Pieces of You.

Here at ARI, we really enjoy music, and I think it’s only appropriate to follow my e.e. cummings post with this shout-out to Jewel. Judge not, art fanatics.

Regardless of your opinion of feminist poet-rockers, most anyone will agree that our lives are collection of pieces, scraps of memories and incidences that remain with us and form the picture of who we are. Some pieces are frayed, some colorful or faded, some handed-down by ancestors and forces beyond our control. The design we make from them, however, is all our own.

Such was the concept that landed the ARI staff in the tiny cement classroom of Thai Freedom House last Friday night. We were there to begin a community quilt project with the dozen or so students of the school, all Burmese refugees or low-income migrants.

Much of our work with the school has focused on the idea of identity and how to build a personal identity within a larger tribal and national reality. Previous activities have tried to help students merge their Shaun backgrounds into their new Thai culture. Other sessions have focused on the meaning of home, since many of the students are refugees or live in temporary, transient structures.

Knowing that many of these students come from families that struggle economically, ARI tries to incorporate livelihood skills into our workshops as often as possible. This term, we are focusing on sewing. After seeing the skills of our participants in making stuffed lovebirds last week, we decided it was time to spread our wings and begin appliqueing. 

We encouraged participants to design a quilt square that represented themselves and their home. We put on tunes, handed out markers and paper, and then the creative juices fly. True to their own individuality, participants’ designs ranged from the literal to the symbolic, with hands, trees, peace signs, and traditional costumes.

Using their drawings as a template, students cut out the pieces of the squares - using brightly-colored felt and ribbons - and began appliqueing them to fabric squares. When finished, the quilt will hang at the Thai Freedom House to strengthen the sense of community and belonging there.

All of us have lives that are made of pieces, whether we are American volunteers or Thai nationals, Burmese, Canadians or purple people eaters. Our ability to make the diverse pieces of our lives into a coherent whole makes us human. And it's our ability to build community from our unique selves that makes 'us' an us. 



Kings for a Day

In honour of King Chulalongkorn Day, a national holiday here in Thailand, the Young Lions were asked to decorate cardboard crowns which they would then be able to take home. With no rules and tables full of decorations, spirits were high as everyone began.

This session kept everyone busy; soon even the ARI volunteers were parading their own hand-made crowns. Laughter was heard from all as we took some silly pictures and ended the day off by comparing all the crowns that had been made that day. 

 One of the Young Lions busy on his second crown.

Group photo of the ARI team with the Young Lions.

Celebrations and fun made for a great afternoon with the Young Lions.

Love from Thailand,

x x x Christine


Painting with Sound!

Hello, my name is Anika and today was my first day working with ARI. I am Canadian and a graphic designer (by trade). This last few months I decided to take a bit of a break from working behind the computer. I enjoy working with people and wanted to learn to work from a more personal perspective. Art has always been important to me and seems like a perfect way to explore and understand what’s important to another person. So here my adventure in Thailand begins…

Today, we went to ‘Hope Home’ where four other volunteers and I played with five really loving children. These kids each need one on one attention which was also a great way for me to start to get to know them individually. Joy, a little girl (full of smiles) with cerebral palsy taught me about painting with sound. She had a magical paintbrush with bells on the end and depending on how she used it, she giggled more and so her painting was effected. I never thought of painting this way and of the emotion it could bring! A nearly two year old boy named Nam Chok was having so much fun he painted half his head along with the toes of our Art Director, Aimee. We ended the session going for a walk around the block (which was an adventure in itself) and helping the staff to feed the children their lunch. Overall, a very rewarding first day, I would say. Quite curious what will happen tomorrow.

from Toronto


ARTiculate Empowers Expression

One of my favorite lines from poet e.e.cummings asks, “Should words carry weapons?” It is in his typical rhetorical side-note style, and as usual, I am never quite sure of his meaning. At times, I’ve thought that he referred to words’ ability to harm and damage us – to injure our pride, cripple our individuality, or kill our ambitions. In this sense, words do carry weapons, and cummings wonders if perhaps they should not. 

