044Almost every evening it rained while we were in Chennai; sometimes it stormed with powerful lightning, thunder and pouring rain and other times it was a steady drizzle. On the last night, Rachel and I worried about having our closing ritual on the roof; looking east, the sky was dark gray and forbidding and looking west, the sun was shining as it was starting to set. We decided to take a chance and hoped the weather was moving out to sea, away from us. We all took a chance in coming to India. You never know exactly what to expect when you travel, and as prepared as you may be, anything can happen to throw the best made plans into chaos. For this trip, the chaos came emotionally, as developing self-awareness is a highly emotional process. Each student took a chance when signing up to work in a hospital, school, alcohol treatment center or women’s shelter. Fast connections were made with the people we met and worked with, and then those connections ended as the two weeks were suddenly over. Living in the same space, everyone got to know each other a little better, appreciate differences and figure out how to navigate challenging topics such as privilege, historical trauma and economic disparity. Students took chances every discussion period when talking about issues that made them uncomfortable. One does not become a culturally competent therapist (or person) over night; it is a constant learning process that takes practice over years. We must start somewhere, and the last three weeks was a chance for a powerful jump-start in that process…

By Lisa Raye Garlock


Goodbye India, Goodbye

We have spent the past two days creating and packing up our memories of India. Tuesday three henna artists came to the Footprint B&B to apply their work on our limbs. Henna drawing, which in India is traditionally used in weddings, can be applied to either hands and arms, feet and legs. Application to the upper extremities was the most popular. The dye, derived from the henna plant, can last for as many as three weeks, so all of us will be walking through the airports suitably tattooed with henna.


Many of us took some time Wednesday to roam the streets to get one last infusion of Indian culture, which is always energizing and exhausting. At dusk we moved to Footprint’s rooftop for our finally ritual, a collective Rangoli drawing. Rangoli, an Indian folk art, seemed particularly appropriate. It is used for many festive occasions and it is said to bring good luck. We hope to spread the good fortune around, leaving some for each girl and boy, each man and woman we encountered during our work as art therapists here. And we hope to take a little with us for our journey back to the United States. As for the night being a festive occasion, we were all joyful to be going home. But we were also a little sad to be leaving India. Standing next the completed rangoli, we spoke of what we were leaving in India and what we were taking with us. In general, we wished to leave the instrument of art so that those we helped during our weeks here could be strengthened for the struggles that lay ahead. And we took with us a deeper appreciation of the world and its diversity of peoples. Goodbye India, goodbye.


Coexisting Emotions

Rare are the moments when one experiences absolute beauty and horror simultaneously. I have to say that for me, this is India. 

When we first arrived in Chennai and set forth exploring the city and adjusting to our new internship sites, our initial observations triggered much discussion and discomfort during class time about the drastic extremes so apparent in the Indian culture. Many of us wondered how such disparity and privilege can coexist in such a close proximity? As each day passes and we are nearing the end of our journey here, this divide continues to become more and more of a harsh reality.

Yesterday our journey led us from our lovely ocean front Ideal Beach Resort to three historic sites in Mamallapuram. Led by our very knowledgeable tour guide we set forth on our excursion to ancient temples, marvelous stone carvings and historical archaeological wonders. All the while through this rich immersion of beautiful and rich culture, we were incessantly reminded by persistent merchants and beggars of the reality of this separation. After our day was complete, many of us found it difficult and even contrite returning back to our cushy beach front resort after passing by women and children begging on the streets. 

As I sit in my room looking back on the accounts of the day I reminisce on an evening shared with my two classmates on the oceanfront. In awe of the magnificently beautiful yet frighteningly powerful ocean currents, I can’t help but wonder how such beauty and horror can exist side-by-side. 

~Skyler Harris


At the beach

We have arrived at Ideal Beach Resort in Mahabalipuram, where we were received with jasmine garlands and a refreshing grape drink. We ended the long day relaxing, making art at the beach.

