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.