Let's Face the Music and Dance

Hello, Dolly-

While each day working with Art Relief International brings its own excitements and challenges, weeks in Chiang Mai seem to disappear. Sometimes I feel as if I've literally blinked whole weeks away! As volunteers come and go, there are certain things that help remind me that time is passing. Monday evening are spent at Thai Freedom House, Thursday afternoons with Young Lions, Wednesday mornings I spend with Hope Home, and each Wednesday night I head to the Volunteer House for the ever-anticipated Family Dinner. And, for those of you who are living or have previously lived in Chiang Mai, I am sure you know that every Tuesday evening means a visit to the North Gate Jazz Coop for a cold drink, cool crowd, and live music.

But this week at Art Relief International, we decided to extend our Tuesday evening activity just a bit further. Why should jazz music be limited to Tuesday night, when we have an eager audience on Wednesday mornings?

With the generous help of Thomas and Por from the North Gate Jazz Coop, we brought a bit of funk to the children of Hope Home this week, with a one-time-only live concert event.

Some of Hope Home's residents were a bit apprehensive at first...

But we all warmed up to the idea.
Yim and I even practiced our egg-shaking abilities to be able to join in at North Gate's next open mic night on Tuesday. Maybe you'll see us there?

As we sat with the children of Hope Home, listening to Por's Saxophone and Thomas's flute, I couldn't help but think of a favorite quote of mine, from the great mister Thelonious Monk - a renowned jazz musician, himself:

"Talking about music is like dancing about architecture."

What was remarkable to me about this week is that, even while the children of Hope Home face so many confinements in their lives - both physically and mentally - and even as most of the children have little to no verbal communication abilities, we could all understand the language given to us by Thomas and Por. These children may not have the ability to formulate words, but jazz doesn't need any. And, for me, that made this, as jazz-great Nat King Cole might say, unforgettable in every way.

And on that note, I'll let our pictures from the workshop speak for themselves.

To learn more about our friends at the North Gate Jazz Co-Op, please visit:



Nong keay hen chang rue plaw?

''The elephant is Earth's largest animal, although the Asian elephant is slightly smaller than its African cousin''- was the first sentence of our Elephant Art class this week with our students from Thai Freedom House. 

As the Thai elephant is the Symbol of Nation we wanted to educate our students about the biology of the largest Asian inhabitant:

How big is an elephant?
What does an elephant eat?
What are the main differences between the Asian and the African elephant?

Of course the kids could answer the most of our questions - and beyond that they taught us a famous Thai song about this amazing creature:

Chang Chang Chang Chang Chang ----- Elephants Elephants Elephants Elephants Elephants
Nong keay hen chang rue plaw?-----Have you ever seen elephants?
Chang mun thua tho mai bao----- Elephants are quite big in size
Jamook yao yao reeag wa ngooang ----- Long nose is called Ngooang
me keaw thai ngooang reeag wa ngang ----- have teeth underneath, Ngang is called Ngang
mee hoo mee tha haang yaoo ----- have ears, have eyes, long tail

We sang the song and danced the dance twice and inspired by the song we started making elephant mobiles. We offered our students stencils and the kids could cut their elephants out of coloured paper and decorate them with markers. To make the mobile, students tied three elephants together on a piece of cardboard and VOILA: the beautiful elephant mobile is done! Take a look!

It was a very nice and relaxed atmosphere at the Thai Freedom House! We all had so much fun but now while writing this blog I'm a little bit sad because it was the last workshop with this organisation before the school break and I'm leaving Chiang Mai right after Songkran. That was my last workshop with the kids but we were invited to join the graduations ceremony at the school this Friday and I have an opportunity to say goodbye to all of the kids.

Sooo looking forward to Friday!
- Alena

School for Life - Mission: Restoration

A view from School for Life
School for Life has been ARI's most recent ongoing project.  We dedicated several days over the last three weeks to painting a mural with the kids there.  School for Life is a residential school nestled up in the mountains, surrounded by the most beautiful vistas.  I fell in love with that place but even more so with who they are and what they do.  The school was created for children who would not otherwise have access to an education - whether they are from surrounding hill tribes, Burmese (without Thai citizenship they are not allowed to attend school) or their parents are unable to provide them with the resources they need.

