In October 2016 Flourish held an art therapy pilot project in a refugee camp in Greece. The camp, Ritsona, is situated in a remote area of mainland Greece just north of Athens. At the time there were approximately 600 individuals from Syria consisting of close to an equal third of men, women and children.
Four volunteer art therapists and a translator worked to establish relationships with the residents and onsite NGO’s to ascertain the benefits and need of an art therapy intervention within the camp. Ritsona was in its second phase of development at the time of our project; the residents had their basic needs met of shelter, food, clothing and health care, however there were little mental health provisions.
We established twice daily group art therapy sessions for the men, women and children of the camp. Flourish was kindly given use of a building to carry out our sessions and we were granted permission to work on a mural on the exterior walls and turned the abandoned building into a usable community space.
Within the children sessions we witnessed some confused and angry individuals who after suffering traumas in a war torn country, fleeing their homes, and living within a refugee camp were struggling to make sense of their experiences. We worked to provide directives that were symbolic of containment and allowed for playful and therapeutic expression. We aimed through these directives of keeping something safe, we might demonstrate inner security, consistency and show a way of exploring and expressing difficult emotions and personal stories.
For the young people and adults we held non-directive open art therapy studios that were culturally sensitive to genders and age ranges. We provided a range of materials for exploration and personal expression, maintaining a safe and respecting environment. We encouraged dialogue between the images and within the group, allowing for a shared experience and an opportunity for making meaning of their circumstances.
The mural provided an opportunity for us to work alongside the residents and allowed them to lead on a project that would make a small change to their environment. It became a symbol of self-worth, self-esteem, hope and resilience to the individuals who worked on it.
Through the art making and completed images, the individuals we met exhibited their sense of community and personal identity that so often becomes lost in the consequences of violent conflict. We were humbled by their trust, acceptance, generosity and strength, and we carry with us hope for their futures and a gratitude for their demonstration of true humanity in the face of inhumane circumstances.