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Art Relief International at the Chiang Mai Friends

Even though the meeting was small the enthusiasm the women from Art Relief International have for their work left everyone inspired.

By Shana Kongmun

The Chiang Mai Friends held their monthly meeting at the Steak House by JJ Market on Wednesday, May 30 where the small crowd heard an inspiring presentation by two very enthusiastic women from Art Relief International/Cultural Canvas. This nonprofit organization that provides art therapy to the disabled and at risk was founded in 2005 The organization provides volunteers, such as South African Melissa who is here for a month to offer her artistic experience in working with local children and women’s groups, to various organizations around Chiang Mai. From the government run HIV/AIDS orphanage at Baan Viengping, to Wildflower Home that takes in at risk women from abusive situations, Wat Pa Pa School that works with the Shan community, Grandma Cares that works with HIV/AIDS affected families, Thai Freedom House that provides English language skills for migrant workers and their children, the Hope Home that provides a haven for disabled children, M Plus, that works with the LBGT (Lesbian, Bi sexual, Gay and Transgender) communities, and the Healing Family Foundation, these are just some of the organizations they continue to work with.

Recently, musicians from North Gate Jazz Co-op joined them at the Hope Home where some of the children joined in the music making, even if it meant using their feet to play some of the instruments. Aimee, who came as a volunteer and stayed on as a staff member, said that you can see how much these children enjoy these activities, art gives them an opportunity to communicate and express themselves in ways they can’t always do.

Another activity the group takes part in is hosting art and creative workshops in a program called the Young Lions, at their offices near Wat Suan Dok for children in the area. Aimee said kids from all backgrounds come for this, from the privileged to the very poor, children who, after their session will go and sell jasmine flowers on the streets. But, she pointed out, they work together and learn from each other in an equal environment, “they learn,” she said, “that we are all capable of creating art, that rich or poor doesn’t matter.”

In addition to activities involving art, the dramatic arts and music, the organization also offers exhibitions of work created in the various groups they work with. Currently an exhibition from the Young Lions project is running at Second Floor Gallery on the corner of Ratwithi and Ratchapakinai Roads, all the art is for sale and proceeds will go towards the purchase of supplies and materials.

Melissa said that her time here as a volunteer has been a great experience, “I have not only been made aware of their struggles but I have made a difference in alleviating their problems.” She said she hopes to study Art Therapy soon.

Art Relief International takes short term volunteers as well, if someone wants to offer to help at some of the many workshops or donate supplies or technology. More information can be found at, [email protected].

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Art Relief International at the Chiang Mai Friends