Ragamuffin's Arts Therapy Service - Be-yourself - responding to endemic trauma and violence in Cambodia's young people.
Violence against children in Cambodia: breaking the silence
“When we arrive at school and it is early and we are alone, it is quiet and we are afraid…”, admits a 13-year-old Cambodian girl. School should be a familiar and welcoming place; however, findings from the first-of-its-kind Cambodia's Violence Against Children Survey, coordinated by UNICEF Cambodia, reveal that many children are subjected to violence at the hands of people they know and should trust in places that should feel safe.
More than half of children experience physical violence before 18 years of age, with more than 20% facing emotional violence, and 5% sexual abuse. Parents, neighbours, family members, and friends are responsible, and many children remain silent, with 40% of girls and less than 6% of boys seeking help after sexual abuse. One 16—17-year-old girl explained that she did not tell anyone because the abuse was “embarrassing and shameful”, adding that “we are afraid that others will stop being our friends, or liking us; they will hate us, criticise and scorn us”.
The violence affects the children's health, causing mental distress and suicidal thoughts, and increases the likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted infections through later unsafe sexual behaviour.
What can be done about this appalling situation? The report provides recommendations in four key areas: prevention, response, laws and policies, and monitoring and evaluation.
(Above article cited from: The Lancet, Volume 384, Issue 9954, Page 1550, 1 November 2014 doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61971-1)
How are we responding to this?
For many young people in Cambodia facing such complex psychological trauma healing takes time and begins with a young person finding a person they feel safe enough to begin to share their experiences.
The Be-Yourself Arts Therapy team working at Ragamuffin provide therapeutic support for young people in crisis, so many of whom have never had the opportunity to feel safe enough so as to begin to trust again – to be listened to and heard. Enabling a young person to feel safe, respected and valued are fundamental principles and foundational in the team’s approach to psychological care. The creative arts provide a safe, gentle and empowering approach to enabling young people to share their story. They don’t have to talk directly about their experiences unless they want to and so their creative code serves to create a sense of safety and emotional distance from experiences that would otherwise overwhelm them. The process engages the young person’s inner creative resource and naturally begins to restore and build their sense of value, self-confidence and self-esteem. This enables a young person to begin to acknowledge and realise their own sense of worth and resilience, and this becomes the first step in them being enabled to journey towards looking at deeper issues of trauma and violence.
Eight young people came for an initial assessment session at Ragamuffin Boathouse in partnership with M’Lop Russey an NGO working to enable young adult orphans to transition into community living from institutionalised care that is gradually being phased out in Cambodia in favour of more community based responses to supporting vulnerable young people. Through a creative therapeutic process the therapist worked with the group to enable them to feel safe to begin to share their experiences. Here is some of their feedback:
‘The first time in my life at Ragamuffin Boathouse
“It was inspirational today being at Ragamuffin.”
“It was the first time in my life I have felt supported and heard”
“I made a different kind of friend through this picture making … we are the same age and after all we have been through …. they understood me… I felt so understood by everyone today … I feel so relieved”
“I have never had the chance to look at good things in my life… everything has been bad, really bad, so I feel bad too about me its like all the flowers were torn apart until there was nothing growing anymore – I could only see what was lost and destroyed… nothing had any hope or life and I … didn’t want to live too….”
So far, when he thought of himself, he could only see the problems and what he has lost in his life. This morning, in the group was the first time for him to begin to reflect on who he is and what he is really worth. Sharing this in the group through creativity became so empowering and supportive. Everyone in the group began to recognize themselves for who they really are and also begin to see each other. “It made me feel not on my own anymore”. The group began to report feeling less isolated, more understood and respected. (Ragamuffin Arts Therapist)
“I have never thought that you would feel the same way too… I always felt so alone”
The process enabled them to begin to restore a sense of well-being, inner confidence and resilience that will enable them to draw nearer to deeper issues of challenge in sessions to follow. Together, through the healing power of creativity and relationship - hope breathes hope.
Thank you for your ongoing support of Ragamuffin’s Arts Therapy Service for vulnerable young people and children in crisis.
Please contact us if you would like to know more information about our services at firstname.lastname@example.org