Art was and is still a vital part in managing and integrating all of this.  Another similarity in these light and dark occasions was my developing ability to sit with a spectrum of emotion.  Sitting and being in the places of darkness.  Seeing the amazing ability of the human Spirit to be incredibly resilient despite terrible circumstances.  Being broken wide open, touching into feelings of pain, suffering and sadness that I typically avoid, and being awestruck by the light and resilience I see in others has changed me and finding my BREATHE has allowed me to change.  In working with befriending emotions using mindfulness there is no need to try to understand, explain or change them, rather, “…simply acknowledges their presence and return to the breathe”  (Welwood, 1983, p. 84).

1Angkor Watt 2Response Art at Angkor Wat
3Pre Rup 4Ta Prom
5Banteay Samre 6Banteay Srei
7Bayon 8Ta Prom
 9Response   Art At Bayon  10Response Art After   2 days of temples
11Response Art- Breaking my Heart   Open
12Serene Pond at Killing Fields 13Response Art
14Meeting Mr. Chum Mey at S-21
15Response Art After Killing Fields   and S-21

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.

 

Welwood, J. (1983).  Befriending Emotions. In J. Welwood (Ed.), Awakening the heart.  (pp. 79-90). Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Fawthrop, T and Jarvis, H. (2005). Getting away with genocide?: Elusive justice and the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Sydney, Australia: University of New South Wales Press, Ltd.

IN OUR OWN BACKYARD – Tracking Down the Trafficked a Repost by Elizabeth Miller

Thursday, July 25,2013

Tracking down the trafficked

FBI task force may recover a record number of juvenile victims of sex trafficking this year

By Elizabeth Miller

 
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
 

In 2012, the FBI recovered 49 girls who were victims of sex trafficking in Denver. Some were runaways from broken homes, homes with a history of child abuse. Some may have been in and out of state care, including juvenile detention facilities, and had already been deemed “throwaway kids” by the system. Some were girls from the suburbs. They were white and African American, mostly, some Hispanic and some Asian. Their average age was 16. At a time when their peers were studying for drivers licenses and SATs, shopping for prom dresses and worrying about dates and who said what on Facebook, these girls were being pressured into selling themselves on the street, exchanging the sale of their bodies for food, a place to sleep or clothing. A handful were still attending school. Some of them may have encountered medical professionals, or even law enforcement, multiple times before being recognized as victims of trafficking.

As of the end of June, the Innocence Lost Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional effort to combat juvenile sex trafficking that can track traffickers across agency lines and responds to calls from Colorado and Wyoming, had recovered 25 children in Denver who were sex trafficking victims so far in 2013. The agency usually sees a spike over the summer months, putting them on track to set a record high for the number of sex trafficking victims recovered this year.

The task force has dedicated staff and officers from the FBI and police departments in Denver and Aurora and Arapahoe County. Before the task force was launched in January 2012, the FBI was recovering 10 to 15 juvenile sex trafficking victims each year. That number more than doubled just in the first year the task force existed.

The FBI says it’s recovering more victims because of better, broader, interagency police work. But one officer says who’s doing the trafficking and who the victims are is changing. However the crime evolves, the victims will continue to face trauma that takes a lifetime of work and a crew of professional help to manage.

As one of the largest cities in a five-state region, and sitting at crossroads of interstates 70 and 25, Denver falls prey to basic math — more people to sell product to. But exactly how prevalent the issue is remains unclear, both locally and internationally.

“We just don’t hear about it enough,” says Patrick Lechleitner, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, which handles transnational trafficking. “We know that more of it exists than we know about. We just don’t know what we don’t know.”

The central issue to that, he says, starts with reporting — victims are unable or unwilling to come forward.

“Probably one of the biggest things is that it’s a really secretive crime and people don’t want to come forward on it,” Lechleitner says. “There’s a lot of extreme trauma.”

At Prax(us), a Denver-based organization that focuses on reaching homeless youth in domestic human trafficking situations, staff doesn’t say “victims of human trafficking” because people rarely self-identify that way.

“Never does anyone come up and say, ‘Hey this human trafficking thing, I’m a victim of human trafficking, can I have services?’” says Emily Lafferrandre, director of education and advocacy for Prax(us).

“It was hard to make judgments based on the occasional child that was being found that was involved in it, and there was no really central reporting of it either,” says Ricky Wright, the FBI coordinator for the Innocence Lost Task Force and a member of an interagency anti-trafficking working group that predates the task force. An agency might find a child involved in prostitution, but make the arrest for drugs or another delinquency, or just take a child home or to an agency that works with runaways — and no one stopped to collect the data on whether that child had been trafficked, he says.

Sometimes, an officer may not even recognize the signs of trafficking.

The first obstacle the task force encounters comes in the flat disbelief that an issue as horrifying as human trafficking, particularly child sex trafficking, can happen among the neatly manicured lawns and tidy store fronts of suburban America.

“Time and time again we heard, ‘Oh we don’t have that problem in our area. We certainly don’t have that,’” Wright says. “From time to time, some of these agencies stumble across problems or we’ve helped them recover a child in their jurisdiction and they’re like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. Maybe it does exist here. How do we find it? How do we look for it?’” 

In addition to coordinating policing efforts, the task force has increased outreach and awareness programs to hospitals, schools, hotels and other businesses — there’s even a Truckers Against Trafficking, and they’ve done outreach with that group. They’ve seen a corresponding increase in the number and diversity of tips coming in, including one from Denver Public Schools. And they’re getting more referrals from law enforcement, often from the same officers, Wright says, who may have worked on a trafficking case in the past.

“They more readily recognize it, where other officers maybe aren’t,” Wright says. “So we’re getting calls from those agencies about ‘Hey, I stopped this car and it was an older male with a younger girl, and I asked questions and things just didn’t add up. I think it could be a trafficking situation.’” 

