ArtCom – Using Art Therapy to support local youngsters

Art is one word. How come we have grouped so many different “things” under this umbrella term? How can Naomi Wanjiku (Kenya), Henry Tayali (Zambia) and Alekos Fassianos (Greece) considered to be serving the same area of human activity? And how come, while beauty can be in the eye of the beholder, we can identify emotions, ideas and events behind shaped materials and directed energy that can be also aesthetically pleasing or dubious?

The answer is not readily obvious, but we can trace it in two realisations:

  1. Culture can shape our standards (what is right or wrong, what is beautiful or not and what is or isn’t)
  2. Deep down, we are not very different

Art is an advantageous way of highlighting both aspects. And it is through the effort to use it and by moving into a new society that volunteers dared to test themselves and support others by challenging their status quo.

Several volunteers took the opportunity to transfer their knowledge, competencies, willingness and interest to a distant place to get to know methods of art therapy, entrench themselves in the local reality and attempt to adapt what they have learnt to the needs of their host community. Thanks to the people of ArtCom, we can now look back at their numerous experiences and learn from them.

ArtCom as a project

ArtCom was created by the cooperation of 6 organisations from Africa (Kenya, Malawi and Zambia) and Europe (Italy, France, Greece), with the intention to bring attention to the benefits of using Art Therapy while teaching. The thought is that different cultural environments, that lie far away from each other, can be the fertile ground where the spark of meaningful practice exchange can be light.

Inter Alia had the joy to send two volunteers – Anastasia to Kenya and Lambrini to Zambia- and to host one – Moffat, coming from Zambia.

Art Therapy – a tool for expression

Artworks can act as windows to the inner world of people when seen by trained persons. While this is not always the case, art can be used to peek into the psyche of people when used within the appropriate framework.

Some approaches to Art therapy are pragmatic and connected to psychoanalysis, others are connected to free expression through art guided trained facilitators. In Africa, art therapy has been used as an instrument for social inclusion, to support young people in precarious situations or disadvantaged youngsters with challenges to their education. The method was specifically used to provide alternatives that may keep young people from engaging in acts of crime, violence and antisocial acts in general.

The Volunteering Experience

4 Their experience was rich. The trip was in itself a great challenge. Long flights, connecting bus drives and the arrival at a different society were among the most interesting changes to tackle during the first couple of days. After the volunteers met their hosts and mentors, their stories took their individual paths to what turned out to be a unique experience.

Anastasia – Kitale, Kenya

Anastasia arrived at Kitale on the 3rd of March 2019 and stayed there until the end of July 2019, spending her leisure time at Kitale. Her work was divided between 2 different projects: art activities (singing and drawing, improvising) at a local school, foster care at orphanages and, after a while, supporting the activities of Bahati Rescue Centre, providing a safe space for street children. Anastasia has talked of many children with “street smarts”, eager to learn and happy to engage in educational activities. Art was a part of the activities she and the team of volunteers were providing for the youngsters

Although their on-site training was quite limited, Anastasia was able to adapt her experience to what the children in her host institutions needed and provide alternative methods of education and competence building. Talking about her personal development, during an interview, she mentioned how she got to know and understand parts of local culture, way of socialising, values and habits that at first seemed quite distant for her.

Lambrini – Livingstone, Zambia

Lambrini arrived in Livingstone on March 3rd, 2019 and stayed there until 1st August 2019. Her work was at a school whose improvement helped in terms of materials and methods, along with other volunteers. There they were providing activities of arts and science, as well as lessons of social competencies to the children of 1st grade of the elementary school.

Through the months, Lambrini deepened her cooperation with the staff of the School, they built trust and managed to implement changes in the operation of the school. The implementation of the central activity of ArtCom saw the children creating their ideal world with photos and drawings and gradually grouping their expressions within the following two weeks. Combining methods of creative activities, and identifying the needs of their group, they managed to make a change for the local children.

Lambrini has described her experience as one she would like to repeat, taking great pride in what they have achieved as a team.

Moffat – Athens, Greece

Moffat arrived in Athens on the 1st October 2019 and volunteered for two months, during which, he didn’t lose any time while sharing his interest in poetry. He got in touch with local youngsters and implemented training sessions which resulted in a performance.

In preparation for their performance titled “PoeNtry – stepping into a new life” at Love & Serve Without Boundaries space in Athens, on November 15, 2019, Hezat and Nekzat, two brothers from Afghanistan and Moffat prepared a short video invitation to everyone who likes poetry or has a free afternoon for something interesting. This performance was the result of a series of meetings where they discussed poetry and expression through a recital of poems.

“The best teacher!” says Nekzat, at some point, changing the subject from their performance, interrupting Moffat, only for him to exclaim “No, you are my best teachers!”

This brief exchange highlights how art therapy can be a mutually beneficial procedure where participants and facilitators both take a step further in their self-exploration.

Open Educational Resource – the project’s inheritance

The Open Educational Resource (OER) was created by processing the experience collected throughout ARTCOM project to create innovative tools for youth workers, in order to support the social inclusion of marginalized young people in the two continents.

In line with their aims, sharing positive values and supporting the new generations have become fundamental to offer hope for a better world. ARTCOM tools are seen by the consortium as their small contribution to creating a better future.

Download the OER

The experiences our volunteers have shared with us were quite diverse and varied according to the adaptability of Art Therapy on-site while caring to support their local youngsters. ArtCom became the occasion for competent young youth workers to experience challenging social environments and be ready to support social workers in their own localities.

For more on the ArtCom project, you may check the project’s site or contact Boyka Boneva directly.