POWER OF ONE: Zakheni arts Therapy Foundation helps children deal with violence at schools and make a difference in their communities.
POWER OF ONE: Zakheni arts Therapy Foundation helps children deal with violence at schools and make a difference in their communities.

Using creativity to bring lasting change

By Terri Dunbar-Curran Time of article published Jun 27, 2013

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Cape Town - Drama, art and music are becoming increasingly more valuable tools in helping people channel trauma and pain. The team at the Observatory-based Zakheni Arts Therapy Foundation are using their creative talent and technical skill to help make lasting change across South Africa.

“Creative artists have always been an intrinsic part of communities,” says Heather Mac, Zakheni’s project manager. She explains that what the foundation offers goes beyond “didactic therapies”, that it uses creativity to bring communities and care workers together.

That’s the main idea behind their FireMaker project, which is designed to equip care workers with creative arts tools to use in the psychosocial support of children.

“We realised that so many care workers are suffering from burn-out and are also traumatised,” says Mac, explaining that a large majority of them come from the same areas and situations as the children they work with.

Bearing that in mind, the three-day workshop begins with a focus on well-being, so that before they even start skills development, the caregivers are able to experience the benefits for themselves. The workshop focuses on experiential learning and includes techniques like puppet-making, storytelling, art and clay activities, as well as exploring basic child development theory.

“It is concerning to see how many people are suffering from burn-out and stress,” says Mac, adding that often talking through one’s problems can make things worse, but that art allows you to use metaphor to process things more easily.

One of the biggest challenges Zakheni faced, until this year, was that people could not become qualified in drama therapy in South Africa; they would have to study in the US or UK. But now, Wits University has introduced its first honours in drama therapy and by 2015 there should be a number of newly qualified creative arts therapists. “We’ll be able to scale up the work we’re doing,” says Mac.

Zakheni doesn’t only work with care workers; its school’s Dramatherapy Project is geared specifically towards working with youngsters affected by violence at school. With the help of teachers, therapists and mentors, the children explore the challenges they face in a safe way.

Over a number of weeks they also work on their own theatrical piece, which they have the opportunity to see staged at their schools. “It has been exciting to see how some of these kids have come out of being suicidal and have made positive shifts in their lives,” says Mac.

Working in tandem with Zakheni is the Bonfire Theatre Project, a theatre company which uses interactive theatre to help transform people’s attitudes towards each other. “While a lot of corporates hire Bonfire, their real heart lies in social dialogue,” says Mac.

“We have planned a magnificent project for Imizama Yethu, where there have been clashes between groups of people. Bonfire will bring different parts of the community together to tell their stories. That will lead to a more sustained, healthier community, one hopes.”

Bonfire encourages participants to tell stories from their lives, and then the group of actors replays the tale using a variety of theatrical techniques. The result is a deeper understanding of one another and a growing mutual respect.

Mac stresses that Zakheni does not only work with the poorer communities around South Africa. Its Well-being Workshop, while generally aimed at care workers, is ideal for corporate team-building.

Social workers, clinical psychologists, counsellors and occupational therapists can benefit from a three-day Beyond Words Workshop that looks at using arts-based techniques in their practices.

Participants engage with their own creativity and also earn 18 CPD (Continuing Professional Development) points for attendance.

With the much-appreciated national lottery funding coming to an end later this year, Zakheni is looking for new ways to sustain itself without being completely reliant on large organisations.

“We want to build on the individual giver and connect with people who are philanthropic, people who believe in the power of creative arts and healing.”

l For information, see www.zakheni.org.za - Cape Times

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