My name is Ariel Peña, I am an artist. I became a guerrilla combatant when I was a child. By the end of the war in 1992 - I had positively lost my own voice in the chaos of violence.
For years, I have been using Art as my Therapy. A tool to explore the complex emotions and trauma experienced for having been envolved in a war.
My partner, Tom Gibb, a former BBC Latin American correspondent, and now the coordinator of Picturing Health, a small UK non-profit filmmaking house dedicated to produce Educational Films about Health and PENTA - Paediatric European Network for the Treatment of AIDS, invited me in 2016 to spend a month doing art with a group of HIV positive teens in Malawi in order to find out why they had a hard time adhering to ARV’s. With this invitation curArte was born.
Tom writes and edits the films from the attic of our home in England. We live in the countryside. We collect wood to heat the house in winter. We share looking after our two kids. Max and Nico.
I wanted to share what I had learned through all the years of doing Art as Therapy and started searching for a neutral place do it. In 2016, finally I found it: the Mental Health Unit of the ever busy San Rafael Public Hospital.
I received an invitation to facilitate an Art workshop with a group of survivors of one of the biggest massacres recorded during the civil war. The Mozote Massacre.
I invited Mario Tevez to give me a hand doing Art at the Hospital in 2016. He accepted and we have been working together since then. Mario studied Art in El Salvador and Spain. He also grew up in El Salvador during the civil war. He has worked in collaboration with other artists, and exhibits his work in solo and collective exhibitions. He is a good listener and connects well with people from all walks of life.
The Mental Health Unit
The Unit was in dear need of redecorating. Before we started collaborating with the Psycologist’s in their Group Therapies, Mario and I engaged in improving the physical space of the Unit. We painted murals, installed air conditioners and brought plants. All of this was thanks to a fund left by my mother in law. Dr. Sally Gibb. See here what we did:
Trauma. Stories that should not be repeated.
13.000 people a year pass through the doors of the Mental Health Unit. Each person arrives adding heartbreaking stories.
Valeria is five years old. Her grandmother takes her to therapy every week. She and her grandmother witnessed how her mother and aunt were killed by a Gang member.
Therapy Groups for Kids
We collaborate with Psycologist Magali Parada. Four groups a week are organised to support children and their parents deal with issues ranging from trauma, learning needs and behavioural problems.
Group Therapy for Teens
Depression, self harm, Anxiety, Anger. Pressure at school or neighbourhood because of gangs, drug and alcohol abuse at home. Are some of the issues that persist in the life of the young people who come for support.
Support Groups for Adults
Art is one of the most healthy and non-invasive tools to build spaces of tranquility and inner wellbeing. Since December 2017 we have facilitated activities with art accompanying the Relaxation and Support Groups for Adults.
Group Therapy for Sexual Abuse
There is absolutely no Culture in the "Culture of Violence". Many in my country insist on using that term to describe the practice of rape in El Salvador.
Read more about the two groups we support:
By practicing Art, we invite patients to give themselves the opportunity to reconcile with themselves, and to begin inner dialogues in a non-critical way. We always focus on the present, and cultivate the intention to accept ourselves as we are.
A group of women comes to the Hospital every Friday. They are patients of the Mental Health Unit. Some are cancer patients, others suffer from anxiety or depression. Psycologist Maritza Anaya organises workshops where they can learn a skill.
Art for doctors
As part of the service, the Mental Health Unit offers Days for self-care to the Hospital personnel. A much needed service to reduce work stress and prevent burnout.
This is Imel Yazbeck. She lives between El Salvador and India. She has offered Yoga classes to children and young people with trauma. It has been a great gift to have her with us.
Read more about her work with patients
Tai-Chi is a structured practice that has shown to provide mental and physical health. In groups of older adults it helps a lot to work balance, becoming a preventive activity, thus reducing in the long term hospital expenses.
We started offering Tai Chi to patients in 2018. Modelled after our experience of work in Africa, the Experts Patients will eventually be passing on their knowledge to their Group Therapy meetings.
There is no Culture in violence.
Throughout the month of November 2018, the Hospital became a place for education against violence. Some of the drawings and paintings produced by patients during the course of their therapies in the 2018 were exhibited in the hospital’s corridors. We organized lectures, and offered art sessions to the public every Friday of the month.
I adapted the original art of the Syrian Artist Saint Hoax and use it as part of an installation which was placed in different places in the hospital.
CurArte at the Hospital San Rafael
We are working on a long term agreement to exchange knowledge (a kind of skills trade) between the Hospital, CurArte and other Salvadoran groups in order to keep cultivating a multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of Trauma.
Volunteering Work 2017-2018
81 Professionals. 4.015 Hours of work making an equivalent of $28.845.39 in donated working time.
In the Picture sewing: my mother, Evelia (93). She was the oldest volunteer last year.
Painting a Hospital Wing
Cecilia Cerón, is one of the Doctors at San Rafael Hospital. She is in charge of the Gynecology and Obstetrics service for young girls. She asked us to help her improve the hospital Wing. The idea is to freshen up, decorate and bring Art to the ward through the support of volunteer artists.
We have invited a group of artist friends, who are giving their time and work to make this a reality.
With us to paint the Ward: the Fabulous storyteller, writer and painter Licry Bicard. She has been offering Art Workshops for children and teens in therapy due to sexual abuse.
We met Francisco at a meeting organized by artist Giovanni Gil. He opened his heart, his friendship immediately.
Giovanni was the first Artist I met when I arrived in El Salvador in 2018. It happened through his wife Maria Joseph. One day Mario Tevez and I, we arrived at the Engraving workshop of Giovanni to tell him the adventures of these two artists in a Public Hospital and we find in the a magnificent host, an Open Sesame to enter the world of Volarte - Volunteers for Art , of which he is a part.
Mindfulness and Tai Chi
Our intention is to introduce the experience of Mindfulness to the patients. And continue the Tai Chi Training. We will be doing this through the collaboration of New Acropolis Foundation and the Institute of Philosophical Martial Arts, Bodhidharma.
Assisted Therapy with Animals
We are very happy to have Naara as a volunteer. She is an actress of Swiss origin, and a Therapist, member of the Swiss Association of Zoo Therapy. She has started accompanying us as a volunteer offering techniques of assisted therapies with animals - she runs a farm and her four legged friends (horses, donkeys, dogs) assists her with the First group of therapy for sexually abused boys and girls opened in January this year.