Maybe the girl has little in her purse but lingerie and condoms. No identification. No money. Even if the officer isn’t able to get to the bottom of the situation on that stop, he can pass details on to the FBI, which may be able to use that information in ongoing investigations. They’ll track a suspected victim for weeks, even across state lines, before they’re able to conduct a sting to recover that victim.

But if the cops don’t know what they’re looking at in the first place, the case dead-ends.

“Without recognizing that it’s a trafficking situation, a lot of times we can’t get necessarily the help for the children to really get them out of it,” Wright says.

It’s the coordinated efforts and better policing that are leading to more recoveries, he says.

“I certainly don’t think that the problem has gotten worse in the last three years and that’s why we’re seeing more,” he says. “I think we’re just getting better at finding it.”

Recovering one child may provide intelligence about other victims or traffickers, which can increase recoveries, he adds.

But Sgt. Dan Steele, a Denver police officer who’s assigned full time to the task force — boots on the ground doing police work — has a different take. Steele came to the Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force from vice in the Denver Police Department. A couple of other Denver detectives mentored him on trafficking, and his perspective started to shift. Then he was asked to lead an interview with a trafficking victim — a 14-year-old girl whose mother coerced her to prostitute herself and used the money to buy drugs.

“That pretty much changed my perspective on everything,” Steele says. “While I was supportive of all the anti-trafficking efforts, I was supportive of going after pimps, I was supportive of trying to get girls and women out of the life, that interview, though, really solidified my desire to do more than we were doing.”

Steele was on the ground floor with the launch of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force, which focuses on child victims of sex trafficking. As the Denver Police Department’s resident officer on the task force, he’s now considered their go-to source for information on trafficking. If Steele says he’s seeing a trend, says Denver Police Department spokesperson Sonny Jackson, that’s the official line from the Denver Police Department.

And Steele, a bit the McNulty to Wright’s Lt. Daniels, is not afraid to disagree with the party line.

Tips from outside agencies have increased recoveries, he agrees, and they’ve found better ways of identifying minors who are being prostituted. But the 14-year veteran of the Denver police force says there’s a new model for business developing in trafficking.

“Beginning right around 2006, until now, the numbers have gone up every year as a far as the number of minor females that show up to prostitution operations or that are contacted in that capacity,” Steele says. “The Denver Police Department did not change their approach as far as, we do escort stings, we do street prostitution, we do massage parlors, we do brothels. This is just the number of kids that are showing up. In that sense, I do think that it is getting a little worse. I also feel like we’re seeing a difference in the kind of people that are trafficking in minors.”

It’s not escort agencies or madams as much anymore. Young men — 21, 22, 23 years old, one as young as 17 — with a history of robbery, narcotics, criminal mischief — gang crimes — are starting to leave behind selling crack on Colfax for selling women who are often under 18. They seem to be learning, he says, that if you get a certain number of hits for a crime like narcotics, the prison sentence grows, or if you’re the one on the street corner selling crack, you’re going to get arrested, and it’s the same class of felony as trafficking a child. But a trafficker, a pimp, can stay off the streets and manipulate other women to post ads, drive the girls around and set them up with the hotel rooms.

“In other words, you can sit back, collect all the money, and really do no work, and the chance of you getting caught is less than it would be if you’re going out and committing bank robberies, for instance,” Steele says. The pimps may be so insulated from the day-to-day operation, buried behind layers of loyalty from the people who work beneath them, that the FBI can’t even identify them.

Lechleitner, with Homeland Security Investigations, says they’re seeing gangs involved in transnational trafficking as well, though to a lesser degree.

“It’s like, the high point of my gang life is to graduate to be a pimp,” Wright says. “And then I think, also, they realize that dealing drugs, you know, it costs money to get those drugs, and of course they’re making money and marking it up, but they only can sell those drugs once. They can sell a child or a human being 10 times a day and make an enormous amount of money.”

Some of the pimps adopt a boyfriend-type model, recruiting girls with low self esteem, promising to care for them, and slowly wearing away their boundaries as the life they’ve promised relies more and more on the income the girls make by prostituting themselves.

Success in policing trafficking is counted not in arrested perpetrators, but in recovered victims. The work recovering those victims often begins where their patrons start the search for them: on the Internet. Officers chase a tip on a missing girl whose family suspects her of being trafficked through social media or ads like those on Backpage.com.

The search often ends in the back of a cop car, with FBI Victim Specialist Anne Darr waiting with a backpack full of supplies like food, water, basic hygiene items, flip-flops and warm, comfortable clothing.

Prax(us) also uses bags filled with water, snacks, clothing, sunscreen and hygiene items as a way of building a relationship.

With each victim, Darr conducts a needs assessment that starts with medical needs and basic needs like food and water, then moves through developing rapport and conducting a forensic interview. The youngest girl recovered in 2012 was a 13-year-old picked up “walking the track” on Colfax who hadn’t eaten in three days. In another case, a girl’s trafficker had taken away her personal hygiene items and she hadn’t been able to brush her teeth in days. Darr has watched girls quickly swap their dresses and high heels for the sweatpants and sweatshirt in the backpack, zipping the sweatshirt all the way to the top. The clothes make them feel comfortable and at ease, Darr says, and the fact that they’re freely given signals a change from a living situation in which food and a place to sleep at night have been bought with the currency of sex acts with strangers.

Darr says building trust starts with a simple question: She asks what their goals are.

“No pimp is going to ask what you want to be when you grow up,” she says. That question is the beginning of breaking down barriers with girls whose psychological impacts of being trafficked include a lack of faith in humanity.

“A lot of these girls feel like they’re in a black hole and they don’t know how to climb out of that black hole because they’re so deep,” Darr says. “They don’t know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and so my role is trying to help them see that and that somebody cares about them.”

Darr, who started her work with the bureau at a police department in Alaska working with trafficking victims from bush villages and Indian country, transferred to Colorado in 2010 and was recruited to work on the trafficking task force based on her experience.

