“The Teachings of the Elders”: Precept Day in Cambodia by Nathan Thompson

An Expat Joins ‘Precept Day’ in Cambodia

By Nathan Thompson

Article obtained from Khmer440.com.

I first became aware of Precept Day when I was awoken from sleep by the sound of 20 ancient Khmers chanting outside my bedroom door. The old people were sat on the tiled floor of the head monk’s residence chanting some mystical language.

The males sat on one side and the females on the other while the head monk sat fanning himself on a throne-like wooden chair. It took me seven months to work out what they were doing and one more month to try it myself.

In Cambodia religion is inextricably tied to everyday life. Most people practice Theravaden Buddhism which means “The Teachings of the Elders,” and is the oldest version of the Buddhist faith dating back 2300 years.

It is has lasted so long because of a sacred agreement between the monks and the lay people. The lay people support the monks and in return the monks preserve the Buddha’s teachings and work to free themselves of imperfections such as selfishness and desire so they can be of service to the community.

In order to be of maximum benefit Cambodian monks observe 227 rules. Indeed, one of their first tasks after ordaining is to learn all of them by heart. Buddhist laypeople are expected to keep five rules also known as precepts. They are: no killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual misconduct and no taking of intoxicants.

If you are wondering why not many Cambodian’s stick to them it is because that, in Buddhism, there is no God, no permanent “you” and no afterlife. The absence of a vengeful deity idly twirling the keys to the gates of Hell waiting for you when you die seems to make the necessity of living an ethical life lose its force.

Precept Day falls on new, half and quarter moons. On this day laypeople can choose to follow an upgraded precept system and take eight precepts. As well as the usual five three more are added. They are: no eating between 12pm and 6am, no entertainments and no sitting or sleeping on comfy beds and chairs.

I class myself as a practicing Buddhist having begun in the Western Vipassana movement which is purely based on meditation and then learning the sacred practices of Cambodian and Thai Buddhism while living here.

So there I was on Precept Day sitting on the floor with the old people having twisted myself into the traditional posture with both feet swept to one side just about tolerating the pain it was causing in my right hip. In my hands was my Kindle with the relevant religious chants showing in romanised form.

I joined in with two chants in Pali – the ancient language of the Buddha. The first was the “Three Refuges” which is something like the Christian profession of faith. It confirms you are a Buddhist by “going for refuge in the teaching of the Buddha”. The second chant involved vowing to observe the eight precepts for the day. Then I handed over 1000Riel, did various bows and received approving nods and smiles from the old people who were sat around me.

Cambodian people love their religion and I have found my own attempts to practice it have been met with encouragement and pleasure. Indeed, when a woman in the village found out I would be joining in on Precept Day she walked 3km barefoot to deliver lunch to me to make sure I ate enough given that I would be observing the precept not to eat between 12pm and 6am. By supporting my spiritual practice the woman was practising generosity which one of Buddhism cardinal virtues. She was also making merit for herself.

The idea of making merit has to do with the concept of rebirth. There is a debate about whether or not the Buddha taught rebirth. Those who believe he did preach the concept of merit: that if you give gifts (especially gifts to the monks) you will get a good rebirth in the next life. While those reformists of the 20th Century argued that the Buddha never taught reincarnation and the idea of “making merit” was something of a racket. They raised the question that if people began to believe that their gifts got them no reward in a future life would they still give them?

Leaving aside the ability of my actions to affect any future rebirth, there was plenty of benefit to be found practicing the eight precepts on this day. It gave me an excuse to turn off my phone, laptop and Kindle and free myself from the glittering screens of the internet with its exciting stories and videos. I didn’t find myself bored in their absence; instead a mellow feeling of relaxation pervaded. In this respect, Precept Day is similar to the Jewish Sabbath, when Orthodox Jews will not allow themselves to drive or even operate a light switch.

Giving myself this respite from the trappings of modernity resulted in a kind of psychic renewal of the kind you might feel after returning from a relaxing beach break.

The effect of all this was to bring myself more into the present moment which, as anyone with who has had the vaguest brush with Eastern spirituality will tell you, is an important part of realizing the sacredness of life.

I felt more connected to my village community. The Cambodian’s have such a great affection for their religion that by practicing it with them I was able to more to integrate my Barang self.

