A Close Shave with Healing Family

When you visit Healing Family Foundation it is difficult not to leave with a smile.

For adults living with special needs, life can often be unnecessarily difficult. From finding employment to developing safe and supportive relationships, daily tasks can become burdensome and tedious. But at Healing Family Foundation, a community center and income-generating program for adults living with special needs, such persons can find an atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance that is unsurpassed by nearly any place I have ever visited. Within this atmosphere, the community members are able to thrive and grow.

This week we arrived at Healing Family with an odd assortment of ingredients for our workshop: food dye of every color, paper, chopsticks, and, of course, shaving cream.

What could we possibly be creating with such a recipe?
Marbled Paper Greeting Cards!

We learned of a technique for paper marbling that used food coloring swirled (with a chopstick) into a layer of shaving cream to create beautiful marbled papers. Working with an element of surprise and with such interesting textures seemed like the perfect fit for our friends at Healing Family.

As the individuals at Healing Family pulled their papers from their shaving cream layers – watching as the once plain sheets transformed into beautiful and deliciously-scented marbled sheets – a smile stretched across each face. Each of those smiles served as a reminder to have appreciation for the simple pleasures – a splash of color, an unexpected surprise, the fresh smell of menthol.

After cleaning up the shaving cream that had billow all across Healing Family Foundation, we worked to transform our papers into greeting cards that could be sold to help earn incomes for their community members and continue to fund the Healing Family program. The students were so proud of their results and we were just happy to soak it all in…

Love from Chiang Mai,

Personal Coat of Arms

Shortly before the start of the lesson, it started to rain. Although this is my favourite time of day, it left us worrying that most of the students wouldn’t make it to class. Fortunately, in dribs and drabs, the young lions started to arrive! And in fact, the rain set a relaxing mood for art making! 

This week the energetic Young Lions created their own personal coat of arms! Using a simplified (with numbered sections) template of a coat of arms and a corresponding set of numbered prompts the young lions set out to create their very own coat of arms.  They were prompted to draw their self-portrait, their future dream job, something they are very good at, something that they value, their favourite colour and their name or personal motto in respective blocks. This project allowed the kids to think about their identity and values and to create an image that represents them individually. 
Various recognizable signs and symbols, such as the apple logo, recycle sign and a heart were shown to the students. They were then asked to identify each as a means of explaining the images can be used to represent intangible things. Unfortunately the project proved to be a little too conceptual for some of the younger kids, but Wad managed to assist them with the prompts.

Contrary to the usual energetic and somewhat restless atmosphere, the students were focused and got right into the exercise. Most of them drew themselves as soldiers in the future, a very respected occupation in Thailand! And Lhor Do drew himself as an artist! 

Although this lesson was less “fun” and more “meaningful” I think that everyone enjoyed themselves, students and staff alike. It was a calming atmosphere in the ARI garden and a perfect way to end off the day.

South Africa


Finding Time to Breathe at We Women

This May Art Relief International was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with a new partner organization: the We Women Foundation. The We Women Foundation was founded in 2009 with the goal of serving and assisting unrecognized refugee women from Burma. These women are forced to flee their home country due to a vast history of human rights abuses, including forced labour and relocations, and a general governmental atmosphere that breeds fear into the daily lives of Burma’s residents. While the process of crossing the border is often a long and difficult one, the women who are supported through the We Women Foundation face a new set of challenges upon entering Thailand. Without Thai citizenship or formal refugee status, the women are seen as non-persons and must often gain employment as illegal migrant workers, subject to unjustifiable wage reductions, prejudice and terminations. The We Women Foundation seeks to alleviate these issues, first and foremost, by providing their community with educational opportunities and outlets.

Last week ARI volunteers and staff hopped over to the the We Women Foundation headquarters to run one of their monthly community meetings. We wanted to give the women, all of whom are seeking higher education degrees in their various fields, the opportunity to relax and consider their future dreams and goals. These women have fought so hard for the opportunities they have been granted - from escaping mass governmental abuse to navigating non-citizenship in a foreign country - and they have all persevered. But in doing so, they have created very busy lives for themselves - balancing the responsibilities of graduate school, jobs, volunteer opportunities, and family life; often putting their own needs on hold in order to help others.

