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.