Saturday, December 26, 2015

Art-Making builds Resilience

BuildaBridge features artists Hope Mead and Robert Kelleher in this video illustrating how art-making has made a difference this semester.  Groups this semester took place at the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative's (PRMHC) new storefront site in South Philadelphia, Southeast by Southeast.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Boat Full of Emotions

The PPR (Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience) Families and Children’s group reflects on the mural that they have been working on for the past several weeks.  PPR is a collaborative between BuildaBridge, Nationalities Service Center (NSC) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIASPA) providing services and programs to survivors of torture. The weeks’ themes have been “travel” and “home”, two issues of concern for all refugees. They reflected on what could be in the conversation bubbles next to each of the people.  The figures in the boat were made by tracing each of the group members’ silhouettes, and the stars that reflect light to the waves in the ocean were made by participants tracing their hands.
Jeane Cohen (Lead Artist), Mimi Scalia (Assistant Teaching Artist) and Hayley Strickler (Volunteer) led the workshops.  Each workshop examined a topical aspect of self reflection, identifying barriers, tools, and skills for resilience related to that aspect. For example, the topics addressed were:
  • Language as a platform for self-expression
  • Emotion based Self Portraits
  • A boat as a metaphoric safety container
  • Generated maps as a tool for understanding that home as place can be flexible and what you make it
  • A sail to learn how to be aware and in control of self directed activities
  • Water and the ocean as a metaphor for movement and change
  • Created stars of people who are important to us to remember that they are watching out for us
The artwork made during each workshop served as a component for a small-scale mural, or wall hanging collage. All of the components were created individually and then combined together for the final class to reflect the interconnectedness of the different components of healing and resources explored. They then provided a strong and lasting image of the process of resilience.
The final image included figures of emotion, speaking created languages in a boat of safety with a sail of direction, traveling on the ocean, at night time with a map in the sky and stars of guidance.
The final piece is 10 feet x 10 feet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"We Iraqis have long stories"

"We Iraqis have long stories" said a participant in BuildaBridge's therapeutic arts group for Iraqi families living in Northeast Philadelphia.  This group, comprised of Iraqi mothers and children who have lived in the U.S. for over three years, will be focusing their efforts this Fall on telling their stories through a group made tapestry.  Operationally, a tapestry is a single composition which is comprised of many threads. Conceptually, a tapestry displays a meaningful moment in time that is a symbol and a distillation of many smaller experiences and moments. In addition, many people with unique lives and backgrounds come together to form one community.  The group will keep this metaphor - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, at the forefront of their art experiences to create the piece.  Since October, 28 participants have attended three groups.  Over the next few weeks, participants and BuildaBridge artists will create story-based pieces about their families, their generation, and then their group/community histories. 

Also during this Fall term BuildaBridge is providing the Burmese Chin and Burmese Karen communities therapeutic arts groups in South Philadelphia.  BuildaBridge's efforts with the Bhutanese children have phased out as many of them are feeling more socially connected after living in Philadelphia for over four years now.  BuildaBridge has thus re-focused efforts on the Burmese communities who are still arriving in relatively high numbers to the Philadelphia region.  These groups have served 32 participants so far this Fall.

Another new project was launched at Southwark School in South Philadelphia.  This school has a wide diversity of students from over 10 countries including many of the Bhutanese and Burmese refugees with whom BuildaBridge works.  Southwark invited BuildaBridge to create a mural that represents the diversity of their students and to use the school's main quote "We honor the greatness in you."  See the mural in process below and stay tuned for more Fall program updates!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Funding received by the PA Council on the Arts

This Refugee Project is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

On October 9th, BuildaBridge was presented with the award check from the PA Council on the Arts.  Hosted by PECO and led by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the event highlighted each of the grantees from the five-county Philadelphia region. 

Maud Lyon, President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance with BuildaBridge Co-Founder Dr. Vivian Nix-Early and PRMHC Project Manager, Danielle Bossert


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thank you Creative Philadelphia!

