HEALING THROUGH ARTSomething that many of us may not realize is that the external, physical injuries that conflict inflicts on children are not the only scars that war leaves on a child’s life. We have to remember that war-affected children are often traumatized by the loss of family members and friends, witnessing and participating in brutal violence, being forced to withdraw from school, having to leave their homes, and living in situations of scarcity and hardship which leave no room to be a child.
Just to give you an idea of the scale of psychological trauma that children face during conflict, consider the case of Liberia. During that country’s 14-year civil war, an estimated 15,000 children were abducted as child soldiers, sex slaves, or forced labourers. In addition, Liberian children were exposed to conditions of extreme poverty, hunger, vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, and disruption of basic social services such as health and education. Forced to commit, endure and witness brutal atrocities, these children need extensive healing to recover from their trauma once the conflict has ended.
The most effective way to address these invisible wounds is to simply letting kids be kids again. Encouraging children to express their thoughts and memories through various creative art forms gives them an important outlet for their emotional trauma. Art, theatre, dance and music have fostered a sense of self-discovery and confidence in thousands of war-affected Liberian children, just as they do for children in Canada.
The creative process can be crucial form of informal education for children who have been uprooted from their schools and from their traditions of their communities as a result of conflict. For the 18,000 Liberian children who are living as refugees in the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana, music, theatre and dance are important tools for learning and sustaining their cultural customs. Think about the 4,000 of these children who were actually born in the camp and have never seen or lived in their homeland. For them, this cultural expression provides a sense of identity and a connection to home.
Besides the cognitive and emotional healing that they offer, these creative mediums are also used to convey messages of peace-building and conflict resolution, along with messages about the risks of HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy and drug addiction – problems which are socially relevant among young Liberian refugees.
The sense of control and empowerment that children gain through art therapy gives them the resilience and courage they need to live happy, healthy lives despite having endured unimaginable pain and suffering. We often speak about the power of art and music to brighten our lives; in some parts of the world, it can help heal some of the deepest scars. As a musician, this gives me a strong sense of hope and a feeling of joy in the resilience of the child’s spirit.