Lao PDR

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Lao PDR: Creating art on the way to recovery


Vientiane (Lao PDR), 16 February 2010 - A vibrant new painting decorates the outside front wall of the gym at the Somsanga Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre in Vientiane. The artwork is the result of the creative work of six centre patients, guided by Belgian graphic designer and artist Philippe Blampain.

Aside from the spiritual significance and importance of artwork of this nature, the remarkable artistic quality manifested in the detail, colour and overall impact of this representation of the Buddha is what makes this painting even more exceptional.

Mr. Blampain, who was visiting the Lao People's Democratic Republic as a tourist, had already planned to dedicate some of his time here to helping disadvantaged people. When approached by a UNODC project coordinator, he agreed to work in the centre, especially after an initial visit where he immediately felt comfortable and was welcomed by the patients.

Inspiration for the painting came after a visit to the Buddha Park in Vientiane. The wall painting was based on a small-scale print that was then reproduced on the wall in a larger scale. During the workshop, which lasted four days including preparation work, participants learned various techniques.

"I was surprised by the engagement and the motivation of the young people here," explains Blampain. "We have worked together to create something that will hopefully offer hope for those going through some difficult times."

The concept of expressing feelings and emotion through the visual arts was introduced to patients last year through a graffiti painting workshop. German graffiti artist Iven Sohmann conducted the seven-day workshop at the centre which culminated in the decoration of a large portion of the men's compound wall, as well as the interior walls of the gym.

The treatment centre in Vientiane is the oldest institution of its kind in the country. UNODC has been supporting the Lao Government in its efforts in improving services and staff capacity at the centre since 1996 through the provision of infrastructure to ameliorate patients' standards of living, recreational therapy and vocational training, as well as training for the centre's staff. Over the past few years, the centre has seen a rapid increase in cases involving the use of amphetamine-type stimulants like "yabaa". Last year, approximately 98 per cent of the centre's patients were seeking treatment for addiction to "yabaa".


Recreational therapy is one of the key components of the treatment, after the detoxification phase. Patients are encouraged to participate in a range of activities, from sports to the arts, so as to keep their minds occupied in a positive way. It is often difficult for patients to experience pleasure for quite some time after detoxification, as the brain chemistry of most addicts tends to be severely altered after prolonged drug abuse. While the process of recovery through recreational therapy is gradual, it is proven that it is one of the best ways to offset the negative impact of the drug's effect on the patient's psyche. By giving confidence through a sense of achievement, patients recover more quickly and the chances of relapse are diminished.

It is hoped that this painting will affect not only those who helped create it but also encourage more patients to participate in recreational therapy. A wide variety of activities is offered at the centre through the support of UNODC. Football, volleyball, rugby, martial arts, fitness classes, movie nights, table tennis, painting, wood carving and wax sculpting are some of the many activities available to patients to help them maintain hope in their recovery.