Creating Connections

by Chelsey Langlinais

As we continue our journey in Cambodia we have now arrived in Sisophon, which is nothing like Siem Reap. There are dirt roads, lots of small stands, and locals that seem like they do not have foreigners visit very often. Most of the first day was spent hanging out at the hotel and getting used to the new environment. The next morning it was off to start our first day of work.

As we drove up to CWCC, I did not know what to expect. I knew there would be women and children, I knew we would have a space for making art, and I knew it would be hot. I could have never anticipated such a wonderful oasis like the one we were greeted with. The gated yard we pulled up to is clean, bright, and full of trees and flowers. This space felt safe from my first interaction in it. There are a few buildings on the grounds, some which are community areas, and some living quarters. There are 12 staff members normally there, except for the first two days of our visit there were only 4, because most of them are on a retreat and will return after the weekend. Which was a wonderful opportunity for us to get to know the participants more closely and to spend quality time together before the rest of the staff returns.

Each day, we will spend three hours in the morning working with staff, teaching them self care techniques, and also how they can incorporate art therapy into their client’s treatment plans in the future. Then, after lunch we spend three hours working with the clients in an open studio model with several different interventions planned for the day that the participants can move from one to the next however they choose. Each student in our group has planned an art therapy intervention to do with either the staff members or the participants. Each student will also complete an art based assessment with one client during our time as well.Image

On the first day we pulled up to hesitant faces, watching us as we piled out of the van, curious about us, but unfamiliar with our group. We would smile as we walked around for the tour and were given broad introductions of one another. But, what took place in the art room really changed the dynamic between us and allowed for a deeper connection despite the initial nervousness and language barrier, but I’ll get to that later. First let me introduce the wonderful organization we have the privilege of working with.

CWCC (Cambodia women’s crisis center) is an NGO (non-government organization) that provides everything from “social assistance to legal protection, economic empowerment through skills training and small business loans, community’s organizing for prevention of gender-based violence and advocacy work at national and international levels” according to their website. But from what I can see, their biggest goal is to empower these women and children and to protect them from further physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

On our first day at this organization, we spent the morning working with the few staff members that are still on the grounds. We played a name game, and asked lots of questions about how this week would look for us and for the clients. I think we had more questions for them, because this is the second year NCAS-I has worked here, they seemed fully ready and prepared for us, and for the creative processes in which we were bringing to share with them. As the morning of our first day came to an end we left to go back to the hotel for lunch and would return to start working with clients in the afternoon. For the afternoon we had three stations set up, tissue paper flowers, stained glass, using contact paper and tissue paper, and decorating mandalas. The goal for the first day was to introduce ourselves and to begin creating a safe and comfortable space for art making.

We introduced the concepts and invited the art making process to begin. I never could have imagined it would end up with everyone having tissue paper flowers in their hair, tissue paper jewelry, and some of the most beautiful handmade decorations strung around the room I’ve ever seen! Butterflies were hung in front of the windows, flowers on the back of every chair, and mandalas hung around the room filling the walls. By the end of the day, we were all decorated and the room was full of color and laughter. I left that day feeling thankful for the opportunity to do this work, anticipating how wonderful the rest of our time together would be.

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On the second day we arrived, we were greeted with smiles and bows of appreciation. Some of the flowers were once again beautifully decorating the heads of participants. As we were setting up, the children gathered in excitement by the door, anxious to once again be invited into the art space, although they had to wait until the afternoon, they curiously watched as we set up and prepared. On that day in the morning, we offered a yoga intervention for the staff members as a self care technique, which we will continue in the morning with all of the staff members when they return.

The interventions for this day included water colors and outdoor games for the little bitty kiddos, (which allowed their mothers time to make art, as well as invited developmental exploration) decoupage tissue paper bowls, pinwheel making, and a free drawing table. Once again the pinwheels became decorations for hair, and as people would walk by a fan they would twirl on tops of heads. Children would stand in front of the fans and watch the pinwheels spin and giggle in amusement.

Along with creating art with the participants we are also creating a joint mural in the art room with them. I am on the committee for that project, and the second day at CWCC we began that process. We mapped out a mandala of Cambodian women holding hands around a lotus flower in the center. We invited a few people at a time to begin the background colors. They worked so carefully and precisely alongside us, directing color choices and placements of colors along the way. We smiled and thanked one another constantly for the beautiful job we were all doing. The picture below shows what we have completed so far. image

At the end of the second day I could tell that we are truly special to these people and that they are special to us as well. The amount of pictures they wanted us to pose for with them, and the amount of excitement and love that filled the air was truly breathtaking and I am so glad we still have a week left to experience more with this amazing group.

As I write this, I can’t help but to think about how different these interactions would have been without the art making process. The art has a way of allowing us to communicate even though we do not speak the same language. We are creating a bond with this group that is bound by paint and glue and needle and thread. Creating relationships through the creation of art, that is powerful, that is real connection.

Photo #1 taken by Michelle Bosco

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