Her favorite success story comes from the first girl recovered after she arrived in Colorado. The FBI followed a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about an endangered runaway from Aurora, and set up a sting to recover her off an online ad. She’d been a runaway for a year and a half, since she was 13 years old and had left an abusive home, and had been sold by eight pimps.

“When we got her and brought her in she’s like, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.’ And she just had this look in her eyes of being lost,” Darr says. The girl was sent out of state to a residential treatment program to keep her safely out of reach of her trafficker, a gang member. The residential program provides victims trauma therapy in group and individual settings, provides medical care, coaches job skills, fills educational gaps for victims interested in returning to school or taking the GED, and teaches about healthy relationships, self esteem and empowerment.

“She just thrived in her program,” Darr says of that first recovered girl. “There’s always struggles, but she thrived in the program and really embraced it.”

That recovered girl went on to go to prom and graduated from high school — Darr has a photo of her, a beaming blonde impossibly far away from the sunken-cheeked, black-eyed girl they picked up years before whose trafficker-given brand was visible in her booking photo. Now, she’s in college on a full-ride scholarship.

Rarely, however, are victims available to testify against their traffickers when they finally come to trial, sometimes years after the initial arrest. Police do what they can to compile as much evidence as possible so they can still get a conviction even without the victim present to testify. In this case, the victim returned to testify against her trafficker, taking the stand for eight hours. The jury found her former pimp guilty of pandering and pimping of a child — though they could not reach a unanimous verdict on a count of child trafficking — and he was sentenced to 34 years in prison, according to an FBI press release.

She was quoted after his sentencing hearing as saying, “I’m no longer a victim. I’m victorious.”

But every morning, a survivor of trafficking has to wake up and decide how to manage the ongoing effects of the trauma, Darr says. Victims face social impacts like isolation from peers and community, physical effects from tattoos and branding to STDs and emotional damage from blaming themselves or facing a family that blames the victim, too, not to mention anxiety, paranoia, depression and other PTSD symptoms.

“It will be a lifetime of recovery because there’s so much trauma,” Darr says.

She’s just one of a team of service providers who immediately surround the victim — social workers, therapists and lawyers all step forward to provide them with the resources necessary to get out of the game. In a photo from the 18th birthday party for that first girl Darr helped recover in Colorado, she’s surrounded by the people who surged to her aid in the days following her recovery — investigators, the prosecuting attorney, victim’s advocates and staff from the treatment program, her social worker.

“She tells me all the time, she feels so loved because there are so many people that care and really went to bat for her,” Darr says. “And she really has thrived because of that.”

Darr echoes what the law enforcement says — more outreach has meant more victims recovered — and adds that it may even mean prevention, if approached correctly, even implementing educational components on trafficking into schools.

One of her victims, she says, was being dropped off at school every day by her pimp, and when she showed up with Air Jordans and her nails done, her friends said “Hey what about us?” instead of, “We’re worried about her.”

“I think it’s an issue of trying to get it out there so they recognize the issue,” Darr says. But curriculum covering self esteem and life skills could also prevent trafficking — as could teaching about healthy relationships and mutual respect, so little boys don’t grow up to be pimps and traffickers someday, she says. Identifying at-risk kids who are likely to run away and wrapping them in comprehensive services may also help reduce the numbers of trafficking victims.

There are two centers to help commercially sexually exploited children in Colorado. Amy’s House in Fort Collins opened earlier this year and Sarah’s Home in Colorado Springs will be opening soon, which is encouraging in terms of local treatment options.

The Boulder Police Department hasn’t reported any cases of human trafficking, according to the department spokesperson, Kim Kobel. But Attention Homes reports that on a particular sample night in January 2012, 162 Boulder County youth were reported homeless, a 165 percent increase over 2011. They also claim that 1,500 12- to 25-year-olds are homeless in Colorado right now. Within 48 hours of leaving home, 30 percent of runaways are recruited into trafficking.

Based on the cases that came in during 2012, Darr estimates that runaways’ first contact with a trafficker occurs within 24 hours of leaving home.

“They don’t understand or recognize that it could happen anywhere, it could happen in anyone’s backyard,” Darr says of the outlying communities around the Denver metro area, which don’t always recognize that trafficking exists in their area. “It does happen anywhere.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

To read the Boulder Weekly go to:

http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-11432-tracking-down-the-trafficked.html

 

re·sil·ience

by Erin Shannon

This article weaves together my reflections on the word resilience, the history of Resilience Theory as it relates to Trauma Informed Art Therapy, and my observations of creative work currently being done in Cambodia.

I have been thinking about the meaning of resilience; the word comes up often when we speak of survivors of violent situations like human trafficking. I feel there is value in questioning how and why a word like resilience is used. It is a word worthy of respect. It is not the kind of word to drop casually, and especially not one to use in order to move quickly from discomfort. By exploring resilience I am seeking spaciousness between the horrible truths I learn and the urge to find a way – a word – to make them better, or make myself feel better.

One of the hardest lessons I have learned during my last 2 years as a graduate student of art therapy is to stay with things that make me uncomfortable. My teachers include close friends, art, professors, the unexpected death of a loved one, as well as meeting individuals in Cambodia whose lives are deeply touched by personal and historical trauma.

I am still learning how to sit in discomfort. It’s natural, right, to recoil from what stings. And there is great power and beauty in mustering the courage to stay. It makes the brightness on the other side that much brighter, sweeter, real.

I am spending time thinking about the meaning of the word resilience and how I want to use it. I don’t want to be quick to learn of someone’s experiences and head straight into the light. While resilience may very well be there, and be strong, I want to acknowledge the circumstances necessitating their resilience. I want to honor their full experience of being human, the struggle and the strength to survive it.

So please pause with me.

