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Art has enormous capacity to connect personal expression with healing and reflection. But how can that be taken one step further into the therapeutic space?
In 2013, Australian artist, Lenore Boyd, realised the potential role of art in therapy, and launched a dedicated program. Aimed at young people who were living on the streets of Nairobi, it’s been a resounding success.
Lenore’s art therapy program is run through her nonprofit, Alfajiri Street Kids. Young people who are living on the streets are encouraged to attend her workshops, to draw, paint, and sketch.
As Lenore told Daily Nation, ‘It’s just to invite the kids, to get them to create. It’s not to teach them, it’s not to impose anything on them. It’s to say: ‘Tell your story’. They’re very focused and they do lovely work. They tell the stories in their heart’.
So how does it work? Well, the aim of the program is to use art as a mobilising tool. It’s used as a vehicle to help young people prove to themselves that they are strong. That they can achieve things. That they are capable, and are deserving of success.
Young people who attend Lenore’s art workshops and who wish to do so, are enrolled in a rehabilitation program. Drug use and abuse, is not uncommon among young people in Kenya – and is particularly prevalent among those who have experienced homelessness. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has reported that glue sniffing is at the core of “street culture” in Nairobi, and that the majority of street children in the city are habitual solvent users.
Through the process of art therapy, some children express a desire to return home to be with their families. Lenore’s Alfajiri program helps find families and begins the process of reintegration with them. Alfajiri often supports families directly – for example, in helping them start their own small businesses. In just a few years, Alfajiri has helped more than 30 children reintegrate with their families. Alfajiri has supported even more children in attending primary, secondary, and vocational schooling.
One estimate, by the Consortium of Street Children (CSC), an international charity, suggests the number of children living on the street throughout Kenya could be as high as between 250,000 and 300,000, including 60,000 in Nairobi alone.
‘Everybody needs to think about the way the street children of Kenya have been treated. Why they’re living on the streets, and suffering on the streets’, Lenore said. ‘These kids are traumatised. They are kids who had huge suffering, they’re abandoned… going to the streets is an act of despair’.