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Art Therapy for Refugee Children

Art Therapy for Refugee Children

[International] humanitarian law offers two fundamental assurances to children in armed conflicts: one, as civilians, they will not be targets in any given war; and two, as children, they will not be recruited or used as soldiers by either side of any armed conflict. In reality, however, neither of these basic rights has ever been implemented.

Centre for Community and Cross-Cultural Studies, Queensland University, 2000

"My Future Home in Canada" - 8 Year old Boy from Afghanistan

Violations of this basic humanitarian law occur on a daily basis in countries across the globe. Far from being protected and sheltered from the horrors and atrocities of war, children are among its principal victims.

Many of these children are raised in climates of unremitting political hostility, while others experience the atrocities of war as sudden, unexpected, and dramatic. Far too frequently, they are killed, maimed, and traumatized during attacks on their communities and schools. They are subjected to acts of horror most cannot even imagine - torture, rape, detention, and conscription. They are also faced with tragic loss - of home and community, of family and friends, and of support and protection.

Young children have little control over the violence and terror that they are exposed to, and this lack of control results in an assault on their self-esteem, and feelings of safety and trust. They are the most silent, vulnerable victims of war, and, in order to shield themselves from these painful experiences, they develop protective defenses to avoid and deny what has happened. It is this blocking of emotions through dissociation and denial that disrupts their normal course of development, and that can negatively affect their entire lives.

"Happy to be in Canada and Toronto"- 5 year old girl syria

Donate to help COSTI's Refugee Children's Art Therapy Program

Since February 2016, over 1000 Syrian newcomer children were provided with a lifeline and the opportunity to work through their pain and fears. Many experienced the atrocities of war and subjected to acts of horrors most cannot even imagine. They were faced with tragic loss – of home and community, of family and friends, and of support and protection.

COSTI's Art Therapy Program is about helping all refugee children recover from their trauma by helping them get in touch with and overcome their fears through the objective language of their art. It combines the languages of art with psychotherapy. Your donation will help us continue our work with refugee children.

If you are interested in making a financial contribution, you can call 416-658-1600, or click here [PDF] if you would like to download and complete a Donation Form.

We are also accepting donations via Paypal. Click here to donate via PayPal.

You can also make a secure donation through Canada Helps.

The Power of Healing

Through the Art Therapy Program offered at COSTI's Ralph Chiodo Family Immigrant Reception Centre, these traumatized children are provided with a lifeline - the opportunity to work through their pain and fear, and get a second chance at childhood.

Art Therapy is a non-threatening, non-intrusive vehicle that helps these children to symbolically fulfill their impulses, and to externalize the difficult and overwhelming feelings that they are forced to deal with. By recreating in drawings what they have seen, children project their trauma into their artwork, and gain control over it while maintaining a comfortable distance. It is this creative process that relaxes their defenses, and provides a direct access to what they have been suppressing.

The role of the Art Therapist in this process is very important. She is the one who facilitates the child's growth and integration by providing a safe and consistent environment for the expression and containment of their many feelings. Children gain a sense of security and belonging when they experience a trusting relationship. Emotionally wounded children need a second chance at childhood. They need to be provided with an environment which can foster their spontaneity, creativity, and growth.

It is often said that a picture paints a thousand words. Nowhere is this more true than in COSTI's Art Therapy Program. Countless numbers of children come in and paint, not only what they have seen and experienced, but also what they hope their lives will come to look like. Art does wonders. For these children, this is where the healing process begins.