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How Colouring is making a difference in Domestic Violence Shelters

Posted by carolom on June 21, 2016

I was recently invited to contribute to the newspaper article How Colouring-in heals the psychological scars of trauma ( <– see link) and as a result of the interview process I have a couple of pages of added information.

I thought it would be a good idea to blog some of  the questions and answers  that formed the basis of the article.

How did Coloring come into your domestic violence service?

Throughout the late 90’s and early 2000’s I was publishing an in house newsletter for the staff and women at our shelter. I called it C.H.A.N.G.E. – an acronym for Creating Happiness And New Growth Everyday

The newsletter created an opportunity for residents of the  shelter and outreach programs to share poetry and stories and for staff to promote programs and provide information relevant to the groups they facilitated.

We had already undergone a cultural change in the shelter regarding the physical environment evolving from one of issue based posters and imagery, to a much more positive and uplifting setting.

*See this blog entry for further detail:

Domestic Violence Shelters as a place of possibility not pain

C.H.A.N.G.E. updated

I was aware that the written word as a form of personal expression and communication relies on being able to read and write English.

…and that it isn’t everyone’s preferred form of expression. Delivering information in written form was not always culturally relevant for Aboriginal women or for women from CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) backgrounds.

As the daughter of a very creative mother, I recognised that many of the programs and systems in place in shelters are developed within an academic, not a creative framework so with the support of our management team and my colleagues I began to create tools that tapped into women’s creativity and gave the hands something to do that was engaging and fun. “Fun” is not usually associated with domestic violence shelters.

In the late 90’s I read Carl Jung’s memoir, “Memories Dreams and Reflections” and was fascinated by the concept of the Mandala. I had seen how the young women at our shelter would get very involved in some of the playgroup activities that were designed for their children, including colouring in.

I drew a very rudimentary Mandala and put the words “Believe in Yourself” at the centre and from that very first colouring sheet the women let me know that sitting at the table and colouring while the personal development information was being delivered had changed the group from a class room setting where they were often bored to a much more dynamic and engaging setting.

Our group attendance and retention rate increased dramatically as a result of offering creativity and colouring groups to the women.

I Believe n Myself Poster
Over the next few years I developed creative tools to accompany most of our in house information. For skills training in the area of budgeting, I designed a colouring sheet with circles representing their different financial obligations, such as rent, groceries, electricity etc and we coloured the sheet as we explored topics like budgets, direct debits etc.
The completed poster became a visual tool for budgeting rather than a hand written form that is often left in drawers or left behind in the group room after the session.

A very common topic in dv shelters is how do I change negative patterns?

…especially if it is the 2nd or 3rd domestic violence relationship that a woman is experiencing or she has grown up with domestic violence and does not recognise the intergenerational cycle.

For those sessions I designed Mandalas that had affirmations such as “I release the patterns that no longer serve me” and “I love and accept myself”.

Within a couple of years I had created a master copy folder of colouring pages that were designed specifically for issues affecting women in domestic violence settings but also other pages that related to relaxation and goal setting.
Our staff team enjoyed the colouring process also so I occasionally designed Vision statement colouring sheets for our team building days.

Patterns

How does colouring-in help people touched by domestic violence?

Colouring in is a form of open eyed meditation.  The rhythmic movement of the pencil slows the mind, acting like a kind of mantra because of its repetitive nature. Colouring brings the consciousness into the present moment. Rather than worrying about past events and speculating about the uncertain future around court cases and hospital visits, the creative process is relaxing and soothing. It is a form of mindfulness that is very effective for women dealing with trauma, who are in recovery from domestic violence.

Colouring is not competitive and it engages the hands which are often excluded from learning and relaxation processes.

Breathing relaxes, the mind slows down and for many women the internal stress is transformed into creativity and focus while they are colouring in.

Breathe Deeply b:w
When a woman arrives at a domestic violence shelter she is often in a highly traumatised and distressed state. She may have physical pain, post-traumatic stress  issues and is finding  it difficult to concentrate and focus.
Along with dealing with court cases, hospital visits, financial issues and worry for pets who have been left behind, a woman will often be managing distressed children and in some cases extended family conflict relating to her decision to leave.

I created a Colouring Pack for the women who arrived at our shelter.