When you read the word resilience what does your mind conjure?

salmon swimming upstream

lichen growing above tree line

strength in the smallest packaging, the unlikeliest places

great great aunt Nolene

Texans rallying against the fated closure of abortion clinics

Arn Chorn Pond, genocide survivor rebuilding art in Cambodia (see Alexa’s blog)

mental health counselors who hear stories of trauma day after day and keep going back to work

1044522_549591185104691_28171340_n

Etymology reveals, resilience means “to rebound, recoil”                                  

from re + salire: “back” + “leap”

Webster defines Resilience as the power or ability to return to the original form, after being bent, compressed, or stretched. It is an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

I like George Valliant’s definition of resilience as the self-righting tendencies of the person, both the capacity to be bent without breaking and the capacity, once bent, to spring back (Goldstein, 1997).

At the core of Resilience Theory is a willingness to take a strengths-based approach, a lens through which I aim to guide my work as an art therapist. The concept of resilience began receiving attention in the psychological community with Werner’s well known longitudinal study of children deemed “at risk” for maladjusted adult lives. The population Werner followed into adulthood was comprised of children who experienced pre- or perinatal complications, were raised in poverty and in families troubled by chronic discord or parental psychopathology (Werner, 2005).

The results of this study and others like it began to shatter pathogenic beliefs because nearly half the children who “should not” develop into well-adjusted adults do in fact just that (VanBreda, 2001).  Researchers qualify “well-adjusted” in different ways, but are basically talking about children who do not develop behavior or learning problems or delinquency records, and grow into competent, confident, caring adults with lower rates of chronic illness, mortality, divorce and unemployment than their peers (Werner, 2005).

This is not to ignore the devastating impact of growing up under harsh conditions. A longitudinal study came out just this year showing the harmful effects of childhood exposure to violence (the study intended to show the effects of crack-cocaine exposure in utero which was actually trumped by the effects of growing up poor in America).

The study of resilience acknowledges people are harmed by traumatic situations and events, but in the hope of learning how to reduce that harm asks the question, What is it about certain individuals that allow them to rise above adversity and thrive despite the most challenging circumstances? This question has spurned decades of research into Resilience Theory which offers a myriad of explanations. Adrian Van Breda published a thorough literature review on the subject. Check out pages 10 & 11 to learn about what researchers find in resilient children, who are very clearly not defenseless against stressful life conditions (Van Breda, 2001).

Often people do more than bounce back to the way they were prior to experiencing something difficult. Ickovics & Park (1998) define thriving as “something more than a return to equilibrium following a challenge.. we propose a value added model whereby an individual or community may go beyond survival and recovery from an illness or stressor to thrive” (pp.237-238). Carver (1998) says thriving “refers to the acquisition of new skills and knowledge (learning about themselves, learning new coping skills), of new confidence or a sense of mastery, and enhanced interpersonal relationships” (p.247).  This again raises the question, What characteristics distinguish the individuals who thrive following a trauma or stressor from those who do not?

Resilience is difficult to quantify though many researches have made an attempt. O’Leary in Van Breda (2001) identifies individual resources such as hardiness, coping and a sense of coherence; cognitive resources such as accurate threat appraisal, self-efficacy and perceived personal risk; the ability to attribute and mould the meaning attached to life events; social support systems, and social processes or rituals which facilitate transitions in life.

A key element of resilience is appraisal, which means the way in which we interpret events. If an event is interpreted as a threat, it evokes fear responses, including activation of the amygdala, and a series of physical responses including release of cortisol and stress hormones. Yet if an event is interpreted as a challenge, it evokes a different series of responses, including interest, calm, relaxation, and adaptive coping (Hellerstein, 2011).

Something that comes up again and again in my research on Individual Resilience is the need for strong social support. Characteristics found in resilient children can be taught and the best environment for this learning to happen is in strong, consistent communities. This brings to mind the heart of Relational Therapy. People are hurt in relationship and therefore heal in relationship too.

This inquiry into resilience offers valuable insight though of course cannot be applied in a vacuum. We need to be aware of qualities found in resilient individuals and proactive in seeking ways to foster those qualities, especially in response to trauma. I think this must involve asking people if and how they identify resilient qualities in themselves and inquiring about culturally appropriate methods they may already use in order to thrive. We also need to be thinking about the institutions of racism and sexism that have created and sustain “adverse” situations like poverty. As art therapists devising ways of working with survivors, how can our work always be done in a context of social justice?

resilience

The further I dig into the meaning of resilience the more I realize how impossible it is to define. Having begun this inquiry, I feel a responsibility to anyone who is reading this to provide you with a clear set of rules. It would necessitate though an agreement on definitions of words like adversity and health. There is also the question of cross-cultural relevance in applying the tenets of Resilience Theory. The factors contributing to resilience vary across culture and from community to community.

The Resilience Research Centre is looking at communities around the world – Phnom Penh in Cambodia in particular – to find examples of culturally relevant programs fostering resilience. In The Art of Resilience Tim Johnson reports on their research efforts in Cambodia though the results of the study are still in press. Johnson’s article notes the success of Cambodian Living Arts – the visionary work of Arn Chorn Pond and others. “This is exactly the kind of program that has all the tools for success,” says Dr. Ungar [Co-Director of the Resilience Research Centre]. “They have come up with a very unique, culturally appropriate solution and it’s one the Resilience Research Centre could share with other marginalized groups.”

If you are seeking further insight into the ways communities thrive, I recommend reading Community Resilience: A Cross-Cultural Study. Revitalizing Community Within and Across Boundaries. This report was put together by the Woodrow Wilson International Center after convening a symposium of international scholars and practitioners. One contributor summarizes, “It is difficult to identify a specific set of conditions that foster community resilience. Yet the participants [of this symposium] continually returned to the following themes: the importance of civil society voice; the creation of space, physical and political; the assurance of safety and time, as well as the galvanizing aspects of conflict and leadership.”

Returning to the intention of spending time with Resilience, the circle – as is often the case – has expanded from a narrow to a much wider perspective, and now perhaps narrows back a bit as I think about the applications.

UA_AugSep2012_Resilience_A_448X200

Drawing together learning about Individual Resilience, Community Resilience, and Trauma Informed Art Therapy, we’ll take a peek at an organization in Cambodia and see how it successfully fosters resilience and social action through art.

