Sunday, 1 August 2010


Even though the Art Club lasted only four weeks, it was hard to say good bye to the girls when leaving. Art making and interacting with the group of young Tanzanian orphan girls was incredible and offered us a valuable learning experience.

With mama Christina at the end of the show

A guest observing a clay animal

Exploring the exhibition



Rows of art work

Guest book and refreshments

Hanging up art work

Mari tightening the strings


Information for exhibition guests

Art Club Exhibition at Bethsaida

July 28th 2010

This exhibition shows art works done by 58 Form II and III girls who live and study in Bethsaida. During the month of July, five groups of 15 to 18-year old girls participated weekly in an art workshop with a therapeutic approach. Art Club themes were chosen to encourage playful use of art materials and free expression of the participants´ thoughts and feelings around identity, self-image, dreams, and emotions. At the end of each session the drawings, sculptures, and written narratives, were shared and discussed in a group.

The workshops were led by Laura Laakkonen and Mari Jarva, 2nd year students of Art Psychotherapy (MSc) at Queen Margaret University Edinburgh, UK. Both workshop leaders have a background in visual arts and art education.

We would like to thank UN Spouse Group, Twigapapers and Transpaper for supporting the project.


As planned, Art Club would end with a final exhibition. The Headmistress Maristella and Mama Christina agreed that the student exhibition could be arranged in the classroom where we met for the workshops. Donors, sponsors of our project, and other friends of Bethsaida were invited.

Before setting any works up the exhibition space needed a thorough cleaning. Mama Christina, Marie, Manu, Joyce and Joseph pleasantly surprised us by doing the massive chore while we were still enjoying our breakfast the day before the opening. However, preparing the show took us all day. Due to the huge amount of art works we were forced to choose only a part to be exhibited. Nevertheless, we made sure that each girl participated with at least two pieces, one sculpture and one drawing.

When everything was in place we were amazed to see the space, now entirely emptied of clutter and filled by the powerful art works created by the girls.

The following day, we had an opportunity to further experience the collection of pictures while waiting for the first guests to arrive. Although we only received a handful of guests (most likely due to the day and remote location of Bethsaida) we felt that the exhibition offered a meaningful experience for the girls who saw their art works hanging in a designated space, being looked at, and appreciated by others. Out of the whole exhibition, it seemed that the self-portraits carried a particular importance for the girls and evoked the most attention. A few girls came to us and expressed their disappointment when they did not find their self-portraits in the show. However, the young artists were eager to tell their peers and guests about their exhibited works and the experience of participating in the workshops.


We have ended our work with all the Art Club groups and we will now review the last activity, a drawing with the theme: "How do you see yourself?" Many of the girls appeared to find making a self-portrait both extremely intriguing and challenging. It seemed to us as if the task of exploring the inner self by drawing increased the level of self-criticism in the group. The girls found it hard to begin with their images, often drew with very faint lines, and seemed to experience frustration when they could not erase their previous marks on the paper.

In the beginning of the session we made an effort to encourage the girls to express themselves in a free, playful manner and led a preparatory warm-up exercise with music. We also stressed that the self-portraits do not need to look realistic, "as you see yourself in a mirror".

The challenge of making a self-portrait was also reflected in the process of sharing the images. There were several girls who referred to the characters in their drawings as "my friend", "twin sister", or talked about them in third person. When we were discussing the art works together as a group, we tentatively asked these girls, whether they had started drawing themselves and then changed the character to be someone else. The answer was "yes". We were then told that the reason for changing the character to someone else was that "it is too difficult to draw myself." Nevertheless, all the girls were able to point out characteristics from their drawings, which closely related to themselves.

With all the five groups creating a narrative around the picture seemed to help the girls share their experience of themselves.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


Today we had our first ‘last session’. We began with a warm-up, a group drawing, similar to the first activity the girls did in the first session. However, this time we played music and suggested that the girls illustrate the feelings the different kinds of music evoke in them. This was done with chalk and charcoal on large sheets of brown paper.

In the introduction to the following activity we reviewed the themes (what is important to you, clay animal and a place for the animal to live in) from the previous sessions and asked the girls to draw a self-portrait in charcoal. We stressed that the drawing does not need to be realistic, “real looking”, but rather express how they see themselves. The task seemed to be important for the girls and the group worked in silence without interruptions until the time was up. The resulting works were created in individual styles and represented for instance the girls’ personal goals, dreams and day-to-day life.

While sharing the pictures we felt that the group interaction had become more relaxed and lively. The girls were more willing to engage in sharing their thoughts relating to their and other’s images. Furthermore, even some jokes were passed.

We are excited to see how the remaining four groups will respond to these tasks.


Yesterday we had the last group of girls working on the clay animals and their homes. In the beginning of the session the girls shared their stories written in the preceding week. Also with this group, food (feeding the animal, inquiring its favorite food, being hungry/happy) was a central theme in the stories. During the group discussion this was acknowledged by the girls as well.

