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.

Student Blog Entry: Using Our Voices

“Using Our Voices”

By Bethany Wells

“The realization that one exists as a whole of mutually conditioned relationships and that one is absolutely connected with all of existence may be the next step in human evolution” -Francis Vaughn

The NCAS-I team has been working with enthusiasm and dedication in preparation for our 2nd annual learning-service opportunity to work with women and girls who have escaped the sex trade. When I began my journey into art therapy it was with a clear intention of working cross-culturally, with marginalized and underserved communities, and in the field of social justice. When the possibility to get involved with the issue of sex trafficking by using art as a means toward healing arose, I knew this was an incredible chance to learn about, witness, and work with the suffering of the world. That said, there is still so much I don’t understand about the complex and pervasive system of deception, coercion, betrayal, sexual exploitation, and brutality that exists in and between almost every culture across the globe.

It can be argued that sex trafficking begins with poverty. With nearly every survivor there is a story of a family who did not have enough money to feed their children, could only afford to send one child to school so they chose the boy, and/or unequal opportunity for women and girls to find other sources of income. It is also speculated that most females who are or have been sex slaves or work(ed) in the sex industry have a history of abuse and/or addiction. But on top of these intertwining explanations, there are human beings that prey on the vulnerability of the poor, homeless, and young; that drug, kidnap, manipulate, coerce, control, intimidate, and physically, sexually, emotionally and psychologically abuse other human beings. Modern day sexual slavery is an organized criminal enterprise that condemns millions of women and children to social (and often literal) death, for the sexual pleasure and profit of others.

Where does one begin to address this problem? Why is there such disparity in access to resources throughout the world? Why is there still unequal opportunity for education and employment between genders? And how could anyone be capable of committing such atrocities against another person?

Learning to be therapists, it is difficult enough to face the reality of sexual and domestic violence as it operates interpersonally or in a single family. How much more difficult then, to face the reality of sexual violence as exercised by an elaborate and alarmingly lucrative industry that operates in nearly every community, systematically reducing victims to the condition of slavery (Herman, 2004). Knowing this phenomenon, studying the staggering worldwide statistics, and hearing the stories of survivors who have chosen to break the silence, fills my head with shock, horror, disgust, and dread. Dread that the problem is too big, too deeply rooted in patriarchy and capitalism, power and corruption. But when I look at organizations like Lotus Outreach International, Chab Dai, Polaris Project, iEmpathize, Truckers Against Trafficking, NCAS-I, and more, I see hope. I know that it may be too much for one person but with the number of activists, advocates, and brigades increasing every day, and the ability to approach this issue from countless different angles, change is possible.

Since my time with this project began I have had many conversations about the issue of sex trafficking with people who were either not aware of modern day slavery, or had a vague idea but assumed it only happened “over there” in countries far away and very different from ours. Thirty years ago, rape, domestic violence, and incest were similarly invisible, despite their high prevalence. A mass movement was required to bring these abuses into public awareness, which has resulted in enormous changes in the criminal justice system and victim advocacy. One hundred and fifty years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves during the civil war, it is astonishing that we still face the need to fight slavery. But the fact is—today, human trafficking is a $32-billion worldwide industry with more than 2.7 million people enslaved; has been reported in all 50 states, and the number of victims in the United States are estimated in the hundreds of thousands (U.S. Department of Justice).

In addition to the increasing numbers of organizations working to eradicate human trafficking, progress is being made regarding institutional accountability. In September, President Obama pledged his commitment to renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) during a highly public speech at the Clinton Global Initiative. Some say it was the longest speech on slavery by a U.S. president since the Emancipation Proclamation. The president also announced an executive order to strengthen U.S. efforts to stop human trafficking in government contracting, pledged to provide relevant officials and agencies with training and guidance programs on human trafficking, and promised to expand resources and services for trafficking survivors. On March 7th, 2013, hundreds of advocates, survivors, law enforcement officials and lawmakers gathered to witness President Obama sign legislation to renew the TVPA.

Ending modern slavery will not come with one speech, one executive order, or one signed piece of legislation. It will come if all of us—citizens, governments, corporations, and the philanthropic community—make it the priority it needs to be. “The demands for young adolescent girls, the abuses perpetrated by traffickers and brothel owners, and the social attitudes toward the women who become their victims are all issues that need to be addressed on a global level” (Freed 2004). The social and political institutions that support prostitution and the individuals who perpetuate and maintain such abuses for personal and financial gain need to be stopped. Only then will we be on our way to ensuring that every person is afforded the human dignity we deserve, no matter where we were born or what circumstances we find ourselves in.

