City Dioramas by Older Refugee Girls
Instead of attempting to organize and schedule two additional sessions, Art Therapist Myra Saad (Artichoke Studio) and I decided to dedicate a full day to work with our all-girls group from the Malala Yousafzai School. On Sunday, March 3rd the Kayany Foundation gave us use of a classroom while crews were busy setting up for an International Women's Day event the following morning (note some familiar faces in the linked Huffington Post article).
Like their younger peers, the girls in our group (ages 13-16 years old) were eager to get started on the city dioramas they had planned in the previous session. After warming up through games and preliminary discussions, the girls quickly separated into smaller teams, each devoted to a different aspect of the "bad" city they collectively envisioned. The addition of toys - unused, extra props - factored heavily in the girls' designs.
After lunch, the girls reassembled to talk about how they could rebuild their city into something good. Myra steered the conversation to ideas of resilience and rebirth. When the girls separated once again into smaller teams, their dioramas of the city quickly took on more color.
When the girls had finished, their idealized city dioramas fit together to form one collaborative piece. It was a colorful reversal from a world they had envisioned at its worst.
The little extra playground on the end was made by a small, welcomed addition to our group. The girl's mother worked at the school, and the 6-year-old refugee quietly yet confidently staked out a spot to work on her own diorama of a "happy place” guarded by soldiers.
Unlike the younger group - needing to further process their own bad experiences, the older girls seemed especially eager to look past the war. It showed in the energy and effort put into their "good" city dioramas.
The girls were especially proud of their creations and gave very positive feedback on the workshop. One girl who had been hesitant to participate - believing she had no artistic talent, said that the biggest thing she gained is knowledge that she could do a lot more than she thought. That alone made our efforts worthwhile.
After a final round of games and discussion, Myra and I invited the young women to each take a single toy as a memento and reminder of what they were capable of doing. The "Paw Patrol" toys were the first to get snatched up, followed by a few other plastic animals.
Before this group, I had been hesitant to work with children in their teens. My concerns were that they wouldn't be as interested or invested in art-based activities. In some settings that may still be true, but it's obvious to me now that I shouldn't exclude any age group out-of-hand. While older children (as well as adults) are better able to relay their experiences directly through words, most will still have difficulty accessing and expressing the feelings that arise from a factual telling of events. In this, the truth gets lost. War is emotional and deeply personal. It takes a subjective approach to understand on an individual, human level. And it is why art therapy provides such a powerful tool for healing in war's aftermath.
My extreme gratitude goes to all of the children in all of the groups with whom we worked, the Kayany Foundation and its entire staff, Art Therapist Myra Saad, and our interns Ranine Swaid & Manal Bechara. I look forward to another opportunity to work together again.