We added pencils and blank paper to the pack. Many of the residents said that although they hadn’t coloured in since they were young, they felt relaxed and peaceful as they coloured.

I reminded them that we all had colouring pencils for the first few years of our life, at kindergarten and in junior primary but as time went on our creativity was often left behind in preference to the academic processes and outcomes driven education system that places the “arts” on the bottom of academic prestige and sciences on the top. As a result it is often seen to be childish or unprofessional to engage colouring-in as a training tool.
At the shelter new arrivals were often shy or distressed and uncomfortable sitting in a group setting but once they sat at the colouring table and there was no pressure to speak or hold eye contact, they would often relax and begin to share their stories in a much more organic and relaxed manner than if they were sitting with hands on laps and expected to participate in the group dynamics.

Colouring-in creates something beautiful from a black and white page. It is a personal, unique interpretation of the image and that in itself can be very reassuring and nourishing during times of distress and uncertainty.

Labyrinth

Tell me a little about some of the people who have found solace (if that is a fitting word) through your work?

Colouring Mandalas and black and white pictures is a process that is relevant for women of all ages and cultural backgrounds.

When *P was colouring her Mandala she looked up after half an hour of colouring and said I think this Mandala just spoke to me I asked her what it ‘said’ to her and this was her reply:
“When I was young if I ever felt proud about something I had done at school, my step father (who was abusive) used to always say self praise is no recommendation.
I never felt good enough around him and he was always cristicising me, he still does, but this Mandala made me realise I am good enough and I don’t need to listen to what he said all the time.
The next week she arrived at the group glowing, with a piece of paper in her hand. She had created her own Mandala with the words Self praise. The best recommendation.

We made many copies of her Mandala over the ensuing years and long after she left our service and went to University, her colouring page was there in our group room for other women to colour and medARTate on the words she had written and the important message she left us all with.
Colouring has taken her to a deeper, more reflective place within herself and in that place where she had rarely visited, insights and a new level of resolve awaited her.

There was a young woman in the shelter from a refugee background. *L had lived in a camp in one of the African countries for most of her childhood.

She was married at a young age and had courageously left domestic violence with her young baby. *L did not speak English and the staff members did not speak her language. She was shy in the group settings but her colouring style was so bright and skilful that she drew many compliments from the rest of the shelter residents.

Although the colouring circles were not competitive as such and everyone’s unique style was celebrated it was obvious that *L was a gifted artist and the recognition of her art connected her to the women around her. She was proud of her work and generous in showing the other women her unique shading techniques.

In this scenario colouring raised her confidence and self esteem and enabled her to be the “expert” in the room rather than experience isolation because she did not speak the language and we did not have interpreters on site.

Big Girls Picnic copy

 Would you like to see Coloring used across the country to help victims and survivors?

As a life coach and an advocate for equitable learning and embracing diversity I would like to see colouring circles in women’s prisons, homeless and domestic violence shelters and Community health and healing environments.
I would also like to see social workers trained in the process of engaging with creativity as a tool for case management as many of the students who come to our shelters are often very uncomfortable with their own creativity or using it as a tool for developing trusting relationships.
In settings where there are Aboriginal clients the colouring process draws on the cultural practices of art and creativity as central to community and learning through story and sharing creative practices.

Victims of domestic violence are entitled to heal and recover in their own time and colouring is a gentle, easy meditation and in that moment of colouring they can have respite from dealing with the vast array of pressing matters that fill every waking moment.

I would like to see front line staff and management and board members trained in the simple process of establishing colouring and conversation circles, this includes access to the colouring process as part of an organizations work-life balance policies.

As a community education and relationship building tool, colouring and the self reflection and creativity that it unleashes is  a fabulous, inexpensive way to build relationships and encourage creativity amongst women who are looking for new answers to old problems

Colouring circles are creative way for women who have escaped domestic violence  to offer her knowledge and experience, to “give back” as one woman put it in the Talking Circle aspect of the colouring circle.

Healing Power of Nature b-w

Carol Omer is a Certified Life Coach and Artist, specialising in Women’s Personal Development and Empowerment programs.
The Big Girls Little Colouring Book is available on her website: CarolOmer.com

The Big Girls Little Coloring Book is also available on Amazon

Posted in ART of Change, Carol Omer, Community, Creativity, Domestic Violence, feminism, Healing, Patterns | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Virus. An Australian Story.