All of the kids we met there looked genuinely happy to be there - maaaybe because it was the start of their summer holidays and they were all feeling the joy that freedom always gives! ;)

All hands on deck to create something beautiful.

Thank heavens for all the positivity we had as the foundation of our project, because there were plenty of mix-ups and changes in plans that made it a little stressful.  Originally, we had planned to design a mural along with the students that we would paint together with them.  However, when we arrived at School for Life, our real mission became clear: the School for Life staff wanted us to restore and remodel some murals that had been previously painted. We transitioned from mural masterminds to reconstructive redeemers of the mural that we found had already been partially painted on the walls by another organization.

Like I said, thank heavens for all the positivity, because every time we made the hour trek up the mountain to School for Life for another long day in the burning Thai sun - we were greeted by the gorgeous natural surroundings and the wonderful students who stuck around.

Some of the older students were so helpful, even better mural painters than myself!  It was great getting to know them as we painted alongside them.  As for the younger students - we worked out a great system where I painted and they used dry brushes to go over each of my strokes.  They felt very helpful and actually were - maybe not for the actual mural but the encouragement they gave me.

At the end of the 3 days of working in the vicious Thai sun, the students left for their break with a new, colourful building awaiting their return.  We left feeling we had made the most of the situation and even made a few new friends.

Peace and Love - Amy


Can you tell me how to get - How to get to Healing Family Street?

...Sunny day, Sweepin' the clouds away. 
On my way to where the air is sweet!

Healing Family Foundation has got to be the closest thing in this world to the blissful perfection that is Sesame Street.  I had been waiting since I got here for the chance to check it out and now I have found yet another place I would love to call home.  The community of adults with mental disabilities are friendly, loving and oh so enthusiastic!


Building from the already apparent strong sense of community among them, we created a workshop where all the participants were able to design their own home in the HFF community!

We took out our big world map and gave a little architectural lesson, teaching the participants about a variety of homes from all over the world. From tee-pees and igloos (from my frigid Canadian home - yes, we all live in igloos and ride polar bears) to traditional Thai homes.

For the art-making we used rollers and geometric stamps to design and build our dream home.  Each of the students came up with such beautiful and unique designs.  I was surprised at their creativity and the ideas they had that made for buildings that far surpassed my own boring sample.

When we glued them down to our "Healing Family Foundation Street" it looked just about as bright as the community who made it! 

Of course, we couldn't end it there.  After a few dance lessons from the talented people at HFF, we were able to make quite the extravagant conga line down HFF Street.  :)

I love the unique and vibrant characters we found at HFF.  They can definitely teach us the importance of valuing differences in community - all of them with different skill levels and personalities combine to make any visit to their community memorable.

Peace and Love from Thailand's Sesame Street :)

A Rather Spacey Vacation

As temperatures push closer and closer towards 40 Celcius,
Summer has hit Chiang Mai!

And with summer comes vacation!
This week with our Young Lions, who have just started their summer holidays, we decided to take a little vacation of our own. As those of you who follow the Art Relief Volunteer Blog closely may know, the Young Lions project began as a way to broaden neighborhood children's horizons by introducing them to the arts and crafts of different countries around the world. We've made African masks based on the Anansi story, created traditional Japanese fans, traveled to Paris to learn about Pointillism, and even explored the oceans with a fish called Swimmy!

But, this week, we decided to venture a little bit further out...
To the final frontier...

We wanted to introduce the Young Lions to a printmaking technique called collography. By building up images onto a flat surface, you can print all sorts of interesting patterns and designs. While the ARI team was working on developing our own collographs, we noticed a rather uncanny resemblance to planets and decided to run with the idea.

We showed our Young Lions images of space and spoke with them about the different planets. Alena, our resident scientist, made certain that the children understood Pluto was not a planet! Then we got to printing. The children really took to the printmaking technique and were able to generate some remarkable images.

With the success of this week's lesson, we're going to continue developing our printmaking theme with the Young Lions over the next few weeks. Be sure to look for the results here!