We’ve learned from Individual Resilience to activate strong social networks and adequate external supports, to be challenged, to learn, to look for meaning through involvement.

All of which happens when people make art.

Community Resilience teaches us that individuals and communities need to be heard.

This also is possible when we make art.

The NCAS-I team trained the staff at the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC) to utilize Trauma Informed Art Therapy (TIAT). Children with few positive relationships during or after a trauma have a more difficult time reducing stress reactions and have more ongoing trauma symptoms over time. Overall, caring human relationships buffer the effects of stressful events and literally support the neural networks involved in bonding and social interactions. Expressive therapies (art, music, movement, and play) are particularly useful and tap both hands-on and creative capacities of individuals to express events and memories, to reduce distress, and to develop a relationship with a helping professional who provides these opportunities to create and communicate (Malchiodi, 2008).

The counselors at the crisis center reported hope that the Trauma Informed Art Therapy interventions we worked on together would be useful strategies for reducing their vicarious traumatization and that they could envision incorporating similar modalities when working with clients. TIAT works by regulating the nervous system, building safe relationships and providing avenues for communication.

Trauma Informed Art Therapy is a framework for using art to build resilience in individuals and I believe it can also be used to build resilient communities, as I saw during the final let of my journey.

After completing our month with NCAS-I, traveling, working, and learning about applying TIAT, Bethany and I had the incredible pleasure of going to the circus! There we witnessed more evidence of Resilience Theory and Art Therapy in action. Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) is a Social Center and Art School in Battambang, Cambodia. The name stands for the Brightness of Art and was founded by young Cambodians returning from refugee camps where they learned about using art as a means of coping with trauma. At this school, children and adolescents are welcome to learn visual art, traditional music, dance, theater, graphic design or circus performance. Many of the instructors were once students themselves. There is food served to those who need it and social workers on site who work with the families of the children who attend. Students perform locally and internationally as a way to tell their stories.

I feel confident saying Phare Ponleu Solpak is using art to successfully foster community resilience in ways relevant to Cambodian history and culture. Many participants live in harmful situations, and all live under the context of Cambodia’s historical traumatization. During my brief time learning about the school and watching a performance it seemed the students were thriving. I believe gaining free access to the arts is tantamount to their ability to do so. While making art, students are learning and being challenged, finding meaning through involvement, regulating stressed nervous systems, and finding outlets to be seen and heard. They are connected in a strong community. It was an honor to witness the work being done at PPS. I am grateful for the milieu of ways my work and travel in Cambodia revealed power and potential in my profession.

As you watch the acrobats in this video, keep George Valliant’s definition of resilience in mind: the self-righting tendencies of the person, both the capacity to be bent without breaking and the capacity, once bent, to spring back.

By exploring the word resiliency, my hope was to deepen my understanding of its context and meaning, to feel the full weight of the use of my words, and to infuse my work with knowledge and integrity. Thank you for spending time with me thinking about what makes people and communities resilient. May we foster these qualities when trauma necessitates it; may we use art and everything in our power to fight institutions creating hardship worldwide.

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.

References

Carver, C.S. (1998). Resilience and thriving: Issues, models, and linkages. Journal of Social Issues,  54(2), 245-266.

FitzGerald, Susan. (2013, July 22). Crack baby study ends with unexpected but clear result. For The Inquirer. Retreived from http://articles.philly.com/2013-07-22/news/40709969_1_hallam-hurt-so-called-crack-babies-funded-study

Goldstein, H. (1997). Victors or victims? In D. Saleebey (Ed.), The strengths perspective in social work practice (2nd ed. pp.21-36). New York, NY: Longman.

Hellerstein, David (2011). On Trauma and Resilience a Decade after September 11, 2001.

Ickovics, J.R., & Park, C.L. (1998). Paradigm shift: Why a focus on health is important. Journal of Social Issues, 54(2), 237-244.

Johnson, Tim. (2012, August 7). The art of resilience: How Michael Ungar is applying his research to alleviate adversity and provide alternatives to drugs and crime in one of Asia’s toughest slums. University Affairs. Retreived from http://www.universityaffairs.ca/the-art-of-resilience.aspx

Malchiodi, C. (2008). Creative interventions with traumatized children. New York: Guilford Publications.

Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary. m-w.com

Van Breda, A.D. (2001). Resilience theory: A literature review. Pretoria, South Africa: South African Military Health Service.  Available: http://www.vanbreda.org/adrian/resilience.htm

Werner, E. (2005). Resilience and Recovery: Findings from the Kauai Longitudinal Study. Focal Point: Research, Policy, and Practice in Children’s Mental Health: Resilience and Recovery, 19(1), 11-14.

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2009). Community Resilience: A Cross-Cultural Study. Revitalizing Community Within and Across Boundaries. Retreived from http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/CommunityResilience.pdf

Photos

thehealthymind.com

Sue Wallingford

society6.com

universityaffairs.ca

Deepening Connections Through Art

by Lisa Lamoreaux

I have been back in Colorado for a month now. I have a lot of great memories from the trip. Some of my favorite memories include times that I was able to connect with the people of Cambodia. Although there are many great moments, there is one particular day that I find myself looking back on with great fondness.

The day was Sunday, May 26th, and our group was busy at our hotel, the Lotus Lodge, preparing art supplies for our work at Anjali House the following day. As the group gathered and sorted materials we discovered that the essential oils we had brought for one of our art directives had broken in one of the bags. The bag, and all the art supplies inside were covered in oil. It was a huge mess! Everybody else was busy with their jobs, so I decided to take on the task of cleaning up the mess.

I got to work emptying the bag. I laid out all contents on the balcony outside one of our rooms, and began wiping down and re-bagging all the supplies. As I cleaned, one of the girls who worked at the Lotus Lodge came over to see what I was doing. I tried to find a way to explain what doing, but I spoke very little Khmer and she spoke very little English. I could not communicate using words, so I began trying to use gestures. This again fell short, and we found ourselves awkwardly grinning at each other. It was at this time that the girl pointed to a bag of brightly colored, plastic beads I had sitting out on the banister. She appeared to be very interested in the beads, so I opened up the bag and let her look at them more closely. She examined the beads carefully as she sorted through the bag. She seemed to really like the beads, so gave her a couple. After spending some time choosing her beads, she carefully placed them in her pocket, and returned to her duties.

