~ The Art Of Change ~ with Carol Omer ~

Art and Creativity as Mediums for Empowerment , Connection and Change…

Archive for the ‘Shelter’ Category

On Her Shoulders…

Posted by carolom on June 12, 2018

*A fictional account of the kind of  real life stories behind the walls of a domestic violence shelter.

Bridget heard the crunch of stones on the pathway two seconds before the knock on the door. Two seconds that gave her time to turn off the television, position herself behind the curtain and pretend she wasn’t home.  Her visitor knew she was in there of course and after her first lyrical tap on the screen was ignored she called out “Hey Bridget, you may have forgotten, just want to remind you, it’s group day today. There’s childcare on site and we are having morning tea. You are very welcome to join us”.

Bridget looked over at her sleeping baby, hoped he wouldn’t wake up and then returned her attention to the slight gap in the curtain. She hadn’t left her unit since arriving at the shelter four days ago, refusing to respond to the weekend staff and their invitation to join the group for Saturday brunch and Sunday lunch in the meeting house.
Bec, the newest team member expressed her concern during the handover with the Monday shift,  “I think we might need to use our key to check on Bridget, she hasn’t made contact all weekend and she might have self harmed or overdosed in there.” Tricia, the site manager, smiled and responded with, “It’s fine Bec, we know Bridget’s okay her lights are on in the evening and staff saw her taking rubbish out to the bin on the weekend.”

The familiar frustration that came with the feeling that she was not being heard washed over Bec, her chest tightened, her heart started beating faster and to her great annoyance she could feel her cheeks begin to go red. Tricia’s answer did little to appease Bec’s growing concern for Bridget. “Okay” she responded, frustration tightening her voice, “but can we document it in her file that I have expressed a concern please?”

This was a familiar scenario for Tricia, managing passionate social workers, fresh out of university, who insisted on ensuring that every detail is documented.  They worked alongside of seasoned staff that didn’t share the same reverence for reams of policies, risk management forms and paperwork that, according to Vicky, “have wrapped our little village in red tape and rules”.

“Of course Bec, your concern is noted.”  

“Thanks Tricia”.  Bec’s response was terse and she had to make a conscious effort not to bang the door as she left the shelter.


Behind the closed curtains and locked doors of her unit, Bridget felt safer than she had felt in a very long time. Her beautiful son was sleeping
soundly, he would wake up for his warm milk and cuddles, rest contentedly in her arms and usually fall asleep again shortly after. Bridget envisaged she would not need to leave the unit for at least a week, thanks to the thoughtfulness of charities that provided generous food vouchers for women at the shelter and the efficiency of the staff that supplied her with sheets, towels, kitchenware and spicy smelling soap and shampoo (leftover from the Christmas donations),

At Bridget’s’ induction Vicky mentioned there were domestic violence support groups on site at the shelter and she was welcome to attend but Bridget wasn’t ready to mix with the women from the other units. “The last thing I need is to be with women whose life is as crappy as mine.” was her silent response.

Nathan woke for his mid morning feed and after an hour of delighting in each another’s company, fell asleep again. “We are both so tired aren’t we baby” she cooed as he began to doze against her chest. Bridget returned to her computer, grateful for the wifi access, (provided at no cost to the shelter by the local service club) and although the staff wouldn’t have guessed, she was also immensely grateful for thepeaceful quiet sanctuary behind the high fences and security cameras. She felt very safe and was currently in the middle of a project that consumed most of her waking hours.

From the staff office Tricia heard Bec’s car reverse out of the driveway and down the street, the hole in the muffler was getting larger and her arrival and departure at the shelter becoming increasingly noisy. She smiled to herself, opened Bridget’s file, documented Bec’s concern and her response, sent a copy to Bec and exited the computer. In the 23 years she had been working in women’s shelters, Tricia had come to understand that the staff members who are the most anxious for the women at the shelter were sometimes the ones who needed the closest supervision.

Her ruminations were interrupted by the arrival of Margaret, returning from dropping two children at school and their mother to a hospital appointment. It had been a busy start to the working week and Margaret was ready for a cup of coffee and two of the chocolate biscuits that were in endless supply in the staff pantry.

She didn’t ask Tricia if she wanted a coffee, after working together for fifteen years, morning tea was a well-established ritual. Bec’s response to the offer to join them  was usually “thanks for the offer but I’m too busy to stop for a break”. It amused the women, they knew it was Bec’s way of letting them know she didn’t really approve of sitting and chatting when there were so many emergencies that needed her attention.
They sat down at the round kitchen table and exchanged a smile. “So how was Bec today?” Margaret asked.  “She was annoyed that I wouldn’t give permission to use our key to enter Bridget’s unit. She thinks Bridget is at risk and we need to check on her”.

