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Art as Self Expression (and incidentally physical therapy)

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

In 2005, when I came to the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home for the first time, I brought materials to make simple puppets with the children. They enjoyed it so much that every year afterwards I brought varied art project materials with me.

In 2009 I brought quarts of good quality tempera paint, watercolor paper and decent brushes. I was excited by the keen enthusiasm of the children and by their work. Once I demonstrated the simple procedure, they needed no help, and clearly enjoyed the process. I continued to bring paint and markers, and a few years ago we began using local clay to explore form and play three dimensionally.

I developed a method of facilitating wheelchair bound children, so that art making was accessible to everyone at the school. The children with cerebral palsy especially found pleasure in painting and clay modeling because abstraction was the norm, and there was no judgement on the content or outcome of their piece. Their motivation to create was so powerful that they developed more and more ability to control their arms as the weeks progressed. I wished that I could afford to hire a year round art teacher for them because there were few other ways they could express themselves.

On my visit in January, the children and I painted or worked with clay almost every day. During one of the art sessions, we had a visit from Busiku Mpongo, a woman I met in 2017 when she was working as an aid at the Mama Bakhita. A couple of years later, the AACDP found a sponsor for her education at Lusaka University, where she earned a degree in physiotherapy. Her visit during the children’s clay session was wonderful in many ways. I had been working with Jonathan, a young man with cerebral palsy who has more difficulty controlling his arms and movements than others with CP. My efforts to help him grasp a brush were clumsy and ineffective, but Busiku was able to help him control his hand. It was remarkable to see him respond, and so gratifying to see her education aptly used in such a graceful and effective manner.

Here are some of the paintings the children created (click arrow on side of painting to scroll through)

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