The Magic of Art

Kiran Karjit lives in Sitapaila, where she used to run a school. The school collapsed in the earthquake and Kiran found herself living under a tarpaulin with two other families recently arrived in Katmandu from mountain villages that were completely destroyed.

Kiran Karjit

Kiran Karjit

“As I stayed with these families I noticed how the children were scared. In the beginning I didn’t even realize that they had been affected, because they were just showing funny behaviour. Then I joined in a training program run by a Nepali group ‘Yellow House’ where they explained to us about psychological trauma, and I realised that the children sharing our shelter were showing all the symptoms of trauma I had learnt about – for example being scared and naughty and having difficulties in concentrating”.

“After the earthquake my sister and I did knitting, crochet, and artwork and we realised how much this helped us feel better” says Kiran.

Artwork by Kiran and her sister

Artwork by Kiran and her sister

So Kiran put up a separate tent where children from the neighborhood could come and play. “The training told us about art as therapy but I didn’t know what to do in the beginning. So I called ten students and gave them some colored chalks and just let them play with them, and we talked. And that really helped.”

Kiran also noticed that one of the reasons they would come to the tent was to avoid entering houses that no longer seemed safe to them. “Straight after the earthquake children were very afraid, feeling insecure, not able to play properly, not wanting to share things with others, not being interested in studying. After two months of playing in the tent they have begun to play joyfully again, sharing and helping each other, being more disciplined”.

Drawings of 11 year old Bishnu Tamang, immediately after after the EQ (L).  after 2 months of art therapy (R)

Drawings of 11 year old Bishnu Tamang, immediately after after the EQ (L). after 2 months of art therapy (R)

It was then that Kiran thought “why not build just one room? We have a tent but the land where it stands is not ours, and the owner told me to move out. I asked my father for some land to put up a tent, and one of volunteers working here suggested going to CGLF”.

“When I visited the CGLF office I was just asking for a tent but they offered me tin. My friends convinced me that a tin room is better than a tent – it will be longer-lasting. With storms and heavy rains starting, I realized that tent was not a very practical idea”.

Leo and Jigme unloading tin sheets

Leo and Jigme unloading tin sheets

Kiran plans to build a one-room ‘art house’ and develop a six- month program for 10 to 15 children. She will focus on children from families with low-income, and those whose families have been displaced and are often living in a single room. The children frequently have multiple problems. As well as behavioral problems, including petty theft,  some are kept at home to look after younger siblings, others are living with older sisters or brothers as their parents are no longer around. Many have inadequate nutrition as there simply isn’t the money to feed them properly or the knowledge of what makes a healthy diet here in the city. Carers don’t understand the effects of the earthquake on the younger children and their behavior. So there is much to do!

Children's drawings

Children’s drawings

There will be three main activities for the children; art-therapy, reading aloud and playing with construction sets. They will continue to share a meal once a week and learn about healthy eating , hygiene, and care of the environment. Carers and parents will also be able to learn how to support their children.

“I will put there some bookshelves with books for the children and a box with educational materials, colours, stationary, blocks, so that children can do whatever they want.  I will teach them how to play with colours (draw pictures). The wooden and plastic blocks are so they can build houses. Because of the earthquake their houses are damaged or destroyed, so they are very interested in building houses. Slowly we should get them interested in studying also. For that we will have lots of books around. One child can tell or read a story, others can listen to it. This will slowly help them concentrate more and regain interested in studying.”

In front of the Art Tent L to R; Saimon, Sanu, Supriti, Kriti, Pritika

In front of the Art Tent L to R; Saimon, Sanu, Supriti, Kriti, Pritika

“In my group children range from 2 years to 13 years old. First I will teach the bigger children and then they will teach small children and look after them, and this will teach them some self-discipline also”.

Kiran near the place for a new tin house

Kiran near the place for a new tin house

In time, Kiran will be sharing the psychological training she has learnt with other teachers, along with the importance of valuing each child for themselves, not purely for academic achievement. “You can’t teach a monkey to swim and you cant teach a fish to climb a tree. All children are different, and have different abilities. Teachers need to recognize who children are and be proud of that”.

Four of the CGLF team turned out to visit Kiran and be inspired by her wonderful story. As they parted Kiran told them “I’m so satisfied that you’ve provided me that tin and my father is providing me land. It was all created because of the earthquake. I’m glad with what I’m doing and I’m satisfied, because doing this work I find good people around me and I’m happy. Thank you for visiting!”

Art therapy

Here is a short extract on the role of creative art (including music and dance also) in helping children suffering the effects of trauma.. You can read the whole article from ‘Social Work Today’  here.

Trauma is often kept in one’s memory as sensations, symbols, and mental images that can be difficult to access in traditional talk therapy or informal conversation. These memories are situated in the primitive sections of the brain and may not be part of a person’s conscious awareness. Expressive arts help children manage experiences that are too difficult or painful to assimilate.

Expressive arts assist in the healing process by altering a child’s physiology. When children engage in expressive arts, it alerts the parasympathetic system in their brain (Lane, 2005). Their breathing slows, their blood pressure lowers, and the body becomes more relaxed. This helps reduce the physiological hyperarousal, or fight-or-flight response, associated with stress. Creative expression modifies our biochemistry and improves our physical well-being. When children participate in the arts, it actually changes their bodies.

Lane, M. (2005). ‘Creativity and spirituality in nursing: implementing art in healing’. Holistic Nursing Practice, 19(3), 122-125.  quoted in ‘Therapeutic Use of Expressive Arts With Children’ (Phelps, D.) In ‘Social Work Today’  


Written by CGLF

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