BuildaBridge thanks the City of Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy for the recognition of our Refugee Project.  On Thursday, October 1st, BuildaBridge was honored in a ceremony for our work exhibited at City Hall with the Mayoral Certificate of Artistic Excellence.  The works represented five years of our project with 500 refugees from 13 countries with the help of 33 BuildaBridge artists.  BuildaBridge exhibited pieces from The Refugee Project, which is comprised of participation in three collaborations: the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative, the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience and a partnership with Nationalities Service Center's Refugee Employment and Advancement Program. The presentation also recognized programs by the School District of Philadelphia.  

Helen Haynes, Chief Cultural Officer with Dr. Vivian Nix-Early, Co-Founder of BuildaBridge

Certificate received by BuildaBridge

Mayor Nutter with Dr. Nix-Early and PRMHC Project Manager, Danielle Bossert

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Year 4 Report

BuildaBridge is pleased to announce the publication of its Year 4 Report of involvement in the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative (PRMHC).

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

BuildaBridge is at City Hall!

For a third time in four years, BuildaBridge is honored to be exhibiting its artwork at City Hall. This if the first time, however, that the Refugee Project has been featured on its own.

As part of the City of Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, Art in City Hall is a program presenting exhibitions showcasing contemporary artwork by professional and emerging Philadelphia artists.  The program strives to link visual artists with the larger community by providing the public with a greater knowledge and appreciation of their artistic achievements.

The artwork highlights BuildaBridge's roles in the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience, the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative and its partnership with Nationalities Service Center's Refugee Employment and Advancement Program.

The exhibit is on the 2nd Floor of City Hall, and can be viewed until October 2, 2015.

For more information from City Hall, read more here. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Celebrating World Refugee Awareness Month

Arts and culture are some of the most fundamental forms of self- and community-identification humans use to mold their identities and share their stories. Refugee populations are contributing to their new American communities through the arts as a means of sharing their cultures, histories, stories and above all, shaping their identities in a new environment.  BuildaBridge facilitates such efforts with refugees from over ten countries through the Refugee Project  - a multi-faceted program with memberships in two city-wide collaboratives designed to assist refugees, at all stages of resettlement in identifying adjustment strategies based on the strengths of their communities. The Refugee Project supports and facilitates art-making experiences for refugees as they pursue success, recovery, hope, healing and resiliency in a new culture.

This June, during World Refugee Awareness Month, BuildaBridge launched its second season of arts programming for Nationalities Services Center's Refugee Employment and Advancement Program (REAP). In addition, BuildaBridge provided a pilot art workshop for Iraqi mothers and children, re-started a summer term with refugee children from Myanmar of Burmese Chin and Karen ethnicities, and closed its first term with immigrant survivors of torture through PPR.  In each of BuildaBridge's Refugee Project's programs, artists facilitate art-making experiences towards improved community mental health that facilitates the development of refugees' identities in new cultures, assists ethnic groups in strengthening their capacities and community cohesion and assists individuals in making tangible contributions to their new communities.

BuildaBridge is eager to announce the launch of the Refugee Project's fifth year of programming beginning July 1st along with global examples of how the transformative power of the arts has ignited change, transformation and mutual understanding:

NSC celebrates World Refugee Day
Handcrafted Wares
Stories of Migration
Survivors of Torture artwork
Advocacy Refugee Exhibit

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Thank you and Good Bye!

Mark, a refugee from Iraq, had been coming to the Mixed Adults creative arts therapy group at the Nationalities Services Center (NSC) for over two years as part of BuildaBridge's involvement with The Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR).  Sunday was the last group of the Spring Semester, and it also happened to be Mark's last group meeting for good.  “My case is closed here (at NSC),”  he announced, “So I won’t be coming again.”  There was disappointment all around.  He was the major translation help for the other Arabic-speaking group members, and he was the ‘senior statesman’ so to speak, for knowing how the group “went”, and for helping new members.  However, there also seemed to be a self-pride in his “graduation” from the NSC case management service.

