Healing through creativity : a Sister who helps the victims of human trafficking via art therapy

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By Sr. Doreen Bradley SSMN

Reflecting on the work I do in offering therapeutic art sessions at Bakhita House, which provides a refuge to women escaping human trafficking, my thoughts have turned to the early days of our Congregation.

The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur were founded in Namur, Belgium in 1819. Prior to this, as a young man, our founder, Joseph Nicholas Minsart, had felt irresistibly drawn to the contemplative life as lived by the monks of St. Bernard. This call took him to the Abbey of Boneffe where he lived a strict monastic life. However, this was not to last due to the suppression of religious orders and the sale of their goods. The Abbey at Boneffe was pillaged and sold.

There came a time to rebuild:

In 1819 Fr. Minsart was wondering how to restore the Christian Spirit among working families, to help them escape from the appalling reality of having daughters forced to beg or to prostitute themselves. What could he do to ensure the “underprivileged youth could find bread for their souls as well as nourishment for their bodies?” (Taken from the Life of Nicholas Joseph Minsart written by a SSMN in 1995).

On the 11th November that year two young women joined Fr. Minsart in setting up a sewing workshop where the poor children and women came to learn and Fr. Minsart would regularly visit to catechise those present. 

Once again there came a time to rebuild…

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A change of location in 2014 opened doors for me to volunteer at Caritas Bakhita House which opened shortly afterwards. Volunteering at Bakhita House returned me to my first love, art and crafts. I meet the most amazing people there, our guests, the volunteers and the most compassionate and dedicated staff.

My contribution is in the field of therapeutic art. I very simply open creative doors and journey with our guests as they rediscover their inner beauty and discover dormant and hidden personal giftedness. Many of our guests say that the art helps them to forget the pain for a little while. It is such a joy to work with so many amazingly gifted women. 

These sessions remind me that it is a time to listen with my ears but most importantly, to listen with my HEART. This work is about personal relationships but also setting healthy boundaries…it is about listening and in a way sharing pain but not carrying it, it is about loving, but not enslaving… it is about bringing the guests to an inner and outer freedom and supporting their great hope for a realistic future. There has to be great emphasis on truth at all levels…false hope is destructive.

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It is important to say that volunteers are an integral part of the Bakhita House community. Putting the Bakhita experience into simple words, I would use the following: warmth, love, respect, dignity, support, hope, spiritual, challenge, all drawn into the true meaning of the word welcome. It is important to realise that joy and laughter are also evident in the midst of much pain.

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Volunteering is a two pronged fork, we never give without receiving and what we do give we receive many times over. Art comes from the heart and when your heart is hurting, perhaps broken, art becomes a challenge and a release. I am so proud of our guests for trying whatever I suggest we do in the art sessions, but the real happiness for me is when I see the joy and the pride of our guests when they produce a work of art they didn’t think they could accomplish.

But as in a chemistry lesson, it is the unseen results that will help the process of recovery.

 St Josephine Bakhita pray for us.

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