The hunger of not eating past 12pm was not as bad as you would expect but I did find it difficult to sleep, thinking as I was, of those delicious dumplings served by Chinese Noodle on Monivong.

And now, as the temple gears up for the latest in what seems like weekly religious festivals, I find myself looking forward to sitting again with the ancient Khmers on Precept Day so I can remove myself from the pressures of work and modernity and experience a more idle and peaceful life.

If you want to join in Precept Day talk to your local temple. Relevant chants can be found here: http://www.suanmokkh-idh.org/talks/chanting-book-ver1-02.pdf


On Sympathy vs. Empathy: the tendency to distance and how to stay in contact.


By Aiya Leah Staller,  Art Therapy Master’s student at Naropa University

Service-Learning in Cambodia provides a unique opportunity to be a guest in another person’s country.  We are asking other people to share their stories with us through art, as we claim to help them by providing art therapy techniques.  What does it mean to be a “helper”? And how do we know if this is actually helpful? The image that is often portrayed in the U.S. culture is one of the “white savior” (do check out the link if you haven’t heard of this!) who comes in to help the less fortunate in countries that are not white. This idea pervades many of our psyche’s whether we want it to or not.  It is part of the U.S. culture and us; because most of us were raised here.  It may not always take the form of a white privileged person being a “savior” but there is usually some kind of power dynamic at play that is important to be aware of.  Often U.S. citizens believe that we are “saving” people in other countries, but this is simply not true. It can be a problematic belief that keeps us out of connection.  We may not be enacting it, but without being aware of this tendency, we are at risk of perpetuating it.  How do we stay accountable and challenge these belief systems? It is necessary for us to look critically at what our role and responsibility is in another country.  I know that many of us grapple with this responsibility and what it means to really be of service to another person, let alone another country.

It is our job to “unlearn” our cultural programming.  As students, we are learning about Cambodia, a new world to many of us.  Meeting people we have never met. Anticipating developing relationships. Wondering how best to serve. Anxious about what it all means. Excited to connect, and afraid to connect. Learning. We aren’t saviors. There is little that we can do to fix the issues that are happening in Cambodia for the people there. Trying to “fix” someone, or another culture, automatically sends a message that there is something wrong with them. We aren’t trying to fix anyone. I propose instead, that we are wanting to to meet them. To connect. To partner on this path together. Real healing comes from connections. From sharing an experience together. From being in the dirty, gritty, painful, scary, and lonely places that most people avoid. It’s about sharing joy and sorrow together. It’s making art together and sitting with someone. It’s not knowing what to do while we hurt with them, laugh with them, or cry with them.  It’s about contact and connection.  It’s about accountability to ourselves and others to be vulnerable in a way that is safe, though potentially scary, for all involved.  And it may be more about us and opening to our own cultural wounds through service and learning.

Brene Brown, a vulnerability researcher who many of you may have seen or heard of, talks about the difference between Sympathy and Empathy. Katy Davis animates one of Brene’s talks on this topic in an easy to understand cartoon which illustrates how we wish to be with those we meet.

This relates to our work in Cambodia.  Our responsibility to meet people where they are at.  To keep the connection alive.  It’s about connecting to our own feelings and staying with them, owning them, and staying in contact with the people we are hoping to be of service to.   For many of us, as future therapists, we are learning how to climb into the caves that people have, climb into dark cultural caves, climb into our own caves, and sit in the dark without pulling away.  It’s pulling out a flashlight and exploring the realities that are sometimes difficult to see.  It’s looking at our own assumptions so we can actually see what is in front of us. It is staying present with whatever is happening in the world.  It is a practice of staying in connection.  On a larger scale, this project is a practice in staying in connection with the people we have partnered with in Cambodia.  We are friends, allies, partners, and human beings forming a connection together and committing to not turn away, to distance, or to abandon.  As students, we have a huge responsibility and great deal of unknowing.   We really are going to be guests in another person’s land.   Their willingness to welcome us in is such a gift to us.   I’m not sure how we can express our gratitude.  From the stories that I have heard from past trips, all I can think to say is, like the bear in the cave says, “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.”

Service-Learning trips and Social Justice organizations often struggle with ways to stay accountable and ethical while providing services and learning.  Please feel free to share your own explorations around this topic.  How do we stay connected with Empathy vs. distancing ourselves through Sympathy?

