As some of you may or may not know, I feature mostly lifestyle themes within my blog. But what good is a platform you build if you don’t share the value it may have for a greater purpose? What is my why?
When I’m not blogging about fashion, beauty, and travel I commit my time to a career that I continue to become more passionate about through new learning experiences and connecting with those who have been impacted in some way through art and it’s ability to provide healing. As a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist and Certified Art Teacher I’ve committed myself to the education, growth, healing, and support of others. To understand where this blog post will take you I have to give some background so you have a better picture of me and the work I’m committed to with youth and families.
What is art therapy?
Art therapy utilizes creative techniques such as drawing, painting, sculpting, collage, and more to help people express themselves and examine the psychological and emotional significance within their artwork. This in turn can create an increased self awareness and support people with challenges, allowing greater insight into their behaviors and emotions. With the support and guidance, a credentialed art therapist trained to examine the symbols and non verbal messages within the artwork can support clients with reaching an understanding of feelings to resolve deeper conflicts.
During undergrad I studied art education and growing up the arts were always my language for expressing myself and working through difficulty moments much more than I could with the spoken word. In my small town I grew up dancing in performing arts and continued to purse my love for visual art through painting, drawing, and fiber arts. I minored in art therapy and though I knew I always wanted to work with children, there was more I wanted to do to support learners beyond education that I couldn’t always reach in the classroom setting. In 2012 I moved to NYC to attend NYU’s Graduate Program in Art Therapy. During grad school I participated in a global internship in Accra, Ghana. Here I volunteered at Basics International serving at risk and underserved youth in Chorkor. Basics International serves to provide education and protect the basic rights of children for education, food, shelter, and safety. I witnessed first hand the power of an education can be the key to freedom in many ways. Without access to education, girls in particular within this culture would mother their own children as children themselves early as the age of 14.
Our group of grad students set out to provide children at this setting access to creating self expression using art materials to support their overall sense of self. Providing the students within the school setting access to the creative process through art making and sharing I learned a great deal about a culture different from my own. Providing students the opportunity to create however they chose with materials provided they began to visually share their world, filled with challenges, sadness, fear, and hope. I watched first hand how powerful art making could be for the creator and provided an outlet of release to communicate thoughts and feelings. Each day I was amazed at how the art became our means for communicating with each other when the spoken word failed us, and how in time these young minds became confident at expressing themselves. Most of all I saw how much love they craved and how resilient they were, many walking long distances on their own just to attend school. I had arrived in Ghana with a determination to make some type of difference in these children’s lives to leave knowing what they had left with me was far more than I ever imagined. Upon returning to the states and graduating I’ve continued to pursue my work with youth as an art therapist in the NYC public schools.
Fast forward 5 years later and I am sitting in the New York Times Building for a panel discussion on the topic of the fight to end human trafficking in honor of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. This panel consisted of experts on the topics, art therapists, survivors, and entrepreneurs. My former art therapy supervisor spoke as part of the panel on her work with children following the events of 9/11 and the impact this work had on her own professional development. Also on the panel, this supervisor’s early client and now co-founder of Beauty for Freedom. This event detailed a discussion around the realities of human trafficking that takes place both in the United States and beyond, with shared stories of resilient survivors that now speak out about what can be done to spread awareness and end this terrifying global issue. The non for profit Beauty for Freedom provides trafficking survivors art therapy programming and serves to empower, strengthen, and increase the self-esteem of survivors, while spreading awareness to communities. I wanted to share what I took aware from the panel in an effort to bring to light the realities of a problem that is not often spoken about and to honor those survivors who have been courageous enough to share their stories and advocate to become part of the solution.
What is human trafficking?
Human trafficking is the force, coercion, or fraud to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Traffickers use threats, manipulation, or false promises of well paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims. It can happen at any age in any community, and can happen to any race and gender. Read more about it here.
Human trafficking earns profits of approximately $150 billion a year for traffickers.
Researchers estimate that more than 80% of trafficking victims are female. Over 50% of victims are children.
There are more enslaved persons in the world today than ever before in history.
The trauma caused by trafficking is so great victims often will not or cannot identify themselves as victims or ask for help. (nationalhumantrafficking)
What Organizations Can Help?
Beauty for Freedom Programming uses the creative process to empower survivors and victims of human trafficking to develop increased self worth and confidence. It is a non profit organization that raises revenue for survivors in the developing world.
To read more about what you can do if you have suspicion that someone is a victim of trafficking read more here.
What Can I do to Support the Fight?
Beauty for Freedom is currently raising funds to send volunteers to Winneba, Ghana to provide art therapy programming in collaboration with the non profit Challenging Heights. If you are interested in supporting this effort you can purchase a book, Illuminate (Book Project Ghana) or make a donation to Beauty for Freedom’s Go Fund Me Here. They are currently raising funds for a three week programming in Winneba and art supplies for a school year’s worth for 500 students. I’ll be collecting art supplies to provide to Monica, co founder and would appreciate any donation you could make to the programming in their go fund me.
When asked what can we do to help spread awareness a survivor responded, “Without education there is no prevention. “ Providing love and nurturance to children in a supportive environment provides the safety net necessary to lessen the likelihood for children and adolescents to become victims in human trafficking. Those who become victims are often exposed to difficult life circumstances or previous traumatic events such as natural disasters and violence.
Use your instincts, if you think someone you see is or could be a victim contact authorities such as security in airports and call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-373-7888.