Hope and Healing Through Art

Singapore-based non-profit organisation Artsolute works with organisations such as the Abucay Bunkhouse United Youth Organisation in the Philippines to uplift disadvantaged communities through art.




hen theatre producer Terence Tan noticed the same people turning up to watch his shows, he realised he needed to introduce art to a wider audience.

He says: “I wanted to bring art to people who can’t come to watch my shows. Culture and community should belong as one single entity.”

So he started non-profit organisation Artsolute in 2011, involving young people in community development, cultural exchange and psychosocial health projects. In this way, he hopes to raise a caring and active society through the arts.

In May 2014, Artsolute visited Tacloban, which was hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. As most aid groups focused on providing medical aid and sanitation solutions but not programmes to give emotional support to the victims, Tan wanted to use art to help local children and youth affected by the disaster. So he introduced one of Artsolute’s community arts programmes, Puppets and Passages, as a form of post-trauma support therapy.

“Using plastic bags, leaves, rags, wooden sticks and newspapers, we showed the children how it was possible to create something with minimal resources,” says Tan. The team also taught the kids how to manipulate the puppets and write scripts for performances.

At one of these workshops, Tan met teenager Vanessa Robellos, then 14, and her friends from Abucay Bunkhouse, a shelter run by a nongovernmental organisation for victims of the deadly typhoon. The youth are all part of the Abucay Bunkhouse United Youth Organisation (Abuyo), which was started by Robellos. It has the aim of rebuilding the community and helping children overcome the trauma of the super typhoon through activities such as singing and games.

Tan’s team noticed that the Abuyo youth seemed to be in need of help more than others. He says: “They seemed reticent and distanced from the others. They also looked younger and took longer to arrive at the workshops. Midway through the workshops, they stopped attending, so we decided to visit them and find out why.”

Through the visit, the team learnt about the challenging living conditions at Abucay Bunkhouse, which houses more than 500 residents. Tan says that each family occupied a space measuring 2m by 4m, which was built from plywood, and shared facilities for activities such as cooking and washing, as well as communal toilets.

He was impressed by the Abuyo youth’s strong sense of purpose and their determination to making a difference to those around them despite their difficult circumstances and limited resources. He says: “When we visited the community, we saw Vanessa and her friends singing songs and playing music to lift the spirits of the villagers.”

“We learnt and gained a lot of knowledge from [the Artsolute team], not only on puppetry but on leadership skills too. They inspired us and moulded each member of our organisation into a better person. We are very thankful that we have met a group of people who are willing to help us through our journey.”

Vanessa Robellos from Abucay Bunkhouse United Youth Organisation

Artsolute returned to conduct puppetry workshops for the young people in the community. Says Robellos: “We gained a lot of happiness and knowledge on puppet-making from the workshop. The puppets became the instrument that we used to move forward after the typhoon. It gave us new hope to rebuild our lives.”

After the visit, Artsolute kept in touch with the Abuyo youth and mentored the group to help it expand its reach. From 2014 to 2015, Artsolute returned every six months to Tacloban to work with Abuyo to bring their Puppets and Passages programme to other communities in the Philippines. Abuyo now runs workshops and outreach activities such as puppet-making and carolling to help other youth deal with post-disaster trauma.

Their story, which was featured as a video on Our Better World (OBW), Singapore International Foundation’s digital storytelling platform, has received more than 115,000 views online. The OBW spotlight has led to greater attention and support for their cause.

As for future plans, Tan hopes to connect with more partners. “We want to use art as a means to solve problems and promote communications between people, thereby encouraging volunteerism and improving personal well-being,” he says.

Visit www.ourbetterworld.org/en/story/devastated-not-destroyed to find out more about Artsolute’s work with the Abuyo youth.



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