I can also see it as a call to arms. So often our forms of expression go out defenseless in the world, naked and vulnerable, and unable to combat the silencing effects of societal norms. These unprotected voices are shot down like so many carnival-booth clown faces. The predators of unarmed words are many – ruling social groups, dominant ideas of sexuality or gender, physical limitations, and traditional beliefs around religion and propriety. Those whose voices are too often marginalized or patronized must give their words guns and swords and missiles, gear them for battle in a harsh world.

Maybe cummings did not know what he meant either, or maybe he meant both. What it all leads to is this: our ability to articulate – to express our reality – is powerful. Expression can damage those around us, or it can illuminate the frequently unknown lives of the poor, disabled, and oppressed.

Here at Art Relief International, we get it. Our programs use all kinds of art to allow expression among groups whose words are often killed or maimed by mainstream society, and to encourage peace and community among those who may not otherwise know it. It is also critical to us that we bring their expressions out of the workshop setting and into the greater Chiang Mai community. The ARTiculate show, now running at the Meeting Room Art Café, is a major component of that mission.

The show’s opening on Friday, October 12, was a great success, with people from various walks of life chatting, mingling, and enjoying the 30 pieces displayed throughout the gallery. The Meeting Room’s staff and its generous owner, Jo, provided delicious food and drink for the attendees and made everyone feel amazingly welcome.  

A huge highlight was the attendance of almost 20 students from the Thai Freedom House School, who were clearly enthralled by their big night out – and by the buffet! The students – Burmese migrants and refugees – were able to see their own work displayed and learn more about the ARI’s other partner organizations.

In addition to the linoprints from Thai Freedom House, the works displayed represented the Young Lions Global Art Program, Hope Home, the Healing Family Foundation, Wat Pa Pao temple school, and the Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia. Of the 30 works, 28 were able for purchase through a silent auction. A raffle and a 50/50 pull helped generate funds to continue our activities, and provided some great prizes to 12 lucky winners! 

Thai Freedom House students and teachers enjoy the gallery.

If you missed the opening, there’s time to check out the show, which will run through October at the Meeting Room Café. For those who support us from a distance, you can contact Aimee at aimee@artrelief.net for an image list if you are interested in buying pieces – which range from around 20 to 50 USD – or a high-quality print for 10 USD.

By 10:30 on Friday night, our friends and participants had left the gallery and the street traffic had dwindled. Empty platters and sold paintings signaled that we were now fuller, physically and emotionally, than we had been before. As I tidied up the last remains of our party, I straightened the smiling faces created by the Hope Home children, all severely handicapped with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or mental disorders. I smoothed the quilt appliqued with the future dreams of the COSA girls, each one previously trafficked or at high-risk for exploitation. I walked by the mobile created by students at the Wat Pa Pao temple school, who had no formal exposure to art before our training. 

Our show may not have armed our participants’ expressions with tanks or ballistic weapons. It may not have totally prevented others from damaging their self-esteem and sense of worth with cruel or prejudiced speech. But by giving their voices a space and an opportunity to whisper, chatter, enunciate, and convey, we defended their realities. We made them powerful.

“Should words carry weapons?” Maybe, maybe not. But it never hurts to give them a bodyguard. 

Check out more photos from the event at:


Houses of Sand Part Two

Today we repeated the sand art house workshop with the other Young Lion community children. Although the turn out wasn't as good as in previous weeks, the children that did attend loved the activity. 

Two students work hard at creating the perfect house design.
Using their initiative, the children added extra elements to their house templates to completely make them their own. Wad joined us for the class where he took part in the fun.
Wad working on his sand art house.
As the sun began to set we packed up and headed home, glad that the children had enjoyed the project.

Love from Thailand,
x xx Christine

Freedom House is Stuffed Full of Love

With the help of ARI, the children at Thai Freedom House spent Friday evening making stuffed animals.

After an introductory game of Chilli Chilli, everyone had a quick recap on some basic sewing techniques before beginning their new projects. It wasn’t long before buttons, felt, paper and stuffing filled the floor as a group of eager children searched for the perfect materials to create their new friends.

Two children search for the perfect pieces of material.

Although the children ranged in age, with the help of the ARI team and some of the Thai Freedom House volunteers, everyone was able to make great progress using either a bird or elephant outline as a template.

Working hard on their stuffed animals.

After a session of hard work, most of the children were able to sew up their animals which were then carefully placed into a box where they would wait until next week to have their bellies filled with stuffing.