As I sit looking at the sea, I remember… the first place that we visited today, the Kalakshetra craft education and research center, considered the holy place of the arts. As soon as we got there, a professor of dance at this school invited us to watch a spontaneous performance of their traditional South Indian dance (Bharathanatyam) from four very talented students. Then, we had the priceless opportunity to walk around the beautiful and peaceful campus that was surrounded by flowers and trees- like lotus flowers, the tree of life, the peepol tree and the banyan tree, where the students make their prayers.  At the school, we saw music, painting, ceramic classes and dance studios that had students who came from far away to attend. I was particularly impressed by the terracotta sculptures of the gods that were twice my size and were donated by people from a village.  Archana, a dance student from Florida, was kind enough to show us around and tell us about the traditions of the school. She explained that their theater presentations get packed with people and the religious stories that are presented are so convincing that the audience would start praying.

As I sit looking at the sea, I remember… that yesterday we all had our last day at our internship sites.  We were dealing with terminating treatment with the people with whom creating attachments was inevitable.  I had to terminate with the Banyan Tree site, where we heard traditional classical music and saw a dance interpretation from Annapoorni Raja who is offering dance therapy there.  We were able to work together to sew the individual pieces of fabric collages, which were very successful as a culturally fit art therapy directive.  I feel very proud of the work that we, and the rest of my classmates, did at the internships and I know that we were all able to help and greatly impact people.

 As I sit looking at the sea, I remember… that yesterday morning Sarah, Valerie and I had the benefit of visiting a wonderful family from Chennai, at their house, where they served us coffee and breakfast (egg dosah and coriander chutney). Overwhelmed with so much hospitality, we tried to be as respectful as possible, eating on the floor and only with our right hand. We met friends from the neighborhood with whom we laughed, regardless of the language limitations and who helped us learn how to put our saris on. At the end, we had to go, with our hearts full of appreciation for what had happened but also sadness for such a quick departure.  

At the end of the day we had to say goodbye to our driver, who was not only our transportation but a Tamil teacher and an expert in answering all of our countless questions. It would all be so different without him.

So much love, culture and art: India, I will always remember…

~Anais Lugo-AxtmannImageImageImage

Internship Termination

Today was a relaxing, wonderful, and sad day. Skyler, Natalie, Nina, and myself ended our internship at Olcott Memorial High School. Our professors presented the school with a certificate of appreciation during their morning assembly. The faculty and students were very appreciative of all the work my fellow interns and I have done during our stay in Chennai. After the assembly, the remainder of our day consisted of saying goodbye to the children and the director.

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While reflecting on the past two weeks I was delighted by the outcome. Doing art therapy with the amount of children we had proved to be very challenging at times. We completed a number of different therapeutic art directives with the big accomplishment being the mural created. The past two weeks have flown by fast but I feel confident in the work we have done and all of the lives we touched. The children definitely made my days a little brighter and I hope we have done the same for them.

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Long After You’re Gone

What is in a legacy? Why is it that, when time is short on our hands, the importance of leaving something behind becomes just that… important. The concept of a legacy has two meanings for me when I think about my time in India. Both of these meanings have to do with my internship site. I am an art therapy intern at the Cancer Institute working with kids on two of the eight pediatric units at the site. Girls, boys, and their families come from all over India to get affordable treatment from the Institute. Fifty percent of these children will survive their illnesses and respective treatments.

photo (8)This past week, my fellow interns (Alexis and Michael) and I have been working with children and their mothers to make story cloths. Our idea behind the story cloth was to facilitate expression for both the kids getting treatment and their mothers who support them during treatment. Willing mother and child alike made pieces similar to the one you see here. Depictions on the squares varied depending on the person; however, the idea to make special was universal. Alexis, Michael, and I decided to fashion a quilt out of these squares to foster a sense of pride, efficacy, and opportunity to leave a legacy for the children and their mothers.

