It was fifteen years ago when Laurence Vandenborre first worked with a traumatised nine-year-old girl who was rescued from the colossal 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia.
This profound experience marked a turning point in the art therapist’s life, as she decided to help more children deal with their emotional trauma from the event.
The legacy of that experience is still evident today, as Vandenborre runs The Red Pencil Humanitarian Mission, a non-profit which she founded in 2011 with the mission of bringing art therapy to children, adults and families facing overwhelming life circumstances they cannot process through words alone.
The organisation helps people dealing with trauma heal and grow through the creative process of creating art across the mediums of drawing, music and movement and dance.
“For some people, a traumatic event can lead to mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use, as well as impacting on their relationships with family, friends, and at work,” Vandenborre quoted from a website.
“Common symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing the event in nightmares or flashbacks, avoiding things or places associated with the event, panic attacks, sleep disturbance and poor concentration. Depression, emotional numbing, drug or alcohol misuse and anger are also common.”
Cambodia is one of the 24 countries in which The Red Pencil works. The organization has conducted missions in the country since 2012 and they have largely focused on children and women who are victims of human rights abuse such as human trafficking, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation.
“Cambodia is a beautiful country, with lovely and smiling people, but like any country, Cambodia has some areas of fragilities, and those are the ones that we would like to support,” says Vandenborre.
The organisation – whose motto is “When we rescue the child, we save the adult” – organises group art therapy sessions with children, women and families, as well as training for caregivers.
The sessions highlight the benefits of art as a medium to access deeper feelings and bring about relief and regulation for both clients and staff.
“The Red Pencil, in collaboration with HAGAR International, provides rehabilitative arts therapy services for young women who have been rescued from human trafficking. Children from impoverished families are also highly vulnerable to forced labour, often with the complicity of their families, including in domestic servitude and forced begging,” says Vandenborre.
In Cambodia, Red Pencil works with 40 to 60 children who have survived human rights abuses including human trafficking, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation.
Vandenborre says that as arts therapy is not well known yet in Cambodia, The Red Pencil has had to bring two certified and registered arts therapists from the US and Australia.
She visited Cambodia at the end of February to see the missions in action, meet with partner organisations, as well as with arts therapists about what is currently working and what needs improvement in their Cambodia programmes.
Vandenborre hopes for The Red Pencil to reach out to as many children around the world as possible through the power of arts therapy, but she says that to do so the organisation needs support.
The Red Pencil website: https://redpencil.org