Friends of Pravaham

Archive for March 2011

By Christie Van Vugt

Late last summer I had a random thought to bring some basic art supplies & projects to Pravaham on my 2010 trip to use as a communication aid for working with the new batch of students. This idea was born in part because I have no formal training as a teacher, and on our 2009 trip I found it difficult to teach English using the traditional materials we had available. It occurred to me that working through art could help bridge the language barrier because I like to think that art is a universal language in its own right. This was a spontaneous idea that I hadn’t prepared for, but once I found out that a third piece of luggage could be checked for the bargain price of $48 it was easy to make the decision so I set out to procure light-weight and easy to pack supplies.

The maiden attempt at transporting art materials involved many packages of 5×7 canvas boards, bottles of acrylic paint, brushes, glue, glitter, gel pens and ready-to-paint wood crosses. It turns out that wooden crosses do not travel well, as many were broken in transit. For that reason the finished crosses ended up staying with the students & staff. I did bring home numerous pieces of canvas artworks created by students and staff. After scanning the artwork to make cards and prints, some of the original pieces were then given out to sponsors.

Most of the students were tentative at first and probably had little or no previous experience using art supplies that we find readily available in America. Once they got the hang of it though there was no stopping them! It was really exciting coming to the classroom/“art studio” in the late afternoon during free time and finding staff and students busily painting and chatting. This was when we had the most productive practice of English language. In this casual, calm setting it was easier for everyone to relax and as a result I believe we made much more progress learning conversational English, and I even learned a few words and phrases in Tamil!

My first foray into teaching with art at Pravaham was such a success that we ran out of supplies rather quickly and had to get creative with what could be found on campus. A ready supply of large dried leaves and a handful of clay potshards turned out to be great alternative materials for painting. One afternoon a family touring the property stopped to observe us painting leaves. The father spoke excellent English so we conversed a bit, but I did not understand what he meant when he said “you are of heart-mind.” I’m paraphrasing here, but he defined that concept as the ability to see beauty in everyday objects. What a touching moment to share with strangers in a foreign land! Before they left he asked to take a photo of me with his three young daughters, each girl holding a freshly painted & glittered leaf.

In case you are wondering, art therapy is generally defined as using a creative process to help people of all ages improve their emotional well-being, but here are a couple more definitions that make it even more relevant for use at Pravaham. From Art Therapy Sourcebook: “… a belief in the inherent healing power of the creative process of art making. This view embraces the idea that the process of making art is therapeutic; this process is sometimes referred to as art as therapy. Art making is seen as an opportunity to express oneself imaginatively, authentically, and spontaneously, an experience that, over time, can lead to personal fulfillment, emotional reparation, and transformation.” From the International Art Therapy Organization [IATO]: “Art has the potential to change lives and in profound ways. When words are not enough, we turn to images and symbols to tell our stories. And in telling our stories through art, we can find a path to health and wellness, emotional reparation, recovery, and ultimately, transformation.”

This year if all goes well I hope to return to India again in the fall to meet & work with the incoming students, and if the timing is right, to reunite with the graduating class of girls that I met last year. I’ve already started purchasing some of the materials to bring along, with the thought of supplementing the American art supplies with materials that can be purchased locally in the city of Chennai.

If you are interested in donating to purchase art supplies for Pravaham, or if you are interested in sponsoring a mission trip, please feel contact me!

All of the students’ artwork and photos taken by Christie may be viewed on Pravaham’s Picasaweb site.

Email Christie at cvanvugt at cox dot net.


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