Summer Internship: Healing Arts for Refugees

Aylan Kurdi's Father

Aylan Kurdi's Father

The heart-breaking photos of Aylan Kurdi, a toddler whose dead body washed ashore in Turkey after his family's attempted escape from Syria, have shaken awake a world that too often views refugees as problems to be solved rather than people to be embraced.

Aylan Kurdi

Aylan Kurdi

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Aylan's story puts a human face on a staggering reality.

According to official UN data, there are more than 50 million refugees around the world. That’s a mind-blowing number, but current news reports reveal the devastating truth. Due to war, poverty, and the relentless barbarism of terrorist groups, thousands more are fleeing daily.

Governments, aid groups, NGOs, and ministries are scrambling for plans of action, and some are succeeding in their efforts — opening their borders, hearts, and resources to the weary and wounded migrants.

But then what? After displaced families find safety, physical wounds are mended, and hungry stomachs filled, is the work finished?

At First Aid Arts, we don’t think so.

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As the video on our home page explains, tragedy and trauma can bury joy, obliterate meaning, and disintegrate relationships. First responders help victims survive, but surviving is just the first step. Healing must go deeper. Trauma impacts a person’s body, brain, spirit, and relationships. Stress overwhelms, and critical thinking centers of the brain go offline. Hopelessness, isolation, and shame can become crippling. These symptoms are hidden, but just as life threatening.

Counselors and social workers know that painful stories often can’t be put into words. In such cases, talk therapy isn’t enough. But art can express what’s beyond language. Through art, music, and movement, survivors rediscover their ability to connect with themselves and others. They unravel shame, defang fear, and rebuild hope. It’s the mystery of beauty. It’s also proven by research in neuroscience and psychology. The arts offer powerful ways to engage the brain and begin healing, unlike anything else.

This is what drives everything we do at First Aid Arts. And it’s why we’re eager to introduce our first-ever summer intern, Michael Zuch.

Michael Zuch

Michael Zuch

Our Healing Arts Toolkit was initially developed to meet the specific needs of survivors of sexual exploitation. Michael’s summer project was designed to develop adaptations to the curriculum in order to more adequately meet the needs of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons. His primary tasks were to write 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.

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An Ingram Scholar from Vanderbilt University, Michael came to us with a deeply entrenched value for the work we do. He grew up in a home where his mother modeled compassion and care for trauma victims through her nonprofit providing social services to sex workers and trafficking victims. He also has personal experience with the power of the arts. Music, theatre, dance, and writing helped him navigate difficult situations in his life, often acting as a ‘constant’ in the midst of many changes. Throughout his time at Vanderbilt, Michael has explored how to integrate his passion for human services and his love for and life in the arts. When he discovered the existence of First Aid Arts a year ago, our mission resonated deeply with him. And as he considered his options for this past summer, he realized we had a need he could help us address.

We’re so glad he did.

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It was an incredible summer full of learning and relationship building for Michael and for the First Aid Arts Staff. We look forward to sharing more about his project in coming blog posts, but for now we want to say thank you, Michael, for taking us one step closer to helping families like Aylan’s. You’ve heard it before, but we want to say it again.

You’re making the world more beautiful.