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Archive for the ‘Social Action’ Category

 

 

 

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In January of this year, I went as part of a 10 person team of Arts based therapists from the States  to work with a 7 person leadership team of East Africans meeting in Kenya with the Global Alliance for Africa (GAA) Therapeutic Arts program(TAP). The East Africans came not only from Kenya but Uganda and Tanzania as well. TAP has been working in East Africa for the last 11 years and this years trip was done in a new way, by having those who were identified as Leaders from previous trips in the growing uses of arts based therapy in their regions.

I was a day late in arriving due to frigid cold weather in the eastern coast of the US that backed up all travel for days. I was lucky in that I was only a day late.

Included in the East African group were professional artists, theatre activists, dancers, storytellers, teachers and councilors. Included in the US team were art therapists, expressive arts therapists, Drama therapists, art and expressive therapy students.

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Meeting in small groups

The overall training was co-facilitated by Cathy Moon ATR-BC (who is the Chair of the art therapy program at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago) and Tally Tripp ATR-BC (professor at George Washington University) with the rest of the US based as adjuncts in the process.

So much was covered!  While I missed a bit, including the important sociometry at the beginning, it was not hard to fall into rhythm with others as we were very happy to connect. From basic counseling skills, to integrating art making and drama into counseling,   and education (many of the East Africans work in schools or after school programs) recognizing and working with trauma to artistic skill sharings including Playback Theatre, Touch Drawing, Theatre games, Singing, Dancing, Basket weaving and paper folding creating dolls, journals, boxes.  Each day we met from 8:30 to 3 integrating

Melissa teaching basketweaving

Learning to create Baskets

material didactically, experientially and looking deeply at how to bring the arts into schools, orphanages and art therapy workshop settings. Then from 4:30-6 for Skill sharing.

We also were able to sight see-  Two of the East African participants are internationally recognized  professional artists  who work out of their home. They offer art therapy to the local children and families many of whom work in the flower industry. One of the issues facing families who work in the Dutch owned industry are higher than normal Cancer rates, and fatalities due to chemicals that are used to preserve flowers so that when they arrive in Europe they look “Fresh”.  Street children are often orphaned, cared for by other family members or friends.  Certainly has made me much more observant and thoughtful around where my flowers come from.

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At the art therapy studio of the Wadus

When we were there at their studio, their adult son was finishing an art therapy session with about 30 children.They were excited and happy to show us their work they had done that day, belying the more intense struggles they experience at home. From there we went to Lake Naivasha. While we were there a number of us took a boat cruise and saw hundreds of birds, Hippos, Zebras. The land adjacent to the lake is where “Elsa” The lioness of the 1960’s film, “Born Free” was released into the wild. Our program coordinator Linda Stolz (who worked tirelessly on our behalf day and often night) wanted to get Crayfish for dinner that night but wasn’t able as the Crayfish had been all bought out from the lake by Chinese corporations. Then ensued my education on what was happening in the entire African continent  based on Chinese corporations buying into  and building the infrastructure. Deeply disturbing and powerful. Kenyans had lived from eating Crayfish from the Lake for centuries and now have none. For more information about this go to: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-africa

We also went to an amazing glass blowing studio  (and later stayed at a Treehouse B&B that had integrated into everywhere blown and stained glass)and a library that Global Alliance of Africa is supporting in Kibera- Kenyas largest slum area.  Going to Kibera was a deep conversation. One of the things we, as US participants wanted to be clear on and careful of was why and how we would go into the slum areas. In fact, two East African participants did not want us to go in. Kibera had a tremendous amount of violence during the elections of 2009  and again last August.(For more information on this, go to: https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2017/08/12/photos-gunshots-in-kibera-mathare-as-cops-disperse-post-election_c1615333)  Hard feelings are still had around this.

DSC07143We also went to the National Art Museum. The two  artists who were participants, Eunice and Sane Wadu, whose home we had gone to, had paintings in a show there. The museum was wonderful and I leaned much about the work of Joy Adamson who is deeply revered as a conservationist. She was also a fabulous watercolorist as well.