The group, led by BuildaBridge art therapist Rebecca Asch and drama artist Francesca Montanile, was finishing up the Altered Book project.  Sunday's prompt for the art-making was drawing or collaging what they (each person) gives to the group and what each person needs from the group...a prompt that brought closure through recognizing what people have given and served as transition (for when the group resumes) to what people still need.  During the sharing time, Mark offered this touching letter a poignant “gift” to BuildaBridge.  Mark read aloud:

“When I was at the first time of the BuildaBridge Group, I was so sad and felt I am alone.  But when I came the second time and came again, I felt better; and my feeling became good.  So that day after day I found myself as a part of a good human group.  Now I am sure this group is good treatment for the immigrant peoples, especially at the first period when they [leave] their country to [come to] another country.  So that I think this BuildaBridge program must be continued [for] the new immigrant people.  About what I give to the group?  The opinion of the [others] from the group about me is the answer for this question.  I hope I was [a] good person [for a] good team.”         

Mark's art piece from November, 2014 conveys a similar message about the impact on him of the art therapy group.  “This group changed my life. For the first two months here my life was like a desert, and now it’s like these flowers. In the art group, I could say my true feelings, I could trust everyone in the group and I met new friends - connection. It changed my life”

Mark owned and ran his own laundry business in his home country.  He had hoped to do the same when he arrived here, but disappointingly found it difficult to even begin working at a laundry facility, let alone get the large amount of cash needed to start such a business here.  The laundry shops all seemed to be very tight, closed family-run shops, at least in his region of the city.  Mark does not worry about working now, though.  He is “retired”.  BuildaBridge, too, will miss his serious intellect, creativity and empathy for others.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Message for Nepal

This is a video message from the Bhutanese refugee community in South Philadelphia who called Nepal home for over twenty years. They are concerned for their brothers and sisters who have been affected by the earthquakes. They are praying for the victims, survivors and families and for the rebuilding and restoration of Nepal. BuildaBridge assisted this community in creating artwork that illustrated their memories of Nepal, concerns for the earthquake victims and their hopes for the future of Nepal. Since many from this community are unable to travel to Nepal help, they created this video message as a gesture of their concern for and solidarity with those in Nepal.

The BuildaBridge-led workshops, artwork and video were made possible with support from:
The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program:  Southeast by Southeast
The Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative
The Department of Behavioral Health and DisAbility Services
Artists:  Jessica LaBarca, Julie Rosen, Stevie French & Natalie Hoffmann
Individual financial donors:  Kristen and Monica

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Nepal National Anthem

During the course of three workshops, BuildaBridge assisted this group of Bhutanese refugee adults create a visual representation of their memories, concerns and hopes for Nepal. During the close of each workshop, the group sang the Nepal national anthem featured here as a gesture of their solidarity and concern for Nepal. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Responding to the Earthquake in Nepal

“When I am dreaming, I dream about Nepal and I wish I could go to help them” said a Bhutanese refugee in response to the earthquake.

Bhutanese refugees in South Philadelphia, many of whom spent twenty years in refugee camps in Nepal, are responding to the earthquakes through the healing power of art-making. The group's goal: To create prayer flags and paintings illustrating their fond memories of Nepal and hopes for Nepal's recovery and rebuilding.
BuildaBridge International is assisting the group, many of whom contributed to the PPR mural, with creating artwork that reflects the group's responses to three prompts: Nepal as you remember it (stories and memories); Nepal today (concerned, imagined struggles Nepalis are currently facing); and Nepal in the future (hopes, and prayers for the rebuilding).  The art piece being created consists of four bamboo poles, seven feet high, that are linked together.  In each of the three sections are canvas paintings responding to the three prompts.  Adorning each section above and below the canvases are prayer flags - the community's hopes and prayers for Nepal. 

”We would like to help with our hands [In Nepal] and want to do something; though we can’t help with our hands, we are glad to fundraise by sending money and a message.”  One Bhutanese woman exclaimed. This group is eager to send money and help in whatever ways they can.

Though tangible relief efforts are not possible from Philadelphia, this group wants to at least send their thoughts, messages and prayers to those suffering in Nepal.  "We hope", said another Bhutanese, "that Nepal is rebuilt and constructed better then before." 