In our recent conversations about ethical marketing and fundraising, NCAS-I members have grappled with how to address the issue of sex trafficking in a way that grabs and holds attention without sensationalization or unintentionally contributing to the exotification of victims, people’s fascination, disgust, or misconceptions, and we have experienced some paralyzing uncertainty regarding the complexity of language. But still, we have to talk about it. The main contributor to any cycle of violence (in addition to shame and stigma) is silence. We must use our voices and privilege (ethically, sensitively and respectfully of course) in ways that victims can’t, in order to get this issue on everyone’s radar. And for those of us who are artists and aspiring art therapists, we have another, far-reaching and important instrument for activism and healing. I am beyond excited to be a part of the large community of people working to eradicate this system of abuse and to assist women in discovering and/or reclaiming their incredible power.

Freed, W. (2004). From duty to despair: Brothel prostitution in Cambodia. In M. Farley, Prostitution, trafficking and traumatic stress (pp. 1-13). NY, NY: Routledge.

Herman, J.L. (2004). Introduction. In M. Farley, Prostitution, trafficking and traumatic stress (pp. 133-146). NY, NY: Routledge.

Student Blog Entry: Baby Steps

Students who will be traveling to Cambodia for this year’s service learning trip are currently enrolled in a preparatory practicum class. Throughout the semester and while in Cambodia, each student is required to write blog posts based on the material we are studying in class, our readings, our fundraising events, preparations for the service-learning trip, and experiences during the trip. The “Student Blog Entry” is a result of this educational requirement. This first series of posts centers on the learning that took place when students had the privilege of engaging in a virtual “Skype” discussion with Zara Zimbardo, co-founder of The White Noise Collective, professor at California Institute of Integral Studies, and an all-together invaluable resource for facilitating important dialogue around cultural humility. We hope you enjoy reading it and will offer your own thoughts and feedback.

“Baby Steps”

By Paula Ulrich

What are the first things that come to mind when you hear the term “sex trafficking”?  What are your automatic responses?  How are you informed?  How have you been misinformed?

I struggle in presenting a brief and complete “why” when I tell people I am traveling to Cambodia for school.  I often say something along the lines of, “I am going to learn about the culture, collaborate with people there, and offer trauma-informed, social action art therapy to local NGOs.  I will be working with teen survivors of sex trafficking, young orphans, staff, and groups of women.”  Sometimes I am eloquent.  Most times, less.  But in naming what I think is the best synopsis of what I will be doing, I have neglected to consider what impact my words may have on the people whom I am speaking with.  I have found by mention of the words, “sex trafficking,” people miss hearing the rest of my words and follow their own stories about what it could mean.

What spurred this consideration for me was our group’s recent Skype discussion with Zara Zimbardo, MA, professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies and co-founder of The White Noise Collective.  She mentioned how important it is for us to not only consider our own biases, norms, and assumptions, but to also be aware that those we speak to about our project will bring their own assumptions to the conversation.

For example, I mentioned this project to a medical doctor a few weeks ago.  He was immediately “hooked” and curious to hear about it, but became quickly dismissive.  “I can’t believe the things people do,” he exclaimed.  He, like others, was quick to praise my perceived efforts, and continue no further with the discussion.  Can you blame him?  Sex trafficking is a heavy subject for casual conversations about what you are up to over the summer.  Heavy or not, it is a real issue and a loud cry of suffering in our world.  Or as Zara stated, “Sex trafficking is a symptom of a sick system.”

We may find sex trafficking to be such a horrible subject we separate ourselves from it.  Yes, I am going to Cambodia and will be working with survivors, but it is not only a foreign problem.  Human trafficking of girls for sex happens in the U.S. as well.  For example, during our group’s Skype session, Zara mentioned the Super Bowl as the largest event for sex trafficking in the U.S.  My jaw dropped.

