There are few things more horrifying than looking into the eyes of a five year old girl and knowing that she has been a victim of abuse – that at such a young age her innocence and ability to easily trust those around her have been stolen from her.
There are 28 girls ranging in age from 5 to 19 years old with stories of abuse, pain, and neglect, living together in De Schuilplaats – a home of healing, restoration, and love for girls who have been rescued out of sexually abusive situations.
It was hard for me to believe that these girls had faced such tremendous pain in their short lives as I ate with them. They were unendingly patient with me as they endured nearly an hour of my broken Thai over lunch. They encouraged me and helped me along the way as we talked about what they like to do in their free time, what America is like in comparison to Thailand, and what their favorite kinds of music are. These young girls are just like any other young girls from anywhere in the world – they like to read, listen to pop music, and paint their toenails; they all laughed as one girl found a big black wig, put it on, and began to dance around the room, some joined her while others were content to sit back and enjoy the playful scene unfold around them. These girls were created to laugh and play, to sing freely and cry openly, to be known and loved and accepted just like every other girl. But these girls have endured hardships that many young girls never have. Each smile is a miracle, each burst of laughter a sign of redemption and healing being cultivated deep within them.
Many victims of abuse find it difficult to talk through their experiences – particularly children. These people can become debilitated by fears, anxieties, and memories in conjunction with an inability to express these feelings and experiences. The use of art therapy and creative outlets is a highly recommended form of counseling. A professional Dutch artist, recognized the value in art therapy particularly for children who have endured traumatic situations – which is what inspired her to start the Art for All Foundation. Art for All is a collection of artists who believe that giving children the opportunity to exercise creativity can help them to develop skills and abilities to cope with their experiences. Several times a year these artists travel to various locations across the world to offer their time and talents to children in need. I was given the opportunity to join Art for All for a day as they worked with the girls at De Schuilplaats.
It was a beautiful mess, with paint all over the floor, papers scattered across the room and children quietly contemplating their pieces as they painted. The girls were painting “dream windows.” They were encouraged to first paint a symbol of a dream, perhaps a cloud, or colors that represented dreaming to them. Then they cut windows in the dreams and painted specific hopes they have for their futures behind these windows. Eventually the outer dream would be folded over, and only their hopes for their futures would remain and the girls could paint connections between their various hopes.
The girls were dedicated to their work, intoxicated by the possibilities unfolding before them with each stroke of their paint brushes. It wasn’t long before I was being led in every direction across the room by small hands and fast feet so that they could share their dreams with me. The whole day was a testament to love and dedication. These precious girls who were once exploited in the cruelest of ways are slowly being led down a path of healing, they are unlearning the messages that were instilled in them about who they are and what they are worth at such young ages, and learning instead that they are valuable and precious.