At the end of the session we asked the girls to place their clay animals on top of their drawings. “Where in the picture would the animal prefer to be?” The animals with houses were placed indoors “to rest” while the others were enjoying the abundance of food outside. After the session one of the Form III girls returned to the classroom to take another look and comment on her drawing. “I would like to live there also”, she said pointing at the picture. Her clay giraffe dwelled in a cozy hut located next to a river at the edge of a leafy forest with butterflies and birds. The drawing depicted sunny days and rainy nights, “perfect weather conditions”.

When reviewing the art works of all the groups we noticed that the majority of the animals chose to live in traditional houses, a few in lush forests, one in the Bethsaida compound and one in a zoo. The animals either lived by themselves or shared the house with the girl, who often was responsible for taking care of the animal. The independent animals were able to move freely in the house and surrounding area and feed itself at anytime. Some of the narratives included relatives or other animals. They were presented either as living companions or as longed-for others.

Saturday, 17 July 2010


The girls continued drawing the favourite places for their clay animals. On Monday we will lead the last group working on this theme and we will write more about how it went and what kind of homes the animals were given.

For a change, we decided to stay at Bethsaida for the weekend. Both days we offer open art sessions for the girls who are not attending the art club and thus offer them an opportunity to do some art work with us. Twenty girls showed up to today´s session and created animal drawings (oil pastels on A2) which will be exhibited along with the works done in the art club.

At the moment we are sitting on the volunteer house terrace and enjoying a gentle afternoon breeze. The plan for the weekend is to have two more open art sessions, do some of our own art work and improve our skills in rope walking. Since our Canadian friends, Richelle and Taylor, left our house has been soooo quiet. We miss them and their funny stories, which we still laugh about.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


In the third session the girls will continue working with their clay animals. The task is to “draw a place where their animal would like to live”. The medium for this activity is oil pastels on a white A2 sheet.

Today we began the session by sitting in a circle and checking in on the girls, and this time also, their animals. It appeared that the animals had become very important to some of the girls. Some girls even said that their animals had missed them during the week and were pleased to be reunited. We were not the only ones asking questions, one girl asked us, “why don’t you tell me how my animal is doing, because you said you would take care of it”. We assured the girls that the animals had been taken care of and kept safe while they were away. This led to a playful interaction in the group.


This afternoon we had our last clay work session. That means that we have now met all the groups twice, so it is a good time to reflect a little on the work done. We list some observations below.

The guided clay warm-up, which we had with all the groups in the beginning of the sessions, seemed to work well. Our purpose with this exercise was to help the girls turn their attention inwards through the tactile experience of holding a ball of clay, and facilitate conversation with their inner worlds. The soft and malleable material appeared to have a soothing effect on the group members, who, for the most part, sat quietly and enjoyed with their eyes closed while either of us talked them through the clay meditation.

With the larger Form II groups (14 girls aged approximately 15) we found it helpful to make some adjustments. Because of the rather big group size we preferred to give the girls more time to make their animals and write their imaginary conversations, and have the subsequent discussion in the beginning of the next session. The girls certainly felt that the time went quickly but did not seem bothered that they did not get to share their stories immediately.

Give your animal a name and ask it "how are you doing today?" This was our instruction for the story writing part of the session. At this point many began giggling and probably considered us a bit silly. After we clarified that the task involved using their imagination and writing a story most of the girls understood what we meant. Nevertheless, we noticed that some were still a little hesitant. "It doesn´t say anything!" said one girl. "Listen very carefully", we encouraged and soon everyone was busy writing their stories in their note books. Once started the girls became so eager that apart from asking the one suggested question they created lengthy story conversations until the end of the session.

We noticed a resemblance in the themes of the girls´ stories. Almost all the narratives included references to caring for and feeding the animals. "What did you eat today?" was probably the most common question.

As a whole, we think that the second meetings went much smoother than our initial encounters. The groups appeared more relaxed and lively and the girls showed more of their personality in the group. It seems that we are gradually getting to know each other.


It is Monday again, our third week at Bethsaida. Our weekend kicked off with the special dinner sponsored by Taylor’s and Richelle’s friends from Canada.

On Saturday morning we took off to Kipepeo Beach in Kigamboni. Our trip included several daladala (local bus) rides, a ferry and a tuctuc (a three-wheeled motor vehicle). When finally reached our destination, we checked in a cozy straw hut and rushed into the turquoise ocean.

We spent two days grilling in the sun, walking on the beach and napping in the shade. As company we had a group of Marie’s and Manu’s German volunteer friends. On Sunday, on our way back we were fortunate to get seats in a bus, which took us all the way from the ferry to our second last stop close to Bethsaida. Nevertheless, it still took us four hours to get home, due to the busy markets and Sunday evening traffic.

Friday, 9 July 2010


Time flies. A new Canadian volunteer, Linda, arrived yesterday and Taylor and Richele will return home already next week. Tomorrow they will organize a dinner for us and all the 123 orphan girls who live and study in Bethsaida. This naturally involves buying and cooking huge amounts of food: vegetables, rice and as a longed-for treat for the girls, meat. So, yesterday most of the volunteers and Mama Christina went shopping and running errands in town for over ten hours. Meanwhile Mari took it easy and did clay work with a lively Form II group. Then it was almost bedtime again.

Thursday, 8 July 2010