Sunday, July 01, 2012

Art Therapy in Bolivia

Utilizing the power of art to help schoolchildren, International Programs Officer Julia Mergendoller was responsible for an FSD-led Global Service Trip (GST) on the ground in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Julia spent the first leg of her journey with the FSD site team in Salta, Argentina, where she met new Program Director Victoria "Vicky" Valle. Vicky and her Salta team were busy with preparations to welcome summer session interns, who will be involved in programs in the environmental sustainability, youth development and education, healthcare, and microfinance sectors.

Julia spent nearly two weeks in Cochabamba where she consulted with Program Director Mauricio Ramirez Parra. Mauricio is spearheading a team of Masters of Art Therapy students from NYU in a revelatory—if unconventional—approach to interacting with disabled students and hospitalized children.

Hailing from NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, the students and their department head, Ikuko Acosta, partnered with NGOs CERECO and Movimiento Sonrisa to conduct art therapy activities with their beneficiaries. With CERECO, they harnessed art as a means of combating feelings of distress, isolation, and apprehension in developmentally disabled schoolchildren. The schoolchildren used art as a form of communication and psychological expression, and the NYU students trained the staff in the art therapy techniques, which were novel approaches to the NGO. “The school staff were open to learning new educative and communicative techniques, and I feel they will incorporate these activities into their curriculum,” Julia said.

The team also conducted work with NGO Movimiento Sonrisa in a hospital for chronically ill children, where the young patients often have problems communicating because they speak the indigenous dialect Quechua, while the hospital staff speaks Spanish. Julia reports that “art helped to transcend and dissolve intercultural barriers between the patients and the staff, as well as with the GST team, who found that they were increasingly able to communicate with the patients throughout their three-week stay.” Julia also noted the “excitement of seeing the balance between the short-term benefits of the activities with the children and the sustainable outcomes with the partner organizations.”

Among FSD's other work in Bolivia, Julia observed FSD's progress with partner NGO Instituto para el Desarollo Humano--Institute for Human Development (IDH) to spread awareness of HIV/AIDS prevention in local communities. FSD Interns are currently working with IDH's communications team to strengthen HIV transmission and prevention awareness messaging. Furthermore, they are supporting IDH’s work at the organization's clinic and within the local schools to teach community members about reproductive health, and to de-stigmatize and facilitate dialogue about gender and sexual minorities.

Upon her return, Julia reported a great deal of positive feedback from her stay in Bolivia. The near palpable dedication and optimism from the Site Teams inspire hope for the continuation of FSD's efforts toward sustainable development in Bolivia.

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