As part of The Red Pencil Philippines STEP 3 humanitarian mission, The Red Pencil collaborated with Tiwala Kids & Communities, working closely with displaced children from underprivileged backgrounds due to Typhoon Haiyan. J is one of the children who was offered Art Therapy sessions as part of the mission.
Each session took place for two hours every morning, over the course of a week. J is one an 8 year old boy from Victoria Village. J’s mother works away in Manila and is looked after by his grandmother along with other grandchildren. As a result, he is disadvantaged and neglected. Due to the lack of support at home, his education is still at the beginning stages and he is unable to write anything other than his name. It has been observed that J has hyperactive and attention seeking behaviours. He showed signs of mixed energy, between running around and wrestling and appearing tired and lethargic when he did not want to participate. Given the opportunity to draw or paint, he did not limit art-making to paper and would often draw or paint on himself (figure 1).
In session 2, the intervention centred on weaving a story with the group by taking turns to draw something on a sheet of paper and passing it around silently. J managed to hold this silence with some difficulty but seemed to be restless as he tapped his feet and the table, used art materials to paint his nails and drew on the table. When it came to his first turn to add something to the drawing, he put his head down and refused to contribute. As the paper made the rounds, J eventually contributed and added something. It was noted that he was quite private about his work and would cover it with his arm while he drew.
In session 3, the group was given an image of an animal each and were asked to create an environment for them. Once again, J did not limit his mark-making to his art work and drew his own face using a permanent marker. They were later asked to switch their environments among the group and adapt their animal to the new environment. Later, he received a background with the sea and the sun but switched his background again with another child when no one was watching. J’s need to switch his background again might relate to his own upbringing—switching of caregivers. Figure 2 shows J’s monkey in its environment. It is notable that he had included a smaller figure for his monkey to look after.
In session 4, children were given a range of materials to construct their city, Legazpi. J quickly became interested in covering his hands in glue and chased another child around, attempting to attack her with messy glue. The group were also asked to create an image of themselves but J seemed to be more interested in the foam stickers than the task. However, the final artwork appears lively, energetic and colourful as well as hectic and fragmented which is a reflection of how J presented (figure 3).
In session 5, J spent a lot of time wrestling and running around and had to be redirected a few times. When the children were asked to place the elements that they have created from previous session, J became more involved. Figure 4 shows the city with different elements that the group had constructed. At the end of the session, the group were invited to take part of the work. J and another child took the volcano and destroyed it completely with much joy for them and other children who took part in ripping it up. There seemed to be a sense of anger about where they lived. Some of the children’s village were often badly hit by typhoons such that they have to temporarily stay elsewhere. Their destructive energy was witnessed and the lightness of the energy in the space allowed some of the aggression to be released.
The creative processes in the group as well as the outcomes provided a clear indication and understanding of J’s behaviours. It allowed us to engage the boy and elucidate his emotions. Through group dynamics and finding ways of relating to the group through play, J had carved a safe space for himself where he felt accepted even for his negative emotions. By way of materials, J also discovered ways of expressing his frustrations and anger which was a vital part of the healing process and cleared a path of rid of excess emotions and work with his core issues.