Through our workshop, we wanted to supply the women with simple stress relieving activities. We worked with the women to create hand-bound journals that reflected their own personalities and then ran several journaling exercises with them that focused on topics such as Who I Am vs. What I Am. We explained how journaling had been scientifically proven to help with stress-relief and provided the women with simple journaling prompts to take with them following our workshop.

Sitting with this women and listening to the answers of their journal prompts took on particular significance to me in light of the recent political happenings in the state of Burma. This past April, Burma held free democratic elections to fill forty-six open Parliament seats. After having been released from a decade-long house arrest just over a year before, democratic spokeswomen and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi ran for office and was elected by popular vote. Just two weeks before our workshop, she was sworn into office and began her role as Parliamentary member. For the women of We Women and their fellow-countrymen, this election was a long time coming and an enormous beacon of hope for continued change and reform in the Burmese government.
Some of the finished hand-bound journals.
It was such a pleasure to hear the women speaking Burmese amongst one another and sharing the personal mantras they each created for the covers of their journals. The women work so hard in the effort to better their lives and the lives of others. As Aung San Suu Kyi has said, "I don't believe in people just hoping. We work for what we want. I always say that one has no right to hope without endeavor, so we work to try and bring about the situation that is necessary for the country." Still, at the end of the workshop, I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to allow the women to, if even for just two brief hours, forget about the responsibilities that weigh so heavily on them so much of the time and, instead, focus wholly on their present lives, wants, and breath.
 For more information on the situation in Burma/Myanmar, please visit:

With gratitude and hope,


Linocutting with Thai Freedom House!

This week at Thai Freedom House we introduced Rubber Relief Cuts.  We are lucky enough to have an astonishing supply of relief cutting tools, ink  and rollers, without which the project would not have been possible. We also found some rubber sheets in the office, which served the purpose perfectly!

This week the kids were feeling more settled in their new space and ready to have some fun. This printing process was new to all the group members and got them all very excited. Not only did the lesson provide fun and creativity, it also taught the children a new transferable and potentially income generating skill!

With P’Cee as our translator and a well-structured lesson plan at hand, we were ready to get cracking!

Although the kids were asked to only produce very simple images and not to include text, they got really creative with their texture- and pattern-making!

Once we started rolling up the print plates, the excitement levels sky rocketed in the class room! The students were churning out enough editions to start a market stall! They thoroughly enjoyed the process and the printing.

Lisa, the director of Thai Freedom House was just as excited about the workshop, asking whether the school could keep some of the prints to use for decorating their new environment.

After a couple of practice rounds we asked them to print one final image that would be used in the following week's exercise. So check in next week to see what happens next!

Stellenbosch, South Africa

Creating Cats at Wildflower Home


I am an artist from South Africa. Apart from creating paintings for private commission and exhibition, I have invested many long hours in the film and events industry. As fun as it may be creating sculptures, paintings and installations for these industries, I had a growing desire to do something more meaningful with my talents. And voila- Art Relief International!!

I have been here just over a week and I’m already feeling a little sad and anxious about the end of my stay here. Having bid farewell to a number of fellow volunteers already only emphasized the inevitable.

Last week at Wildflower Home we started a new project that had both the staff and the women of WFH equally excited! As of this week we will be sewing (by hand) little stuffed rice kittens, or ‘Meaw’, (pronounced the same as the cat sound) in Thai. As you can imagine, this spurred on some playful banter amongst all the ladies.

Following the cutest kitten template, all the ladies started bringing to life the most beautiful and unique little creatures using kindly donated scrap material, coloured thread, buttons and rice. This project is entirely handmade and sustainable, using recycled materials and created with the purpose of future income generation for the Home, and later for themselves.

With less volunteers this week, and all of us being young ladies, there was a definite sense of camaraderie amongst us all! The women shared stories of their babies, one of which weighed almost 4kg at birth. Ouch! And of course, as per usual the project allows the staff to practice their Thai and the participants to Practice their English. WFH is such a wonderful space to work in, with its calm setting and enthusiastic participants!

One couldn’t possibly wish for a better arts related volunteering set up! At ARI you will find the most easy going, efficient and warm staff and ‘family’, making the adjustment an absolute pleasure. Be prepared to be met with delicious food, fun creative workshops and students that will crawl deep into your heart!