Safari at Hope Home

Since my time here in Chiang Mai, Wednesday has become my favorite day of the week because we always spend the mornings at Hope Home. This place has such a magic and warmhearted atmosphere that you don't want to leave. As we visit our students every week, it is very nice to see the tangible progress that each kid makes.

One of our youngest students Namchock started walking! Well done little guy!

Aptly, this week our theme was all about footprints. We pretended to be Boy Scouts and tried to examine animal tracks. We cut animal shapes out of fabric and glued them on drawing and painting paper. The kids could feel the soft structure of fabric and discover the animal tracks by painting over prepared stencils.



At the end Phil removed the stencils from the artworks so that everyone could see the animal tracks.

After the workshop and before lunch there was still enough time to play!
Hide and seek!

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10...

Ready or not, here I come!


... and a tug of war competition!



I can't wait until next Wednesday!

Stratton A(rt for Peace) BC

This week we went to the Stratton ABC Foundation which cares for about a dozen children living in a home just outside of Chiang Mai. The children at the home receive regular education at community schools, help with homework and additional English language tuition. Apart from this the children have the opportunity to participate in character and skills development projects which are also made available to local community children.

We haven't worked with the Stratton ABC Foundation for a long time and were very excited about returning for this workshop.

During the last few weeks we worked with Young Lions on the Art for Peace contest created by the UN and, as the kids had so much fun and created very beautiful and meaningful artworks, we decided to involve also the students from Stratton ABC in the global art contest, as well.

We started the workshop by introducing the kids to the contest and asked them to think of a symbol or an idea that represents peace for them. After a short brainstorming session, we started transforming our ideas into mosaics.

I think it was the quietest workshop we've held in a long time. All the students got involved and they concentrated on their mosaics so hard that you could hear the dogs snoring under the table. All the kids were very interested in art and were patient and creative. I was very impressed by the final results. Making mosaics is a quite difficult technique but it seemed as the kids had no problems at all to create beautiful images out of random broken pieces.

 So pretty!

In many ways, making a mosaic is a lot like creating global world peace: you must find ways for all of the individual pieces to fit and only when all the pieces come together is the image whole. Plus, it takes a LOT of patience! Maybe if all of our world leaders were to get together to collectively work on creating a global mosaic art project, the world might be a more peaceful place! Art Relief International is going to work on making this happen!

Anyways, we took the artworks from Stratton ABC's blossoming peacekeepers with us for finishing touches and will be returning next week to complete the project and take photos to enter into the United Nations contest!

Peace!- Alena


Free Bird

Hello friends and followers.

In Chiang Mai, we are quickly approaching our hottest months, which means that the school year is edging towards its summer holidays. This week was our second to last workshop with Thai Freedom House before the students took their holiday break, so we wanted to focus on a really fun workshop that would let the kids think about what Thai Freedom House meant to each of them.

As some of you may know, Thai Freedom House School is financially supported by a lovely little cafe called The Free Bird Cafe (on Moon Muang Soi 7, for anyone interested in visiting). The students, all of whom are refugees from Burma, have really come to identify with the "Free Bird" image. This past Monday, ARI arrived at Thai Freedom House with all the tools necessary to allow each student to make their own Free Birds. Working with simple weaving techniques, the students got to work creating their own unique birds. There were different colors and sizes - each to match the personalities of their creators. Before we left, we had everyone gather in a circle. We asked each student to tell us their bird's name and the sound that their bird would make.

For Annie, a quiet young girl, two birds sat on a single branch holding a heart. For Nor Seng, our youngest student at Thai Freedom House, who once explained why he was so small by saying he drank Coke instead of milk, there was the tiniest of birds weaved together with the tiniest of fingers that had a rather unappealing guttural song. And for Awn, a bird named Kit Teung whose call was 'miss you, miss you,' which is what kit teung means in Thai.

