Helping Child Refugees Integrate via Art: Wittenborg Lecturer's Approach

Helping Child Refugees Integrate via Art: Wittenborg Lecturer's Approach
Liu with one of the children from her programme. (Credit: Liu)

The journey of Cha-Hsuan Liu

For Dr Cha-Hsuan Liu, Associate Professor at Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences, people always come first. That is why she decided to collaborate with the Bergische VHS in Wuppertal, Germany to help Ukrainian children integrate into society through art. As part of the ‘TalentCampus Art Moves – Ich bin Ich’ programme, Ukrainian refugee children learn more about themselves through various artistic activities and physical exercises. "We encourage children to explore their mind and physical strength together with us by creating creative freedom and space for movement. We hope the strength can help them cope with new situations and establish self-esteem,” she says.

Becoming human

Born and raised in Taiwan, Dr Liu began her career in medical technology until she realised that patients were not well cared for by the healthcare system and would get lost. She wanted to work with people directly instead of in a hospital lab. "I believe the doctors, nurses and professionals are all trying their best to help patients. However, patients often feel lost in the complicity of the healthcare system. It motivated me to study Hospital Management."
 
Seeing the focus of healthcare management is often on finance, she chose to centre her study approach to the relationship between healthcare and its users. After being awarded her master’s degree in Healthcare Administration (MHA), her friend joked to her, “You are now a scientist and know about business and management. But you haven't learned humanity. You are not human yet.” Somehow, these unintentional words brought her to the Netherlands for her study in Health Psychology at Leiden University. “To enable the improvement of our human systems, it is very true that we need to understand human minds and behaviours.”
 
With solid, all-rounded academic training, Dr Liu received her PhD in Migration and Ethnic Relations study from Utrecht University, specialising in Care for Diversity. She has become an interdisciplinary sociologist whose expertise ranges from Innovation, Management, Behavioural Science, Education, Diversity and Cultural Studies. Besides teaching, she is invited to give public speeches and workshops, and to carry out consultancy tasks. "I appreciate the variety of my work a lot," she says. "It brings precious opportunities to exchange ideas with others from various aspects and together we accelerate the evolution of our human beings."

Helping Child Refugees Integrate via Art: Wittenborg Lecturer's Approach

“Ich bin Ich"

Her Art and Move programme for refugee children began years ago. It was in answer to a call from a renowned Taiwanese artist in Germany to create an art project for Syrian refugee children, in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). ‘Ich bin Ich’ means ‘I am me’ in German. “In the process of the activities, the identity and personality development of children is actively supported by experienced teachers,” Dr Liu explains. “Children refugees experience many stressful events in the war and in the migration process. Even adults, need enormous energy to adjust to a new situation and deal with emotions. It is more difficult for children to communicate emotions or thoughts with words."
 
Although the art assignments with the children may sound simple, they were designed with a profound purpose for children's well-being. “For example, when being asked to draw a self-portrait, children have to reflect on themselves. Unconsciously, the children start thinking about who they are, what they like about themselves, and how they want people to know them via a drawing. How about my hair? Or my smile? … It brings a kind of self-esteem to the children.” At the same time, drawing helps children express their emotions and untold stories. An experienced teacher may notice the message from a child’s chaotic brush strokes and pay extra attention to try and understand confusing situations which the children may be facing.
 
When the COVID-19 pandemic paralysed the world, all planned international projects were put on hold. Despite the restrained mobility of artists and volunteers, Liu and several artists in Taiwan officially started an NGO called Art Charity without Borders. They continued their art activities for the undocumented children in Taiwan during the pandemic. The ‘TalentCampus Art Moves – Ich bin Ich’ programme for Ukrainian refugee children in Germany was a new start for this NGO to work on international projects again. “Maybe we can organise one in the Netherlands together with the Wittenborg family?” Dr Cha-Hsuan Liu says, sending her warm invitation and welcoming any future cooperation.

WUP 04/11/2022
by Niels Otterman
©WUAS Press