Posted by carolom on November 18, 2014

The Virus is a representative story. Though names and some of the details have been changed for narrative purpose, it is a true story.

I have updated the original blog post in response to the SBS series First Contact

The Virus. An Australian Story

I was 5 or 6 years old a migrant child of parents who were swept away from the sooty chimney towns of Britain’s working class north by the promises of a bright new life in a young country. A country brimming, spilling and erupting with outrageous opportunities for people, white people, who dreamt of owning their very own land. Australia.

We were the ten pound package , government assisted chance of a life time Brits who flocked in their thousands to these shores and landed like sparkling white seagulls that squabble amongst themselves as they fly in kindred form. Noisy chattering seagulls on the look out for the best morsel they can find.
Some have said seagulls all look and act the same…

Poms they called us, the latest flock of new arrivals following in the footsteps of the convicts and our sea faring ancestors who came to seize new territory in a land that was not young at all.

Big skies, wide streets, pupil dazzling light Brand new asbestos houses far removed from the tall sooty terrace flats cramped side by side back Home.

We staggered wearily, eagerly into government issue houses that nestled expectantly in the middle of tiny little paddocks. Neatly sliced quarter acre blocks that beckoned the new arrivals to seed a brand new life and sow a future far removed from the misty grey land where the sun rarely shines.

This was The Lucky Country and we thought that we were very lucky indeed! There was much to learn and many new things to see and for awhile my migrant child’s world was consumed with more space new friends, big school, new sounds, interesting sights and beach time delights.
In fact we were so immersed in our new life we were utterly, completely, mind numbingly oblivious to the Land where we were living.

That is when the virus struck.

I remember the day it happened.Unlike those silent viruses that sit invisibly on taps waiting to hitch a ride on fingertips that brush past lips this insidious, relentless, sickening parasite travelled effortlessly upon the breath transmitted upon invisible sound waves elusive in their source, the destination always the same.

It was very hard for young children to escape a germ such as that! I was standing by the milk shed when the virus struck.

Its current host was a plump red freckly boy called George. He was no doubt named after a king, an uncle or grandfather back Home .

The kids called George names like dot-face and carrot top.
Giggling and laughing, George entertained us by pulling faces and joining in the fun. His best friend stood with us, Peter Green, an Australian boy who was fond of saying “we go back 6 generations“, even though he didn’t really know what it meant.

His father said it all the time so it must have been important.

Peter was teaching George the real Australian way

We were standing in the cool shade, a rare find across the sweltering expanse of the asphalt playground when the virus emerged and the first cross infection occurred. In a loud voice that announced his cockney origins wherever he went, George sang out four words in the mocking tone of a confident child: “Dirty coon, rotten baboon” Four words that speared my consciousness and left a tender wound, a vulnerable space to host a virus that I was too young to fight.

Georges words invoked contempt a voracious contempt that swept through the crowded school yard as quickly as it took to catch one another’s breath. I followed Georges eyes and saw the object of his loathing.
Curly haired Lindy and her little brother Jimmy the Aboriginal kids. The Blacks

Lindy and Jimmy stood out from the sea of white faces. Shiny black birds surrounded by vicious seagulls. They stood holding the eyes of their attacker whilst holding tightly onto one another’s hand. Jimmy leaned towards his big sister terrified that the big kid with the flaming red hair was about to lunge and squash him then and there.

They were the outcast kids the Abo’s who were never ever invited to play our games. Peter smiled at George approvingly and one or two others snickered our way the virus twisting itself across children’s faces annihilating the anti-bodies of innocence feasting upon the collective enjoyment of someone else being teased.

This particularly robust virus had its own language.

After coon followed different words boong-boong –that’s the noise they make when the bull bar hits them. Before long other children joined in the heckling until a bubonic plague of racist torment swamped us all in its vitriolic grip.

That was the day I learnt a new A, B C. The uniquely Australian alphabet. A. B. C.

Abo
Boong
Coon.

This was the alphabet I was infected with as a child.

In the lucky country. A magnificent land older than the mountains with secrets winding back through time. Something terrible occurred. A virus was unleashed long before our little family travelled to the down under shores.

