As one Windows Facilitator from Habitat for Humanity – SF/SCV told A Window Between Worlds, “Trauma from violence is such a major aspect of military family stories. The healing arts act as a mirror through which participants can see themselves and become empowered.” We first began collaborating with agencies serving veterans, active members of the military and their families in 2013.
Upon returning home, men and women serving our country often face a variety of symptoms and challenges. Many have experienced significant loss overseas; feel angry, frustrated, confused and overwhelmed; and experience a lack of trust with family members and institutions that are supposed to support them. Reintegrating into the civilian population and attempting to find work opportunities can also be particularly difficult and lead to diminished feelings of self-worth.
The AWBW arts programs provide a safe environment for veterans to make meaning of the experiences they had while deployed, as well as other experiences that have influenced their lives. Being in community with other veterans who share similar stories helps build connection and trust.
Byron R., a US Navy veteran serving in the Reserves who participated in the AWBW program through Habitat for Humanity, told us, “At first I thought it [creating art] was a little weird…then a simple project about talking heads got to some intense anger about my father who wants to be in my life for the first time, now after being absent for so long.” Byron keeps this art and other AWBW projects on his office desk at the Vet Center. He feels that “Once I get over the anger, maybe we [my father and I] can have some kind of relationship.”
The art workshops not only play a role in bringing veterans together and reintegrating them with their families, the art-making also allows them to address issues of military sexual assault. At Habitat’s annual Women’s Build, with 300 women in attendance, a female Army Nurse who served in Vietnam shared her long-held secret about the military sexual trauma she experienced during her service. Along with her story she said, “Habitat’s Enriched Neighborhood and the AWBW art program have not only changed my life, they have given me life.”
If you work with veterans, or active members of the military, and are interested in using the AWBW arts program with your clients, visit our Facilitator Trainings page for more info.