-By Emilia Hall-

Project Kallpa is Pintar en Bolivia’s Women Empowerment project. Kallpa (meaning “strength” in Quechua) offers support to vulnerable women within the city of Cochabamba, using art therapy as a tool geared towards self-expression. The project does this in a number of ways; for example, our cookery workshop Siente Cochabamba is part of Kallpa, offering local women in perilous economic situations a fair income. However, a large part of the formation of Kallpa up until now has been introducing art therapy into centres around Cochabamba.

Whilst the benefit of the therapy continues to demonstrate its importance, it hasn’t always been so easy. Working with different centres has proven to be somewhat unreliable and unsteady. The art therapy side of Kallpa has, therefore, been put on pause for 2019; we have decided to focus our energy on things that the NGO is able to do the most effectively, and that means throwing ourselves into Project T’ikay, where we are proud to say a connection between ourselves and the children housed there continues to grow. We have come to understand the importance of consistency with patients, and until Pintar en Bolivia becomes more independent and self-sustainable, we have prioritised centres where we are creating the most lastingly positive impacts. And, of course, Kallpa will still very much be a presence in Pintar en Bolivia, in the form of women empowerment projects, Siente Cochabamba, and more.

Kallpa has definitely given us a lot to reflect over, and has helped us come into 2019 with a fresh vision. We’ve learnt through Project T’ikay the damaging effects of not being able to talk about mental health issues; and we’ve learnt through Project Kallpa the extreme level of gender prejudice and violence that permeates Bolivian society. According to the Breeze of Hope foundation (a charity dedicated to helping victims of gender violence) 88% of Bolivian women stated, in 2003 and 2004, that they had suffered from some kind of violence…Furthermore, a staggering 34% of girls in Bolivia have been sexually abused before age 18.

The art therapy part of Kallpa, for those that don’t know, worked in two different centres in Cochabamba. To find out more, I asked Marieke, our art therapy intern from Holland, a few questions. To start with, how does Project Kallpa work?

“Project Kallpa is essentially Women empowerment project, with a few different parts,” explained Marieke. “I worked in the art therapy part of the project, which offers therapy to vulnerable young women and girls. I worked alongside another art therapist with adolescent girls in CUBE (Centro una Brisa de Esperanza), a centre belonging to an American organization called A Breeze of Hope”.

What is CUBE like?

“It’s mainly a safe space – the girls don’t live there, but they can come and relax, do homework, have therapy, talk, things like that. Some girls have court cases, so there are people to help them with that, which is hugely beneficial, especially in a country like Bolivia. The centre has a nice atmosphere. Every day they start all together with tea, it’s very communal! They also offer courses…like they did a computer course, and once a month there is a special event, a whole day programme about a subject, for example drugs and alchohol, sexual health, etc. The girls feel really safe there – they seem to feel at home”.

Marieke and her colleague ran group sessions twice a week. As the girls didn’t always come that regularly and attendance could be sporadic (from 23 girls the group usually consisted of about 6) they worked in individual targets within the group. The women were all victims of sexual abuse; the youngest is 11, while the oldest is now 24. The severity of the abuse varied, some of the girls being incredibly traumatised.

“I see that the girls have issues talking about their emotions and feelings, but the work spoke for itself – I can see how they connect through the art. They didn’t know it, but we see it. And some find it harder than others, especially ones that have severe traumas.”

Marieke considers the slight lack of organisation and attendance, that is a regular feature here in Bolivia, to be a drawback at times. “In the beginning I found it very challenging for myself to accept that not all the girls come every week…some girls only came once. But now I’m ok with that and accepted that some do not want the therapy. It’s also sometimes challenging to see the successes because it’s so small, especially if some of the girls do not attend the session that regularly. But they’ve all, in their own way, made huge progress – I think it’s special that they have accepted me as a second therapist. I sometimes struggled with my Spanish and they had a lot of patience with me, there was definitely a level of mutual respect.”

CUBE isn’t the only part of Project Kallpa. Ghilead, another local centre, houses girls who are unable to live at home, and are going through a variety of very serious personal problems. The centre struggles with a high amount of psychological problems, caused by past traumas as well as current situations. Initially, Marieke and one of our volunteers Sarah ran a weekly session together; however, some challenges came up that needed to be overcome.

“I had to step down from my post there eventually,” explains Marieke. “The centre is a very troubled place, there’s lots of bullying and lack of respect that goes on between the girls. Because my Spanish is fairly low-level, I struggled to maintain the girls and interact with them in a way that made them understand the importance of mutual respect.”

Sarah with Ghilead

The two volunteers decided that Sarah, who is fluent in Spanish, would continue the sessions alone. While Marieke acted as a guide and gave advice when needed, Sarah worked on self-esteem and respect with the girls. Though the centre continued to be very challenging and somewhat flawed, the art therapy and creative activities have offered an insight into the group behaviour, Sarah and the girls alike. We continue to see a society where people are not offered the help they desperately need; often mental health issues are not diagnosed or taken seriously, and this is somewhere art therapy finds a space. By not having to vocalised their feelings, the girls could communicate visually, whilst we can also analyse how the girls react to different tasks and challenges.

Project Kallpa has given us an insight into the complexities of attitudes towards gender violence in Bolivia. “Places like CUBE are so importance for the girls. It allows them a space where they are safe and accepted; we need more places like this in Cochabamba. It has been a challenged trying to offer art therapy in such centres, as often it is not taken so seriously by the people working there. However, we can see the positive change it makes in our patients, and Project Kallpa has definitely given us invaluable experience to apply to our efforts in the future.”

Indeed, Project Kallpa has given us an opportunity to help alongside definite learning curve. The problems Bolivia faces regarding gender violence is deeply embedded, and even internalised, as we have seen with the girls in Gilead. However, it has afforded us an insight into how we can help more effectively, and the importance of providing a space where the girls feel, above all, safe.

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