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Filipino children’s book series teaches mental health through expressive arts

Rappler.com
Filipino children’s book series teaches mental health through expressive arts
PRESS RELEASE: Expressive arts therapy can help both children and adults process difficult emotions and create a change in behavior or thought

There is a new Philippine children’s book series on mental health. AHA! Stories, created by MAGIS Creative Spaces, has created tales that aim to comfort children through their anxieties and guide their trusted adults in accompanying them through painful experiences.

Sharing narratives of healing and growth, AHA! Stories is drawn from children’s real-life resilience stories from around the world, as witnessed by Dr. Gina Alfonso, the series’ lead author, during her work as a trainer and mental health clinician at Save the Children International. Alfonso is also the founder of MAGIS Creative Spaces, a social enterprise that specializes in the use of the expressive arts in therapy and psychosocial support services for individuals and organizations.

“MAGIS Creative Spaces created AHA! Stories for children and adults,” said Alfonso. “For children, AHA! Stories aims to communicate that they are not alone — that there are those in similar situations in other places around the globe who can get through hard situations, and they can count on creative and compassionate companions in life to get them through hard times.”

During her time at Save the Children International, Alfonso witnessed how parents, teachers, and caregivers used her expressive arts programs to help children living in the midst of war or recovering from displacement due to natural disasters or political violence.

As she listened to these children’s stories herself and shared her own experiences from the Philippines, Alfonso saw how surprised the children were that there were others like them in faraway places. This was how she realized that children in the midst of crises tend to believe they are alone in their pain, which in reality is not the case.

“The hope of AHA! Stories is to tell resilience stories from different places around the world to help children discover, when they are feeling down, that they are part of a larger community of other children who have gotten through tough times with their courage and creativity,” said Alfonso.

For the grown-ups in these children’s lives, Alfonso created AHA! Stories to build a community of adults who care for children and wish to publish their own stories about facing hardships through the healing power of the expressive arts.

Expressive arts therapy uses visual art, music, dance, drama, and other forms of creative expression to help both children and adults process difficult emotions and create a change in behavior or thought. According to Psychology Today, “Throughout the process [of expressive arts therapy], you learn new and different ways to use the mostly nonverbal language of creativity to communicate inner feelings that were not previously available to you by simply thinking or talking about them.”

This is different from art therapy, which uses only one form of art.

First in the AHA! Stories series is a tale from the Philippines titled Ang mga Alon sa Amin (The Waves Nearby), a bilingual book in Filipino and English inspired by the resilience of the Tagbanua community from Sitio Alulad, Culion, Palawan after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck their community in 2013.

Written by Alfonso, Rainey S. Dolatre, and Coleen Ramirez-Panahon, with illustrations by Ianthe Pimentel, Ang mga Alon sa Amin tells the story of Mario, a Tagbanua child who lives near the seashore. After a super typhoon ravages his community, he develops a fear of the waves and avoids the outside as much as he can. It is only when he and his community turn to their traditional songs and dances that he learns to process his anxiety and heal from his pain.

At the end of the book, readers will find expressive arts activities that adults can use to talk about the story with their children and to teach them how to manage their own stress.

Alfonso also hopes to use a portion of the proceeds from book sales to rebuild a classroom that had provided shelter for the Tagbanua community during Yolanda. This same classroom was depicted in her upcoming book.

Ang mga Alon sa Amin is only one of six children’s books from AHA! Stories.

Readers should keep their eyes peeled for stories from Haiti, El Salvador, China, Uganda, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Just like the Philippine book, there will be expressive arts activities at the end of each story that adults can use to help children build resilience in times of stress and adversity.

There are also more tales to come after the release of all six books.

“All these books are meant to highlight the arts and play, and, most particularly, how the arts as a way of life and in its various forms can ignite a sense of agency in children,” said Alfonso. “These stories illustrate the simple yet potent power of the arts to help children cope and come in touch with their capacity to rise above their sorrow, fear, or grief in the direst of situations, and ultimately experience a sense of safety and hope.” – Rappler.com

Ang mga Alon sa Amin is available for purchase through bit.ly/ahapreorder-alon

AHA! Stories can be part of your own expressive arts-based psychosocial support program with children. If you are from a school or community that works with children and are interested in incorporating the expressive arts in your organization, visit magiscreative.net or contact MAGIS Creative Spaces at bookings.magis@gmail.com.

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