Haiti Healing Arts Launched by FB’s International Child Art Foundation

honesty.JPGThe dra­matic TV cov­er­age of the recov­ery efforts for the 7.0 mag­ni­tude earth­quake Jan­u­ary 12, 2010, in Port-au– Prince, Haiti is over. Instead the news media relates the need for shel­ter as the rainy sea­son approaches. While the scope of needs for this his­tor­i­cally poor, but proud, black pop­u­la­tion have been barely sorted out, sorely miss­ing from the con­ver­sa­tion are the men­tal health prob­lems for the legions of chil­dren— whether they have fam­ily, are lost or orphaned after earthquakes—and the mea­sures required to heal them. That’s where the FB-headquartered, Inter­na­tional Child Art Foun­da­tion (ICAF) comes in.

Accord­ing to ICAF, “Research shows that earth­quakes increase the rates of men­tal health prob­lems in the com­mu­ni­ties they strike. A series of stud­ies con­ducted one-to-four years after the August 1999 earth­quake in Turkey showed that about 40 per­cent of sur­vivors suf­fered from post-traumatic stress dis­or­ders (PTSD) and 20 per­cent from depres­sion. The effec­tive­ness of art ther­apy in a post-earthquake set­ting was demon­strated in a study of twenty-five ele­men­tary school­child­ren who were vic­tims of the­Los Ange­les earth­quake in 1994. Art ther­apy ser­vices were found to be instru­men­tal in access­ing the children’s inter­nal processes and help­ing them return to nor­mal functioning.”

ICAF’s Heal­ing Arts Pro­gram was orig­i­nally devel­oped as a response to urgent requests from ICAF part­ner orga­ni­za­tions in Sri Lanka, India, and Indone­sia to help chil­dren who sur­vived the Asian tsunami. Later that year, the pro­gram expanded as ICAF vol­un­teers and art ther­a­pists reached out to chil­dren affected by Hur­ri­cane Kat­rina. The pro­gram focuses on cre­ative inter­ven­tions for vic­tims of nat­ural dis­as­ters and aims to help them cope with the trau­matic experience.

It is esti­mated that the Heal­ing Arts Pro­grams have helped one thou­sand child sur­vivors in Sri Lanka and India to recover from the Decem­ber 2004 tsunami tragedy they expe­ri­enced. ICAF’s work with young sur­vivors of Hur­ri­cane Kat­rina also attests to the power of art ther­apy; recent art­works from the “Kat­rina chil­dren” depict their well­ness and hope for the future.

With the launch of “The Haiti Heal­ing Arts” in May, ICAF’s Pro­gram Coor­di­na­tor, Chan­tal Paret Antoine, draws poignantly from her own Hait­ian roots. Born in 1957, the year Duva­lier assumed power, she recalled the haunt­ing bru­tal­ity of geno­cide for those align­ing with his polit­i­cal oppo­nent. With her mother and sis­ter, she hid for three years in Haiti—her father, in the Domini­can Repub­lic. At eight, Chan­tal, her mother and sis­ter were reunited with her father in New York to begin new lives.

Mrs. Antoine found her way to art. As an archi­tec­tural plan­ner for the New York Pub­lic Library Sys­tem and hav­ing raised two chil­dren, she decided on a career change and had enrolled in a Master’s Pro­gram at Hof­s­tra Uni­ver­sity. Not­ing that her first day of class was to be Sept 11, 2001, she entered her office that morn­ing to find her sec­re­tary stand­ing over her work­sta­tion lis­ten­ing to the radio after see­ing the break­ing news. Classes were of course, can­celled. She wit­nessed the after­math where among the vol­un­teers and first respon­ders were artists and art ther­a­pists. Chan­tal cred­its them with trans­form­ing Ground Zero, “in addi­tion to a hor­rific site, an end­less urban can­vas of art.” As she notes, “that night I became an ‘art ther­a­pist’ and never looked back, secure in the fact more now than even then, that art heals.”

With this most recent earth­quake, she also wit­nessed the pro­found loss felt by the Hait­ian Dias­pora from heav­ily pop­u­lated, mul­ti­cul­tural Queens, regard­ing the well­be­ing of those “at home.” Chan­tal writes about the resilience of the Hait­ian peo­ple despite huge chal­lenges over the last 200 years: the extreme polit­i­cal, eco­nomic con­di­tions marked by “poverty, illit­er­acy, mal­nu­tri­tion, ram­pant dis­ease, defor­esta­tion, lack of infra­struc­ture, social, racial and gen­der inequal­ity, polit­i­cal cor­rup­tion and unrest.” As she puts the past in con­text, “this earth­quake was some­thing different—a com­plete disaster.”

Begin­ning this May, ICAF will train and send groups of art ther­a­pists to Port-au– Prince where chil­dren with severe cases will be iden­ti­fied for psy­cho­log­i­cal treat­ment and sub­mit to inde­pen­dent eval­u­a­tion. The art exchange com­po­nent will pro­vide school­child­ren in the U.S. an oppor­tu­nity to view the art of Haiti’s chil­dren, who in turn will receive encour­age­ment art from their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts. ICAF’s pro­gram part­ners include the Cen­ter for Rebuild­ing Sus­tain­able Com­mu­ni­ties after Dis­as­ters (Uni­ver­sity of Mass­a­chu­setts, Boston), the Inter­na­tional Art Ther­apy Orga­ni­za­tion, and BelTiFi (Young Haitian-American Women Empow­er­ment Net­work). The pro­gram will go on through­out 2010 and if fund­ing is secured, there are plans to con­tinue the pro­gram beyond this year.

ICAF has suc­ceeded in spark­ing a nascent global trend. More pol­icy mak­ers and thought lead­ers talk about nur­tur­ing children’s cre­ativ­ity, and empa­thy is being rec­og­nized as a key attribute of suc­cess­ful learn­ers and lead­ers. ICAF addresses this and fos­ters col­lab­o­ra­tion through tools and pro­grams avail­able through its Web­site includ­ing: the Arts Olympiad Les­son Plan to review and for­ward to your neigh­bor­hood ele­men­tary school to par­tic­i­pate in this free global pro­gram; and a sam­ple copy of Child Art mag­a­zine on “co-creation + inno­va­tion;” sub­scribe to it or donate a sub­scrip­tion to your neigh­bor­hood school or pub­lic library.

ICAF has opened doors for arts edu­ca­tion in sev­eral coun­tries in Africa and the Mid­dle East. Now lead­ers rec­og­nize that for a nation to remain com­pet­i­tive, chil­dren must be cre­ative and arts edu­ca­tion can help pave the way. For more infor­ma­tion about The Haiti Heal­ing Arts pro­gram and to help sup­port this effort visit www.icaf.org.~

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