Margaret smiled slightly, the familiarity of this scenario holding no surprises for her.

“Didn’t the weekend staff see Bridget putting her rubbish out and haven’t her lights been on every night?

Tricia nodded as she dunked her choc mint biscuit into the coffee, leaving it there just long enough for the edges to begin to melt into the hot liquid. “Yes and yes. Bridget needs rest, you’ve read her file, she’s exhausted! She was invited to the group this morning but she pretended she wasn’t home. She needs time”. Tricia smiled as she popped the last of the sweet, melted chocolate into her mouth. “Bridget  is going to be fine. Bec is the one  I am concerned about”.

In the sanctuary of her unit, surrounded by the small handful of possessions she had brought with her, Bridget immersed herself in the project that had been inspired by one of the brochures she received during her induction. A small, purple and green pamphlet titled Digital Safety for Women sat amongst the service agreement forms, payment benefit forms and information folder with numbers for local doctors, schools and legal aid (over the weekend she had noted there were no take away pizza numbers but then cancelled her interest because she realised she would have to speak to a staff member about the delivery anyway).

Last Thursday morning, when the police had arrived to escort her safely from the damaged house, she had been able to collect some of her possessions that weren’t broken. Her laptop had miraculously survived the attacks, even though he checked it randomly and frequently and had threatened to remove it from her along with her phone. For some reason it had never been a target during his rages. She assumed it was because it had been a gift from his parents for her 21st birthday and carried a higher status than the vast array of personal belongings that he had destroyed, pawned or hidden from her.

Bridget was following the instructions in the pamphlet to a tee. She had a small list that she would ask the staff to help her with once she emerged from her unit but there were some things she could do on her own and she was well into the process of doing them. With a red biro (found in the pencil case that accompanied the gold colored note book that was amongst her induction package) she turned to her list. Block his number. Tick . Delete all photos of him from my phone. Tick.  Delete nasty messages but keep a record for the police on memory stick. Tick. Suspend all of my social media accounts. Tick. Change all passwords for all of my accounts. Tick. Ask staff for a safety referral to audit my phone, computer and car for tracking devices. Pending. Change my mobile number and upgrade. Pending.


She smiled with satisfaction, stood and stretched her a
rms above her head and brought them slowly to her sides as an unfamiliar calmness began to envelope her. For a moment the big red ticks on the page in front of her looked like darting arrows. “Serena would love that” she said out loud, “It looks like Artemis shot her bow and arrow all over my page”. She laughed for the first time in weeks, the memory of heryoga teacher’s quirky ways making  her feel reconnected to the life she had before she met the man who turned her world upside down.

Bridget could feel a shift in the air. She looked over at Nathan who had awoken from his brief nap and was laying contentedly in his cot, looking at her. He kicked his legs as she leant over to pick him up, filling him with delight to hear his name and see her smiling.

“It’s dark in here isn’t it baby, let’s open these curtains.” A quick cuddle, two kisses on his forehead and she placed her precious little boy into the bouncer on the floor. “Watch this” she said pulling on the curtain chord theatrically and then sliding the netting across the rod. Bright light flooded the room and they both blinked rapidly, as a powerful stream of sunshine illuminated the arm of the grey vinyl couch.  

“Look where we are baby, there’s trees everywhere”. Nathan waved his arms excitedly, he didn’t understand what his mama was saying but he could see her beaming at him like he had never seen before.

Tricia & Margaret were standing side by side  under the kitchen window when they saw the curtain in unit seven open. They looked at one another and smiled. “Bridget?”

“Yes” Tricia answered, “I’ll head up there and see if she needs a hand”.

Bridget bent down to the bouncer and scooped Nathan in her arms, nestling into his neck and laughing. “We’re free baby and we are going to be okay. I Promise”. For a moment Nathan was completely silent as he felt his mothers soft, rhythmic breath across his hair. He pulled his head back to look at her and gurgled with joy, luxuriating in the happiness of his mothers gaze.

“Hang on, there’s something I’ve forgotten for my list” and she picked up the red biro and wrote with a flourish, ending the sentence with Pending!!

She was about to prepare Nathans bath when she heard the sharp knock on the security screen. “Hold on” she called out, unlocking the two security bolts and releasing the catch on the outside door.

Tricia felt the familiar wave of admiration and concern rise in her chest as she looked directly into Bridget’s eyes. “Hi Bridget and hello Nathan, I’ve come to see if there’s anything you need a hand with?”

