Values. Voice. Vision. The Ursuline College mantra is on most of the College’s marketing material. It is, then, crucial for those ideals to become part of the curriculum in every discipline. For the Counseling and Art Therapy Department, it’s even more important to incorporate values into their work, to give voice to those that don’t have one and to have a vision for the future. This past January, the Counseling and Art Therapy Department was able to connect with Rebekah Chilcote ’07, who is currently in Zimbabwe for three years working with Youth With a Mission (YWAM). Assistant Professor Katherine Jackson was able to organize a trip for the Counseling Art Therapy Department to put their skills to the test.
That’s why a group of 15 Ursuline College students, faculty and alumnae traveled to Zimbabwe on January 2 of this year. The group consisted of nine undergraduate students, two faculty members (Katherine Jackson and Megan Seaman) who are assistant professors in the Counseling and Art Therapy Department, three alumnae, and one husband of a student. Due to the grueling 23-hour travel time, the trip took place from December 29 through January 12; however, only 10 of those days were actually spent in Zimbabwe.
The group lived and worked at the Peniel Centre, an orphanage for children that are victims of HIV/AIDS as well physical and sexual abuse, which is run by Gideon and Jennifer Chisamba, along with their son, X (a nickname), and his wife, Privilege. Very camp-like in appearance, the orphanage is not much, with thatched roof huts, cold well-water only and outdoor cooking over big pots. The trip was an immersion experience for the group of Ursuline College representatives, due to the fact that they ate and lived with the children of the orphanage.
Luckily for the Ursuline College students, alumnae and faculty, a good portion of the students in Zimbabwe could speak a bit of English, as all schools in Zimbabwe are English-speaking. The children at Peniel Centre took part in mental health counseling and art therapy, and, as YWAM is a nondenominational Christian organization, they were taught that they are “royalty of God,” so they got to make crowns, and draw pictures of castles and the houses they want when they grow up. Other art projects for the children included masks, puppets and meaningful jewelry, such as friendship bracelets.
Of course, the mission of the trip wasn’t simply to do art projects with the children. It was to help them and care for them. According to the professors along on the trip, “We tried to bring love, that’s all you can really do.”
“The experience impacted both the children and us in a great way,” Jackson and Seaman said, adding that “we did more than what we thought we could do.” According to the professors, everyone on the trip adapted well and rose to the occasion, even the students that had never been out of the country before.
Overall, the trip changed the perspective of all of the participants. “We grew to love the children, and we felt that we touched them,” Said Jackson. In addition, they learned that the basic human experience is the same, in that everyone wants the same things: love, a purpose and solid relationships. The College group also realized that everyone is connected. The professors added, “If someone is hurting in Zimbabwe, it hurts us here, it affects everyone. It is not us or them, this or that, and although that may be human nature, we must try not to think that way.
Chilcote will be in Africa for three years, which lends the Counseling and Art Therapy Department a chance to build a bridge and maintain a connection to the children in Africa that they have worked with on this trip.
The Department is going on another trip June 20-27 to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, where they will be working with Native American children from both the Lakota and Sioux tribes on the expression arts, including drama, fine arts and participating in an art show.
In addition, the Counseling and Art Therapy Department is also hosting a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal from May 23 through June 2, 2016. The trip is a partnership with United Planet, a non-profit organization, which plans and facilitates humanitarian and mission work around the world. The Nepal trip will include working with women and children that have been victims of physical and sexual abuse. While this trip will have an art component, it will be very specific to mental health and counseling; therefore, those going on the trip must have a high competency in mental health work. This is a chance to use not just art skills, but also counseling skills. The deadline to sign up for the trip is in September 2015, and there will be more information coming soon. Up to 30 people will be accepted to go, and the cost for the trip will be $5,000.