I sincerely look forward to the next workshop, when we will be completing our kittens! Check in soon for pics of our completed kitties.

Stellenbosch, South Africa


Leveling the Playing Field

When I arrived in Thailand, almost 3 months ago now, one of the first workshops I attended was with the neighbourhood kids of the Young Lions Global Art Project. My experience with them every week since has been unforgettable. I remember when I first met the kids I thought I'd never get to know them, being some foreigner unable to speak their language. But how wrong I was - these kids and I have now got a whole other language down that consists of squeaks, growls, screeches and laughter, and occasionally a few words of my limited Thai.

 Since that first workshop we, the ARI staff, have been dreaming up an exhibition to show off the talents these little friends of ours possess.  In preparation we were forced to take a good look at the purpose of Young Lions. Asking myself why I was here working with them was easy; I fell for those kids and want nothing more on a Thursday afternoon than to spend time with our students creating and playing. To find the true purpose of Young Lions though, beyond all the fun we have, I asked myself what keeps the kids coming back each week to our drop-in program.

Getting to know these kids better individually - walking some home after class, practicing English with those who have had the opportunity to learn it - I have realized what varied backgrounds our students come from.  Some kids come from wealthy families while others leave our workshops to sell flowers at the local bars to support their families.  The most incredible thing I've witnessed at Young Lions is simply all these kids brought together. Feeling that sense of community as the kids laugh and play together in a society where exclusion and discrimination are so prominent, I understand why the students return each week.

Young Lions provides them with a space of inclusion; an oasis from the everyday pressures of society to separate ourselves from each other depending on where we come from and who society tells us we are.  We work to provide the kids with equal opportunity; this is why we titled the art exhibition "Leveling the Playing Field".  It features the artistic works of all the children who come to our "playing field", the ARI garden, regardless of nationality, social standing or financial situation.

The show is currently being held at 2nd Floor gallery here in Chiang Mai until the end of June.  It displays the works collected from our workshops; everything from wax resist watercolour paintings to collograph prints. After months of hard work by all the ARI and CCT staff - and especially the Young Lions - opening night on May 4th was a massive success.  So many turned out to see the work that was so well done that I can barely believe it was all made by a group of four to fourteen year olds.  Jimmy and Por, our friends from the local North Gate Jazz Coop filled 2nd Floor with some world class music. Most of all we were so excited to share the work of the Young Lions and spread the word on ARI and how important both programs are to the Chiang Mai community.  Throughout the night we raised over 15,000 Baht to help continue the Young Lions workshops and the great work of ARI.

If you want to get involved with the work of ARI and Young Lions by making a donation or volunteering, please go to www.culturalcanvas.com or www.artrelief.net.

Peace and Love and Lion Cubs,

Ye Olde House of Stratton

(To enjoy this blog to the fullest, please read to thineself in a thick English accent)

Twas another sweltering day at the House of Stratton, nary a man nor woman wouldst tarry beneath the sun.  Good Master John, Reigning Lord of the Land North of Chiang Mai, cometh to the gates at our arrival.  We beseeched the children if they wouldst play chili chili, and they agreed full heartedly.  Alas, once our game had begun, their enthusiasm wilted like a rhododendron under the Thai sun.  Nary a soul had the courage to sway their body in a rhythmic manner, resulting in over many a sad volunteer.  It was henceforth decided to do the hokey pokey, a favorite of many a child across the pond.  The dance and song went wonderfully, from sticking thine right hand in, to sticking thine right hand out.  It was only later, that we realized the folly of our plight.  In the culture of the Kingdom of Siam, it is quite uncouth to point ones feet in the direction of another, so sticking thine left foot in and sticking thine right foot in was quite a mistake.

Let's learn about recycling!