Bridget adjusted Nathan’s position on her hip and opened the door wider. “Yes, thanks, come in. I have a list”. She looked slightly embarrassed as she continued,  “And I’m wondering if you know of a good tattooist near here. Have a look at my drawing. I’m going to get her tattooed on my shoulders.”

Tricia smiled and touched Bridget lightly on the arm, “I do actually, I don’t have tattoo’s myself but I’ve seen some pretty amazing designs over the years.  The woman who stayed in this unit before you designed a butterfly tattoo as well. Isn’t that a coincidence? She called it her transformation woman”.

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Posted in Domestic Violence, Shelter, Transformation, Uncategorized, Women | Leave a Comment »

Domestic Violence Shelter Walls as a Gallery of Possibility not pain.

Posted by carolom on February 27, 2018

Domestic Violence Shelter Walls as a Gallery of Possibility not Pain.

Carol Omer ~ Certified Life Coach / Author

I have worked in Domestic Violence shelters in direct service delivery and on management boards for almost 30 years. One evening in the early days a resident and I were sitting in the group room of the shelter.

The walls were full of the kind of posters often found in d.v and homeless settings. Say no to domestic violence posters and statements that challenge abuse and injustice were the words on the posters lining the walls. The word violence  was written everywhere, even on the refrigerator in the kitchen.
There were also  hepatitis pamphlets, images that represented ill health, struggle and poverty and they were there because they were considered to be educational and necessary for the women, many who are considered to be “at risk”
Staff believed residents and outreach clients should be able to see the information in front of them at all times.

Pamphlets and fact sheets that had the words  trauma and stress, abuse and violence written on them in bright letters were on the wall by the door where women and children came and went throughout the day.

The woman I was sitting with looked around the room and said:

My life feels completely messed up and I look around and see these images and words  and it just makes it all feel so much worse.

It’s like the violence is everywhere. I’ve never been to a place like this before. Seeing that word violence over and over and over  freaks me out,

I saw the setting from her view point for the first time and took her observation to our staff meeting.

After several  discussions over several staff meetings we came to realise that it is not only the women who live at the shelter but the women who work there who are exposed to pain and trauma based imagery and  the words violent  and violence and deficit oriented messages on a daily basis.

Was our shelter warm and welcoming, colourful and bright or was it sterile, institutional and covered in words and messages that highlighted trauma, pain and the struggle?

Had we considered creating positive  visual images (that did not rely on English literacy) to  let women of all cultural backgrounds know that this was her place to unwind, relax and reflect or did our setting look like a government department with warning posters and issue-oriented material on the walls? No we hadn’t and yes it did.

Sistars2

As a staff would we want to live in this environment at the worst period of our own lives? No we wouldn’t.

Would we feel comfortable and at home there considering we would be living amongst and sharing space with strangers?

We decided that no, we wouldn’t be warm and comfortable in our group room or the kitchen area as they were covered in issue related words and imagery and none of us had the word violence or abuse in the communal spaces where we met with friends and family in our homes to share food and stories together.

We noticed we had a sexual abuse hot line magnet on the fridge which we later found out was traumatic for some women to read every time they opened the door to get milk. A “Say no to violence”  magnet was along side of it.
The words “violence” seemed to be everywhere, on pamphlets, on hand outs, on the white boards.

Where were the word’s for Peace? They weren’t there!

Over the next few weeks we took down every poster that had the word violence on it and all of the words and images that presented how life should not to be and replaced them with inspirational images and uplifting posters.

I created a World Peace Begins at Home poster which had exactly the same message as say no to violence but with a very different emotional and visual impact.

We were, for the first time considering what messages the walls and the furniture and notice boards were sending to the women who came to our shelter.

The front entrance area no longer had a list of house rules, they went into the information pack in the drawer. We redeveloped the space with the words A Peaceful Welcome inside of a glass painted Mandala  on the front window.
Our counseling areas were transformed into peaceful, inviting spaces. We consciously created an evocative, tranquil setting in what was once an issue oriented, high profile violence focused shelter.

We also had to acknowledge we had created a very Euro-centric space that had very little cultural diversity or language representation so w e renamed each of the units “Peace” in seven different languages to demonstrate a commitment to muli-culturalism rather than offer token gestures that made space available for diversity but only within a European context. We had the words  placed on plaques that were visual and educational, with the country of origin along with the word for Peace.

We approached an Elder from the Aboriginal Community and received permission to name our meeting space Inbandi  the word meaning to gather.

