By Whitney Maclin
The first week at Banyan has come to a close. I am in awe of the richness of our experience. As I sit reflecting on my last five days, I see the mentally ill, stigmatized, rejected and broken women of the streets. I question my ability to hold the weight of their despairs. Yet today I feel strong and encouraged. The outside labels have fallen away and I know only my personal experience; the mingling of Tamil and Hindi being spoken in the same room, the various hands aching to be held, and the smiles buried just below the surface. Chia-hua, Jackie, Beth, and I have had the pleasure of working with 16 women who have resided at the Banyan for five or more years. Each woman was hand chosen to join our art therapy group with the hope that working together would provide a necessary push. However, I must admit that I had different plans. Together my peers and I have encouraged self-expression and social interaction over task completion. The language barrier in many cases has allowed the art to do the talking and facilitated the client-to-client interactions.
Yesterday we traveled to the tiny town of Kovalam, we saw for ourselves the goal that our clients will someday reach. Kovalam serves as a protective community that fosters independence and vocational training. For the women of the Banyan, Kovalam represents great strides. I was amazed at the beauty and precision of the woodblock printed saris and papers, the intricate nature of the woven bags, and the pride shown on the faces of every woman we saw. We ventured further down the cow strewn road and entered the oasis that served as the independent living compound. Each cottage housed 6 women who created wonderful works to be sold, or engaged in agricultural work to financially support themselves. I was struck by the sense of ownership as I watched a young woman sweeping her front door step; I wanted this for my clients.
I woke up this morning feeling inspired and renewed. Kovalam provided illumination and I hope that our presence brings light to the life of our clients. I am anxiously awaiting the surprises next week will bring.