Volunteering with Art Relief International (ARI)

ARI believes in using art as a tool to create change. By using artistic outreach, the program promotes creativity and gives the opportunity for individuals to freely express themselves. The organizations that ARI is in partnership with are usually struggling social groups and humanitarian organizations in Chiang Mai or other neighboring provinces. We do a lot of preparation for these workshops, which include making lesson plans and obtaining all the necessary material. In addition, we go through debriefings after workshops to talk about the pros and cons and do blog postings so we can let people know what we do each week. Instead of having groups come to us, we go to them, making it convenient and efficient for both us and them. Unfortunately, I was unable to meet all the partnership organizations that we work with due to my short stay, however here are the ones that I had the pleasure of meeting:


Healing Family Foundation 

Healing Family Foundation 2

This space provides people with disabilities a chance to develop new friendships and learn new skills. One of the main activities is weaving. By weaving anything from scarves to headbands, these individuals are able to sell their work and make some money to help their families. Weaving is usually done in the morning, while afternoons are open to different activities, including our visits! 


Since we only have about 1.5 hours with the adults, we need to ensure that the projects are fairly easy to make. On one of our visits, we made paper windmills. Everyone decorated their papers using pencil crayons and markers. With some help, they constructed their paper windmills and gave them a try.


Hope Home 

Hope Home 3

This is a foster-care home which provides a caring and therapeutic environment for children with special needs. They are referred to this home from the local government orphanage in Chiang Mai. Some of the children suffer from cerebral palsy, which is caused by brain damage to areas controlling movement (usually during birth), leaving individuals with limited motor skills. The children have full-time Thai caregivers and also receive therapy from local government hospital resource centers.


We focus on stimulating different senses with the children and try to encourage as much movement as possible. We usually bring musical instruments with us (i.e., shakers, ukuleles) or play music to gain the children’s interest. For my workshop here, I made edible play dough (since they like putting just about anything in their mouths) in attempt to stimulate their tactile senses.


Juvenile Detention Center


This space houses dozens of boys who are awaiting their sentencing for criminal acts. The facility provides a safe space to maintain the boys’ creativity and emotional well-being while they are in the difficult transition or uncertainty. We do projects aimed at future goal planning and identity formation.

Juv Detention Center 1

We did a project with melted crayons. We put crayon shavings (mixed with a bit of glue) onto a piece of paper and then used a blow dryer to melt it so that the wax would run down the page.

Juv Detention Center 2

The bits of wax that ran down the page would act as stems of a plant and at the end of the stem would be a goal, a dream, something they wanted to be. Most of them drew superheros and funny cartoon characters, which is interesting because I think we all had a certain (negative) expectation of what these boys would be like. It was hard to believe that these boys were criminals. They were kind, very creative and even supported one another during the project. To protect the identity of the boys, photographs of their faces were not to be taken.


Urban Light


This is a grassroots organization focused on caring for boys who are victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. Most of the boys are from hill tribes around the Chiang Mai area and so they come from low-income family and as well as a low level of education. The Urban Light team aims to empower the boys to live happy and healthy lives. They provide assistance regarding education, health services, housing and emergency care. The boys are provided a free lunch everyday and have access to internet, showers and a space for recreational activities.

Our workshops here are focused on self-empowerment. We try to get them to express the way they think, encourage them to socialize and most importantly, have them practice some English. This particular project was about overcoming fears. Everyone would draw something that they were afraid of on a black card. Afterwards, they would cut it up and turn it into something they felt was beautiful. The idea here was to show that they are stronger than their fears and they can overcome them.

Wat (Temple) Schools

Temple schools are registered with the Thai government, however most students come from low-income families. Also, since art is not a part of their curriculum, we do fun take home projects where they have the opportunity to make something that is truly theirs. Here are some fun creations:


Wat Prachakasem Hill Tribe School (Baan Nam Soom Huay Guang)

This school is located in the mountains south of Chiang Mai in a Hmong (free) hill tribe. They  formerly resided in China but migrated to northern Thailand during World War II. Teachers in this area are scarce and are often recruited to teach at multiple schools, thus there are times when teachers are not able to make it to school. To provide a bit of assistance for the teachers and to promote art in their curriculum, ARI visits every month.


 My first encounter with this group was during a scouts day, where the teachers and older students set up an obstacle course – children were running down steep hills and crossing rivers! It was funny to see the reaction of most of the volunteers as we struggled to follow the children.


After the obstacle course, we played circle games from duck duck goose to doing the hokey pokey! These kids never seemed to lose their energy or their smiles. We were so tired the next day.


While I was there, another volunteer group from LeGrange College (Georgia, USA) were there to run some workshops. They  taught students about musical instruments, new english words by illustrating their own alphabet book, colour combinations through a painting activity, how to make their own lava lamp and how to play the infamous cup song from Pitch Perfect.

hilltribe4Another project we were also doing was a mural in their cafeteria. We planned to paint a beautiful beach with palm trees on the side and even had room to do a nice welcome sign at the entrance.

Wildflower Home

This is a centre for single mothers who need support during time of pregnancy, abuse, death or incarceration of a spouse, etc. This environment gives single mothers a safe space to raise their children and also receive counseling, health services, education and life skills training.  Most of our workshops are to provide projects (such as jewelry making) that could help generate some form of income. I wanted to inspire the women to be creative when using materials for jewelry and so I taught them how to incorporate paper stars and cranes into earrings for my workshop.



Young Lions Global Art Program

This is the only workshop we give right from our home base! Free community art classes given to neighborhood children. We provide a safe and creative space for children to play and grow by breaking down cultural and societal boundaries that initially divide the children. In this session, we made balancing clowns which can be supported using a straw or even your finger, just by using coins as weight on one end of the character.

younglionsI had a wonderful experience with ARI and wish them all the best as they continue to help different social groups through art engagement. For more up to date information on what ARI is up to follow them on their blog.

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