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After the Russian government abandoned its mission to rehabilitate children with cancer…


After the Russian government abandoned its mission to rehabilitate children with cancer…

Vladivostok NGO Uses Art-Therapy to Rehabilitate Children with Cancer and Fight Public Apathy Surrounding Their Cause

Summary

In the summer of 1999, the Primorski Krai NGO “Children in Trouble” implemented an ISAR-USAID funded project to organize creative workshops in Primorski Krai’s regional children's hematology-oncology center. This project was the last step in creating a full-service oncology center at the rehabilitative hospital, in which volunteers help sick children to find the spiritual resources within themselves to conquer life-threatening illness. The NGO not only succeeded in establishing an effective rehabilitation program but also raised awareness regarding childhood cancer throughout Vladivostok. The project’s culminating event, an exhibition of the children’s art work in Primorski Krai’s most popular museum, left a indelible mark in the in memories of thousands of Vladivostok residents – residents who would otherwise have remained distant from and indifferent to the problem of a children’s cancer.

Project Description

Nearly a decade ago the Soviet Government designed a long-term program to rehabilitate children suffering from terminal illness, primarily cancer. This program included creating a network of specialized rehabilitation and social adaptation centers in each major region of the country. Funding for this program, however, was never provided in the wake of the political and economic crisis that rocked the Russian Federation following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The children’s oncologists of Primorski Krai, however, did not abandon the goals of the defunct federal program, and in 1995 formed an NGO, “Children in Trouble,” to establish a non-profit regional rehabilitation center in Primorski Krai.

In July 1999, the organization won an ISAR-RFE/USAID grant to implement the project “The Creation of Creative Workshops in the Children's Hematology-Oncology Centers for Social-Psychological Rehabilitation of Children with Cancer and their Families.” This project represented the final step in the organization’s plan to create a complex rehabilitation program for the children. Before receiving the ISAR-RFE/USAID grant, the organization had already established the center and recruited psychologists and student-volunteers to work regularly with the children. The goals of conducting creative workshops within the center were to: a) return the children to normal life through dialogue and creativity; and b) present the children’s art work at various exhibitions, thereby raising public awareness of the needs of children with cancer.

To establish the creative workshops, the center invited psychologists to work with the children on a daily basis and a professional artist to work with the children 2-3 times a week. Ivan Ermolaev, a professor from the Vladivostok Children's School of Arts became the center’s first professional artist. He quickly learned that his pre-ordained teaching ‘instruments’ did not apply to these unique children, who did not have the attention span to watch a video or sit and draw for an hour. Traditional teaching methods, replete with lesson plans and schedules, simply did not accommodate the suffering associated with chemotherapy. Ermolaev, therefore, adapted his teaching style to meet the needs and limitations of the children. Today the children draw pictures if and when they have the strength and the will, with an intravenous tube one arm and a pencil in the other.

Ermolaev’s approach, a unique form “art therapy”, became to effective that it has been used in the treatment of over 600 children. According to the Director of Children in Trouble, Ludmilla Minkina, Ermolaeva’s uses art therapy to teach children “to float in the ocean of creativity”. It is his belief that this imagery stimulates feelings of internal freedom within the children and a desire to overcome the ‘waves’ in the ocean of life. He helps them to draw and paint and tells stories about art and the great artists. During the creative workshops, he helps the children to tap their creative potential, a talent and resource that no one can give or take away. Many of the children, who have never attended school regularly, discover for the first time their ability to creatively express themselves and to become immersed in their newfound world. Through art, an interest in their own life and other people’s lives awakens, and consequently their desire to live and conquer their illness faster grows too. Minkina reports that since the introduction of the creative workshops, medical technicians have remarked that the use of imagery has been extremely useful during treatment painful sessions with the children. Some of the center’s children have also recovered from their illnesses at a faster rate than originally prescribed by their doctors.

“Children in Trouble” not only achieved its goal to rehabilitate the children but also raised awareness regarding childhood cancer throughout Vladivostok. The project’s culminating event, an exhibition of more than 100 pieces of the children’s art work in Primorski Krai’s most popular museum, left a indelible mark in the in memories of thousands of Vladivostok residents. Representatives of nearly every mass media organization in Vladivostok, plus employees of the city and regional administrations attended the opening of the exhibit. Residents who either attended the exhibit or heard about it in the newspapers and radio began calling with offers of assistance. After the radio broadcast of “The Third Sector”, in which the director of the hematology-oncology center and Minkina participated, a radio listener called in and offered to pay for the treatment of a boy whose story had been recounted during the program. Finally, as a result of the NGO’s success in raising public awareness, the number of steady volunteers working with the NGO has dramatically increased.

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