During the past week, the Bhutanese group was energetic, fully focused and engaged. They did not want to stop. In fact, they went 40 minutes over time -- twice.  Their artwork is bright, beautiful and hopeful with lots of trees and flowers. When asked if someone would like to lead a prayer for those in Nepal and this community suffering from afar to close class, they instead sang a song.  The group had a moment of silence and then almost all of them erupted into the song. This past Monday, our interpreter played the music for the Nepali anthem.  All twenty-one participants stood in a circle, hands clasped in a prayer stance at chest level, and sang along.  While there is much sadness and solidarity with those in Nepal, there is also hope as illustrated through this Bhutanese community's art and song.

In partnership with the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative, BuildaBridge is responding to the earthquakes by supporting and engaging the Bhutanese community in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Birthday Party

Last Thursday evening; on my way to assist with a BuildaBridge group for  Burmese children in South Philadelphia, I pulled up to the street address greeted by yellow caution tape, police and crowds of neighborhood on-lookers. My car window was down and I overheard the words spoken, “somebody was shot.” My heart sank into my stomach.

I pulled across the street and parked my car. When I got out and started walking down the sidewalk, I saw Zing and her three children standing on the corner. It was a relief to see them and we waited together outside for a while, waiting for some communication with the teachers inside the classroom, which was directly behind the caution tape that we were not allowed through.  After some time passed and still no word, Zing asked if I wanted to go with them to a Burmese family’s home a few blocks away where apparently there was a birthday party happening.  When we got to the home, as we walked in the front door, a wave of warmth came over me. Not only was the temperature warmer-compared to the cold, Spring day outside-but we were greeted with such a warm welcome!

We were immediately given chairs to sit upon. I saw some familiar faces and waved; and some of the children recognized me and said, “Hi Miss Danielle.”  The children were laughing and running about, the adults were sitting on the periphery chatting or contentedly watching the children’s activity, the birthday boy’s father was walking around and taking pictures with a proud smile on his face.  I was sitting with a smile in my heart, taking in this joyous occasion. Cake was brought out and we all gathered around Steven, sang Happy Birthday to him and then bowed our heads in prayer.  This celebration, this birthday party was the perfect antidote to not dwelling on the tragic act of violence that happened just minutes ago. My phone rang and I received an update from Natalie and Liz, the other artists in our team. The relieving news came, everyone was safe and they had proceeded with the group as normal for the children who had already arrived.  Shortly after, Zing and I left the party to return to the classroom, the caution tape was gone. We got back just in time for the children to share their artwork with us, they appeared calm and happy. It was comforting to know that they were safe inside the center, creating art, while all the commotion was going on outside the classroom walls. Instead of leaving the night with a heavy heart, still at the bottom of my stomach, I left feeling hopeful and confident… because of the birthday party, because of the BuildaBridge artists' efforts to maintain safety, structure and a sense of normalcy in the midst of chaos, and for this reason, I call this a tale of one teaching artist’s transformative moment.
- Danielle Owen, Assistant Art Therapist

The shooting that occurred just minutes prior to BuildaBridge's Thursday night art group with Burmese children remains under investigation by police.  The good news is that all twenty of the children attending that night were not harmed.  BuildaBridge artists responded by remaining calm, flexible and adaptive. While half of the children attended the birthday party, the other half proceeded with the normal group that evening, processing the incident through art-making experiences in a safe and supportive environment.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

They fled Bhutan with their children on their backs

Since the early 1990’s, over 100,000 ethnic Nepalese refugees from southern Bhutan have fled to Nepal as a result of racially-motivated forced eviction.   In 1989, the king of Bhutan announced that the country would adopt the ‘One Nation, One People’ policy (also known as Bhutanization) prohibiting the practice of Nepali language, Hindu culture and religion, and any dress other than the traditional Drukpa dress. Thousands of Lhotsampa of Nepali descent who had been living in southern Bhutan since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were forced to leave the country.  Many were brutally tortured and others imprisoned; some spent nearly twenty years living in crowded refugee camps.