Alas, what's past is past, and the children were herded into the Great House of Stratton.  It was here that our workshop commenced, with I, Good King Joshua of The Texan Realm, Duke of Austin and Lord of the land West of the Lake, running the show.  I was without translator, but my courage would not falter, and I began my lesson on paper beads.  My trusty wizard Aimee held the magic screen box while a so called "powerpoint" bout recycling flipped by.  Once finished, I masterfully demonstrated how thou mayst cut long triangles out of magazines, then twist them around needles, in order to make paper beads.  I ordered my serfs Amy, Chloe, and Melissa, to pass out materials to the young squires.  From there, I broke the squires into smaller groups, and assigned a serf to help them with the making of the paper beads.  I besought the squires to work their nimble fingers with great haste, for with only a fraction of a sundial at hand, we were in a bit of a rush, and there wouldst be nary a tarry under my watch.  I handled the training of two young male squires, each with the strength of ten oxen, the brains of Good King George, and the speed of a dragon in flight.  It tookst the young'uns some time to get a handle on the technique,  but onest they did,  beads flowed like food at a feast in the House of Joshua.

The finished products!

Clouds, dark as a night in The Moorlands, clustered overhead menacingly, but back in the House of Stratton bracelets and earrings were produced at great speeds, squires oblivious to the threat of a storm outside.  The skills possessed by mine squires and the squires about me werest quite impressive.  They were much more adept than the serfs or myself at tying knots, making jewelry, or just about any other skill requiring handiwork, and the work they wrought was quite beautiful.  Good Master John was as jolly as ever, impressed with his squires and ready to bring the goods to the market.  Our work was thus completed, a job well done, and as we tramped back to our horse drawn carriage, drops, large as saucers, began to fall upon mine head.  A smile split mine face and a laugh escaped mine mouth, thine drops were a welcomed relief from the heat, a reward for a successful workshop.

Smiles and Airplanes All Around

Today is, sadly, my last day here at ARI. But what a fine last day it was! We headed to Hope Home as we always do on Wednesdays, to help Boonrot, Joy, Phil, Yim, and Nanchok paint their very own flying paper airplanes and to share in some smiles and laughter.

Boonrot shows off his paper airplanes!
As the kids were wheeled out one-by-one we saw that Yim ("smile") was having a crying day, but that Boonrot, Phil, and Joy were in quite fine states of mind and excited to begin. And Namchok was just adorable as usual (he was so eager to walk: he'd get a few steps and then fall down and then get right back up again to do it again. So cute!).

As we were doing the workshop I looked over and saw Boonrot sporting one of the biggest smiles I'd ever seen. He absolutely loved watching the airplanes fly around and then crash into people. Josh was helping him throw whirligigs into the air and Boonrot was even able to grip one himself (and from that point forward waved it around, refusing to let go of his new favorite toy). At one point Boonrot was laughing so hard that his shoulders were shaking, just the way I imagine a jolly old man's would. Josh was sticking a balloon in his shirt and turning around and around saying "where'd that balloon go?!" and Boonrot thought it was just about the silliest thing he'd ever seen. 

Joy found some serious strength today and was doing so well playing her tambourine-like instrument and throwing her paper airplane. She also had big smiles today.

And in the middle of it all, I worked with Phil who was especially energetic and surprisingly receptive to the idea of using his hands today. He gripped the paintbrush with the force of ten men - I could barely pry it out to dip it in the paint! He made a gorgeous painting as usual and one his plane was dry I showed his how to throw it around. He immediately extended his toes to hold the airplane and chuck it into the air. He didn't find the airplanes too exciting, but what really brought him happiness today was Joy and Boonrot. And I realized that Phil and I are a lot alike - what makes us laugh and smile is when other people laugh or smile. We catch happiness easily. And with Joy and Boonrot smiling big on either side of Phil and I, we just couldn't help but grin. And the smiles at Hope Home are always so beautiful and inspiring that I can't help but walk away feeling happy, plain and simple. 

That's something that I hope to take with me as I move on from Chiang Mai and further into the world: a smile is one of the most valuable things you can carry through your travels because the happiness it brings is infectious and can spread to anyone who might happen to see it. So I will share my smile and be generous, just like the kids at Hope Home...


New School, Same faces

After a week long hiatus from Thai Freedom House we were back and ready for some screen printing action.  This time, however, we were in a new location.  A little while back the folks who rented out Thai Freedom House's space had to double the rent on the beautiful, hard wood building where TFH students had been learning for 5  years.  Frustrated, but never losing hope, the wonderful staff at TFH quickly found a perfect replacement for both the school house, and for the new Free Bird Cafe, the delicious restaurant run by TFH that generates almost all of the funds for the school.