A little later, she came over again with another girl. The second girl was also fascinated with the beads, so I offered a few to her as well. The girl carefully chose her beads. She showed me how she was going to put them on her keychain, and then heading back to work.

The first girl stayed behind. She showed me a beautiful flower that she had brought for me. I thanked her for the flower, and then placed it in my hair as she looked over the other art supplies. She pointed to some glitter I had out. I opened up the glitter, stuck my finger in, and put some on my cheek. Then I offered the glitter to her so she could put some on her face. She smiled and giggled a little before sticking her finger in the glitter. Then, instead of putting it on her cheek she put the glitter on my cheek, and smiled. I then, stuck my finger in the glitter and put some on her cheek. This made us both laugh. After this, the girl began pointing to several other art materials. And I happily showed her what each material could be used for.

Some time passed like this, and then the second girl came over again.  She offered me a tiny pair of souvenir, Dutch ceramic shoes as a thank you for the beads. I thanked her very much for the special gift she had given me. The girl smiled at me then, both girls left to go back to work. After that day, I felt a deeper connection with the two girls.

These interactions gave me a new found appreciation for art’s ability to open up communication. I am grateful for the art materials I had available to me, because they made it possible for us to engage each other on a deeper level.

2013-05-26 15.44.26Please 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.

An Afternoon with Arn Chorn–Pond: The Healing Power of Creative Arts Expression

by Alexa Pinsker

“I do this work so I don’t go insane. I want to make my life meaningful for those that died, if I didn’t do this work what would I live for?” Arn Chorn-Pond.

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Photo Credit: Emily Seagrave

While doing our practicum in Cambodia, I read a book that our supervisor had highly recommended in order to gain more cultural awareness for our practicum.  The book “Never Fall Down” by Patricia Mccormick shares the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond who is a child living in Cambodia and attending school like most in his rural village. In 1975 soldiers from the Khmer Rouge arrive in his town and demand that the entire village march into the countryside without explanation.  Arn watches as fellow villagers are beaten, killed, and fall ill from disease during this long march into the unknown.  The soldiers eventually explain that the villagers will be forced to work in labor camps as part of the new government led by Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge – a communist party based on the premise that all Cambodians should be living in an Agrarian society where the educated, artistic or political minded are exterminated.  Teachers, lawyers, intellectuals, artists, light skinned people,  and wealthy people were all targeted, tortured, imprisoned and / or killed.  Children were  separated from their parents in work camps.   In this very graphic account of his experience Arn describes the horrors of his everyday life, but also his drive to survive.  Although he was not previously a musician, he learned that if he could master certain instruments and learn the revolutionary songs of the Khmer Rouge he could survive.  As a member of the Khmer Rouge, Arn also participated in merciless killings of others and cruel acts.

When the Khmer Rouge fell after 4 years of power due to the Cambodian-Vietnamese war, Arn was adopted by an American minister, Mr. Pond during his stay in a refugee camp in Thailand. He then spent high school and college in the United States under the care of Mr. Pond.

Before going to Cambodia we watched a documentary entitled  “The Flute Player” which shared Arn’s current experience in Cambodia as a musician and Khmer Rouge survivor.  Arn started the Cambodian Master Performer’s Program in order to revive the traditional music of Cambodia which was banned during the Khmer Rouge and virtually forgotten by Cambodia’s current population as 1/3 of the population was killed during the genocide also erasing Cambodia’s cultural history.  Arn mentors Cambodian youth in the USA and in his home country to both teach and encourage the folk music of Cambodia. In this beautiful documentary Arn explains that there is a lot of pain and anger being a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide.  In order to find meaning in his own life, he has sought out other survivors attempting to make sense of the situation. “I do this work so I don’t go insane. I want to make my life meaningful for those that died, if I didn’t do this work what would I live for?” he says in the film.

One of the most meaningful moments of our trip to Cambodia was our visit to Arn Chorn-Pond’s home in the countryside.  We were invited to listen to him play music with his partner Seyma and swim in the Mekong River.  The conversation was light and friendly as some of us took a dip in the river alongside his home.  His smile was huge and warm, and then we all gathered for lunch and to hear his performance.  Here is a recording of the song that Arn and Seyma chose to sing which is called sraleanh in Khmer, which translates to  love in English.  Click here to listen to: Cambodian Love Song.

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Photo Credit: Erin Shannon

 Arn explained that the Khmer Rouge targeted artists because they expressed who they were as artists.  As an art therapy student I feel grateful to be able to express myself. Arn is the true revolutionary as he is using the creative arts to heal and to transform and revitalize a country deeply traumatized by genocide.

Audio Recording: Emily Wilson

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.

Forgiveness

It is only with the heart that one can see

Right; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

                                                                                    -Antone De Saint-Exupery

 

 By Joanna Loftus 

In her book, The Places That Scare You, Pema Chodron says that: “forgiveness is an essential ingredient of bodhichitta practice. It allows us to let go of the past and make a fresh start”. I’ve heard this words so many times but I never really understood what they mean until I travel through Cambodia. During my time in this country, one so horribly affected by violence and seeped in trauma, I realized the true meaning of forgiveness.  

Cambodia is mesmerizing in its beauty. Without my previous knowledge of history I would not guess that this is a place of a recent genocide. The people are kind and playful; they are inviting to foreigners and are always delighted to offer their hospitality. Children run through the streets giggling, playing in roadside pools or with the local wildlife. On the surface, the people seem so carefree.