Over the last two weeks, I believe all three of us interns at the Cancer Institute have grown close to several of the boys, girls, and their mothers. The rapport feels deep, which is surprising because we only started last Monday. I can say that the past couple of days have been hard knowing that this Friday is our last day. The experience almost seems cruel, not only for me, but for the people who we have met and grown close to in our short time here. We arrived out of the blue and after Friday we will be just…gone. It is likely none of the parties involved will ever meet again or know what happened to each other. The only thing that will physically remain is this quilt that came together over our two weeks in India. It will be what Alexis, Michael, and I leave that captures this short period of time where we, these kids, and their moms worked together to make something special.
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~Nicholas “Nick” Denson

Do you understand?


I arrived at my internship site for the first time along side my 3 co-interns with complete uncertainty about what would lie ahead.  Like Nina, I too am an intern at Olcott Memorial High School. I am going to share with you a little bit about my experience thus far. As mentioned in the previous post, we were asked on the first day to do art therapy with 150 children each day for 2 weeks. For the first few days we were simply overwhelmed by swarms of curious, energetic and excited children who saw us as a new shiny toy. We were strangers and we did not speak a lick of Tamil, the most prevalent language spoken in Chennai. I was not sure if we would be able to form true connection with the children. We began by experimenting with various art directives and how to best present them so that the children would understand and enjoy them.

One directive we presented last week was for the children was “draw how you are feeling using lines shapes and colors”. After spending several minutes brainstorming on the most effective way to explain this to children who can understand very little to no English, we still received many blank stares. Eventually we got most of the children to understand that they should draw their emotions, but instead of drawing how they felt at that moment, they drew what happy looked like and what sad looked like. I felt such frustration and disappointment that we could not successfully communicate with the children.  I felt this language barrier so intensely, but I wanted a way to climb over it.

After brushing the frustration off of my shoulders, I sat down with a few children and asked them about their drawings. To my surprise (which is a feeling I continually experience at my internship site), many of the children were able to use their picture to talk about sadness. This allowed a few children to reveal some very difficult circumstances that they experience every day. I was reminded of the importance of flexibility and how sometimes things work out as they need to, not as you plan them. With support and encouragement from each other, my co-interns and I continue to grow through the frustrations and the successes each day.





By: Natalie Thomas

Building Connections

Devin, Natalie, Skyler and myself are interning at Olcott Memorial High School while in Chennai. The school caters to children who come from socially and economically disadvantaged sections of society in the school’s neighborhood and to those children whose families have been displaced. While at Olcott, we provide art therapy, or what we call art as therapy, to about 150 children between the ages of 8 and 14. The experience has been overwhelming but exciting at the same time. The kids bring so much energy and curiosity that it is hard to believe they are experiencing so much internally and emotionally at home. Building up rapport with all 150 children is difficult to do, but the four of us have managed to make several connections with some of the kids. Through art we are able to tackle the language barrier and communicate with images (and many hand gestures).

One art activity we have done with the older children is self-portrait masks.  It was amazing how much effort they put into them and how different each mask was. We had masks representing James Bond, and then masks that showed true emotions some children were feeling.

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By: Nina Salzberg

Sunday Adventures

This morning started at 4:00am for those who were going to Chennai’s famous Koyambedu Flower Market.  This market sells perishable items in bulk to the locals. It was an experience that no one in the group expected; filled with sweet scents and vibrant colors.  We started in the flower market section, where we were given roses and jasmine to put in our hair.  The colors were unbelievable, as were the people who welcomed us.  We then ventured through the vegetable market, where the smell of fresh basil and sweet onions filled the air.  Our last stop was the fruit market, where we all tasted Jackfruit for the first time.  The piles of flowers, vegetables and fruits were endless, as were the people working there.


I found the crowd to be even more amazing than the items that filled the market.   Everyone was eager to say hello and get their pictures taken.  I saw food and flowers delivered in burlap sacs that were bigger than the people carrying them.  Others were stringing hundreds of flowers, weighing and selling their produce to customers.  Our drivers/market guides said that the crowd would continue to grow to an unbelievable size, and advised we head back home at 5:30am.  We all piled into the bus and drove back to the Footprint Inn as the sun rose behind us.