We would love to hear from you.

For other blogs on Cultural Competency vs Cultural Humility, check out Daniel Rifkin’s earlier blog on our site as well.


Unveiling the Mandalas: Fundraising for the Service-Learning Trip to Cambodia. Come be part of the community!

An important piece of the service-learning trip to Cambodia involves fundraising through the annual Painting Marathon.  This year, the marathon, titled “Canvases for Cambodia”, has three teams including: The Creative Crusaders, The Sunbeams, and The Helping Hands.  Three canvases will be painted over the course of 48 hours to create distinct mandalas.  Sponsors support students by donating to each team as they paint.  This project serves to bring awareness to the service-learning trip, to the reality of sex-trafficking in Cambodia, and to build community support and connection.

canvases for cambodia

The Mandala:

Sanskrit for “sacred circle,” the mandala has represented a mystical symbol of the universe used primarily as a Buddhist or Hindu aid to meditation (Dellios, 2003).  An important part of Cambodian culture, the mandala represents, in this context, the coming together of community.  This is symbolized in the painters coming together to support this project, as well as the larger connection to a global community striving for social justice.  Come join us in connecting to the world through art and community.  Check out this years intentions from each team!  Follow the links to learn more about each team and how to be involved with them.

Introducing the Teams and their Intentions:  

The Creative Crusaders: Resilience, Empowerment, and Possibility

liz mandala

“This open-ended format embraces the whole spectrum of artistic ability, so whether you are a master photorealist, an intuitive abstract colorist, someone who relishes getting lost in intricate patterns, or EVEN if your talent with a paintbrush plateaued in preschool, your contribution has a place in the Mandala. In terms of what we will paint, team Creative Crusaders does not have any specific source images in mind, but we hope to draw upon the following themes for inspiration. A crusader is someone who fights for change in the world, and stands as the source for creating that change. Resilience, empowerment, possibility, justice, truth, courage, passion, and vision are just a few of the qualities we hope to evoke and honor in this Mandala. We encourage each artist to reflect upon your own associations of what it means to be a crusader for social justice. What symbols, colors, patterns, and images come to mind? Have a mandala that inspires you? Post it to our facebook page! We are so excited to create with you!”
The Sunbeams: Reminding us of Natural Cycles and Interconnection
“We create our image/mandala in honor of the Sun, a life-giving Mandala that we witness daily rising in the East and setting in the West.  It is a reminder that we are all united on Earth, as human beings, as nature.  It is a reminder that life is a cycle, always renewing, always rebirthing.  It is a symbol of hope and interconnection; the values we bring with us in our commitment to social justice.”
The Helping Hands: “The whole is greater then the sum of its parts”- Aristotle
“Helping Hands wants to represent each one of our painters over the 48hrs by having them create their own personal, individual mandala.  Each mandala created during your time painting will then create the illusion of a larger mandala.  Each small mandala becomes part of the greater image. Your marks help create the greater whole!”
How this relates to you:
If you live in the area, come paint with us!  No matter where you live, consider donating to support the 2014 team in their commitment to Social Justice, Art Therapy, and Learning.  This is one opportunity to be involve in something larger than ourselves while having fun in the process.  Don’t forget to follow the links to learn more about the teams or donate to them!
The General Donation Fund can also be donated to here.  We thank you for the support!
Dellios, R. (2003). Mandala: from sacred origins to sovereign affairs in traditional Southeast Asia. Center for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies.  Bond University.
Mandala Images Courtesy of:
Via the 2014 Team.
Compiled by Aiya Staller

Approaching Fear and Finding Love

By Paula Ulrich

A good 20+ hours into our travels to arrive in Cambodia, I began to feel really uncomfortable.  The third and last flight seemed to be the hardest.  I had to go through security one more time, I was tired, I was sleep deprived, I was disoriented, and I began to lose my bearings completely.  I even had a few minutes of panic when I misplaced my wallet and passport in the wrong pocket of my backpack.  I began to become emotionally hard, pushing up against any sign of possible discomfort, including a persisting fasten seatbelt sign.  I was frustrated.  I was angry.

And I was causing myself so much suffering.