However, Cambodia is still recovering from the atrocity perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot. During my time spent there, I would often wonder, how could something like this happen?  How did the entire world stand by, while quarter of the Cambodian population was executed? Where was their compassion? How could the leaders of the world sleep at night knowing that they did nothing? I struggled with these questions until I visited the coastal town of Kep.

I met a young man at the retreat center I was staying; we were sitting together on a balcony, looking out over the hills of Vietnam behind the bay when he said: “You are too angry”. He was right, I was. I was angry that something like this could happen, that the people responsible for this tragedy had not been brought to justice. I was angry, because I did not know what kind of justice I would want. Finally, I was angry with myself for being so angry and I was angry with him for not being angry at all.

But then he said something else: “You know, we choose forgiveness over justice”. Suddenly something happened, my heart broke open and I allowed for the tenderness of Bodhichitta to awaken in me. I finally understood, there is no a proper punishment; punishment just leads to more pain and suffering, the only way of true healing is through forgiveness.

 

 

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.

 

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Dorothy didn’t need a translator

by James Huffman

It has been close to four weeks since I returned from Cambodia. I have now been home the same amount of time as I was in Cambodia. Between working two jobs and family visits, both Megan’s and mine, I feel like I have barely been able to slow down since returning. Before leaving, our class spent most of spring semester preparing for the work we would be doing while in Cambodia and preparing ourselves to be mindfully present in an unfamiliar culture. We did not however, prepare for the return to the states and our daily lives and I have found myself resistant to resuming this pace of life.

Last night I was able to unwind a bit and take in The Wizard of Oz with Megan at Boulder Dinner Theater. Apart from a somewhat disappointing mac and cheese, which was immediately switched for another entree, the experience was great. The theater was small with the tables arranged so that there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house. The performance was also a lot of fun, especially their interpretation of the tornado scene using aerial dancers. I had never been to BDT before, but am already planning to go back next summer when they are showing Shrek the Musical.

Throughout the show, I couldn’t help seeing parallels between Dorothy traveling in an unfamiliar place and our own recent trip. We each had whirlwind journey’s to new lands. We each tried to do some good during our stay, we occasionally found ourselves outside of our comfort zones and missing home, and it seems that in many cases the job of therapy is helping our clients find the hearts, brains, or courage they have always had.

There were also many differences. Obviously we did not offend any apple trees or melt any witches, but apart from the superficial differences there were also differences in how we approached our journeys. Dorothy was not able to plan or prepare whereas we had half a year to prepare for our journey. I think this is the most important difference. Preparation was an essential part of this trip and we would not have been able to do the work we did without it. Through our readings and preparations we were also unknowingly forming assumptions. Dorothy did not have these assumptions and was constantly in a state of beginner’s mind. The result was that most of her successes were accidents while ours were the result of planning and preparation.

Another important difference here is that when she made friends along her journey she did not assume they needed help or what type of help they needed. Our situation was different as we were traveling to Cambodia with the intent of offering our knowledge of art therapy to our partner organizations. We students also however formed assumptions without ever having communicated with our partners about what their needs were. We designed art therapy interventions based on assumptions and beliefs we formed during our preparations about who our populations were and what their needs might be. I designed a self-care intervention for the staff at CWCC without ever having personally communicated with them. Fortunately, and like Dorothy coincidentally, my intervention did meet one of the needs they communicated to us, but this was the result of accident.

I also feel like my preparation was insufficient in learning the language. I knew a few phrases before leaving the states, and we met with a translator to pick up a bit more in Siem Reap. My knowledge of Khmer however, was still very much lacking.

These short-sights resulted in similar deficiencies, lack of communication. Throughout the trip I had some truly beautiful and amazing experiences and met inspirational people I will remember the rest of my life. Now however, a month after our trip has finished, my thoughts and efforts turn towards improving this trip for future students and helping our clients gain as much from our brief time with them as possible. A solution for both of these is better communication. By communicating with our partners before we try to meet their needs we ensure our time together is as fruitful as possible and by learning Khmer to communicate more fully with everyone we meet we gain a better understanding of our experiences.

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 Single Blue Egg

By Danielle Rifkin

Now that about a month has passed since we left CWCC (Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center), it is interesting to reflect on some of the rewarding and memorable experiences I had working at the shelter. For me, being the first person in our group to lead an intervention, was both nerve-racking as well as incredibly gratifying.  To see by the end of the day how quickly rapport had been built with the use of art was astounding. From the little boy in the corner of the room initially scared to join the group who finally engaged with excitement, the little girls who covered my face with different art materials every day, and the sweet sentiments shared of how impactful the art process had been all top my list, but the story I want to share with you is the power of personal metaphor I witnessed that revealed itself during an art assessment, and our interactions that followed.

During our time at CWCC, we had a chance to observe Sue Wallingford, our teacher give an art assessment to one of the clients. In the room there was the client, a 14-year-old girl who had only recently came to the shelter, her therapist, a translator, Sue and myself. I can only imagine how intimidating it must have been to be asked to draw in front of the four of us. I consider myself an artist, and I definitely would have been nervous to put my pencil to the paper, but this girl agreed to the challenge. Kai (her name has been changed), a well put together girl with her hair done up in three braids held by a pink bow and glittery manicured nails sat on the couch with a few large pieces of white paper in front of her and a selection of colored pencils, chalk pastels and oil pastels to pick from. Nervously holding her hands, shaking her bracelets up and down her arm, and brushing her hair behind her ears and giggling throughout the whole assessment, Kai was able to create a drawing for us that was abundant in personal meaning.

Sue asked Kai if she wanted to draw a bird’s nest, which is helpful in assessing attachment and the family situation. Here is a link to learn more about this assessment.  Kai said she didn’t know how to draw a bird’s nest and preferred to draw a house, tree, and person instead. We believe that Kai had heard that the other girls where asked to do this drawing so she was ready to do that drawing and not the bird’s nest assessment. Sue complied, saying that she could draw a house, tree and person instead. I believe allowing her to draw something she felt more comfortable with first prepared her to eventually be willing to attempt something she was less familiar with. After her first drawing was completed, Sue offered to help her draw a bird’s nest if she was willing, and Kai giggled and smiled with consent.

