The Freedom Project
Grantee: Olive Branch Arts, UK*, with Women’s Support Centre, Armenia**
Project: A therapeutic project for women survivors of violence to explore their experiences through photography.
In February 2020 Olive Branch Arts travelled to Yerevan in Armenia to deliver Creative Arts & Trauma training for domestic violence workers at the Women’s Support Centre (WSC), and Photography training for artists and activists in partnership with the WSC and the Fem Library.
Over two full days we delivered experiential creative trauma training at the WSC’s headquarters. Women support workers, social workers and psychologists were brought to Yerevan from a number of regions and the emphasis of the course was to move out of the spoken word and into the body. This was quite a challenging concept to the group as most of their work was verbal and they had never received experiential training in this style before. However, the group were open to the challenge and an incredible wealth of experience was shared by the women, with lively discussions and a flow of ideas. We shared the philosophy that the body holds trauma and that words can often be limiting and sometimes retraumatising – it is integral that we give the body space to be part of the processing and expression of trauma. We reinforced the idea that healing lies in the relationship they create with their clients. Women and children who have experienced violence and abuse need to learn to trust again, to take risks and feel safe, to build confidence and self-esteem. Creative content rather than direct testimony can offer a diversity of ways to unpack, explore and build resilience whilst healing.
These ideas were wholeheartedly embraced, and all of the workers commented on the way they could return to their organisations, share these practices and implement them immediately with their clients. We also touched upon the application of this work within the organisational structure and how creative work can be used to explore and support workers who may be at risk of burn-out, empathy fatigue, secondary and vicarious trauma. Over the following 10 days we spent time meeting families living in WSC Refuges, learning about the organisation and documenting survivors’ testimonies through anonymous portraits and photo stories.
We also ran photography workshops at the Fem Library, sharing skills and in this case leaving materials, cameras and teaching plans so that activists, community organisers and youth workers could go on to deliver photography workshops exploring complex themes and emotions within their field of interest. During this training we asked participants to explore the theme of ‘Freedom’. The aim of this exploration was to create an exhibition in Yerevan (which we left with the Fem Library and WSC to use for future awareness-raising events) and to add our participants’ responses to our growing ‘Freedom’ exhibition. We have been exploring this theme to raise awareness of organisations, individuals and causes that fight for the freedom to belong, whether that be in their homeland, in their new-found home or in the body.
We exhibited Emma’s documentation of our visit, the survivors’ photo stories and portraits alongside the Armenian participants’ work in London on International Women’s Day. Several BEARR representatives were able to attend. Future exhibitions are planned once we have recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.
We believe this project was an opportunity to sow the seeds for future collaborations. Weather conditions prevented some participants attending and the WSC are interested in rolling this training and similar courses out across the country.
*Olive Branch Arts work creatively with displaced communities in the UK and abroad. We are committed to building relationships across communities to promote love, dignity, and care for all people who seek refuge. By offering participants a safe place to come together and learn new skills we aim to develop bonds and confidence across different communities, enabling them to document their own stories visually.
The Freedom Project Team are made up of Olive Branch Arts Director/ Dramatherapist Becky Finlay Hall who is of Armenian heritage and Associate Artist and Award-winning Photographer and Photo Voice Practitioner Emma Brown. Their unique methodology ensures that all content delivered is therapeutically underpinned, and that courses encourage and support community-building and autonomy.
**The Women’s Support Center (WSC) in Armenia works on preventing and responding to domestic violence with a particular focus on men’s violence against women who are or were in an intimate relationship. They are a non-profit and non-governmental organisation. They are a full-service domestic violence centre and also engage in advocacy work to create systemic change for victims of domestic violence.
For more information about the incredible work of the FemLibrary please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to the BEARR Trust, Shutter Hub and all our wonderful supporters who made this project possible.
“Everyone had a chance to express themselves and to have feeling of satisfaction without talking, which is very important as in many cases our clients are not eager or fear to come into verbal contact, to tell their stories. It was innovative and unusual and engaged all the participants. Overall it was very positive and cheering training. I hope that our collaboration will continue, and we will have more organisations participating in future courses.” Hasmik Gevorgyan, WSC Manager
“What I received in the training will accompany me for a very long time. There was an atmosphere, where you wanted to tell all the difficulties you encountered because you felt you were heard as a woman, as a person.” Hasmik Buniatyan, participant
“The results were remarkable. In my opinion, the knowledge/skills gained during the training were very important. They can be applied not only in work but also in personal life.” Gohar Amirkhanyan, participant
“Thank you for deep but at the same time simple delivery of the training material. It was a very heart warming and honest experience.” Mary Smbatyan, participant