For the Bhutanese community in South Philadelphia, images of this history are now illustrated in a mural hanging at the Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia (BAOP).  Facilitated by BuildaBridge artists Julie Rosen and Stevie French, as part of Nationalities Services Center's Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience with support from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, twenty-nine Bhutanese elders spent  three months processing their histories through art-making experiences to create this mural.  The left-most section of the mural illustrates their lives as farmers in Bhutan.  The middle section depicts their forced journeys to Nepal and living in the refugee camps.  The third, right most section, shows their new home - Philadelphia.  Since the beginning of this idea in 2013, the goal has always been to display the mural at the BAOP in order for the elders to share their history with the next generation.

On April 11th, that goal was accomplished.  Sixteen children, some parents and other leaders from the Bhutanese community gathered at the BAOP to reveal the mural and listen to the elders share their stories and process of the mural. 
"We want to keep our history alive; we want to pass our history on through the mural to our children."
"It's a blessing being a part of this community and share the artwork with them."
"All [of us] were resettled in different countries, we came to Philadelphia.  I love Philadelphia.  I traveled to many cities - Philadelphia is my favorite."

See pictures from the BAOP event here.  Read about the beginnings of this mural here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Things We Leave Behind

There used to be a tree outside of my childhood home that my sisters and I loved. We’d claim to be queen and play on it, imagining that the world was ours. Eventually, the roots from the tree dug their way underground towards the house. It was no longer safe to have it there. The tree had to be chopped, the stump uprooted. We had to leave the tree behind and although I loved that tree and it held a plethora of memories, with time comes change.

When Frank and Beverly came to their second PPR session, they found the art prompt for the day to be particularly challenging for them to think about. Frank had drawn a tunnel and stated that he felt he is in darkness. They both became upset at the thought of their home, the way they had left it, and explained to the group that they had lost everything when they came here. The thought of this made them both very emotional, they thought deeply about their losses. Frank stated that he would like for his family to remember that he loves them.

Roots to Routes, Image by Kelly Finlaw
At this time, Becky, our creative arts therapist, shared with the group that remembering and experiencing love for others can help guide us through darkness. I reached my hand out and placed it on Beverly's shoulder to provide comfort, we smiled at each other for a moment. When Frank apologized for becoming emotional, Becky assures them both that their openness in class is appreciated and encouraged. This is a place for them to heal. - Emily Kimmelman, Artist-on-Call

BuildaBridge is facilitating hope, healing and resiliency through art-making experiences for Frank, Beverly and the other nearly 200 refugees served throughout the year in Philadelphia. 

Donate today to Roots to Routes to help Frank and Beverly continue their journey of processing their roots towards positive routes into the future.  The goal is to raise $1,000 by the end of April!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Roots to Routes Full of Hope

Whenever a new refugee joins a therapeutic art-making group as part of the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience, he or she wonders:  How can art help me?  Will others be able to empathize with me about my experiences?  How do I share my ROOTS, culture and story with others who speak a different language?  How can this art group help others like me?

Their questions are answered after attending groups regularly.

The boundaries and structure of the groups created a safe environment for clients.  Clients came to rely on and participate in more fully the rituals and opening and closing activities that were conducted as part of each group.  The art-making processes allowed clients to channel emotions through their art.  The sharing of artwork prompted discussions about their feelings, experiences, hopes and dreams.
Roots to Routes [image courtesy of Kelly Finlaw]

By the end of the last group of a 10-week term, clients are interacting with each other openly, acting as guides for one another where language barriers were a challenge; they discuss their experiences of being victims of torture and having to uproot to a new, strange place with more ease.  The client that was once new, now feels like they belong to a community; they now know that these BuildaBridge art groups have a specific purpose  - to act as a catalyst towards building ROUTES full of hope, healing and resiliency.

You can make a difference.  You can help refugees and immigrants with whom BuildaBridge works appreciate and share their ROOTS towards building ROUTES full of  their dreams, hopes, developing trusting relationships with others and building community. 

Donate to Roots to Routes today to make a difference.

[Roots to Routes, the annual fundraiser for BuildaBridge's Refugee Project, starts today, April 1st and ends April 30th, 2015.]

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Creative Arts Therapy as a means to Rebuild

“When there is peace, you can see it on the faces and in the eyes of children." A.K., a middle-aged man from Iraq, shared this quote about his drawing of children playing around trees.  A.K. noted during his sharing time that the music playing in the background, eased his nerves as he drew.  Read about A.K. here.

