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Using art as therapy at the Benedictine Monastery

Only instruction is to "draw what you love"
Posted at 10:26 PM, Jun 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-12 01:30:09-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — Each week, hundreds of Central American migrants who are seeking asylum enter the doors of the Benedictine Monastery. They are only in Tucson for a couple of days, but volunteers are working to leave a lasting impression on the families with art classes.

It's not your typical art class. But in a way, it is.

The kids walk in, sit down, and pick up a colored pencil or a paintbrush.

There's just one instruction here -- draw what you love.

"Often times, they're able to give voice to their feelings and to their experience, through the art itself," Valerie James said.

The art class incorporates therapy, and Valerie James leads the way to help kids who are staying just a few days at the Benedictine Monastery.

"It's really about welcoming our neighbor," James said. "So in this particular case, all kids are the same."

These children are migrants from Central America, mostly Guatemala and Honduras, who are seeking asylum. James says the process of creating art is therapeutic for the children, and gives them a universal language to communicate with.

"Kids struggle sometimes, anyway, to be able to name their feelings," James said. "But they can do it through painting, and being able to share with us, that this is a picture of home, this is a picture of my family, and these are pictures of my animals that I've left behind."

She says what they create, also shows a lot of hope for their future, in an uncertain time in their lives. At the end of class, the children get to hang up their artwork on the walls.

The art will be featured in an art show at the Ward 6 office on July 12. It'll be up through the end of the month for the public to see.