In the midst of my mental worsening of the circumstances, I turned my iPod to an audio recording of Pema Chodron’s “The Places That Scare Us,” and began listening to her talk about how we so often shield ourselves from pain by building up walls of anger, frustration, and craving.  In this moment, I saw the additional pain I was causing myself in hardening to the fact I was genuinely scared.  Scared of leaving home.  Scared of unfamiliar surroundings.  Scared of the unknown.  Scared of everything.

In hearing these words, rather than continuing down this habitual path of aversion, I was able to open up my heart to my experiences, and though I was still afraid, I was no longer in so much pain.

I see this moment as a beautiful reminder for this whole experience: face my fears of the unknown and hold myself with care.  So today, I ran with the moment – and LOVED IT.

Our first day in Siem Reap we rode in on a tuktuk (a buggy attached to the back of a motorbike) on busy streets with no stop signs and a lot of organized chaos.  We walked around the busy streets, popped into store fronts, failed at an attempt to read a map, got a massage, drank some fresh coconut juice, and more.  We even dipped our feet into a tank and let some fish nibble on our toes (a $3 exfoliating service – though I found the benefits of crazy ticklish laughter to be even better in softening my heart, rather than my feet).  Seriously, I bet if I ever am having a bad day here, I will just let some fish suck on my toes and laugh my heart out.

Even now, I feel an anxiousness creep up into my mind thinking about everything we will be doing.  But rather than hardening against it, I just try to breathe and open my heart to whatever comes along, and then I can experience love.

IMG_0044 IMG_0058 IMG_0101Please 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.

Student Blog Entry: Raising Funds and Raising Awareness – The Work Before the Work

“Raising Funds and Raising Awareness – The Work Before the Work”

by Emily Wilson

I am so incredibly excited, and perhaps just now realizing, that we are going to Cambodia to learn, to serve, to share our skills, and to build relationship.  That may seem strange, as this blog and project have been going on for over a year, a group of students already went and I had been accepted for this project months ago.  But for me, it is just becoming real.  So much preparation has been going on; learning about Cambodia and Trauma-Informed Art Therapy®, exploring cultural humility, discussing ethics, getting vaccines, figuring out the schedule logistics and NGOs that we will be partnering with, participating in community awareness events, and raising funds.  It is hard to believe that in less than two months, we will be on the plane to Cambodia getting ready to embark on a life changing experience.

So, how do we pay for the plane tickets, the art supplies to bring, the accommodation for students and supervisors while we are there?  The answer – A lot of hard work and all of you!   I began getting involved with NCAS-I at the beginning of 2012.  I helped serve in the role as Project Manger to organize the 2012 Art Auction Gala, then the 2012 Painting Marathon and now this year’s Art Auction Gala.  It took a dedicated and tireless body of student volunteers, community members, and faculty and staff to coordinate, and take responsibility for all of the moving parts to create these successful fundraisers.  Since the start of this project less than two years ago, we have held over 30 formal 2-4 hours meeting and countless one-off meetings, over 500 individually tracked tasks our control log, enough funds raised to ‘pay it forward’ to sponsor the next year’s trip each year, over 300 volunteers, 250 artists donating matchboxes, and numerous in-kind donations including entertainment, food and drink.

So, why do we do this?  Perhaps if each person took the countless hours invested to work a part time job, we could raise the same amount, or even more funds towards the trip. I have three answers for this:  

1. It builds community – This year’s trip will be undertaken by a group of ten students and two supervisors.  Through our time together and especially our time working hard to create these events, we are building cohesiveness in our group.  A sense of community, togetherness, with each member having an active and contributing role helps to describe group cohesiveness (Corey, Corey & Corey, 2010, Yalom & Leszc, 2005).  I am learning through our process of hard work that I can count on each person, I am seeing others’ many strengths, and I feel we are creating a bond that will hopefully serve us well as we embark on this adventure.

2. It brings awareness – These events also bring awareness to the community and create an environment for dialogue; about sex trafficking, about international work and cultural humility, about the ethics involved, about working with fair trade organizations and orphanages, about sending collective prayers and wishes for peace.  And in addition to the fund-raising events, we participate in many other community awareness events, such as the Longmont Street Festival, at which we talked about this project, and created prayer flags as a symbol for hopes and wishes.  NCAS-I members also spoke about their 2012 trip at a community event and spoke at a Naropa Board meeting to bring awareness within the Naropa Community.  We participated in CU’s Eye Contact event, which was specifically geared towards the issues of human trafficking.  We participated in Art Therapy workshops at BMOCA, a sex trafficking symposium with Transitions, spoke on KGNU, had a feature in Naropa Magazine and the Daily Camera, the Boulder Weekly and more!  We are sparking a dialogue and trying to bring a moment for discussion wherever we go.