Oliver, a man in his young thirties, drew stick figures at an airport about to board a plane to a new land. In describing his image, he discussed his journey of leaving behind his home country and going to new country where he is currently unfamiliar with the language, people and the culture. Overwhelmed by these challenges, he shared with the group that he often thought “maybe I should go back home".  With encouragement from the group and much reflection through his artwork, he felt by the end that the group would be a good place to network and share his story as a survivor of torture.  

As part of BuildaBridge's efforts with the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience, creative arts therapists and teaching artists provide art therapy and therapeutic art making groups in the community context for survivors of torture.  The stories of A.K. and Oliver signify the positive outcomes art can have in facilitating hope, healing and resiliency.  BuildaBridge uses creative arts therapy and the therapeutic arts because they are some of the most effective strategies for alleviating symptoms of trauma, abuse and stress through its effects on physiological, brain and hormonal activity. 

In honor of Creative Arts Therapy Week (#CATW2015), we share these stories of the transformative power of the arts through our work with survivors of torture, just one of many different vulnerable populations the organization serves through the arts.

Additionally, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) affirms strategies like the ones BuildaBridge uses.  They note the use of Creative Arts Therapy with survivors of torture by describing Lembe's story.  "Lembe, a torture survivor, wrote her name on a colourful cloth. As part of her rehabilitation therapy, Lembe worked passionately on it, designing a fish, a bird and adding the names of other survivors. “Designing on the cloth helped my creativity,” she said “it allowed me to mentally relax, to learn how to express myself and to forget my daily hardships.”  Read Lembe's story and the UNHCR's article here on art therapy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Does your art send a message?

"This piece reminds me of my village back in the Congo." 
"This painting of nature makes me feel calm."
"That's a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr.!  I know who he is!"

Sunday February 22nd BuildaBridge artists and five clients of the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR), a collaborative with Nationalities Services Center and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA).  These trips, termed purposeful interventions, assist clients in learning about and engaging in American culture through arts and culture experiences outside of the classroom. In celebration of Black History Month, the group first viewed the exhibit “Represent:  200 Years of African American Art.”  "From compelling stories to innovative methods, Represent explores the evolving ways in which African American artists have expressed personal, political, and racial identity" (PMA).  Artists engaged clients in one-on-one conversations regarding the artwork, how it made them feel, what they thought the art meant, how it was related to events in their own lives and its significance during Black History Month.  Moving to the next exhibit, “Ink and Gold:  Art of the Kano”, large group discussions took place regarding the influence of China on Japanese art.  The fans in particular, each only 10 inches by 5 inches in size, illustrated a different story.  The intricate detail astounded and impressed us all.  One small group discussed the significance of community based on two pieces of artwork that illustrated Japanese villages.  This group reflected on components of communities in their countries of origin and compared it to their current communities in Philadelphia.  Another small group discussed the different elements of nature as depicted in three different paintings and how each painting made them feel.  In this exhibit, the museum provided drawing pads for attendees to attempt a sketch of the paintings.  One client spent a considerable amount of time sketching one nature scene and shared it with the larger group.  By the third exhibit, “American Art from the 18th Century”, clients were engaging other clients in conversations about the artwork, an accomplished outcome of these trips to create community and trusting relationships between clients.

In each of the exhibits, the artwork communicated messages of the artists, the culture of the artists and historical events.  Though conversations occurred between artists and clients and between clients, the real conversations occurred between the artwork and our group.  Our group listened to the messages of the artwork.  We reflected on them individually and collectively. We applied the messages to our own journeys, current situations and future hopes and dreams.

Similarly, Syrian refugees living in Jordan are trying to do the same thing - communicate with their communities and the world about their experiences.  Just as we listened to the artwork on display in a museum, so should we be listening to the crises in our world today through the messages from current artists and how we can make a difference. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Metaphor in Art-Making: Making old things new

Art as metaphor is a powerful tool in sharing life lessons.  Woven through the art-making projects, BuildaBridge artists working with refugee populations understand the difficult transition group participants bring to a class session.  Each mistake, and each difficulty, in the art-making process can become an opportunity to teach a skill or encourage positive reflection on life's challenges. The BuildaBridge Souderton Refugee Group of Central and East African refugee populations is no exception.  Weaving is a cultural tradition in Africa.  Though these Souderton participants are not all artisans, there is a potential natural and cultural connection for them.

