Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sea creatures

Children commenting on their model magic sea creatures

Moving like snakes
The past two Bhutanese art therapy groups focused on the movements of a river and the creatures that reside in water.  This is part of a 4-5 group series in which the theme of a river is used to teach children academic skills about geography and more importantly, metaphors for how a river is like life.  In both sessions, children used a scarf to illustrate various movements a river can make:  steady, slow, fast, bumpy and curvy.  Children then mimicked the river’s speed with movements of their own, using all parts of their body, arms, head, legs and entire body movements.  In the prior session, children used model magic to create sea creatures for their river mural.  In the most recent session, children illustrated how their sea creature moved, exploring movements of a slithering snake, swimming fish, hopping like frogs and a crab walk.  Nine children attended the most recent group on April 21st including a brand new student who had never attended before. 

Click the picture to see the entire Photo Album

Friday, April 19, 2013

Four Key ingredients to building resiliency in refugee children

Safe Spaces and Structured boundaries

Spaces for children need to protect them from physical and emotional harm and help them feel safe. Physically safe spaces are spaces that are clean, free of sharp objects and dangerous things. They have room for children to move and play. To keep children physically safe, adults need to set rules of proper behavior and be constantly aware of what is going on in the environment. Physically safe spaces also meet children’s basic needs. Children also need emotionally safe spaces that are child-friendly. Child friendly spaces provide children with a sense of safety, structure, continuity, and support amidst often overwhelming circumstances." These are spaces where children feel free to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of ridicule. Safe spaces for children should uphold peace and gender equity and accept differences of class, caste, and religion. Refugee children often come from refugee camps where life is chaotic, unstable, often unsafe and most dwelling and public places are shared. Creating a safe, nurturing and welcoming environment encourages healthy and holistic child development while the art-making experiences promote emotional, intellectual, physical, social, creative, and spiritual growth.

Children repeat the BuildaBrdge Classroom Model & Rules each group as a ritual
What is ritual? A ritual is a series of ceremonial actions that are performed to help transition, heal, believe, and celebrate. Every activity for children should be a ritual with the same structure every day. Rituals are important to helping children feel safe and feel like they belong. Rituals help create emotionally safe, child-friendly spaces. They decrease anxiety and engage the brain and emotions. Rituals help children get ready to learn and make them feel like they are a part of a community. Rituals can also teach history, tradition, and values. Rituals are healing too. For example, singing the same song every morning can be comforting for children because it gives them a sense that life is predictable and that they are a part of a special community.

Originating from chaotic lifestyles like refugee camps or having fled from oppression, refugee children often find their circumstances change daily. They may brush their teeth one day at home and the next have to brush their teeth in a bucket full of shared water with 10 other refugee children in a camp. Their household chores or after school activities could change from one day to the next as their parents frantically try to find stability in a new community. BuildaBridge counters the chaos with rituals and activities that are repeated each group in order assist children in finding personal stability mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Four activities are repeated each group as part of the BuildaBridge Classroom Model: 1) Cross the threshold into the space, 2) Opening ritual dance, 3) Welcome song and 4) Stating the Motto & Rules. The other type of repetitive activities involves activities that are driven by the goals set by the therapists. For example, for four weeks, the therapists may ask the children to do the same movement activity in order to allow children to develop specific skill sets associated with each activity and learn key life lessons. They may also use repeated activities to build up a lesson, first asking children to differentiate between warm and cool colors and the next group, asking them to not only differentiate them but to associate them with feeling words like sad, happy, angry or content. These activities help children define the space and time for the group while also providing familiarity and routine. Children can attend each group confident that the space they are entering is safe, controlled, sacred and predictable.

Enhancing group cohesion and community

The Bhutanese refugees living in South Philadelphia may all live in one neighborhood because of their similar ethnic backgrounds however each household has come from a different community in Bhutan or a different refugee camp in Nepal. Upon arrival, the refugees have similar trauma experiences and the same language however they do not always have familial or communal bonds. The BuildaBridge art therapy groups bring together families from different circumstances, uniting them for common purposes and strengthening the already existing bonds they have to create cohesion. Therapists ask children to share their artwork which in turn, helps other children understand their choices, experiences and similarities. Through the artwork and sharing of it, children identify others who have been through similar circumstances or find others who are handling their new environment in similar ways. A group mural or group dance allows children to feed off of one another’s energies and skills, also teaching them how to work together and ultimately, bring them together for a common purpose just like their families are doing in building community in the neighborhoods of South Philadelphia.

Art as a metaphor for Life Lessons

Metaphors use a familiar concept to represent, symbolize, and teach a new or less familiar idea. Metaphors say things indirectly. They put two things together that are not alike in most ways to show how they are similar in one important way. The art-making process can be a metaphor to describe life and to teach things other than arts skills such as: wisdom, patience, goal-setting, asking for help, and parenting skills. For example, spotting in dance can be a metaphor for trust or for relying on friends and family for support during difficult experiences. For refugees, learning key life lessons or universal values accepted by all cultures, assists them in building personal capacity to function as responsible adults and strengthens their prospects for attaining social, emotional, and economic stability. Therapists use metaphors with refugees both formally and informally. Some group lessons are based entirely on a metaphor such as “Going with the flow in life is like a river because it keeps flowing through different obstacles.” Refugee children responded to this metaphor both artistically and personally, drawing a river mural and the obstacles it encounters in addition to commenting on obstacles they’ve experienced in their own lives. A more informal metaphor developed from a drawing activity. "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.” Therapists then went on to discuss with children how mistakes in their personal lives or at school can often be turned into better opportunities and choices for the future. Using art-making as a metaphor for learning key life skills assists refugee children in developing character, strength and resiliency.