Love from Thailand,

x x x Christine

Googly Eyed Creatures

Earlier today I had my first session at Healing Family Foundation, an organization for adults with physical and mental disabilities. As I had not met the people before, I planned two drawing-based games which would have everyone working together.

The first game we played was Exquisite Corpse, a game that always seems to go down well and gets everyone relaxed and laughing.  The second game was a new game called Eye See You. In this, we asked individuals to turn a blank piece of paper, with nothing but googly eyes, into a creature, animal or person. Both activities were a success, in which everyone was able to be creative while having fun.

The ARI team and members of Healing Family showing off their Eye See You art.

As the session ended slightly earlier than planned, we spent the last few minutes all dancing
together, even convincing the local live-in dog to join in!

Alicia and a Healing Family member dance with the local dog.
It was a great to see how everyone at Healing Family is so positive, caring and enthusiastic.
Love from Thailand,
x xx Christine

House of Sand and Fun

Yesterday the ARI team hosted a Young Lions sand art workshop. Students were each given a house template of their choice as well as coloured sand to decorate it. The goal of this workshop was to illustrate how everyone’s house is unique. After all the houses had been decorated, students were asked to complete the sentence “My home is…”

  Pepo helps two boys decorate their houses.
Several students said their homes were 'peaceful' or 'colorful'! It was great to learn a bit more about our new Young Lions group through talking about our homes.

The activity also encouraged creative thinking and inspired thought on the materials, colors and shapes used in any given house.  All who came enjoyed the afternoon, with many students even creating more than one house – one resembling the house they live in currently, and one they dream of living in one day.
Two girls show off their finished products.

Another great sunny day making artworks!

Love from Thailand,

x x x Christine

Noise and Fun

I returned this morning to Hope Home, one of my favourite places to volunteer at. Although the residents were more tired than usual, the same faces that I had met last week cheerfully greeted the team. This week we had help from Alicia, CCT's Assistant Director, and Marche, a volunteer from Thai Freedom House, who both enthusiastically joined in to our morning of music and song.

Rather than a structured lesson, we thought it would be fun to have a day of music in the garden. Equipped with various homemade instruments, we set up under the trees. It wasn’t long before the ARI team was singing along to the sound of the Hope Home children’s musical jingles. I really enjoy going there as it is always such a rewarding session.

Alicia and Nam Chok play together.

The children all seemed to have a great day, blowing kisses to us as we left.

Love from Thailand,

x x x Christine


Paper: A Girl's New Best Friend

My week started out with a trip to Wildflower Home where Aimee, I, and the rest of the ARI team taught a group of women how to make decoupage jewellery. Using a variety of magazine images (recycled, of course!) each participant was  encouraged to create her own design for what would later be turned into a necklace or a ring.

Despite their hands covered in glue, the women chatted as they paged through old magazines in search of the perfect picture design. Although there was a vast range in subject matter, shape and colours used, each piece of jewellery was special in its own way.

I look forward to returning to Wildflower Home in the coming weeks to fashion some beautiful pieces of jewellery and I know the women are too. Great creative start to the week!

Love from Thailand,
x x x Christine


Shaping the Lives of Others Through Art

Hi. I’m Christine, a 23-year-old art graduate from Pretoria, South Africa. I arrived in Chiang Mai on Sunday to join the ARI team for the next five weeks. I love art and during my time here, I hope to learn more about how it can be used as a therapeutic tool, and find out more about the type of work done by an art-based NGO. 

It was an exciting morning for me, as I headed off with Aimee, Pepo and Brittany, another new volunteer, to Hope Home where I met Boonrot, Phil, Joy, Namchok and Paradon. Here we unpacked a variety of paints and brushes as five eager faces watched us intently, excited that we had come to visit and waiting to see what we would be doing.

With the help of the ARI team, the children filled sheets of paper with bright colours to create backgrounds for some pre-drawn shapes. Laughter filled the air as Joy painted with her musical paintbrush and Phil decorated Pepo with green paint. Full of energy, Namchok ran around our activity area as Brittany chased him.

After the shape-masterpieces were complete, we all took a stroll around the block before heading back for some free play. This time was spent either on the swings or playing soccer on the grass.
We left Hope Home after a successful morning of art and fun under the trees.

Love from Thailand,
x x x Christine