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After a few hours of napping, a group of us decided to venture out and explore some of Chennai.  We took two Tuk-Tuks in search of markets, but found a coffee and pastry shop instead.  The rest of the afternoon was spent eating, relaxing, laughing, and catching up on self-care.  Our Sunday ended in exchanging of art ideas, our nightly art-making ritual, and dinner.  This relaxing Sunday was much needed to recharge for our last week at our internships, and for any other adventures that come our way.

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By: Kelly Muldoon

Wild Snake Adventure

Today some of us got the opportunity to visit Rom Whitaker’s farm. He is known as the snake man of India and has been presented in numerous documentary films (National Geographic and Discovery Channel). We saw the Irulas, a forest-based tribe of Chennai, use their traditional expertise to capture snakes by being tuned in with and aware of subtle cues in nature.  After this amazing experience, we went on a hike, got to see Emus and held wild snakes ourselves! 


We ended the day with an incredible performance of traditional Tamil Nadu dance in the Pandanallur Style of Bharatonayam. This style is characterized by its graceful, rhythmic movements of the whole body. It is also used as an expressive art to represent stories about the gods and complex human emotions. 



By: Monica Ventura

We exist therefore we are


I exist therefore I am. This is the motto of The Banyan, a mental health organization that has rescued over 1,500 women from the streets of India. The Banyan provides food and shelter and the women engage in therapy and vocational training as part of their treatment. Once healthy and with a stable home to return to, the women are reintegrated with their family and community.

I exist. Working this past week as an Art Therapy intern at The Banyan has been a true test of character. I’ve interacted with many women and experienced intense feelings of sorrow, compassion, fear, and joy. With varying levels of mental states and cognition in conjunction with both cultural and language differences, I found it initially impossible to communicate.

Therefore. I did mention I was an Art Therapy intern, right? Employing a little creativity and a lot of flexibility, well, make it a lot of creativity and flexibility, I relied on the art process to begin to form relationships, build trust, and hold a safe space for expression. Creating art together gave us an unencumbered way to interact.

I am. I am so grateful to work with Anais and Sarah as co-interns. Together we deluge our driver with questions of translation and cultural norms. Together we navigate the benefit of certain interventions to use with specific patients. And after today we can proudly state that together, we have successfully given an in-service presentation on art therapy to a team of psychologists here in Chennai, India.

imageby: Valerie Pusateri

Sharing the Healing Power of Art

Interning at T T Ranganahan Clinical Research Foundation (TTK) Hospital under India’s home grown art therapist, Reshma Malick has been an absolute honor. The TTK Hospital is an alcohol and drug addictions intensive inpatient therapy setting. Malick has her masters degree and is a certified art therapist in India.  She has worked at the hospital for eleven years. Through guidance and observation, Kelly and I have learned much about the field of art therapy through the eyes of India and how art therapy looks in this culture. For example, Malick uses movement, art, song, and storytelling in a combination of “making special” and adding ritual and meaning to the art created.


Our professors, Lisa and Rachel, and Holly Wherry, an art therapist who will be working here for two years, stopped by at TTK Hospital to talk with Reshma. Kelly and I had the opportunity to sit and listen to their discussion and watch something that I thought to be very magical. All four art therapists exchanged ideas, resources, and contact information. I witnessed art therapy traveling from D.C. all the way to Chennai. It was like watching traders meet and exchange valuable knowledge. Art therapy has come a long way and it is making great strides. It is growing, not just in the U.S. but also here in India and other countries as well. I see Reshma as an important building block for the continued growth of art therapy around the world, and I see our class as important traders who are helping to spread the valuable knowledge and healing power of art.IMG_0479-Megan Veon

Paper Flowers

This is my first time in a hospital setting, and I had a hard time knowing what to expect. I knew that I had a lot of energy when working with children, and since this is a pediatric oncology unit, I was concerned that my energetic approach would be overwhelming to children going through chemo. Through this self-reflection though, my strongest reminder I wanted to keep was that no matter how sick some children may be they are still children and deserve to have a childhood.

