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Art project helping heal the scars of war

St Francis College art teacher Annette Andrews with students and Syrian
refugees Namariq Alasadi and Ropier Swidan

AN art therapy project being run at St Francis College, Crestmead, is helping Middle Eastern refugee students find healing.

St Francis College art teacher Annette Andrews established the art therapy program to support the emotional trauma felt by the school’s intake of Middle Eastern refugees.

In 2016 the college welcomed 50 Syrian and Iraqi families in response to Archbishop Mark Coleridge’s call for parishes to take in refugees from the Middle East.

The families had fled from their homes after the Islamic State attacked the region forcing a Christian genocide in Iraq and Syria.

The painful effects of the war and the frightening escape scarred many of the refugees, especially students now living in Brisbane.

Ms Andrews recognised this while teaching four Syrian students last year.

She said the students were turning up to class “depressed and overwhelmed” by their new school life.

Hoping to help them, she put a proposal to principal Tricia Kennedy to run art therapy sessions to address the students’ emotional and affective needs.

“Research shows that all people who are affected by war suffer some form of post-traumatic stress disorder and suffer also from expectations of ‘instant’ integration, so suppress their past, and often their culture,” she said.

Ms Andrews said the art project gave her students a space to express their feelings.

She said the benefits of art therapy can be profoundly life-changing, as proven by her young Syrian artists.

Research shows art therapy can improve self-expression; create an avenue to explore repressed emotions and conflict; increase a person’s self-esteem; and help with language skills by encouraging people to talk about their art process.

The resulting artwork from the Syrian students was both heartbreaking and deeply inspiring.

Year 9 student Namariq Alasadi lost a pair of shoes and nearly all hope when she made the “crazy journey” to Australia to escape the deadly war in Syria.

The young woman who dodged death in her home country arrived in Australia in 2016 with “almost nothing left”.

“It was the hardest thing I have ever done,” she said.

“To leave my house, my school, my friends and family, to come to a strange country, but here I am safe and able to start a new life.”

Namariq revisited her Syrian nightmare and eventual safe landing in Australia in her vibrant painting, which depicted a young blonde woman dressed in modern clothes who had lost her shoes, retelling the story of how she lost her shoes in the war.

“In a war, you lose everything,” she said.

Her artwork was on public display at the Logan Art Gallery until March 10 next to paintings by 11 other Syrian and Iraqi refugees attending St Francis College including Year 8 student Ropier Swidan, whose family left Damascus in Syria for Australia in 2016 because of the war.

For his art therapy sessions, Ropier took an abstract approach, painting a quadrant of four chairs, each representing a member of his family.

“I am the hanging chair,” he said.

“I picked this chair to represent myself as I can do anything in this type of chair – sleep, rock, rest, relax – and that’s how I feel being in Australia now.”

Nour Obaid showed a different experience of being a refugee, saying she was not a victim but instead “a superhero like Wonder Woman”.

“My life has had difficulties and been hard, but my experiences have made me stronger,” Nour said.

“I have been drowned in darkness, but I will rise like a star to shine brightly and powerfully,” she said. 

Brisbane Catholic Education Office

243 Gladstone Road, Dutton Park Q 4102

GPO Box 1201 Brisbane 4001 Australia

Phone: (07) 3033 7000

Fax: (07) 3844 5101