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Christmas trees, glitter and giggles

Haiti, December 3, 2011

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In a small classroom on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, 16 children are hard at work on today's art therapy project: create and decorate paper Christmas trees!

Bina Charles, a Mercy Corps-trained art therapy mentor, distributes scissors, glue, colorful paper and glitter to the kids — boys and girls ranging in age from 9 to 16. They're here as part of a Mercy Corps youth program that combines storytelling, art therapy and photography to help them reflect on their past and imagine a better future.

Since the January 12, 2010 earthquake, Mercy Corps has trained over 7,500 Haitian educators, caregivers and youth workers to better understand and respond to the emotional and physical needs of children and youth affected by that traumatic event. Through signature emergency interventions like Comfort for Kids and Moving Forward, Mercy Corps has helped over 100,000 children in the recovery process.

The Art Therapy program was launched in December 2010 in an effort to extend our youth development and psychosocial programming. Over the course of 18 months, the program will train more than 70 art therapy mentors from 30 local schools and organizations, directly engaging more than 2,000 young Haitians in greater Port-au-Prince. It aims to develop stronger and more resilient youth by enhancing coping strategies and fostering self-expression.

I asked Bina what prompted her to get involved. She works in the finance department of the local school, but when she’s not crunching numbers, she spends six hours a week leading these sessions. “After the earthquake, the children needed help dealing with the trauma,” Bina explained. “I’ve seen how helpful this is in creating a place that the kids enjoy where they can express their emotions.”

By the end of the two-hour session, fingers were sticky with glue, the ground sparkled with remnants of glitter and the children were proudly showing off their finished Christmas trees. Like the program's catchphrase says, “Imagination is the key to our well-being.”