As I write this now, I have been at the hospital for three days. Many perceptions and assumptions have and continue to change, but the concept of preserving a childhood and creating a space for imagination has grown immensely. We have brought in different directives, ranging from free art to origami boxes, and the children create their individual concepts and spins to our intentions. When we enter the different rooms, each child lights up and excitedly waits a turn to discover what we are carrying in our bags. The mothers, who live in the hospital, work alongside their child and enter into the child’s imagination.

A special project, which was taught to us by one of the children in the hospital, is an origami rose. Two were given to me as a gift. It was such a special gift that I now wear them in my hair everyday. My hope is this shows the children how special their art is and how large of an impact they have had on me. The children show their excitement toward the flowers, and they have opened a conversation among the mothers and the staff at the hospital and me. They come up to me, touch the paper flowers, and then touch my arm or hand.


There are so many stories that just lie in these past three days, and I can’t imagine what lies ahead.

~Alexis Decosimo

Cultural Connections

At times India feels like a completely different planet and at other times it feels like home. Today was everyone’s second day at our internship sites. Courtney, Monica, and I will be spending the next two weeks working at a local school. Yesterday we were introduced to this unique school, which works to assist children who were not performing to their fullest extent in other school settings.


Before we began, I wondered how the students would differ from the American children I have worked with in the past. Throughout the past two days though I have been struck by the similarities along with the differences (Lightning McQueen, from Disney Pixar’s movie Cars, and angry birds have already made several appearances in drawings).


Today, we worked with three different groups drawing their favorite place. As we interacted with the students, they shared with us about the places they love and what makes them special. They told us about their city, their families and friends, the places they would one day like to see, and the

places that only exist in their imagination. Each time I begin to feel like I’m in an alternate universe something will happen to remind me of the connections between us, letting me see the beauty in the Indian culture and my own culture, as well as how they interact.


Details in a Crowd

To say today was packed with excitement, emotion, and exhaustion would be such an understatement!  I was not expecting how much India can drain and yet re-energize us, over and over again!  We began today finishing cultural presentations, an opportunity to present on personal culture, and share a little about where we come from.  I know I was especially appreciative of the unique opportunity to learn about my classmates and friends, and understand more about what makes each individual who they are today.

By mid-afternoon, we began the scavenger photo hunt across Chennai and beyond.  The purpose was to encourage us to interact with locals and learn more about the culture in India.  With three hours, four teams were sent off on a mission to take photographs based on a list of clues to be judged by the bed and breakfast owners.  Each team had its own driver who helped us around the city, and in my team’s case, helped immensely in communicating with the local people and not getting lost!

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One task  included trying on a saree (a traditional woman’s garment), which proved very difficult on the first try.  However, Courtney, Megan, Valerie, and I felt frustrated by rushing this clue, and decided to try again.  On our return, I purchased a saree, with generous help and investment from three women who showed a keen interest in us.  The women not only invested time picking out a saree that would best suit my skin color and style, but also placed great care in putting the saree on me, pleating and folding every inch of the beautiful fabric.  I was instantly reminded of how important it is to take the time to appreciate every moment, and make it beautiful.  The women worked with each other to complete my appearance, removing safety pins from their own sarees to pin to mine, and also removing the beautiful jasmine flowers from their hair to place in mine.  As we all observed the women, working so genuinely to include me in the culture, we couldn’t help but to be amazed and unbelievably fortunate for this special interaction.


We finished the scavenger hunt by the beach, where we were generously served delicious food cooked by our lovely hosts at the bed and breakfast.  Rucha and Ashish’s hospitality and willingness to bring us into their home was special to us all!

First Tuk-Tuk Adventure

One of the things I was most concerned about when visiting India was their way of driving. The overwhelming amount of traffic and high speed of the vehicles seemed like a scary combination. The first day in India we mastered being Human Froggers, leaping across the traffic in hopes of making it to the other side safely. Pedestrians clearly do not have the right away. Today we were able to experience this from behind the wheel in a tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk is the Indian taxi cab. It is an open vehicle that sits on three wheels and spotted by the yellow cab color. Three of us piled into the tiny vehicle, and I was safely squeezed in the middle. I was surprisingly at ease, even with mopeds and cars whizzing by making their own lanes.


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