Many Salvadorans seeking help have suffered deeply traumatic events; children who witnessed the murder of parents, parents who have lost children, teenage widows. There is a continuous stream of children and teenagers who have been raped or sexually abused. We see veterans living with the ghosts of the civil war; and both perpetrators and victims of gang violence.
To co-exist with these traumas, it helps if people can express what is happening to them; if they can explore and seek mechanisms to cope. But for children and many adults, talking about themselves and the events they have survived, can be extremely difficult.
Art provides a form of expression which is non-verbal, which can be used alongside other therapies. Non threatening and non-critical, it can help people to build positive pictures within their lives, of those around them, and find places of tranquility that are safe and that they can always go back to. It provides a means of self-exploration and a way to start healing themselves.
In Malawi we did a month long pilot workshop for young people growing up with HIV.
HIV now has extremely effective treatment which allows people to live long and healthy lives. And yet so many still die when they are young. The great challenge for young people growing up with HIV in Africa is to keep taking daily medicines through the difficult, identity-building years, in which they find out that they are HIV positive.
There are many reasons why young people find it hard to take medicines. They may not have accepted their HIV positive status. They may need to hide the medicines from family and friends. Many children are orphans, with guardians who see them as a burden. Some get side effects to the drugs. Some forget. Some get depressed, even suicidal. Some are traumatised by events which have nothing to do with HIV. Many fear discrimination.
Young people are continually told by medical staff, with the best intentions, that they do not take the medicines every day HIV will kill them. Often they are then asked if they have taken their pills. It is hard to admit if they have not. And if they do not admit it, then they cannot get the help they need to resolve the problems they face..
The workshop in Malawi aimed to provide a safe, non-critical space for young people to explore their lives, and the reasons why taking daily medicines can be hard. The idea was to build self knowledge and to help young people find their own strategies to cope and heal themselves.