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Operation Santa Claus

Outreach programme brings expressive arts therapy to Hong Kong secondary schools

Therapists and social workers help participants write, paint, sing and act to share their emotions and deal with stress

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 2:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 8:55pm

Therapy comes in many forms. The experience can be colourful, poetic and even theatrical.

An expressive arts therapy programme featuring a diverse range of creative projects, including painting workshops, writing classes, music and drama performances, has been implemented at dozens of local secondary schools by a charitable organisation to train youngsters to use art as a tool for expression and communication.

Through this “Art to Heart” school outreach programme, the registered expressive arts therapists and social workers who lead the activities seek to help at-risk adolescents develop emotional competence and achieve self-healing.

The pilot scheme is operated by the Changing Young Lives Foundation. From 2015 to 2016, the programme served a total of 126 secondary school pupils from different racial, learning and family backgrounds.

Art therapy project helps lift spirits in Hong Kong

The foundation will continue with the arts therapy programme with funds from Operation Santa Claus, the annual fundraising campaign jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK.

Caribbean Chan Miu-yu, executive director of the foundation, said the workshop sessions were held at school because pupils were familiar with the campus environment and felt safe there.

“They are more willing to express their emotions in the classroom. Expressive arts therapy will prove most effective in these conditions,” she said.

The foundation’s therapists help schools that have signed up for the programme to design arts workshops and review the pupils’ performances with teachers and social workers.

“Our therapists will first assess the participants’ emotional status and find out if the students have got any special talent. We will enrol them for projects that fit their situations,” Chan said.

The team of experts would take into consideration the participants’ profiles and personal backgrounds, provided by their schools, and personalise the workshops for them, she continued.

Hong Kong centre draws on the arts to help people with emotional issues

“The painting and writing programmes are more suitable for introverted students, as such projects can help them uncover their hidden emotions, whereas more outgoing students may dance or study drama.”

The painting and writing programmes are more suitable for introverted students, as such projects can help them uncover their hidden emotions, whereas more outgoing students may dance or study drama.
Caribbean Chan, Changing Young Lives Foundation executive director

Students would learn more about themselves during the process, she added.

Citing various studies, Chan said expressive arts could help troubled students reduce stress.

“They will learn to control their emotions,” she said.

Apart from those who are more at risk emotionally, other students may also join the programme as an extracurricular activity.

The charity has organised workshops for 15 secondary schools over the past two school years. The scheme has been extended to five more institutions in its third year.

“The demand for our service is huge. We hope to further expand our programme to benefit more schools and students in the future,” Chan said.

The Changing Young Lives Foundation serves underprivileged children and young people in Hong Kong and on the mainland by providing free educational and developmental programmes for them to unlock their potential. Its operations are supported by donations.