The Red Pencil Humanitarian Mission is an international humanitarian organization founded in Singapore that brings the healing power of creative arts therapy (drawing, music, movement, and dance) to children, adults, families and communities who have been through overwhelming and traumatic life circumstances such as natural disaster, displacement as a result of wars and conflicts, human trafficking, life-threatening disease, violence, and abuse, for which they may have no words.
Psychological trauma may be invisible and if the individual’s well-being is not being addressed rapidly, the person may carry the consequences of such a devastating event for the rest of his/her life. The Red Pencil’s purpose is to attend to all those situations which are neglected, in a novel, yet evidence-based way through the power of creative arts therapy to ensure individual healing and harmonious peace in our communities.
The process of creative arts therapy allows our beneficiaries to express the unspeakable, experience release and relief, find new resources inside and outside, gain self-confidence and feel empowered to move on towards a more hopeful and happier life. The Red Pencil is dedicated to the resilience and long-term recovery of the most vulnerable from all walks of life, to allow them to grow and become healthy and happy human beings for the world of tomorrow.
Since its founding in 2011, The Red Pencil has empowered more than 20,500 beneficiaries and worked with 269 partner organizations to achieve its objectives and mission of enhancing mental health and psychosocial well-being.
Our recent interventions
According to the Belgian Health Council, 1 in 4 people in Belgium report having mental health problems and one in three people is likely to suffer from a mental health disorder in their lifetime. These mental health problems generally develop early in life, with 75% of these appearing before the age of 24. In addition to being widespread, mental health problems also have a huge societal impact and increase the risk of school drop-out and social isolation among young people, which may have been one of the determining factors for the excessive effect of Covid-19 measures on young people’s mental health (Belgian Health Council, 2022).
Creative arts therapy is uniquely positioned for youth at risk because it is a non-verbal approach that is appropriate for children who have difficulty expressing in words what they feel and need. It is utilized to treat anxiety, which is very common among young people.
During these last two years, The Red Pencil team has worked hard on the “Response to the pandemic project: Psychosocial support to mitigate mental health issues in children and youth – Art therapy for change”. We are grateful to the Sofina Covid Solidarity Fund and King Baudouin Foundation for their generous support of this project.
In Western Europe, we conducted creative arts therapy programs in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, and Spain, mainly with asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors, youths, and caregivers. We focused on serving the most vulnerable children and young people in the context of the Covid pandemic and organized art therapy group sessions. Wherever possible, we continued to work with partner organizations identified in 2021, such as school dropout prevention services, youth sector associations, schools serving children from disadvantaged backgrounds and associations helping young people at risk to integrate into society.
In addition, we also carried out interventions with social workers, teachers and educators to help them take care of themselves and equip them with artistic tools through our Arts-based Capacity Building and Training (ACBT) program. We have also conducted a dozen workshops to raise awareness of art therapy among health professionals.
Working with young people at risk remains a challenge: getting them interested, motivated, involved, and engaged in the creative process is not always easy. We recruit certified and experienced art therapists and take the time to discuss with the partner organizations their roles and expectations, including how the sessions will be facilitated among the youth. Throughout the entire program we integrate monitoring and evaluation tools, as assessing the impact of our work is important for us to ensure sustainability and to continuously learn and improve.
Some benefits of group art therapy for young people include: releasing body tensions, expressing and regulating emotions, improving self-understanding and self-confidence, relativizing and changing perspectives, learning new coping techniques, listening to and learning from others, and finding one’s place. The testimonials and stories of change provide concrete examples of how the art therapy sessions contribute to changing the participants’ lives.
Meanwhile, participants in the ACBT reported learning new tools that go beyond oral language, which is essential as it is often difficult for young people to express their difficulties verbally. They recognized that creative arts therapy removes the pressure of the “outcome” by focusing on the process, making the practice accessible to all and facilitating exploration.
In India, we partnered with Kaivalya Education Foundation (KEF) and Piramal Foundation for Education Leadership (PFEL). We implemented a two-phase project for Indian teachers working in the region of Jammu and Kashmir. The project first consisted of an online ACBT programme to give an insight into arts-based activities for Social Emotional Learning in the classroom. The training was followed by coaching sessions in smaller groups and aimed at deepening the knowledge and putting into practice the acquired art-based tools with the children. In between sessions, supervision meetings were held with the partner organization for continuous improvement and to constantly adapt the programme to the teachers’ needs. In total we trained 10 groups of about 15 teachers each. For each group we selected 1 head art therapist and 1 assistant art therapist.
In the framework of this project, The Red Pencil, in collaboration with the art therapists who took part in the programme, designed and edited the handout as a tool to support the teachers in their future implementation of arts-based activities in the classroom.
Meanwhile in Singapore, we also launched online programmes to continue serving our beneficiaries amidst restrictions in physical interactions. Despite the challenges, we managed to provide 30 art therapy programmes to 187 service users, totaling to an overall of 130 art therapy hours in 2021.
With the easing of the Covid restrictions from the Singapore government in 2022, we were able to conduct more in-person programmes and for larger group sizes. There was also an uptick of requests for art therapy sessions. Additionally, we successfully organized an exhibition in our newly opened Creative Arts Therapy Centre in Redhill, which featured artworks from the ReBound art therapy projects completed in 2021. The exhibition provided an opportunity to showcase our service users’ artworks and their therapeutic journeys during the pandemic.
Due to the team’s active outreach efforts to the community, we are delighted to have an increasing number of art therapy sessions conducted at our Centre. This helped to further establish our presence in the Redhill locality, as well as spread awareness of creative arts therapy as an effective mental health intervention.
If you would like to know more about The Red Pencil and its work, visit www.redpencil.org. You can also help us transform lives through creative arts therapy by donating here: https://redpencil.org/donations/