What became of Lindy and Jimmy? Innocent children who were called half castes, treated as out casts.
Removed from their Mother, kidnapped before her very eyes.
Thanks to the power of forgiveness and decency and common sense, strong medicines for curing the malaise of toxic tongues and the virus that leaves many deaf and mute and blind, Lindy and Jimmy and I became friends.
Precious friends and together we are all in recovery from the virus that strikes so many innocent children down. UnityinCommunitySistars2

Posted in Aboriginal, Australia, Australia's abuse of human rights, Carol Omer, Racism, racism in australia, Reconciliation, Relationships, Sorry | Leave a Comment »

Something you may not know about Domestic Violence Shelters

Posted by carolom on October 12, 2014

I have been working in domestic violence shelters for many years and recently something happened at the shelter where I was hosting the Art of Change personal development program.

 I have witnessed it  many times over the years and it can be summed up in two words.

Compassion and Generosity.

We were getting ready to start, coffee cups filled, table ready with the art supplies and Mandala templates when a staff member came in with two large boxes.

“These have been donated. Take what you would like.”

Before our eyes a knitted rainbow appeared, scarves, gloves, knitted hats and teddy bears, lovingly stitched together by a group of women who care. The teddys are called trauma Teddy’s and are given as a comfort bear for children at the shelter who are coping with losing their home and the trauma of domestic violence.

The knitting volunteers care about their sisters and daughters and mothers in shelters and they care about their children.

I have seen this happen many times over the years.

Knitted blankets, baby clothes, donations of books, personal care products (thank you to the generosity of The Body Shop over many years) clothes and kitchen goods all make their way through the shelter doors..

There are the mobile creche volunteers who donate their time to women’s shelters so we can have child care during the groups and at Christmas time hampers, food vouchers and invitations to community Christmas parties.

Sometimes there will be tickets to a show donated to a shelter, cinema passes and  free gym membership because people who are in the community really want to make a difference and offering their resources is a way of saying:

 My heart feels for you, I want to contribute to  your recovery and quality of life  if I can.

At a women’s housing organisation their Christmas party event included a huge donation of electrical goods and household products from a company that put “action” to their vision of corporate contribution .

When I am invited to speak at forums that are often concerned with statistics and data and the current policies and funding issues,  I emphasise that in amongst those things  that define the every day business of a domestic violence shelter, there is also a profound demonstration that the media myth of our society as being uncaring and indifferent is simply not true. I have also met many men who contribute to the gardening, house maintenance, who offer their time as  Father Christmas and others who support their wives and partners who work in domestic violence shelters.

I was involved in a facebook conversation lately with a group of women who said they wanted to do something to assist women in shelters, they didn’t have much money, they march and write letters but they’d like to do something practical. I told them that one of the most inexpensive but much needed resources in women’s shelters are nappies and personal care products especially sanitary products . *Make sure to call the shelter first because storage space can be a problem for contributions that arrive in bulk.

Their response was immediate and generous.

These things make a huge difference in shelter settings as does  a packet of colouring pencils and  Mandalas for colouring  for women who are under enormous pressure and experiencing not only stress but a sense of confinement behind the locked gates of a safe house.

You may not know this about domestic violence shelters where, paradoxically women who have often been treated very poorly and are at great risk are recognised by others as deserving of love and care and nurturing and it is a very humbling thing to witness.

I just wanted to share this today because the image of that beautiful knitted rainbow  that spilt across the table and the smiles and joy of women who are sorting through so much chaos in the early days of leaving a violent relationship, was too sacred not to share.

 

The following poster is based on one of the Mandalas in The Big Girls Little Colouring Book . The medARTation colouring book for women book is available on my website. It has its origins in the art work I created for the Art of Change personal development groups in women’s shelters and in 2012, at the request of a small group of wonderful women, I created the book so that medARTation process ifs available for all women everywhere.

http://www.CarolOmer.com

This is the link to a previous blog post  #WhyIStayed

http://www.carolom.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/why-doesnt-she-just-leave-why-did-you-stay/

 

Women are our SiStars

Posted in Carol Omer, Community, Gratitude, Shelter, SiStars, Women | Leave a Comment »