Art therapy for abused young women: Wendy Percival’s volunteer story

Jun 25, 2014

Wendy Percival explains to children what other students drew. Photo credit: Jasmine Subasat.

Wendy Percival, an artist and educator, has taken initiative to help her community by volunteering her time to teach fine arts to young women from the House of Hope, a well-known shelter for victims of abuse in Samoa. On Monday afternoons, these young women travel by van to the Tiapapata Art Centre, located on a hillside about a 20 minute drive from Apia. There they receive 2-3 hours of art lessons. Wendy teaches drawing, pottery and woodblock printing to the children as a form of therapy, giving them an opportunity to express and understand their feelings through art. She has slowly been moving the group towards expressive art, which emphasises the process of creation rather than the finished products. In this approach, the use of one’s imagination is considered an important and therapeutic part of the creative process.

She has always cared for abused women and children, and has taught art to them in the past on an ad-hoc basis. Her participation in the Transformational Leadership Development Programme (TLDP), a UNDP gender project that began in 2013, led her to establish more regular and structured sessions for the young women from the House of Hope. At the beginning of a TLDP workshop in August 2013, participants were asked to form Breakthrough Initiative (BTI) groups, with the goal of addressing gender-based violence in practice.

Following the workshop, 14 BTI groups were formed by the participants. Wendy was the first person to come up with a BTI, which focuses on art therapy for victims of abuse, and to lead the initiative to realisation*. The success of the BTIs in responding to gender-based violence with real action relies on the volunteer spirit of the participants. Although many of the participants hold full-time jobs, most of them are willing to devote free time to their BTIs. It is not easy to spare time for volunteer activities unless people are passionate about something. The TLDP workshops have inspired the participants to commit their time to causes they are passionate about, contributing to the good of all Samoan society.

Wendy's volunteer activity with the young women motivated her to learn more about art therapy, a subject that has always interested her. In early June 2014, the Tiapapata Art Centre, in collaboration with the Mental Health Consortium, held an Art Therapy for Mental Health Workshop. She is confident that the methods used in art therapy, which engage people in meaningful and creative expression, will help her develop more effective ways to teach the abused, who require special care and attention.

She stated, "They (the young women) are very happy to come here (the Tiapapata Art Centre). You can see in their eyes. They express their inner feelings through arts and at the same time they can release their stress. That is why it is therapeutic."

True volunteer spirit comes from the heart and from the will to positively change society. It has enormous potential to expand our ability to turn inspiration into action.

Wendy has been teaching for more than 20 years. She launched her BTI in September 2013.



* Wendy’s husband, Galumalemana Steven Percival, a human rights advocate who uses documentary filmmaking to raise awareness about important issues, such as the need for gender equality in Samoan society, also contributed to the development of the BTI.


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