Kai was noticeably uncomfortable about this new directive, so Sue offered to help her make the drawing.  Sue picked up a red colored pencil and Kai followed by picking up a brown one. Slowly Kai mirrored the squiggly lines that Sue was placing on the page to build up the foundation of the nest. Throughout this process she was asking Kai with the help of the translator how big it should be, where it should be placed, and any other details or instructions that would make here vision of it come to be. So even though Sue was helping with the drawing it was Kai’s idea of the nest that was being illustrated. Over the next few minutes they built up the bottom of the nest together. From there the questions continued about what was in the nest and where was the nest, and Kai with hesitation and giggles added the single speckled blue egg and the simple black outline of a tree mentioning she wasn’t really sure where this nest was. When asked if there was a story or if there were any other eggs or birds, she stated  “The mother bird is far away and not in the picture.” The final details she added after filling in the background behind the egg were the few leaves in the trees and the hanging piece of fruit.BirdsNest

Because Kai is new to the shelter her therapist wasn’t able to share much of her story, as she was just learning about her herself. Her words however of the mother bird being far away and the single egg in the bird’s nest perhaps illustrates her feelings of being alone and living in a shelter. Her parents are divorced, her father is not in the picture and her mother lives on the other side of the border in Thailand. She is the single egg with her mother far away, and her tree, although present, doesn’t have a lot of details to it. I wonder, though, if her final touches of fruit and leaves were a sign of hope and her resiliency in making the best out of a hard situation.

I left the room with so many questions about Kai, and I was impressed how this assessment did start to tell her story. As the days continued, Kai was incredibly engaged with the art making process during our group time at the shelter, and was there every day and into the night making art with us. One of the last nights she came up to me, handed me the picture below, and said, in broken English, that it was a gift for me. Right away, I thought of the lone blue egg and recognized the similarities to the single sleeping blue bird she was giving me. Later that night I worked on a drawing for her, of a tree filled with blue birds illustrating my wish and hope for her. She had trouble accepting the picture, and I wonder if she felt uncomfortable accepting a gift from me, or if she just wasn’t ready or able to believe she could have a tree filled with birds.

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According to Cathy Malchiodi (2010), “metaphors generate description and multi-layered meanings rather than a single interpretation; when it comes to really helping an individual make progress, it’s the metaphoric experience of art expression that sets the stage for emotional repair and insight.”

I believe the personal metaphor that was expressed in this assessment reveals the potential for Kai to share challenging feelings and experiences visually that she might not otherwise be comfortable talking about or taking ownership of. With the help of a tree, nest, egg or bird maybe she can continue to tell her story and begin to heal through metaphor.

Kaiser, J., Deavor, S. (2009). Assessing Attachment with the Bird’s Nest Drawing: A Review of the Research. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 26(1), 26-33.

Malchiodi, C. (2010). Cool art therapy intervention #3: It’s all about the metaphor. Psychology Today. Retrieved July 11th, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-healing-arts/201008/cool-art-therapy-intervention-3-it-s-all-about-the-metaphor

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.

Memory in the Trees

By Paula Ulrich

The following poem and artwork is a response to my visit to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (The Killing Fields) near the city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Please note, this poem contains graphic language, imagery, and metaphor which may not be suitable for all audiences.  Through learning about these atrocities and sharing my response, I hope to echo the sentiment I was told on my tour:

“This was hardly the first case of genocide.  We never thought it could happen here.  But it did.  And the thing is, it can happen anywhere.  It did in Nazi Germany.  And in Russia, under Stalin.  And in China.  In Rwanda.  In the US, with its Native Americans.  And in Argentina, and in Chile.  Tragically, it will probably happen again.  So for your sake, remember us – and remember our past as you look to your future.”

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Memory in the Trees

The memories are in the trees

As they grow rings around fragments of bone

Scars from the violence inflicted upon them

Blood covering their trunks

As the heads of innocents were smashed up against their sturdy bodies

Enduring through every blow against them

Weeping sap in mourning

Surrendering flowers, falling in compassion

 

A tree called magic, where no magic existed

When speakers were hung from its twisted branches

Music to spread propaganda by day

And to muffle the screams of the victims by night

But the trees could still hear

The gut wrenching sounds of suffering

Beyond the nightmarish din of diesel generators

They were silent witnesses

 

The sugar palm, once sweet and pristine

Used its strong branches for holding up its leaves

Stripped

The sharp blades of its arms

Used for weapons of murder

Slitting the throats of victims, silencing their cries

The trees did nothing wrong

 

Their roots reach deeper into the tainted soil

Drinking tears of rainwater

Mixed with blood and DDT

Reaching into the open sores of mass graves

Now unearthed, hollow, and empty

The roots hold the memories of a deep, dark past

 

There is a peace in this place

Disguised in the songs of birds

And wind rustling through the tree tops

Whispering through the groves

Where people were forced to labor and starve

While harvesting food they were forbidden to eat

 

The sun continues to shine

On the terrible truth

Surfacing from the soil after the clouds cry out

The earth births the dead

Spitting up their teeth

Flooding brings cloth and bone to the surface

The dead rising up from their graves

Refusing to stay at rest

 

Insects scurry across the surfaces

Digging deeper into the earth

Creating homes and continuing life

Breaking down matter

Giving back to the land

All carrying on

Knowing even they cannot undo what has happened

 

The trees were here before

And will remain long after

No image or word can truly express

The depth of feeling and emotion in this place

The pain the ground knows

The suffering the roots hold

The stories the branches reach to heaven to tell

But the memories are in the trees

 

To learn more, you may want to visit the following websites:

     www.cekillingfield.com

     Khmer Rouge Tribunal www.eccc.gov.kh/en

     Yale University’s Cambodian Genocide Program www.yale.edu/cgp

     And Cambodia Tribunal Monitor www.cambodiatribunal.org

 

Thank you.

 

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.