While a bit further away than the last location, the new building is great, with almost identical dark hard wood floors, an area to run around in and play, and plenty of room for art!  When we arrived all the kids were out front playing some sort of rendition of monkey in the middle, in which the monkey is continuously pegged with the ball.  Amused (the ball was quite soft), we sat and watched until Lisa, the brilliant, fluent Thai speaking, extremely friendly founder of TFH swooped in to settle everyone down.

We were now ready to begin and, as usual, everyone circled up and started with chili chili. Once everyone had gotten the dance out of their systems, we had Cee explain the project.  We would first sketch out a design or picture onto a piece of paper that would fit into a frame with a screen attached to it.  The pictures needed to be simple, two color designs, and once we would check to make sure everyone's designs were not intricate or layered, everyone would trace their designs onto their screens.  The next step would be applying acrylic paint to the parts of the screen that we would not want ink to seep through, leaving an outline of the designs.  After the paint would dry, we would lay down a canvas flag, put the screen on top of it, and scrape ink across the screen.  The acrylic paint would block up the holes of the screen in the places we did not want ink, so when we would scrape the ink across, it would filter through the screen and leave the design we had left unpainted.

After the explanation, everyone enthusiastically began sketching beautiful flowers, scary skulls and cross bones, and some more abstract designs.  My personal favorite was a mickey house head.  Once we had all traced our designs we headed out into the night to paint the screens, all hunched around tiny tables working hard to fill in every single little hole.

Once that was good and done we had to take a break to wait for our screens to dry. So we pulled out some Longan fruit to munch on and had a little relaxation -- some students even played a guitar and some drums.

But soon enough it was time for the main event: making prints using our screens! The screen printing experts (the Amy's) helped all of the participants practice printing on pieces of paper and on canvas. Some turned out very well, some others were a little..... well, let's just say it was a learning experience.

It was all very fun and before we knew it it was time to pack up and say goodnight.

This was only my second time with TFH, and sadly my last for a long, long time, but there is a certain energy I picked up there both times that has not been matched at any of the other organizations.  Lisa and her staff just seem to be doing things right, and it has rubbed off on the children, creating an atmosphere of welcoming and joy.  No matter the age group, gender, or ethnicity, everyone at TFH is an equal, and it shows.  Everyone helps with everything, no questions asked. And that is something that is really special.

I hope to be back in Chiang Mai and back at Thai Freedom House very soon!

- Josh Winkler. Austin, Texas


Who's Teaching Who?

Yesterday's workshop at Wildflower Home was easy peasy lemon squeezy for us volunteers. It was round three of the fused plastic bags workshops so  the women really seemed to have the hang of it. We handed them the materials, and they immediately set to work, deftly sewing together beautiful clutches out of other people's plastic waste.

With the women hard at work, the volunteers got a bit GOOFY. 
Pretty Classy Tie, Huh?

The mind blowing skill of our Wild Flower friends is so great to watch - it's never boring!  One of the women decided we needed an activity to keep us focused so she taught us a thing or two about sewing.  In her spare moments she showed us how to do a new stitch and we practiced on leftover plastic scraps.  Nothing needs to go to waste, even when you're using already recycled plastic.

       This picture is all business. It's about the process. Very professional.

Aside from the sewing techniques we learn at Wildflower Home, it's also a great place for some Thai language lessons!  As we sit around the tables busily doing our handiwork, I feel like my grandmother when she would work at a communal quilt, all the ladies jabbering away together.  Whenever one of the women makes a mistake, we laugh, but then reassure with a "mai pen rai" (no big deal). ; )

The focused women created very stylish clutches
Every workshop we do, no matter what we teach, we always learn so much more from the people we're working with.  In and amongst the craziness and fun, I've learned so much from the positive energy found at Wildflower Home and the sense of community you find amongst these women.  We spread the art, they spread the love.

Peace Love Peace Love
-Amy & Chloe

P.S. If you find yourself in the Chiang Mai area any time soon, these bad boys are going to be up for sale starting this Saturday May 19, at Payap University's Sale!!!