Rediscovering a Smile
Witnessing domestic violence has a devastating impact on children, who often lack the words to describe their experiences. The Children’s Windows Program supports healing by providing children with a safe place to tell their stories, express their feelings, build self-esteem, and discover their hopes and dreams, often for the first time. The art sessions provide a critical window of safety to release pain that’s been trapped. It becomes a window of courage, a window of relief, even a window of joy. Art truly becomes A Window Between Worlds in the hearts and lives of the children we reach.
I facilitate the AWBW workshops for the Huntington Park Police Activities League after school program for troubled kids. One eight year old girl, Stephanie, was so closed off that she refused to speak and never smiled. She always followed others and would constantly defer to her sister. Whenever we asked her to express herself she would look to her sister. I would tell her, ‘I want you to think for yourself, I want you to say what you feel,’ but she refused.
One day, when we did the Monster in Me project her sister told her, ‘Hey, use this color,’ and that was the first time I heard her assert herself to her sister and say, ‘No, I’m going to use the colors I want.’ She drew a tear on her monster and finally expressed the way she was feeling.
Later, I learned that Stephanie came from a family with a long history of sexual abuse. Stephanie’s grandma was able to tell me that all the women in her life have been victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. Stephanie’s great grandma, then grandma, mom and now her sister are all victims of sexual, verbal and physical abuse. Stephanie’s history of abuse and neglect started at birth. She was neglected as a baby and as a result did not speak or write for a long time. She was never spoken to or taught to communicate with others. Learning about her background made it clear why Stephanie is so shy and fears people in general. Her past also reveals why her first art activity, the Monster in Me was so powerful.
I wanted to cry as I watched her paint tears on her monster. I was so happy to give her an opportunity to express herself in a safe manner, through art. No child should hold all this pain in her heart.
The art workshops are helping heal her heart and I can see it through her eyes. Stephanie has expressed so much in her art and over the past two years has grown, opened up, and rediscovered her smile.”