The Mandala portal at  the entrance point to the Shelter was now a warm and welcoming one rather than a rules and issue based message space. It was an image that spoke to all women from all cultural backgrounds and didn’t require English literacy to transmit the intention.

What we learnt from that pivotal situation is that placing violence related images and literature and issue based words in front of people who are assessed as in need of education and support is  often just adding to the existing problem of a negatively saturated experience rather than acting as a vehicle for change. It was a turning point moment for our team and was the catalyst for a huge cultural shift.

Staff who work in domestic violence settings do not need to be seeing the deficit based words every day of their working lives either. Neuroscience research shows that we are all impacted by the sights we see and the words and sounds we hear daily.

Confronting images and statistics and abuse phone lines often don’t have the impact as intended, they can unintentionally add to an existing landscape that affirms the negative and disregards the positive /aspirational content when it comes to many public awareness campaigns.

We relocated issue based information into brightly coloured folders so that it was accessible but not visually repeating the negative, stressful wording every time someone walked past the notice board. The notice board became a place where women’s art and affirmations and culturally specific images were displayed.

The subliminal impact of the environment was one we had not previously considered but we were now becoming very attuned to the setting and culture we were consciously creating.

Over the next few years our once issue-saturated shelter transformed into a place that was inspirational, evocative, creative and highly educational. Our new in-house culture was grounded in the assumption that people who want to make changes don’t need to see the language of violence and trauma before her eyes and as staff we also chose not to repeatedly see words that evoke a sense of trauma and misfortune, instead we focused on aspirations and possibility.

As time went by I saw tired and over worked government workers melt down into the colourful, warm couches in our group room, look at the walls and the plants and say: It feels really peaceful in here. That’s so unusual for a shelter.

Women who were highly agitated and still fully immersed in the crisis that lead them to the shelter would relax and slow down within the group room which was enriched by having the opportunity to colour some of the art work for themselves and take the positive images and messages back to their unit to create their own affirmation and inspirational gallery. We had meditative music and culturally diverse play lists to add to the ambience of the room.

Our group room became a community space. It was no longer a setting that was driven and created by staff intentions but by what the women wanted to create and share.

This single step revolutionised the sense of community and connection at the shelter because we encouraged the women to create the space and atmosphere by contributing to the environment rather than simply sitting in the one we had created for them.

If the women who work in domestic violence shelters and the management are not open to creativity and creating a new culture of positive imagery and a welcoming meeting space, residents will not feel comfortable to explore their own creativity and sense of place in the shelter either. The service will feel like an institution rather than a Women’s place of healing and possibility.

Creativity and visual imagery was at the core of these sweeping changes and the staff and management had to be open to creating a new culture that can be messy and uncertain during the transition phase. It was a challenge for some of the team to change some of our core practices and values but eventually we also allowed ourselves to engage with creativity in the workplace during staff meetings and staff training events at a much higher level than ever before and this had a profound impact on our work – life balance practices.

I encourage all of us who work in women’s shelters, prisons and community health and settings to take a look at the walls and notice boards ask the questions:

*Are the words I am reading and the images I am seeing day after day   creating an inspirational  uplifting environment or are the walls saturated in pain, issues and trauma based messages that affirm the negative to try and create the positive?

*Could I place the information about pain and struggle and injustice and trauma based counseling into colourful, engaging folders and make space for an inspirational, uplifting invitation to change and empower community and connection instead?

*Look around at your shelter / community house  /office and ask yourself “Is this a place that is both professional and inviting or have we fallen into the government department trap of creating impersonal spaces that do not reflect the creativity, courage and unique cultural experiences of the women who come to live here for awhile?

I offer the World Peace Begins at Home b/w template  freely for workers in shelters and community settings and prisons who are interested in beginning the process of creating uplifting art and imagery in communal areas and would like to offer the women in residence the chance to create with their hands and tell stories and share information using creativity.

It was the first of the inspirational templates I created after the resident of our shelter highlighted the uninviting, clinical space that we had inadvertently created for her.

World Peace b:w

Peace

Posted in Creativity, Domestic Violence, Peace, Personal Development, Shelter, Sisterhood, Staff Training, Transformation, Women | 2 Comments »

The Women’s Village

Posted by carolom on December 6, 2017

Domestic Violence Shelters:

In the following conversation I discuss the role of the Women’s Village and why Domestic Violence Shelters are more than just a place of temporary refuge for women and children in crisis.

Here is the link:

 The Women’s Village is so much more than a Shelter

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Posted in Domestic Violence, Shelter, Uncategorized, Village, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , | 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 »