Gathered around a table the group of 8 women, men and children look intently at a sample quilt made of pieces of fabric--strips of old t-shirts and various kinds of yarn--that had been braided, tied, and sewn together to form a cultural identity tree. This will be their project for the next six weeks.  They will complete a unique quilt that represents them and helps build on a theme of community.

The first step for this project was to weave blossoms that will soon be part of their community tree. It didn't go well for everyone--an opportunity for teaching skills and life lessons.
Natalie, a creative art therapist, and her assistants, Liz and Clarisse, helped to teach the eight participants how to begin weaving their blossoms from yarn.  One of the young girls, Roxanne, was struggling to weave her blossom.  Natalie proceeded to help her correct the pattern, while providing a life metaphor in the conversation. 
"This project is a lot like life." Natalie encouraged Roxanne.
“It’s much harder when you first start something, but when you get used to it, it gets easier.” 

While the participants will continue to weave their quilt and learn skills such as weaving with a loom and quilt making, Natalie is teaching much more through this project.  She will convey another, overarching metaphor--the importance of making something new and beautiful out of old pieces, each one finding restoration and building community support.  She emphasizes the importance of making a contribution towards their group effort that will last the next six weeks, and also the importance of contributing in their new and developing communities. This collaborative piece promotes unity in the group.  Patience will be necessary to learn new art skills as well as to wait for the project to be completed. 

Was it an effective lesson?  Was community developing?  Yes, as it led the group into something that happened spontaneously.

As part of the closing ritual, Liz accompanied a favorite song with her guitar and Amelia joined with her keyboard.  The song "Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye, See you next time" was repeated over and over again in a repetitive style common to African singing.  The voices of all of the participants sang in a strong unison.  Then it happened.  Some participants started dancing as they sang and soon the entire group was dancing. We all broke out in song and dance together as a group and it was powerful.  We left the room feeling energized. 

See the photos of the group here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Creating Trusting Relationships Through Art-Making

When the group of refugees and immigrants started arriving, we greeted them at the threshold with warm smiles.  I was unsure of what to expect my first time in a live session beyond the BuildaBridge training and team meetings we had prior to the beginning of the term.

Sunday February 8th marked the second meeting of the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR) group of 2015. Our team consisted of Rebecca Asch, Francesca Montanile and myself.  We had arrived early to set up the room with art supplies.

Being that this is my first internship in a therapeutic arts setting,  I knew that we'd be creating art with participants, but how would that look, I wondered. What aspects of this PPR session would prove most useful in aiding people who had been displaced from their homes and experienced torture?  My questions were soon answered.

It was the second time this group had met.  It had grown, I was told.  Moore, a regular member of the group from the Middle East, dawned a large smile at the room full of people, ready to create, share and participate. His eagerness was matched by David, a West African man, who entered the room brimming with excitement--shaking my hand enthusiastically.  David and I had met at the first session. Both Moore and David then greeted each other which demonstrated an outcome for this group to create trusting relationships in a safe and supportive environment.

During the session Dee, a young newcomer from Haiti, reported that he could not draw a scene that represents his past, present and future. Rebecca, a teaching artist, then drew a stick figure on a piece of paper, shows it to him, and with encouragement says, "This is okay!"

David, the drummer, then engaged Dee to comfort his worries about his art-making skills.
Watching this, I couldn't help but think about the role of art-making in creating a sense of community.  PPR sessions bring together people in their time of need to provide art-making experiences which are then shared and discussed and provide reasons to bond and create new friendships with others who understand similar struggles and successes.  Moore was excited to see many other people in the group because this is what the group is about - connecting people who can be supportive of one another through art-making and dialogue.

- Emily Kimmelman, BuildaBridge Intern and Artist-on-Call

Friday, February 6, 2015

What's in a name?

