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News / Thoughts

Jordan: How art is bringing healing

By Dan Etheridge

How would you help children work through experiences of war, loss and terror? It’s a tough question, and there are no perfect answers, but for some of our partners serving Iraqi refugee children in Jordan, art therapy classes are helping to process their trauma and heartache. At first the children’s paintings are dark and full of anger but gradually they become colourful and lively.

“Many of these kids saw IS take down the crosses from their churches and it influenced them a lot,” said Maran, the founder of Al Hadaf, an Open Doors supported organisation running trauma therapy art classes.

“When these kids visit the art class for the first time we ask them, ‘what is the thing you miss most from Iraq now that you live here?’ Almost all of them draw their church,” said Maran. “They used to go to church on a regular basis in Iraq, and they loved it. It’s the place where they socialized.”

The dark spots represent evil and bad things the children have experienced

What struck Maran most is that the first paintings the children draw always seem to include large back figures. “The dark figures represent IS and other evils the children had to endure,” Maran said. “After a while, we see the children’s paintings becoming more clear, bright and detailed, and the dark figures become smaller or disappear. This is a sign the children are processing their trauma.”

The tree represents a girls home, and the heart, her pain

On the wall of the art room is a painting of a tree and a large pink heart that is special to Maran. “This girl was so hurt that she would hardly communicate at all. She just drew a tree and a large heart. She said, ‘I just miss my home.’ The tree represents her home; the heart is her pain. It broke my heart when I saw it – the truth in its simplicity.”

Drawing is just the first step. The next step in the programme is enabling the children to talk to their parents about their feelings. “Because the mum is traumatised, the kids are also traumatised,” Maran said. “There are a lot of mood swings going on in these families. The mother gets mad at the kids, the kids get mad at the mother, and they can’t communicate well about it.”

Children draw their home churches, places they miss, where they would play with friends.

Three things you can do…

1. Give a meaningful gift this Christmas: Help fund trauma counselling for children like those featured in this article. Give a gift worth giving through our Secret Santa for persecuted children campaign.

2. Speak up for Christians in the Middle East..: Open Doors has launched the Hope for the Middle East petition to give Christians and minorities in the Middle East a voice.Sign and share the petition and add your voice to over half a million others from 142 countries.

3. Pray now: Use the points below to pray for the children in this article.

  • For energy for Maran and the team as they run the trauma therapy program
  • Thank God that these children are able to process their trauma and replace their anger with good things
  • That after years of war, there would be a lasting peace in Iraq.
The Author
Dan works part time with Open Doors, mainly sorting out the comms stuff for youth and students. In his other life he's a freelance writer and graphic designer who likes collecting records and sitting on beaches looking at waves.

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