Mourja is a very tender hearted girl. It’s rare to catch her without a smile on her face. The first few times Mourja came for art therapy sessions, she made very little eye contact with me and was very timid. When I would ask her what materials she’d like to use, she wanted me to choose for her.
Mourja was born with severe clubfoot on both of her feet. All her life, she has gotten around by crawling on her knees. Her knees are calloused the way someone’s would be if they walked their whole lives without shoes. After her first operation, when she had two brand new casts on, we pulled out the paint and she started painting on one leg while I painted on the other. This was the moment when the ice broke between us. She was sitting on a chair at the table and I got down on the floor so that I would be able to paint the bottom of her cast as well. I don’t think she was expecting that. Here I was, practically nose to toe, hunched over so that I could cover her cast in color.
She was surprised that I would sit by her feet, the very thing that she has been shamed for her whole life, but it was through this experience that we bonded. She began to sense a security and she started to develop a trust in our relationship that caused her whole persona to change in the sessions that were to follow. Mourja knew that she could come to sessions and let her guard down. She began laughing and joking around and she was no longer stiff, closed, and unable to look at me.
This is the beauty that art therapy can bring. It breaks down barriers in powerful ways. Mourja has endured ridicule and shame for 9 years for having crooked feet. And if she wasn’t receiving outright ridicule, it was the unspoken behavior, body language and looks that said it all. But I had the privilege to be at her feet and to paint her casts. It wasn’t a rushed thing either; we worked on her casts for no less than an hour, all the while, I’m on the floor at her feet. I say I had the privilege, because it truly is a privilege to have had the opportunity to let her know that she is loved, valued, and beautiful, inside and out.
What these sessions have done for Mourja have been to give her a safe haven where she can laugh out loud and feel free and secure to be herself.