What does transformation look like? How can visitors to a place of injustice positively reflect on justice and restoration? What process do we all go through in finding hope and healing amidst life’s most difficult problems? These were some of the questions a team of Artists in Call considered in designing a reflective prayer garden in the red light district of Bangkok where trafficking and human exploitation persists. You can buy anything in Bangkok.
Literally, everything is for sale, and cheaply. The night markets glisten with florescent lights, neon signs, polished goods–aromas of red, green and yellow curry paste, lemon grass and turmeric, ginger and garlic fill the nostrels and whet the appetite. Food fenders line the streets selling fish, roasted meat and popular fried bananas.
Thailand has one of the strongest economies in Asia and exporting products is a major reason. Manufactured goods of clothing, electronics and even jewelry are a exported around the world. Tourism is also a major business as over 17 million visitors from China, Japan, the Arab world and the United States arrive to visit the beaches, trek the magnificent forests, and buy goods.
Five Second Year graduate students and two faculty in the MA in Urban Studies Program traveled to Bangkok, Thailand June 15-26, 2011 . In collaboration with Nighlight, and as part of BuildaBridge International’s Artist on Call they constructed a creative prayer garden on the sixth floor of NightLight’s recently purchased ministry center in the red light district. Julia Crawford, as part of her Leadership Internship with BuildaBridge this summer, coordinated the trip and project. Bethany Reiff, has remained with NightLight through August as part of her internship (practicum). She will be completing the project at NightLight once the group has returned to the US. As students in the second year course Culture and Community Contexts, this service learning course provides the opportunity to design and implement an arts-based service project cross-culturally.
- Julia Crawford (Arts in Transformation [AIT])
- Jamaine Smith-AIT
- Bethany Reiff-AIT
- Ginene Szczepanski-AIT
- Dominique Padgett (Community Development)
- Dr. Vivian Nix-Early (Teaches Arts in Healing, Arts in Education and Arts in Creativity and Human Development)
- Dr. J. Nathan Corbitt (Coordinator of the Concentration and teaches course Culture and Community Contexts)
Three agencies are collaborating in the project.
BuildaBridge International, is an educational alliance community partner with Eastern University for the Arts in Transformation Concentration. Founded in 1997 by Drs. Corbitt and Nix-Early, BuildaBridge is a non-profit 501(c)3 arts education and intervention organization that engages the transformative power of the arts to bring hope and healing to children, families, and communities in the tough places of the world. BuildaBridge motivates, enlists, trains, and connects those with artistic gifts with those in greatest need.
NightLight International-Bangkok-NightLight is an international organization committed to addressing the complex issues surrounding trafficking and prostitution by catalyzing individual and community transformation. NightLight’s vision is to offer intervention to sexually exploited women and children, to enable them to discover their dignity, and to provide a program of holistic transformation, empowering them to live and work in their community. NightLight’s mission is to build relationships and provide hope, intervention, rescue and assistance to women and children exploited in the sex industry by offering alternative employment, vocational opportunities, life-skills training and physical, emotional and spiritual development to women seeking freedom. NightLight builds support networks internationally to intervene and assist women, men and children whose lives are negatively impacted by the sex industry. Annie Dieselberg, NightLight’s Founder and CEO, is a missionary with International Ministries of American Baptist Churches
Cultural and Community Contexts for Art-Making is an intensive cross-cultural travel residency course that introduces the students to the meaning and function of artistic expressions within the communities of the host country or culture. Students gain first hand knowledge of the local cultural world-view, explore models of arts-based mission and service among the poor, and the relationship between culture, art and transformation. Specific attention is given to cross-cultural skills and the dynamic of culture in community development. Students have communicated online with each other and NightLight staff to design the reflective prayer garden involving a mural and garden stations. The themes are:
- Innocence – and a prompt to pray for protection over girls not yet involved (light blue).
- Trapped and desperation – and a prompt to pray for options (dark blue) (represented by pile of rocks, not in flower bed).
- Decision and new choice – and a prompt to pray for strength, courage, and resolve (green).
- Mourning and rebirth/ shedding and growth – and a prompt to pray for wholeness (white) (we thought of white lotus flowers, or any white flower).
- Hope and Healing – and a prompt to pray for sustained change and the transformation of all (yellow and red).
During the week, students completed the design, painted the mural and constructed stations for reflection. In preparation, students were able to research the needs of NightLight, receive suggestions from NightLight staff and participants; as well as, research local artistic expressions that will be incorporated in the design. Each evening, students held discussions and lectures on topics of arts relief and development, influences of culture on service to the poor, and the nature of non-profit work and transformation internationally. Orientation to Thai culture, religion and language were included.
Human trafficking, sexual exploitation and child labor are major scourges of social injustice in our world. Through guided participation in service learning projects with established and effective organizations combating these injustices, students are able to both contribute to solutions and learn effective methods in transforming our world.