Painting over the pain

Angie Bamgbose explains how introducing creative arts therapy
has helped young female survivors of abuse explore their

The past 10 years have seen an increasing awareness of
commercial and domestic cases of sexual abuse among children in the
Phillipines. Cebu Hope Centre is the only centre that caters
specifically for sexually abused girls in Cebu in the group of
Philippine islands known as the Visayas. Some 65 per cent of girls
at CHC have been sexually abused.

According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development,
5,000 cases of molestation are reported annually nationwide. That
could be the tip of the iceberg. Research by Centre for the
Prevention and Treatment of Child Sex Abuse in the Philippine
capital Manila revealed that 30 per cent of schoolchildren had been
abused. That means 10 million children across the country might
have suffered abuse.

The CHC shelters girl survivors of sexual abuse, physical violence
and neglect. The centre is an non-government organisation managed
by the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Hearts. Girls can access
education, health care and where appropriate are supported through
court proceedings.

On average CHC accommodates up to 80 children at any one time. Over
the last 20 years it has handled more than 1,000 cases. A team of
three social workers work alongside the sisters and houseparents to
relieve the trauma of abuse. Counselling and groupwork are
conducted in the CHC’s St Margheritine Child Therapy and Resource

My role has been to introduce more creative ways of working with
survivors while colleagues ensure activities are appropriate to the
Filipino context. A series of Creative Art Therapy sessions were
held this summer. The CAT aimed to find a forum for the girls and
young women to explore their feelings and through the groupwork
process to develop and strengthen peer support. It was also hoped
that the girls would have fun. As one said: “I like the therapy; I
can rest and think positive thoughts, peaceful thoughts. Sometimes
we laugh, sometimes we hope, sometimes we’re sad.”

The first session was unstructured to get the children used to
handling paints, mixing colours, and as an introduction to the CAT.
There was some initial hesitancy, for most it was the first time
they had used paint and were afraid of not being a “good artist”.
Confidence grew in the way the children used and mixed colours;
they became emboldened to tell their story. One young person said:
“At first my thoughts hadn’t grown, but I’ve drawn a seed and
pictures to show I’ve grown now into a healthy flower. I’ve grown
and developed my ideas. Before I was too embarrassed to share but
here we really have to share which has made me grow and

Each group started with meditation to set a calm and relaxed tone
for the session. Sessions explored their history, present, future,
a safe place, and inner and outer self. The groups allowed the
children to interpret their picture and tell their story. At the
end of each session work was put on the wall and we all went to the
“museum”. Experiences could thus be valued by and shared with the
whole group.

Angie Bamgbose is a social worker and counsellor with
Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), at the Cebu Hope


  • Republic of the Philippines covers 300,000 sq km (about a third
    again the size of the UK) and has a population of 81.2
  • Ethnic groups: Christian Malay 91.5 per ent, Muslim Malay 4 per
    cent, Chinese 1.5 per cent, other 3 per cent.
  • Religions: Roman Catholic 83 per cent, Protestant 9 per cent,
    Muslim 5 per cent, Buddhist and other 3 per cent.
  • Languages: Filipino (official, based on Tagalog), English
  • Cebu City, the “Queen City” of the south, has a population of
    719,000 (half of whom are below 23 years). The population is
    expected to double in 39 years. The name Cebu comes from the word
    “Sebu” meaning animal fat.

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