3. It is FUN! Each event I participated in and even the work up to the event was FUN!  We laugh, we have exciting events, we create together, we eat great food, we express gratitude and it is super fun.  Rather than write anymore, I have included these pictures to express my sentiment.


Corey C., Corey J., & Corey M. (2010). Groups: Process and practice (8th ed.). Brooks/Cole: Belmont, CA.

Yalom, I & Leszcz, M. (2005). The Theory and practice of group psychotherapy. Basic Books: Cambridge, MA.

Student Blog Entry: The Transformational Power of Art

“The Transformational Power of Art”

By Lisa Lamoreaux

The 2nd Annual Matchbox Art Auction Gala is just around the corner, and our team is busy preparing for the event. I get more and more excited with each matchbox coming in. I am amazed and inspired by the creativity of the artists. Inspecting them closely, I see the tiny masterpieces as a snapshot into the artist’s personal universe. Each box becomes its own world, with its own story that is unique to the artist’s hand that created it. All the pieces are so different, and yet, all connected through their humble beginnings as a matchbox. A matchbox turned into something more – a beautiful piece of art that will be auctioned off at this year’s gala.

When thinking of the incredible matchbox transformations, I am reminded of something I read in preparation for our upcoming trip to Cambodia. Herbert (2012) talks about finding in the galleries and shops of Cambodia, works of art and jewelry crafted from the metal of old, deactivated landmines. Herbert (2012) describes these pieces of jewelry and art as being proof of the possibilities to transform traumatic experiences through art. When reading this, I was struck by the Cambodian people’s resiliency. They are literally taking pieces of their traumatic, war torn history and turning it into something beautiful. They are using art to rewrite the stories and reclaim their culture. By doing this, the people of Cambodia are integrating their experiences and healing from societal trauma.


“Hanging Love Charm” by Merryl Rothaus

Many of the people we will be working with in Cambodia have experienced trauma on both a historical and a personal level. We are going there to offer art therapy as a tool to heal these traumas. It is also important to remember that the Cambodian people are the experts of their experiences, and that we are going there to learn from them.

In 2011 a group of people were inspired to expand Naropa Community Art Studio (NCAS) to include international work (NCAS-I). The dream started with $50 dollars that bought 500 matchboxes. Those matchboxes were transformed into masterpieces, and auctioned off to raise funds at our first Matchbox Art Auction Gala. The gala was such a success that we decided to do it again. The 2013 service-learning trip to Cambodia is made possible through the support of our community coming together and donating time and money. Please join us for the 2nd Annual Matchbox Art Auction Gala, April 12, 2013, from 7 to 10pm for a fun-filled night of art and entertainment.

MatcboxGala_INVITE-Final (3)

Herbert, C. (2012). Integration of arts therapy and traditional Cambodian arts and rituals in recovering from political-societal trauma In D. Kalmanowitz, J. Potash & S. Chan (Eds.), Art therapy in Asia: To bone or wrapped in silk (pp. 209-220). Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Student Blog Entry: Cultural Humility, Political Correctness, and Intentions

“Cultural Humility, Political Correctness, and Intentions”

