Art Heals: Volunteering in Chiang Mai, Thailand

April 8, 2015
Art Heals: Volunteering in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Art Heals: Volunteering in Chiang Mai, Thailand

After 5 months of living and teaching in Sukhothai, Thailand, I have officially begun my backpacking adventure through Southeast Asia. First stop: Chiang Mai, Thailand–the second largest and most important city in Thailand. Chiang Mai has become a center for the arts, as well as the place where many come to experience the beautiful Northern Thai countryside.

Overall, the city has an extremely laid-back, dynamic and modern feel. Artists, international NGO workers and university students have mixed together and created many creative spaces.

As an artist and educator, I’ve always been interested in spending some time in Chiang Mai. When I lived in New York City, I volunteered with Free Arts NYC, a non-profit arts mentoring organization that works with underserved families and children

. Free Arts NYC uses educational arts and mentoring programs as way to help channel these children’s energies into positive self-expression, resiliency, and confidence building, while also using art as a vehicle to develop stronger communication and problem-solving skills within families.

Volunteering with Free Arts NYC completely changed my career path and my goals. I saw various families and children completely change their moods from the beginning of the session to the end, because they felt a sense of pride and accomplishment in what they had created.

The organization shares my belief that art changes lives, as it is a powerful means of expression and art therapy.

Painting at Urban Light

Since Free Arts NYC is such an important part of my life, I wanted to see if there was a similar organization in Thailand where I could volunteer. After all, volunteering in a different country is a wonderful way to work with different organizations and learn a bit more about some of the issues faced.

Fortunately, I found Cultural Canvas Thailand and Art Relief International, a non-profit organization in Chiang Mai, which works to transform the lives of struggling social groups through providing the opportunity to express themselves creatively. The organization shares my belief that art changes lives, as it is a powerful means of expression and art therapy.

ARI aims to encourage social change and create an atmosphere for inclusion for those usually cast out through art making. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to volunteer with this wonderful organization for a week! So far I have been fortunate to be a part of three wonderful art workshops at three very different and amazing organizations in Chiang Mai.

Art Heals: Volunteering in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Baan Kingkaew Orphanage

For the first workshop, we headed to an orphanage, Baan Kingkaew, for a morning art-making workshop. Baan Kingkaew works to improve and develop the lives for poor and homeless orphans. When we arrived, they all ran up and hugged us–all of the children were so excited to see us! They were very young, very energetic and extremely sweet.

We made drums out of cups–the children got to draw on the cups and glue different pieces of tissue paper to their drums to decorate. One of the boys drew an ocean and shells, perhaps a place he wants to go. They all got really involved in the art making and were very responsive when we sat around the circle playing the drums to the A-B-C’s. It was clear that giving these children the ability to create art and make music made an impact on their day.

These art workshops are an extremely fulfilling and wonderful way to encourage creative development in these children. As we left the orphanage, they continued to hug us and said thank you. It was extremely wo nderful and rewarding to spend the day with them.

Urban Light

The following afternoon, we headed to Urban Light, a grassroots organization that provides boys, ages 14 and up, who have been victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, a place where they can find refuge and a supportive community away from difficult daily realities. They provide 24-hour support and immediate assistance regarding education, health, housing, and emergency situations to ensure the boys lead healthy, happy and safe lives.

During the workshop, the boys were asked to think of different things that protect them from difficult situations and write them down inside an umbrella, just as an umbrella protects one from the rain. Once they finished, we were going to pin balloons full of paint above the balloon, and have them throw darts at the balloons. The paint is representative of the rain, and will fall all over the umbrella, but they will be protected.

They collaborated with one another and filled the umbrella with words and pictures. One of the boys drew a picture of a tree, and explained that nature protects him from the sun, and calms him down when he is angry.

Towards the end of the sharing, one of the older men in the group explained that yesterday is the past, today is the present, tomorrow is the future—a day has 24 hours and every minute is very important, but we shouldn’t worry about anything, because if we experience a bad moment, it will pass, so we should just be happy.

As I sat there, listening to them describe their protections and watching them interact with each other, I couldn’t help but feel touched and extremely grateful. These boys had been through so much and I was so glad they were able to find a place like Urban Light that supports them and gives them the opportunity to express themselves creatively as a step towards relief.

Healing Family Foundation

Lastly, there was a lot of joy at the workshop at the Healing Family Foundation, a foundation that provides a space for people with disabilities to have fun, build friendships and develop new skills. The foundation was founded by a Japanese volunteer, Mr. Nakayama, who taught people with mental and physical disabilities how to weave.

They spend their days learning to weave a variety of different products, including t-shirts, tablecloths, neckties, buttons, greeting cards, while having fun with one another.

They had the biggest smiles on their faces, and were some of the most warm and open people I have met.

Upon entering the house, several of the adults came up to us and started hugging us. They had the biggest smiles on their faces, and were some of the most warm and open people I have met. The project for the day was to create these beautiful mandalas through printmaking with sponges, strings, stamps and natural items.

Throughout the entire workshop, they laughed while delving into the art making. They also helped one another and encouraged one another throughout the process. Their selflessness and kindness to each other and to us was really inspiring. They reminded me that it’s the little things in life that truly matter and make us happy.

Art Heals: Volunteering in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Art Heals: Volunteering in Chiang Mai, Thailand

It is so important to travel and see new things. However, living or volunteering in a different country changed my perspective in an different way. I have met people that I have formed a connection with and I have been able to witness some of the wonderful work this organization is doing in Chiang Mai.

I have been able to interact with people I would have never met otherwise who have completely changed my outlook on life. It truly allowed me to see the world through another’s person’s eyes and that is extremely remarkable.


Art Heals: Volunteering in Chiang Mai, Thailand 

About Laura Lopez-Blazquez

Laura Lopez-Blazquez is a Cuban-American, Miami Native who has spent the past 7 years living in New York City. She is all at once an educator, artist, writer, and avid coffee drinker. Her belief in the healing power of art and travel has led her adventurous spirit to live Germany, Spain, Italy and currently: Thailand. In this most recent stint overseas, Laura can be found teaching English while jet setting throughout Southeast Asia in search of good hearts and many smiles.

2 thoughts on “Art Heals: Volunteering in Chiang Mai, Thailand

  1. Jessica Wainwright
    October 11, 2016

    Hi Laura!
    Your volunteer work with ARI in thailand looks amazing, and i’d be very interested in setting a week out of my travels in thailand next month to do this, as i hope to study art therapy at MA level after my year out.
    If you don’t mind, could i ask you a few questions?
    how did you go about signing up to the program?
    Was there a minimum amount of time you could volunteer for? (most organisations i found say there is a minimum of 2 weeks)
    and also what sort of money would i be looking at spending in order to volunteer for the organisation?
    Thanks for your time and hopefully I will hear from you soon 🙂

  2. Maria
    April 8, 2015

    I have enjoyed reading about Laura’s adventures and experiences. She has gained valuable insights and knowledge from her travels and interactions with locals.

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