Here is just one of many articles: (I appreciate this article for its highlighting of Clemmie Greenlee’s personal story connecting to the greater issue.)
And another:

The issue of sex trafficking alone is a huge struggle for me.  It feels so much greater than myself, my group, this project, and three weeks in a foreign country.  Pile that on to the rest of the issues we will be facing in Cambodia, from cultural differences, to language and communication differences, to historical interactions of the U.S. with Cambodia, to issues around power and privilege, and more.  I feel overwhelmed.  I wish I had an answer to this painful systematic cry.  And right now, without an answer, all I can do is breathe and trust the process.

In the end, we want to struggle with questions, conflicts, and ethical considerations.  It means we are trying, learning, and growing.  I assess my experiences from both a personal and more global/social level.  The examination of my exchange with the world I live in is an ongoing practice, as it is a relational process, and therefore continually changing.  I hope to sustain this dialogue well beyond this project.  I also hope to find more successful ways to inform others, spark discussions, and eventually affect change.

It starts with each one of us.  Please, question what you hear.  Inform yourself.  Color the cultural air you breathe by examining what you have learned is “normal” and why.  Look at your place in the system.  Draw connections between your personal self and the stories you hear about others.  Take action.  Find those baby steps to begin great change.

I hope this process begins my baby steps.

Student Blog Entry: What really is cultural competency?

Students who will be traveling to Cambodia for this year’s service learning trip are currently enrolled in a preparatory practicum class. Throughout the semester and while in Cambodia, each student is required to write blog posts based on the material we are studying in class, our readings, our fundraising events, preparations for the service-learning trip, and experiences during the trip. The “Student Blog Entry” is a result of this educational requirement. This first series of posts centers on the learning that took place when students had the privilege of engaging in a virtual “Skype” discussion with Zara Zimbardo, co-founder of The White Noise Collective, professor at California Institute of Integral Studies, and an all-together invaluable resource for facilitating important dialogue around cultural humility. We hope you enjoy reading it and will offer your own thoughts and feedback.

“What really is cultural competency?”

By Danielle Rifkin

“You must believe in your own creative power to put things together with vision and insight…you must love humanity and be willing to empathize with all who suffer—to get inside their skin and see the world through their eyes” -Cloé Madanes

In preparing for our trip to Cambodia, we have been having a lot of conversations recently about how to be culturally aware both in how we communicate about our trip and once we are in Cambodia doing our work. What I have discovered in these conversations is that it is impossible to be truly cultural competent as a therapist and that it might be more important to be open and curious along our journey than to claim our expertise and knowledge.

During a fruitful discussion with Zara Zimbardo, co-founder for The White Noise Collective and professor at California Institute of Integral Studies, she mentioned how cultural competency, which is such a buzz word in therapy programs, implies distinct knowing and mastery of a skill rather than constantly being willing to both question what we do know and feel comfortable owning what we don’t know. She encouraged replacing cultural competency with cultural humility to further emphasize the struggle and questioning, which are key to the process.

To be honest, listening to Zara’s incredible wisdom about humility left me even more overwhelmed and somewhat discouraged. As someone who has used the word competency, I became fearful of how powerful language can be and how easy it is to use words that might offend or misrepresent. In another example, we were recently discussing the language to use to market our upcoming art auction gala, and it became even more clear how the use of a single word such as ‘support’ or ‘empower’, which you could think of as positive and encouraging, can also imply an unequal privilege and power to the work we will be doing with women and children in Cambodia. What I also came away with is that it is natural to feel this discomfort and confusion.

On the other hand, as much I think it is vital to live in this place of humility and struggle, I think it is also valuable to own our strengths and skills that we bring to our work. We are fortunate enough to have the time to learn about the history and culture of Cambodia, to explore our country’s relationship to Cambodia, to see how art therapy has been successfully used in Asia, and to develop our own methods and interventions based on our knowledge of Trauma-Informed Art Therapy® and the healing potential of art (Malchoidi, 2011).

In the article Remembering Our Heritage by Cloé Madanes, she outlines all the important traits of being a therapist including, “you must believe in your own creative power to put things together with vision and insight…you must love humanity and be willing to empathize with all who suffer—to get inside their skin and see the world through their eyes” (2004, p. 70). I think this quote eloquently describes the strength and humility that we can bring to our work ahead.

Madanes, C. (2004, November/December). Remembering Our Heritage. Psychotherapy Networker, 52-70.

Malchiodi, C. (2011). Trauma-informed art therapy with sexually abused children. In P. Goodyear-Brown (Ed.), Handbook of sexual abuse treatment. New York, NY: Wiley.