By Alexa Pinsker

“The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” – bell hooks

In preparation for our trip to Cambodia, we have been discussing the most beneficial ways to communicate our purpose, vision, and mission of the trip.  As we dialogue more, it seems more awareness around language has resulted.  Recently, I joked that it is difficult to explain the trip in a few sentences because each week the appropriate language has changed. For example, I once described the trip as a service-learning trip intended to empower women survivors of the sex trafficking industry.  As Zara Zimbardo illustrated, the word empower implies that a woman does not have power and that another (in this case a White American Naropa student) has the ability to give her power.  This meaning changes the intention of the word and creates, as well as perpetuates, the notion of the “savior” who goes in to help the powerless victim.  This was not my intention and I would not want to imply this by using the word “empower.” Consequently, I do see the value in examining appropriate language. However, I do not want to be so vigilant about using the appropriate word that I am afraid to express or communicate at all to people here and to the Cambodian people.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines political correctness as “the avoidance of forms of expression or action that exclude, marginalize, or insult certain racial or cultural groups” (Barber, 2001). As a group, the notion of “do no harm” has often come up, meaning if you are unsure of your intention or action, return to the principle of not doing harm to others.  When sharing and exchanging with other cultures, some of the best experiences I’ve had have come from being open, curious, and respectful.  I have certainly made mistakes when trying to understand one’s culture, but I have found that most people are forgiving if they see one is coming from a genuine place of curiosity and the desire to learn or understand. Connecting isn’t always about getting it right!  The point is, it’s okay to make mistakes when working with people who may come from a different culture or religion.  It is these mistakes which can often lead to greater understanding and awareness because we are not masking our ignorance with an attitude of all knowing expertise on a particular language or culture.  Cultivating the right attitude is not just about using the right words; it’s also about cultivating the right intentions.  As Bell Hooks (1994) beautifully states in her essay, Love as the Practice of Freedom, “The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” Personally, my intention is to share Trauma-Informed Art Therapy® Skills with the people of Cambodia and to both learn and share as much as possible from the Cambodian people in the process, with an open heart.

Barber, K. (2001). The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.). Ontario: Oxford                  University Press.

hooks, b. (1994). Outlaw culture: Resisting representations. New York, NY: Routledge.

Student Blog Entry: Make Good Art

     Earlier this semester, during a break (procrastination) from grad school, work, internship search, and planning for the matchbox gala, I was killing some time on the youtube and came across a commencement speech given to the University of the Arts class of 2012 by Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors. In his speech he discusses his journey to becoming a writer having never went to college. How he became a better writer by writing, his failures and rejections, and the hopelessness he faced when the prospects of achieving his dreams seemed too great. True to form, he also included his personal recipe for success in life. Although I appreciated his personal spin, much of his advice could be found in many other commencement or otherwise motivational speeches. What stayed with me was his final prescription; make good art, it will get you through the good times and it will get you through the bad times. Leg crushed and eaten by a mutated boa constrictor; make good art. IRS on your trail; make good art. Cat exploded; make good art. Someone on the internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before; make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best; make good art.

     Now, this brings up an interesting question. What is good art? The question ‘what is art?’ often arises; and has since before Andy Warhol created abstract paintings using his own urine and reactive copper paint, before Duchamp painted a mustache on the Mona Lisa. The question, what is ‘good art’ then is even more complicated. For me art is a creation that speaks to, and speaks from, one’s personal truths. Art is a reflection of some aspect of oneself. Good art then, is when that reflection can connect with the personal truths of others. My personal truth is that I love creating, I love being outdoors, and I love my sense of humor, I value my imagination above all else. To quote André Breton “Beloved imagination, what I most like in you is your unsparing quality”.

     Several weeks ago I came down with a cold.  Unable to fully concentrate on my readings, having to constantly attend to my runny nose and in a mental fog of cold medicine, I followed Neil’s advice and made art. With the matchbox gala on the horizon, I decided to make matchbox art. The first matchbox I ever made, before even knowing I was coming to Naropa was a dinosaur; so I decided to start there. Eventually, I noticed that I was actually starting to feel better. I was so focused on what I was doing that I didn’t notice when my sinuses were plugged or feel the need to cough every time there was a tickle in my throat.




     It was another side of my truth that brought me to Naropa and led to my involvement with the Naropa Community Art Studio-International project; I care very much about people and I want to facilitate others finding their own truth and expression, and live their lives to the fullest, I will cry out against injustice, and I do not give up easily. Recently in our preparations, we read several articles concerning sex-trafficking worldwide and specifically in Cambodia. These articles discussed the violence inflicted upon those forced into prostitution; verbal abuse, physical beatings, early sexual abuse, traumatic head injuries, STDs, and rape (Farley et al., 2003). It is not often thought that prostitutes are raped, but when someone is unable to decline their sexual partners due to threats of violence, or they are physically forced into sex, beaten, drugged, and taken advantage of, that is rape.

