During 2011, Art Therapy Without Borders will be featuring members from the Advisory Council as an opportunity to learn more about their work and some of the art therapy initiatives they are involved in that speak to this community’s vision. May’s spotlight includes Gloria Simoneaux:
Gloria Simoneaux, MA, REAT, EXA, is the founding director of Harambee Arts, a program in sub-Saharan Africa. Gloria taught Expressive Arts to counselors in Nairobi as a Fulbright scholar, affiliated with the Kenya Association of Professional Counselors. She is the Founder of DrawBridge: An Arts Program for Homeless Children, has worked with pediatric oncology patients in San Francisco hospitals and is currently a consultant with Save the Children.
Tell readers a little about yourself and what your interests are in art therapy. I’ve worked with children using art since I was a 13 year old volunteer in a hospital in Brooklyn. My path has always been clear to me driven by my passionate love for children and my belief in art as a tool for healing. In 1980 I received a grant to work with pediatric oncology patients in two San Francisco bay area hospitals, using the arts for expression and healing. After eight years I needed a break from the overwhelming grief that surrounded me. In 1989, family homelessness was emerging as a big problem in America, with few safety nets. At that time, The Hamilton Family Center was the only emergency shelter in SF. I called the director and explained my interest in setting up a therapeutic arts program for homeless children. Within ten minutes, I was hired on the phone. Three months after that I was awarded a three-year grant to continue the work. As the homeless problem grew, so did the numbers of shelters and transitional housing sites in SF. The new shelters also needed psycho-social support programs for the children, and so DrawBridge; An Arts Program for Homeless Children was born. Other staff joined the team and soon we were creating art with children in six shelters in three counties. After 20 years we were in seven counties; more than 25 shelters. I left DrawBridge in 2007 and it is still thriving. In 2008 I went to Nairobi, Kenya for a year and a half as a Fulbright scholar to teach art therapy to psychologists and counselors throughout the country. Harambee Arts is the small non-profit organization that I started, also in 2007. We have three strong on-going community arts projects in Nairobi: 1- A support group for HIV+ women prisoners. 2- Arts programs for children with autism and Down’s syndrome and 3- Arts and leadership training for children in the slums of Kibera (Africa’s largest slum). Currently, I am a consultant for Save the Children (HEART Project), teaching trainers, and providing on-going support, in Nepal, Malawi and Haiti. I also oversee the Harambee Arts Project, directed by a young man from Rwanda.
What do you believe are important considerations or emerging issues for the international art therapy community to pay attention to? As art therapy becomes more accepted as an intervention world-wide, the issue that is foremost in my mind is acknowledging cultural differences. It is critical that people interested in sharing their skills internationally, learn to do so sensitively, without imposing our western ideas and standards. I was recently asked to design and teach a course at CIIS (California Institute for Integral Studies) on Expressive Arts Internationally and how to work and teach in other cultures. It’s been a big challenge for me to be flexible and patient while working in cultures that are entirely different to the one I am accustomed to. I am still learning and practicing.
What are some special art therapy projects you are working on for/in 2011? I’ve been a consultant with Save the Children since 2009 and I’m currently working on projects in Nepal, Malawi and Haiti. My burning interest at the moment is working with survivors of sexual trafficking and slavery. I had an opportunity to lead a training recently in Nepal for a miraculous group of 25 women survivors who have formed an organization called Shakti Samuha. After working with them, I became a bit obsessed and wanted to drop everything else to work side by side with the survivors. I’m trying to raise money to go back and do in depth therapy with the women and extensive training in expressive arts. I also worked (in Nepal) for the first time with hearing impaired children and I am excited to continue that work, as well. I’ll be making my first trip to Haiti soon and I’ve been preparing for the very different cultural experience (most of my experience has been in Africa and Asia). I have been told that children in Haiti are not recognized as human until after they join the workforce.
4. How can people contact you or find out more about your work? My email address is: email@example.com and my website is www.hamrambeearts.org. I welcome communication from anyone who wants to find out more.