Registered Art Therapist, Professional Counselor, and Fulbright Scholar Rebekah Chilcote, MA, ATR, PC has worked with child survivors of the Sri Lanka tsunami, children in Africa orphaned by AIDS and Palestine youth impacted by violence and war in the West Bank. Rebekah also currently serves as an Assistant Program Coordinator for the International Child Art Foundation’s Haiti Healing Arts Team and works with the African Heart Art project.
Tell readers a little about yourself and what your interests are in art therapy: I am passionate about international art therapy and helping traumatized children world-wide. I grew up in Africa as a missionary kid and as a twelve-year-old, spent every waking moment at an orphanage in Zimbabwe where I helped care for forty-five infants and toddlers, including baby Aaron who died of AIDS. This experience changed my life forever and I later returned to Zimbabwe as a Fulbright scholar to carry out a study on the use of art with children orphaned by AIDS. The materials were basic; the art tasks simple; the results profound. Children who had watched their family members die of AIDS had no chance to express their grief and pain. Their emotional needs, left unaddressed, were overwhelming. Through drawing and painting the orphans opened their hearts to me, pouring out stories of trauma, but also hope. This was my first experience with the power of art therapy and I have since completed a master’s degree with the hopes of moving back to Africa to establish long-term art therapy programs there. In recent years, I have continued my passion of traveling the world, providing art therapy for traumatized children on four continents. I have lived and worked with child tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka, street kids in Ethiopia, homeless children in Cleveland, genocide survivors in Rwanda and most recently children traumatized by war in the West Bank, Palestine. People often ask me, ‘how can you stand the suffering?’ To me, it is the greatest honor of my life to walk beside those in desperate need. It is my holy ground.
What do you believe are important considerations or emerging issues for the international art therapy community to pay attention to? I believe that addressing cross-cultural issues is of the utmost importance when discussing international art therapy today. The need to offer healing to those in need, while, at the same time maintaining cultural sensitivity and awareness is critical. I believe it is important to avoid imposing western standards or methodology without understanding the culture you are in. Some questions I ask myself when arriving in a new country for the first time are: “What are the needs of the people here and how can I work along-side them to bring healing?” How do they express grief culturally?” “What healing mechanisms are already in place within the culture, such as art expression, dance, or tribal rituals?”
I strongly emphasize working hand in hand with the local people as this impacts program success in the short-term and sustainability of the program in the long run. It is always my primary aim to enter into a new culture with gentleness, sensitivity and openness, offering my skills, but not imposing them. As more and more art therapists begin to explore and travel our world, the need for this understanding is great.
What are some special art therapy projects you are working on in 2011? My efforts right now are focused on supervising the children’s program at a residential homeless shelter in inner-city Cleveland. I find the work both challenging and exhilarating; the children some of the most remarkable I have known.
I am spending a lot of time writing and am working on preparing a book for publication which will include children’s drawings, paintings, art therapy sessions and personal stories from around the world. In addition, I am writing grant proposals and applying for funding to establish an ongoing art therapy/ grief center on the continent of Africa (hopefully in Zimbabwe). With over one million children orphaned by AIDS in the country of Zimbabwe alone, the need for art therapy and grief work is great. I am hoping to connect with partners, both locally and globally to join me in this venture.
How can people contact you or find out more about your work? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on Facebook.