A shirtless young man opens the door to our knock. We enter a small, dimly lit apartment that is sparsely furnished with a hodgepodge of used furniture. The air matches the mood, heavy and dank.
A woman sitting on the couch turns her head to look at us, but her gaze is dull and disinterested. Almost infantile. She is the young man’s mother.
This family fled government-induced violence—including arrests, rape, and torture—against Lhotsampas (“People of the South”) in Bhutan, who were forced to migrate and settled into refugee camps in Nepal. Some, like the family we're visiting, were eventually resettled to a large refugee community in the US.
We don’t know what horrors this woman endured that shut her down, but observing her current state, we fear the worst. We’ve come to inquire about the eight-year-old daughter who is enrolled in a literacy tutoring program, but hasn’t been attending. She risks losing her spot to one of the many other refugee children on the waiting list, and we want to make sure the family understands this.
The daughter sits on the couch as well, playing with an old, battered smart phone. She only pretends to ignore us, but her mom appears to have completely forgotten we are in the room. The son does all the talking, assuring us his sister will be ready and waiting when the volunteers come to pick her up the following week.
We leave with heavy hearts, aching to enter this family’s brokenness in a way that can lift them all out of trauma’s deep, dark pit and back into the warmth of hope and healing. We long for that mom to see with brightened eyes and to feel joy—to know there’s still beauty in the world and that she can be part of it.
This is only one heart-breaking story among many thousands, making it no surprise that trauma care providers working with refugees, asylum seekers, torture survivors, and internally displaced persons are eager to acquire our Healing Arts Toolkit. That’s why First Aid Arts hired our summer intern, Michael Zuch, to help us carefully expand and adapt our Toolkit to reach these specific populations.
Michael set out to complete a literature review, compile an advisory group of experts in refugee mental health, propose adaptations to the Healing Arts Toolkit, write a Cultural Adaptation Guide for facilitators, and make plans for future piloting and evaluation.
Several unforeseen delays required some adjustments to his timeline and project outcomes, but in spite of these challenges, Michael remained flexible and worked diligently, making great strides toward a thoughtful and intentional adaptation process that ensures we are laying a solid foundation for sustainability and quality.
One emergent need Michael addressed was research into a framework to guide future trainers and facilitators working within different cultural contexts, including a Translator’s Contextualization Guide—a way for First Aid Arts to gather cultural data with individuals who are translating our curriculum into other languages.
He also developed a PowerPoint presentation for service providers working with refugees and internally displaced persons, outlining why the use of art and creative expression is particularly helpful in addressing the development of core skills for resilience and post traumatic growth, as well as for meeting refugee mental health needs. These resources will be made available at future trainings and can be used at presentations and workshops.
Michael recruited an impressive Advisory Group comprised of influential individuals in the refugee mental health and arts therapy worlds. Utilizing their feedback, we plan to continue with the adaptation process and implement the adapted toolkit with a pilot group over the course of the next year. Those who attend our Annual Fundraiser at The Triple Door on November 30 will hear firsthand about these exciting plans. If you’re in the Seattle area and would like to join us, click here for ticket availability. We’d love to see you!
If you can’t make it to the event, you can still participate by making a donation online any time before the event, and your gift will be counted among those donated during the course of the evening’s festivities.
We’re deeply grateful for Michael’s hard work and also fortunate that he recorded his thoughts and experiences throughout the summer, providing us with helpful resources, profound insights, and encouraging feedback. Thanks again, Michael. We’re delighted to claim you as part of our First Aid Arts family.
And thanks to all of you, our friends, who make this work possible. Together we can offer the healing power of the arts to the world’s most wounded, and one by one, watch them awaken to beauty again.