Art Relief International designs and implements artistic outreach programs for many different groups in Chiang Mai, all of whom struggle to be accepted in the community because of their backgrounds. We work with various other local humanitarian organizations to offer ARI's featured programs to their participants.
Our focus groups include:
Displaced Burmese refugees and migrant workers
Indigenous tribal groups
Single mothers in crisis
Direct and indirect victims of HIV/AIDS
Gay and transgender community
Children with disabilities
Art is widely recognized as an extremely valuable tool in working through past trauma, as well as a means to communicate hardship and create new purpose. ARI works to ensure all of these groups can fully enjoy the power of art as a therapeutic and a community process through our program.
Here are some of their stories.
Wan is a 14-year-old tribal girl from Doi Pui, where her father owns a lychee orchard. Her parents are divorced and her father has remarried; however, he is currently in jail on drug charges. Wan has not seen her mother since she was a little girl, and can barely remember the sound of her voice. As the only daughter in a large, unstable family (her stepmother came to the new marriage with four sons), Wan moved to Buddhakasetra to build a new life for herself.
When her mother was arrested for selling methamphetamines, a common plight for these struggling indigenous people, Wan’s life took a turn for the worst. “I felt lost and alone, without a true family to call my own. My father could no longer support me.” Wan made the decision to go to Buddhakasetra, and she currently plans to stay there until she is confident enough to live by herself. “I want to learn how to live on my own,” she declares. “And then help my mom when she’s out of jail.”
Pim is 17-year-old girl from Buerum, in northeast Thailand. Like most girls her age, Pim had a steady boyfriend during high school, and when she was 16 she became pregnant. From there everything in her life changed. In Thailand, single motherhood is still highly stigmatized, and Pim’s parents could not sympathize with her situation. While at the hospital, Pim happened to glance over at a TV screen and she caught a glimpse of a future full of hope and support: a commercial for Wildflower Home. She decided right then and there to go to Wildflower as soon as she could.
Today, Pim is a happy, healthy mother of an 8-month-old baby boy. She says, “I was thinking about giving my baby to someone else but after my baby was born everything changed. Seeing his face makes me happy.” Life with her newborn hasn’t always been easy. When her son was only a month old, he became critically ill with pneumonia, forcing Pim to confront the hard realities of motherhood. “I was crying on the phone to my mother to say sorry,” Pim says. “I finally know how hard she works to take care of me. She forgives and understands me now.” Pim hopes to make a better life for both herself and her child, planning to “continue studying in Nursing” if she can. Pim says proudly, “I want to take care of my family.”
Pim loves learning English and Art, and has shown an abounding passion for creative exploration in our workshops. At Wildflower, she has tried to take advantage of the vocational training opportunities available to all the mothers. “I like working with color,” Pim says. “CCT should come again. Everyone here loves art and I will think about how to adapt this workshop to the products we sell.” For the women at Wildflower Home, art is more than a creative release; it is a pathway to a more sustainable way of life.
Children's Learning Center Story
Chiang Mai is one of the most successful and vibrant cities in Southeast Asia, with a growing population of over 233,000 people. The city grows daily, primarily as a result of tourism and the skyrocketing demand for eco-trekking. As a result, new buildings—hotels, condos, malls, and subdivisions—rise everyday, creating a massive need for labor. Burmese refugees, Tai Yai ethnics and Hill Tribe people are often employers’ first choice for staffing these massive construction projects mainly because they are cheaper than local laborers and have few legal rights for more lucrative employment. Refugees from Burma enter Thailand daily to live and work in Chiang Mai. They usually build shanty homes in one of the city's many construction camps.
Wanna is the daughter of a Tai Yai couple who live and work at one of these construction camps. She doesn’t know how old she is: “I’m around 11-12 years old,” she says. “My mom didn’t inform the officer about my birth.” She moved from Namjing, Kashin State, Burma four years ago to live with her parents, who had moved several years earlier. They have been stuck ever since in low-paying and dangerous jobs at a construction site in Chiang Mai. Wanna does not like living in Chiang Mai, explaining, “Here is not our home. I don’t feel it’s home.” Wanna and her parents have decided to move back to Burma within the next three years, risking their jobs and migration rights to return to their home country.
Wanna’s mother is almost 45 years old. She has been unable to work for a year due to an ear infection. Wanna’s parents cannot even afford school, no less quality healthcare. Fortunately, Wanna is able to study at the Children Learning Center, a school for Burmese migrant children run by the Migrant Learning Center -- an NGO that works with the families in the camps. She loves writing and won an award for an essay entitled “My Family.” She has set her sights high, and hopes to one day share her story with the world.
Today, Wanna is telling her story through art. She’s working on a miniature paper house as part of a workshop put together by our canvas volunteers called Model Village Visualization. “I love art,” Wanna says. “I love painting. It’s another way to tell my story.” She continues, as she glues paper onto her house template: “I want to have my own house and [to] have a good job so that my parents don’t have to work hard.” Her determination shows in her words. Her little house is complete as we finish our conversation: bright, colorful, and full of hope.