Children learn to express feelings through art

Forty children from Project ABC, a Soroptomist International Johor Baru’s (SIJB) learning centres for Rohingya children, benefited from an arts therapy workshop conducted by The Red Pencil humanitarian mission, recently.

Participants picking their choice of materials to create
their designs in their own visual journals
The Red Pencil art therapists, Janice Liew and Viviana Ni Ming, kicked off the workshop with a 2-day training session with SIJB volunteers and teachers to equip them to conduct future arts therapy workshops with students.
For each section of the visual journal, students were asked to respond to journal directives such as, “What I like or don’t like?” or “Where would I like to be?” and the students were invited to pick their choice of materials to create the own artwork in their journals.

The materials provided include various media like coloured pencils and pens, crayons, acrylic and watercolour paints, and items like coloured paper, magazine pictures, buttons, sequins, ribbons and pieces of fabric.

A student's drawing of a house, complete
with a smoking chimney, where he
imagined his late mother was
cooking in the kitchen
After their artwork were completed, each student was invited to discuss his design and share with the class, his thoughts or the inspiration behind his art.

“It was interesting to observe the students’ non-verbal language and see the expressions in their art,” said Liew, who is trained in psychology, special education as well as arts therapy.

One of the most poignant pictures that evoked a great deal of emotion among the volunteers, was drawn by a student who recently lost his 39-year old mother in a massive heart attack.

This student expressed “where he would like to be” when his subconscious feelings led him to draw a picture of a house complete with a smoking chimney.  Later, he shared that it was his home and the chimney was smoking because his late mother was busy cooking in the kitchen.

The Red Pencil workshop showed SIJB teachers and volunteers how arts therapy facilitates in trhe release, relief, reflection, repair and restoration in the lives of children, adolescents, adults and their families who are facing overwhelming life circumstances for which they have no words.

Project ABC learning centres I & II in Kota Tinggi and Kulai were established in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help Rohingya refuges children obtain a basic education.

While the learning centres have a total of 250 students aged between 5 and 17, the students who participated in the 10-day arts therapy workshop in groups of 10, were aged from 10 to 16.

The Red Pencil art therapists, Janice Liew
[Standing 4th from Left] and Viviana Ni Ming [Standing
3rd from Right] with volunteers, teachers and the students
The workshop was initiated by Project ABC coordinator, Soraya Alkaff-Gilmour, when she met The Red Pencil founder and managing director, Laurence Vandenborre, their international operations manager, Manuela Panos Gissler and programme executive, Karen Koh, last year.

The Red Pencil arts therapy places emphasis on the process of creating and meaning-making rather than the end product and at the workshop held in the SIJB Kulai learning centre, students were guided to create their own visual journals.

By offering other means than words to express what the participants were going through, the workshop offers powerful techniques to help resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress and trauma, increase self-esteem and self-awareness and achieve insights.

Corporate sponsors who wish to contribute to humanitarian welfare in Project ABC are invited to partner with SIJB.  Email enquiries to:

A version of this was published in The Malaysian Insider on 10 March 2016

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