Glittery bits, portable white clay, coloured fabric, simple musical instruments, pens, pencils, paints, glue, paper, card, coloured foam, treasure boxes, beads, journals... these are some of the things you'll find in the box of healing that has been travelling to India with Talitha Arts, a non-profit group of professional artists and arts therapists, for the past three years. Talitha Arts has been working with girls aged 12-18, who have been rescued from trafficking and violence, through the International Justice Mission (IJM).
It uses the arts–dance, music, acting, visual arts, clay...–to engage the girls in a different way. "We try to integrate the arts so that a picture may develop from a story, movement may arise from the picture, a character may evolve from movement,” shares Amanda Root, British actor and founder of Talitha Arts. She started Talitha after hearing Gary Haugen, lawyer and founder of IJM, speak about young girls rescued from trafficking and abuse. Amanda tells us, "I believed the arts could give these girls a voice and restore their sense of dignity".
“We tend to work in threes; every team that comes down from the UK is unique,” says Cathy Sara, British actor and Head of Overseas Development, Talitha Arts. With every trip, they try to have at least one therapist. “Sometimes we have a singer or an artist with us. The idea is for creatives and arts therapists to work together to build something unique,” Amanda pipes in. “We started with a trial run in 2011, but the response from the children has been so extraordinary that the aftercare homes want us back and so we’re here regularly.”
Kate Snowden, who works at St George's College and is also a Dance Movement Therapist in London, believes that the girls may be more open to drama or artwork than verbal communication. “Sometimes, because of the level of trauma and their ages, it's safer and easier for them to project what they're thinking onto a piece of paper or clay rather than talk through it. Girls who have been sexually abused often find it hard to stand up straight and have a broken relationship with their bodies. Rather than just telling them to stand up and be confident, we use dance or movement activities like pushing the lid off a box that's too small for them, so they can experience expanding and stretching their bodies in a positive way. Thinking it's just 'fun' and using music they like makes it safe and they still benefit from the experience physically and therapeutically,” explains Kate.
"The girls can choose not to do anything they don't want to; it's a place for them to rediscover a sense of self-esteem,” according to Amanda. With a wide palette of experiences, every girl discovers something different in the workshops. “Lack of trust is a big issue with young girls. We're trying to help them regain a sense of community and friendship they can rely on,” confides Amanda.
“Trauma inhibits the imagination, creativity encourages it. So play and fun are very much part of our process. So many of them have had their childhoods stolen, it's important to give space to the little girl 'inside the traumatized young woman. Through the creative mediums, the girls have a chance to choose to 'go back' to their early childhoods, ground themselves in the present and also think about their futures," says Kate. It's not just the girls that Talitha Arts works with; they also train the heads, aftercare workers, therapists and counsellors at the aftercare homes. The girls have revealed insights to their counsellors; this is Talitha’s dream—to leave behind resources and help the girls to open up.
“I didn’t know what courage and strength was, but now I do!” says a Talitha Arts workshop participant, on their website. Talitha was a name that popped into Amanda's head when they were name hunting. "Talitha koum” meaning "Little girl, I tell you to get up!" was a phrase used to bring a little girl back to life. Amanda believes, "We're the 'get up' bit; it's the restoration and renewal of life that seems so appropriate to our work”.