Children who draw their pain

The biggest reward for retired social worker June Torey-Scott is the possibility of saving a young life. “Mrs. Scott, if I hadn’t come for counseling then I would have killed myself,” is a phrase she’s heard many times.

For the past 15 years, June has been volunteering her skills for the Peace Management Initiative (PMI), a local partner of UNICEF that works to prevent and interrupt violence in several communities.

pmi children jamaica art therapy
UNICEF/JAM/Ross SheilVeteran and volunteer social worker June Torey-Scott of the Peace Management Initiative (PMI).

One day, amid a downpour in one of the inner-city communities served by the PMI, I’m following her into the tenement yard home of a family who have lost two close relatives to violence in the past two years. It’s after school and despite the weather outside, the cramped family room soon fills up with children, papers and crayons spread out across the floor. The PMI has been counseling the entire family: young and old.

One drawing can help save a life

“It’s easier for children to express themselves this way – to draw rather than to talk,” June explains. “Art therapy helps you to identify with what is really going on with a child. As an assessment tool, you can pick up things that are happening in a child’s environment and their lives.”

Many of these children have survived, suffered or witnessed violence, this simple technique helps bring them out of their shells. What comes out – which is a product of both their experience and imagination – allows June and her fellow volunteers to begin counselling the children and to lighten their outlook.

Much of what the children will draw is often shockingly dark. These children are intimately familiar with violence. At the PMI’s office in Crossroads we’re looking at some of their drawings, spread out on a table and pinned to the walls. It shows their hopes, their fears and the threats they face.

Art helps create dialogue with children

Looking at these pictures you realise that not only does art therapy help the children and the counselling process, but it can also help us as a society to understand some of what they are going through.

pmi jamaica children art therapy
UNICEF/JAM/Pawelczyk‘Happy because my mother is alive’, but ‘Sad because my brother is dead’.

“They have seen so many incidents of violence that they are overwhelmed: they are unable to sleep, to enjoy a good meal, some of them have gone back to bedwetting, unable to concentrate at school,” says June. “Some of what they are exposed to they will share, like a when they themselves are ready to respond with violence.”

June is undeterred. One of her favourite exercises is to ask children to draw their heart: to colour in how much of it is happy versus how much is sad. Not all of what the children draw is sad; though much of their positive drawings are about escape – planes and even mermaids spiriting them away from the violence.

Helping children escape their situations

Escape is something the PMI try to offer children, including organizing therapeutic field trips for children to locations outside their communities. Something that others might take for granted, like spending a day by the river, is a chance to release tensions.

“It’s never easy at the end of the day when we say, ‘Time to get back on the bus!’ But that’s all that children want, a chance to be children!” says June.

This year, at the National Heroes Day Awards, she was awarded the Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service for outstanding community work through volunteerism. For those interested in following her footsteps, call the PMI: 754-5622/754-5808/929-0671.

pmi jamaica children art therapy
UNICEF/JAM/PawelczykA girl drew herself as this mermaid, able to swim away from the violence in her community.

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  1. A lovely blog. June is a heroine, well deserving of her award and of much more for her work with children.