Wednesday, March 27, 2013

She waived the scarves high and low

Written by Julia A. Crawford
Lead Therapeutic Movement Instructor, Bhutanese

Teaching in tough places sometimes means teaching 50 women who speak various dialects of Swahili (and you don’t) without a translator in the middle of a forest in a war zone. And sometimes it means teaching in South Philadelphia with no electricity.

The thing of it is, if the electrical outlets were working that day, it never would have happened.

I was bringing the Bhutanese group to a close with our closing ritual. The same ritual that we have done together since September, but the outlets weren’t working. I improvised, “Come to a circle. Everyone stomp your feet, we need to make a rhythm because the music won’t play. Add any rhythm to it you would like!” The children immediately held the steady beat in their feet and added flourish with unique half time, double time, and some off time clapping.

I entered the circle with my two scarves as I always do each week. I danced. I passed the scarves to a child, who then entered the circle and did a fantastic knee-lifting jig. The children took their turns, one after another, as always. But something special was happening this week, something profound. We were creating the rhythm for each other, we needed each other, and we were supporting one another fluidly and importantly. We were beginning to enter a “thin space” – a transcendent moment.

As the scarves were being passed from child to child I gestured to the four women who had come early to collect their children to join us in the circle. They shook their heads no as they giggled at my offer, yet they were clapping and supporting us with their contributed rhythm. As the last child ended their improvised dance, he handed the scarves back to me. But the momentum was alive and the children were clapping and laughing and dancing about as they maintained the circle, so I took a risk. I danced over to the eldest woman, the grandmother of a child who comes regularly to our sessions.
I danced to her, she met my eyes with hers, and as I handed her the scarves she took them. She stood up slowly and moved with poise to the center of our circle. The children were ecstatic, jumping out of their skin ecstatic. They supported her with strong rhythms and laughter and beaming smiles. She waived the scarves high and low and held my eyes in hers all the while. I clapped for her with an open heart. My eyes were welling up and so were hers. She finished her dance and pressed the palms of her hands together and bowed her head. I did the same.

She danced the scarves over to another child, this child then danced to another mother, who danced too! This mother passed the scarves to another child, who danced to another mother, who also danced! She then passed the scarves to another child who then danced the scarves over to HIS mother. As he handed her the scarves they began to dance together to the sound of our rhythm.
The children burst into cheering as this came to a close. Their voices speaking the words of the BuildaBridge motto, “I will surround myself with people who want the best for me…” resounded like never before. Dancing together heals and connects us.

I went to the grandmother to say thank you, we don’t speak the same language, but we were communicating. I placed my hands on my heart and with my eyes told her that she had moved me. She placed the palms of her hands together again and bowed her head as she moved closer to me and I did the same. And then she hugged me. I was filled up. It was mutual. We had shared a thin space.

Tony Kuschner’s poem entitled “An Undoing World” reads:
You drift away, you're carried by a stream.
Refugee a wanderer you roam;
You lose your way, so it will come to seem:
No Place in Particular is home.
You glance away, your house has disappeared,
The sweater you've been knitting has unpurled.
You live adrift, and everything you feared
Comes to you in this undoing world.

It may be that children and mothers and grandmothers who are seeking refuge in a new country feel that no place in particular is home as they strive to integrate the values and rituals of the past with survival in the present, but it also may be that home can be felt for a moment in someone’s eyes when you are surrounded by people who want the best for you.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Going with the Flow

“Going with the flow is like a river because it keeps flowing through different obstacles.” 

Therapists used this metaphor in Sunday’s art therapy group to transition children from one lesson to the next.  The last few groups children learned how to turn mistakes on their artwork into something new; the same way one can make a mistake in life and turn it into a new opportunity.  Children understood this lesson as evidenced by their responses, “You can work through it” or “You can change it into something else” and also by their artwork when they weren’t allowed a second piece of paper; rather, asked to use their current piece with mistakes and make it into a new drawing.  Building on this lesson of helping children adapt to the changes in their lives, the therapist introduced the phrase, “Going with the flow” which is like a river that keeps going despite the curves, bumps and hills.   
Art therapist Christine Byma leads a discussion with children about their artwork.

Therapists asked the children to differentiate between a lake and a river, pre-testing the group’s knowledge of the academic subject.  Their responses included, “A river flows and a lake does not” and “a river curves and is not always straight.”  Using a geography book, the therapist then read descriptions of each with accompanying visual images.  Building on previous group lessons of warm and cool colors, children began drawing and coloring a collective mural of a large river using their recently gained knowledge.  Children will add to this mural in the coming weeks as they learn key life, art, social and academic lessons.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Developing Leaders in the Bhutanese community

Children who have experienced trauma and are in tranistion often lack control of their actions, impulsivity and words.  The activities developed for the Bhutanese art therapy groups are all designed to help children gain confidence in their decisions and find focus through those activities.  The therapist's consistent positive regard and encouragement to be independent in addition the safe place for artistic exploration allows children to develop better impulse control.  Julia Crawford, lead therapeutic movement instructor for Bhutanese groups, provides the evidence that the BuildaBridge art therapy groups are truly making a difference in the lives of individual children.  During the most recent group, March 10th, Julia analyzes one child's behavior:

"P. is developing greatly in impulse control and is becoming a leader in the class. He lights up when he is asked to lead. He patiently waits his turn to read the lines of the motto and rules because he knows his turn is coming. He watches the art therapist's eyes intently and when she looks to him he often says, “it’s my turn” and then reads. He is wholeheartedly engaged in painting, often producing more than 3 pieces of art with each project. When he finishes, the art therapist engages him in conversation about his work; it is clear that he has completed the piece the way he planned it. He also often dances with his whole body, doing a repetitive knee lifting jig that uses more of a range of movement than many of the other children use. This appears to encourage others to explore."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mistakes to Opportunities

Julia Crawford assisting a child with his art project
Sunday's art therapy group with the Bhutanese children taught them a valuable life lesson...even if we make mistakes, we can turn them into other opportunities and better choices for the future.  The lesson began the group prior when a child accidentally smeared black paint on his paper.  The child asked for another piece to re-start his project.  Julia Crawford, lead therapeutic movement instructor, gave the child another paper, yet in the moment, recognized an opportunity to share a life lesson.  "Maybe we could make something out of this mistake. Sometimes the best pieces of art come out of mistakes that we make into something new.”  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hello, Hello, how do you do?

by Danielle Dembrosky-Bossert

Bhutanese children sing this welcome song at the beginning of each art therapy group held in South Philadelphia twice a month. The song originates from Dr. Vivian Nix-Early's (COO) work as music therapist and is used in many BuildaBridge art therapy groups as a welcome song or ritual.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Children as Trees

By Julia Crawford (right)
Just before the start of the Bhutanese refugee therapeutic movement and visual art session, the mother of a young boy who attends our sessions regularly began to tell me that her son had been hit by a car since our last session. As she told the story, her 7-year-old son buzzed around the room, whistling and dancing, exploring and touching every interesting thing in the room. He seemed to keep an ear open to hearing what his mother shared and he became particularly intrigued when his 10-year-old sister came over to contribute to the story. Her eyes welled up as she explained what it was like to see her brother in the hospital. Upon seeing this, he quickly came over to tease her for caring about him. Both children have already experienced a great deal in their short years.