Art therapy for children with cancer
Children battling cancer take part in a series of art workshops at LAU Beirut.
Children, students and workshop helpers pose next to a Toufoula banner promoting the NGO's dream floor project.
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When the Arabic music started pumping, nine-year-old Fida dropped her paintbrush, jumped up out of her chair, and began an eye-popping dance performance that would have put professional belly dancers to shame. Others crowded around and began clapping for the snappy young girl as she showed off her oriental dance moves.
If it was not for her hairless head caused by chemotherapy treatment, no one could have guessed that Fida, or the 21 other children that spent several afternoons at LAU Beirut in April dancing, drawing and playing, have been diagnosed with cancer.
The children, who are being treated in hospitals throughout Lebanon, were invited to participate in a series of five art workshops organized by Dr. Mirvat El Sibai, LAU assistant professor of biology, and led by several LAU fine arts faculty members.
El Sibai concocted the project after being inspired by local NGO Toufoula’s ongoing campaign to transform hospital rooms for child cancer patients into interactive play centers.
“I hope it makes a difference,” El Sibai says. “I think it helps them relieve some of the stress they have to deal with in the hospitals.”
El Sibai contacted Toufoula to develop a partnership for the project and then received the LAU Guidance Office’s blessing to move forward. LAU’s Health Services Office mobilized a handful of students from the Red Cross Club to lend a helping hand to El Sibai and others involved in the workshops.
LAU photography instructor Bassam Lahoud led the first workshop on April 13, where he taught the children the basics of using a camera.
The children hopped from table to table during the next session on April 22 to take advantage of the rich variety of activities available such as painting, making playdough figurines and playing board games with El Sibai and the student assistants.
On the following day, they painted self-portraits on enormous canvases with LAU fine arts faculty member Betina Badr.
April 29 was the first time any of the children had set foot into a ceramics workshop where they beat clay and molded bowls and other figures with LAU ceramics instructor Samar Mogharbel.
Finally on April 30, Melissa Plourde Khoury, an assistant professor of graphic design at LAU, and one of her senior students, Joy Jeha, helped the children cut and paste pictures to create brilliant collages.
“I was impressed with each of their own unique artistic abilities, approaches and creativity,” Plourde Khoury says. “The children opened my eyes to their amazing imaginations and in doing so they also welcomed me into their worlds and won over my heart.”
Always appearing boisterous and packed with energy, the children managed to sneak in breaks during the workshops and challenge the student helpers to soccer matches.
Toufoula member Fida Safieddine helped out with the logistics, spending hours in Beirut’s unbearable traffic driving throughout the city to pick up the children from their homes and hospitals. She says she has developed a close relationship with many of the children and their families, having spent time with them over the years.
“It’s important that you keep a connection with the children,” says Safieddine who often visits the children in hospitals. “It’s not enough just to see them when there is a workshop.”
El Sibai says the ultimate goal of the workshops was not only to provide children with some entertainment and new skills in a therapeutic environment, but also to help develop the characters of LAU students by encouraging them to get involved in noble efforts.
“It was a huge success,” El Sibai says. “We’ll most likely be doing it again sometime in the near future.”
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