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Art Therapy Practice at Ritsona Refugee Camp

24 November 2016

Flourish Foundation​ gives us an update on their short term art therapy service at Ritsona refugee camp and announces that they will be exhibiting photos of their work at the Attachment & the Arts conference on 2nd December...

Last week the site became transformed as all residents moved into ISO boxes. We watched as individuals bought the last of their possessions over and extensions were built to provide space to sit, cook and eat together. The atmosphere within the camp seemed to be one of creativity in survival and improvements to their current situation.

Within the children’s sessions the grounding technique used previously provided a much-needed structure. This week’s directive was mask making, they were able to concentrate and engage with each other. We reinforced our group guidelines of respect and kindness to each other and attempted to instil a sense of self-esteem through an approach that encouraged individual expression.

We saw the arrival of four Somali women to the camp, one of whom attended our women’s only group. She tentatively picked up the art materials and sat with a piece of paper. The art therapist sat beside her and used a pastel to make a wavy line on her own piece of paper, the woman then copied this line. Without speaking they went back and forth in making marks, the woman imitating the lines created by the therapist and the therapist mirroring the speed of the colouring of the woman. The woman stayed for the two hour session and created a final image of four smiling and colourful figures.

Within the men’s only group there were discussions about our ability to travel freely. Two young men seemed seek out therapists to sit beside and communicate with about their feelings and experiences. One created an image and signed it ‘The king’. The therapist acknowledged how a king has power and control, afterwards we thought about the loss of power and control the individual’s experience.

The mural space became a site of transformation this week. It began on the Tuesday as a space where many of the young adolescent women joined us in adding colour and detail to the emerging landscape and we began to see the resident’s visions taking shape.

During this session a group of young boys became a strong presence; demanding materials from us. We felt them attack the peaceful space as they fought with each other and other children. We felt pulled into their anger as we tried to maintain a safe space and protect them and the other children. We were left with a residual sadness and fear as we wondered in our peer supervision how they make sense of their experiences and what the coming day will reveal.

On the Wednesday afternoon we watched the weather change and a storm rolled over the camp accompanied by heavy rain. When we had finished our session we stepped outside to see all of the paint had washed away the mural leaving only the dove, the anchor and a few flowers. We stood shocked and realised that we had not provided the right materials for the mural.

The young women who had spent their Tuesday painting the mural stood alongside us in disbelief, it became hugely symbolic not only of the tears shed over the anger displayed on Tuesday but of the washing away of something that had been given life and colour. The oldest of the young women turned to us and said “no problem, do not be sad, we will start again”, we were struck by her ability to resolve, to rebuild and to have faith.

On the Thursday we secured a working space and using photos from Tuesday marked out the original piece and we began again. One man walked past us carrying corrugated iron and said, “you work, I work, we all work”, he later bought us chai tea and bananas (a rare commodity within the camp). The young women joined us and we felt solidarity in painting alongside them and recreating the mural into something ‘better’, as they described it. We completed the mural that day and stood with the individuals admiring their labor, their resilience, their creativity and their collective story.

We also said goodbye to art therapist Sara Carder, leaving Flourish founder and art therapist Missy McKee and art therapist Emily Hollingsbee to continue the last 2 weeks of sessions, which will see a handover to the NGO’s of the space and a farewell exhibition for all.

The Flourish Foundation will be exhibiting photos of their work at Ritsona refugee camp at the Attachment and the Arts conference on 2nd December.

You can follow the Flourish project by clicking on the links below:
Facebook: @flourishfoundation
Instagram: flourishfoundation
Twitter: @FlourishCharity