India: Theatre as a healing process for girls and boys at shelter care homes

The girls and boys from the shelter care homes of the juvenile home complex in Calicut, Kerala are between 5 to 18 years of age. Many of them have been through various hardships and abuse including forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, ill treatment by in-laws, forced slavery, confinement, psychological and physical violence. When they arrived at the shelter care homes, they were emotionally depressed, their psychological conditions were critical and in some cases the children were severely traumatized. To effectively rehabilitate these victims followed by reintegration into the society, the Government of Kerala through the Department of Social Welfare and UNODC has initiated a victim care support project in the state of Kerala in the Juvenile Home for Boys and After-Care Home in Calicut, Kerala. This initiative is part of UNODC's regional victim support project on "Building the capacity of and expanding anti-human trafficking networks for improved support to victims of trafficking".

This is a unique initiative in the state since it uses psycho-social interventions for the rehabilitation of the victims through creative arts and self-development opportunities for improving self-worth and esteem. The philosophy of this intervention supplements traditional counseling and psychiatric intervention models. The focus of this initiative is more on engaging the victims in group dances, music and theatre helping them to forget their sense of rejection and isolation by reaching out to others. The effort is to provide a creative, happy, unrestrained yet productive atmosphere encouraging them to venture out of their shells and express themselves without inhibitions. Activity oriented participatory programs like theatre and performing arts can be therapeutic in nature healing the victims gradually and instilling in them a sense of positive self esteem and social acceptance.

A colourful and vibrant dance, music and theatre program in the regional language called DREAMS 2009 was put up by the young residents of these shelter care homes on May 20 2009 at Trivandrum, Kerala. An enthralled audience of 150 viewers clapped as the program unfolded showcasing a series of dance and music performances including plays. The event was also attended by the Honorable Minister for Social Welfare and Health and Secretary Social Welfare, Government of Kerala as well as by UNODC to name a few.

The young actors displayed much enthusiasm and zeal while on the stage. Their performances show that although they have endured terrible forms of abuse, these children still managed to retain a purity and love for life that is the birthright of all youth. Art is a powerful medium to heal the broken spirit of these young girls and boys. This empowering art facilitated through this life-changing project is a model of rejuvenation and rehabilitation for girls and boys in shelter care homes.