     In Cambodia, young girls are often unknowingly sold to brothels by their families. They are told there are jobs in factories and restaurants then given an advance on their daughter’s first paycheck. That advance then becomes a debt the girls must pay off through enslavement at a brothel. Their virginity is sold for $500, after which the brothel rents them to 6-7 men each day to masturbate into for a price of $2 (Freed, 2003).

     I have again been feeling sick recently. Not a physical sickness, but one of the soul. How can the efforts of twelve make a dent in what is often referred to as the ‘world’s oldest profession’? How can we impact a problem that exists in almost every culture worldwide? How can we do something positive in Cambodia when it is estimated that 59%-80% of Cambodian men have paid for sex at least once, by far the highest of any other country? I feel hopeless and helpless. What went wrong in our evolution? This malice and brutality does not exist in other animals, no other species beats their mates unconscious before it rapes them. I feel like we are fighting back a wildfire with squirt guns and the fire keeps growing every day. We can keep treating the burn victims but this problem requires systemic changes. We need to change how our global culture views masculinity and power.

     So what do I do with these feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, fear in facing the overwhelming immensity of the problem? I make good art. I have experienced the profound healing power of art in my own life. Making art has helped me out of this mire of helplessness, fear, and anger before. Prostitution is not a one-sided problem. I believe those who perpetuate this abuse are in need of healing just as much as those they hurt. I believe art can heal the world, and I do not give up easily.

 By James Huffman

Farley, M., Cotton, A., Lynne, J., Zumbeck, S., Spiwak, F., Reyes, M. E., et al. (2003). Prostitution and trafficking in nine countries: an update on violence and posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Trauma Practice, 2(3), 33-74.

Freed, W. (2003). From duty to despair: brothel prostitution in cambodia. Journal of Trauma Practice, 2(3), 133-146.

No Sunday Plans? Watch “Half the Sky” Online!

Watch Part 1 through October 8 here:  http://video.pbs.org/video/2283557115

Watch Part 2 through October 9 here:  http://video.pbs.org/video/2283558278

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide was filmed in 10 countries and follows Kristof, WuDunn, and celebrity activists America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, and Olivia Wilde on a journey to tell the stories of inspiring, courageous individuals. Across the globe oppression is being confronted, and real meaningful solutions are being fashioned through health care, education, and economic empowerment for women and girls. The linked problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality — which needlessly claim one woman every 90 seconds — present to us the single most vital opportunity of our time: the opportunity to make a change. All over the world women are seizing this opportunity.” -From http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/half-the-sky/

“When women progress, we all progress.” – From “Half the Sky”

Do you want to support NCAS-I and our upcoming Painting Marathon fundraiser?  Visit our Crowdrise page and donate to the cause HERE!

Restoration Movement Symposium: SUCCESS!

1st and 2nd Year Graduate Art Therapy Students, along with Sue Wallingford, at the Transitions Symposium in Denver, September 29, 2012 (Photo by Erin Shannon)

What an incredible opportunity it was for representatives from NCAS-I to attend the Restoration Movement Symposium hosted by Transitions in Denver last weekend.  We learned about the urgency in bringing awareness to the issue of sex-trafficking, both here in Colorado and globally.  We learned that trauma-informed care is imperative when working toward rehabilitation and reintegration for survivors of sex-trafficking.  What’s more, we know that quality restoration care takes time, is worth doing well, and cannot be done alone.  Collaboration, a founding principle of NCAS-I, is key.

As we look to the future, we are very excited about the possibility of forging new partnerships with organizations in Cambodia, maintaining NCAS-I’s mission to actively engage with social justice organizations like Chab Dai, Transitions, and Polaris Project.

Moving forward, we find inspiration in James Pond’s words when asked, “How do you find hope with such difficult work?” The co-founder of Transitions responded, “It is the small successes that matter – when you actually have a girl reintegrate back into society without being re-trafficked, re-exploited or voluntarily engaging in prostitution.”  Follow James and Athena Pond and The Restoration Movement here!

Thank you to Sgt. Daniel Steele, Tovah Means, Stacia Freeman, Katherine Chon, Helen Sworn, and James and Athena Pond!

P.S. We walked away from the Symposium with a wealth of knowledge and look forward to sharing more with you as we continue our journey!  Thank you all for your support and please stay tuned!