S. wakes up every Sunday saying that it's the day for her art class. She looks forward to attending because her teacher knows her name and calls on her by name to lead dance movements.  S. had perfect attendance during the Fall of 2014 because BuildaBridge's art class made her feel important and valued.  

Julia Crawford, lead therapeutic movement instructor, greeting a child at the threshold

S. is one of 51.2 million displaced persons in the world today.  According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, this is the highest number since World World II and equivalent to the 26th largest nation on earth.

To S., the fact that her teacher knows her name is a huge reason why she attends BuildaBridge's art class.  Artists, teachers and creative arts therapists are trained in BuildaBridge's Classroom Model, a trauma-informed, hope-infused, child/client-centered approach that facilitates hope, healing and resiliency among populations experiencing crisis and poverty.  A large component of the trauma-informed method is affirmation of the individual, the culture from where they came and recognition of their abilities towards a hopeful future.  Artists learn each child's name as part of this affirmation process and call the child by name when welcoming them across the threshold, throughout the course of the class and when the child is leaving.   Learning one's name is the first step towards affirmation of the individual, becoming aware of their situation and taking action to make a difference.

BuildaBridge has taken that first step and gone beyond in providing programming as part of its Refugee Project serving 300 refugees, immigrants and survivors of torture  since 2011.

Imagine if we learned the names of all 51.2 million displaced persons in the world - we would be one step closer towards a brighter future for everyone.

To learn more about the conflicts that have caused displacement and how many have been displaced, check out the United Nations' The Refugee Project - an interactive map of refugee migrations around the world in each year since 1975. United Nations data is complemented by original histories of the major refugee crises of the last four decades, situated in their individual contexts.

Friday, January 9, 2015

National Slavery & Human Trafficking Month

When Matthew, a political and tortured refugee, entered the United States nearly a year ago, he rarely shared his story in front of others.  In painful solitude, and with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Matthew yearned to reclaim his identity, confidence, and voice.  

His story is common among political refugees.  Coming from a country rife with civil war and political turmoil, he had hoped that joining the armed forces would give him a better chance to survive.  As with many in times of war, just a few months into his service, he was taken captive by opposing forces and tortured.  At the close of the war, negotiations were made for his release and he was given a chance to come to the U.S.  

In the U.S., Matthew joined a BuildaBridge therapeutic art-making class.  He began to heal. Reflecting on his journey through the art-making experiences where he could draw his inner thoughts, Matthew found a voice to share his story and even improve his English.  "These classes are important to me because they help me share my journey, feelings and process them with others in a safe environment.

January is National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month. For those who are trafficked and subsequently forced into slavery, torture is often an added component in their already traumatic experience.

The Department of State, as noted in the most recent news from The Center for Victims of Torture states "The U.S. State Department compares human trafficking to modern day slavery, and in this fact sheet, describes how trafficking differs from human smuggling, which involves the transportation of a person across an international border.  A person being smuggled most often gives her consent, whereas a person who is trafficked is being criminally exploited. According to the Polaris Projectlabor trafficking and sex trafficking occur when people are forced to work or engage in commercial sex against their will and are controlled through violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and coercion. Victims of trafficking are often tortured, as is highlighted in this Human Rights Watch report on this situation in the Sinai Peninsula, and conversely, survivors of torture are often trafficked when they attempt to flee their abusive governments".

As a partner of the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR), BuildaBridge provides community mental health services through art-making experiences to survivors of torture from over ten countries.  Artists (learn more about the artists here) leading the art-making experiences in group settings are trained in BuildaBridge's trauma-informed, hope-infused and client-centered model.  Artists are also trained in cross cultural communication, immigrant and survivor of torture specific mental health service provision and practice extreme sensitivity.  BuildaBridge has served over fifty survivors of torture through PPR and will be re-starting groups at the end of this month. 

It is during this National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention month that we seek to raise awareness of the issues and share our work through stories like Matthew's in providing hope and healing for those who have experienced such traumatic experiences.  
Artists involved with PPR and other classes of BuildaBridge's Refugee Project. From L to R: Jessica LaBarca, Christine Byma, Robert Kelleher, Julia Crawford and Rebecca Asch.