We ended our training on Wednesday evening, closing our circle and saying our goodbyes to the East Africans. On Thursday morning the US participants went by train to Watamu along the Indian Ocean coast. This was where we were to process our time together and think around next steps- all while staying in an amazing guesthouse that was built like a tree house. As there were no windows and basically no doors, we were outside the whole time. Let’s just say we had often close encounters with Monkeys. We were not allowed to keep any food at all, but one monkey thought my wipes were interesting and came in my room and grabbed them.

My last two days were spent with my niece, Stephanie and her husband Andrew OngukaDSC07432 and their three boys in Nairobi. Stephanie is a physician and Andrew a minister and together they have developed a scholarship program for those academically  talented from the Mathare slum areas. As well they work with their families. As well, while I was there, Andrew was busy meeting with people and trying to figure out better ways people could water their cows. They are doing much good work. I was able to meet one of their graduates who is waiting to go to college next year. They are doing amazing work together. See for yourself! (.http://www.onelifeafrica.org/ )

While I did not intentionally go on safari, Kenya being what it is,  I was able to enjoy an abundance of wildlife including Giraffes, Baboons, Monkeys, warthogs, Elephants and a huge array of birds, as were driving throughout my stay. It was in a nut shell an amazing trip with a lovely group of people. If you have a chance to go, I think a wonderful and deepening experience.

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I arrived back from another fruitful collaboration in India at the beginning of February.  I  focused the work and time with two Playback Theatre troupes in Bangalore (the Actors Collective and Yours Truly theatre companies),  attend and support the Indian Art Therapy Association Symposium on Using Art Therapy with Children and as well offer an introductory training of Expressive Arts Therapy to Master level clinical psychology students at Christ University. It was a full 3 weeks for sure.  Each time I go to India, I learn something new both about myself and about the work, and of course about India. One of the things that I learned about myself was actually that I know what I’m doing and I was able to structure the trainings from that place rather than ” What do I do? How do I do it? Do I really know how?”The  trainings felt different and energetically flowed in an organic way.

Since being home, I have thrown myself back into work, and local,  community politics.Admittedly, I find that I do not have the energy or bandwidth that I once had, and so am being far more judicious about what I actively work on, and spending more time at home,with family and in the studio. I do what I can with the energy I have. I show up where I can and now try to not make decisions to others that I cannot keep.

I now am getting good at making phone calls to my representatives in Washington. I sign a lot of petitions. I raise a ruckus on social media. I try to attend things in person, and find that my in person protest /social action work needs to be balanced with my in person work as a therapist. There is so much to be done and so very much needed.

This morning, as I voted for change  and watched in dismay at the national news of how everything I hold dear is getting gutted, I had a vivid memory come to me from grade school. School was always a deep challenge for me. Thanks to the Special Education Bill S91(that my mother was on the team to develop), I was able to mainstream at the local school. However, I stuttered, I lisped, I walked funny, and I couldn’t write very well. I left class each day to be in the “special needs ” class which clearly earmarked me, often in not a friendly way.  I was not considered the brightest bulb, and  I remember how incredibly painful it was to simply show up.

Anyway,   In 4rth grade during gym class one day, we were running laps and getting timed. These were probably 1/4-1/2 mile lengths.  The teacher divided us up in pairs. I was paired last with a young woman, named Susan who struggled with her weight. Clearly we were paired for a reason, and I’m sure that we were thought to be the slowest of everyone. I’m not sure that the teacher thought either of us would be able to finish.

One thing I could do, and do well was run. And that day, I ran as hard and fast as I could even though I knew it meant leaving Susan way behind. I felt bad about that in a way as I didn’t want to show off. But I needed to show up. I had finished those three laps by the time Susan was beginning her second.

I remember people teasing us as we began. I remember people cheering as I, then she finished. I went up to Susan after and slapped hands. I wanted her to know I saw her. That she had finished even though it had been hard. That she showed up. We didn’t talk.

I’m not sure much really changed after that day.I still got bullied, and in fact left that school the next year. But I think for me, it was an important day in which we showed people, to question assumptions. That regardless of appearance or intellect, we had skills that were there waiting to be seen. We showed up.

 

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