As we were getting ready to leave, one of the students explained that he wouldn't be in class next week because he was returning to Myanmar for a month to visit with family. We wished him a safe journey and I thought of the new Thai words I had learned from Awn's bird: Kit Teung, miss you, miss you. For these children, who have been uprooted from their home country and their culture due to a prolonged a violent history of human abuse, there is much to miss. Most live in Thailand as "non-persons" - unable to attend schools, to get jobs, to own property. As the students left the classroom, holding their own Free Birds, laughing and singing their unique bird calls, I couldn't help but think of the poem by the great Miss Maya Angelou:

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

To read more about the situation in Myanmar/Burma, please visit:


Art for Peace!

Last week our neighborhood kids of Young Lions participated in the "Art for Peace Contest" created by the UN.


I was really excited that they were getting the opportunity to be involved in a worldwide art contest.  Kids from all over the world send in a drawing that represents their feelings on the topic of peace and demonstrates their hope for a world without war or nuclear weapons.

We struggled all week to come up with a way to describe this project to the kids in a way that they could understand and identify with - since it can be such a heavy topic.  For this first week of the Peace project we focused on what their wish for peace is and what the different symbols of peace are.


We prepared a power point presentation for the kids that told the story of a girl named Samantha Smith from the United States.  She became a symbol of peace near the end of the Cold War.  She wrote a letter when she was only 10 years old to the Russian president saying that she did not want him to start a nuclear war and telling him that she wanted peace.  He ended up writing her back telling her that he didn’t want to start  a war either and invited her to come to Russia to visit him.  This was very unusual during that time because everyone was afraid of a war between the United States and Russia, so she became a symbol of hope and peace for everyone.

This story shows the powerful effect that children can have on the world and the inspiration that their small actions can create.  The same goes for our Young Lions! They all spent the workshop designing their own peace symbols and showed us what the world could look like without war.  You can tell that the hope for our world is in these kids as their joy and true sense of peace is always apparent.



All their designs looked great and we decided to continue the project this week.  But this week was a real challenge for the ARI team. We've been having some work done on our garden, which has caused just a little bit of a mess...


 It was a very loud day here at and I think that all of us still can't get the noise of the machine saw out of their heads. The place that we usually use for out Young Lions workshop was covered with branches and leaves, but of course the ARI team could prove that the life does not put things in front of you that you are unable to solve!

We moved the workshop inside the CCT office and waited outside the gate for our students. After the kids had arrived we led them trough the leaves and branches labyrinth to showed them our special workshop place. 


The theme of the workshop fitted quite good to our situation: `don't give up - keep on dreaming`. We continued our Art for Peace project from the week before and introduced the students to the story about Sadako Sasaki. 
Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the bomb was dropped on her home city of Hiroshima and ten years later, she developed leukemia, "the atom bomb disease." When she was in the hospital, her friend Chizuko brought her a folded paper crane and told her that a person who folds a thousand cranes will become well again. Sadako folded cranes throughout her illness. But she could not finish the cranes and she died at the age of 12. Until then Sadako had folded six hundred and forty-four cranes. Classmates folded the remaining three hundred and fifty-six cranes, so that one thousand were buried with Sadako. In 1958, with contributions from school children, a statue was erected in Hiroshima Peace Park, dedicated to Sadako and to all children who were killed by the atom bomb. Each year on August 6th, International Peace Day, thousands of paper cranes are placed beneath Sadako's statue by people who wish to remember Hiroshima and express their hopes for a peaceful world. 

The students created art-pieces based on the story and learned how to make paper-cranes. Folding our cranes was a funny and impressive experience. Amy taught us how to fold the cranes and, by the time I finally understood how to fold them and had finished my first paper-crane, I looked around and saw that all the kids around me were already folding their third or fourth crane at the same time. My excuse is that my fingers are too big to make origami ;-)

At the end of the workshop we all had so much fun playing in the messy garden and some of our students made friends with our dogs Mia and Murphy! But Murphy is only cute when he isn't slobbering, as you can seeby  our student Bam Bam's facial expression.

Thanks for the fun time!
See you next time
Peace!  Amy and Alena
p.s. We will be uploading our Young Lion's pictures next week to the UN Art for Peace Contest website, so be sure to take a look at http://www.unartforpeace.org!