Kasing Sining: A laboratory of art for healing

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By Maria Rosalie Zerrudo

Yagubyob sa Bulkan

Saturday, March 22, 2014

DISASTER brought out the creative force of the Filipinos. A close encounter with artists from different genres and disciplines made Bohol a laboratory of healing modalities. The call for cultural caregiving through art for healing was propelled with the relentless effort of Lutgardo Labad, National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and outgoing head of National Committee on Dramatic Arts (NCDA).

Kasing Sining “art with a heart” was born making Bohol the vortex of art for healing practice as we brought together visual artists, theater performance and dance artists, psychologists, art therapists, psychotherapists, life coach, cultural workers, humanitarian aid workers, doctors, nurses, health professionals, teachers and local officials all in like a one-stop-shop.

According to Dr. June Lopez, a leading psychologist who is involved as the lead person in the Citizens Network for Psychosocial Response, “The concept is looking into Mental Health and Psychosocial Health Support Services (MHPSS as the UN calls it) not only as a post emergency/disaster management intervention but as part of a disaster preparedness and risk reduction effort with the children as an entry point to adults.


You can imagine how all the chaos, the panic and even untoward criminal behavior such as looting and assault against women and children can be reduced by sensitizing and educating people on how organizing themselves and keep their mental discipline during crises intact because traumatic experiences can cause people to think, feel and act inhumanly.

“Process, process that's what we should be mindful about,” Lopez said.

"Art with a heart" is a program development series in the field of arts and culture which addresses the cultural and social rehabilitation, restoration, and rebuilding needs of communities. In the words of Labad, "art on the edge, art with a heart will develop workshops, cultural dialogues, encounters, showcases that will start with rehabilitation of mind and consciousness and develop into modes of cultural action that will help jumpstart rebuilding of habitat and culture-based livelihoods. As a major strategy, it will harness the language and pedagogy of the arts as a major tool for transformation."

A unique part of the Kasing Sining is the "One Heart Express" expressive arts therapy workshop. This is supported by the University of the Philippines outreach program initiated by Dr. Belen Calingacion who also coined the word “Kasing Sining.” Calingacion has been involved for the past years on creative projects that seek to articulate issues of significant social and personal change and transformation through the symbolic embodiment of experiences such as identity, personality, crisis, and social structure.

Her previous projects explored the use of creative approaches in helping those who are in a problematic situation. One is “Goldtooth” project on the use of theatrical intervention for the rehabilitation and empowerment of street children. An offshoot project followed after that, the "AWITULANSANGAN."

This was a year-long project that trained street children in creative writing, and the poems and songs they wrote were mounted in a performance acted out by the street children themselves. The project expanded on performing narratives of incarcerated women. Through this "One Heart Express" project, she hopes to contribute to significant information and insight into the possibilities of a creative (performance) program, this time, in dealing with disasters.

“The One Heart Express is an initiative to use the expressive arts to help rebuild lives and at the same time help the hundreds of people in devastated places who have been living in tents or makeshift shanties for almost three months now after the devastating earthquake and almost two months since Yolanda/Haiyan struck. The goal is to facilitate support for rebuilding inner infrastructure and rebuilding the creative energy of the survivors so that they can rise again from the ruins.”

In as much as we rebuild shelters and schools, it is essential for the local community to realize their potential in rebuilding their own inner infrastructure so they become empowered to cope with their traumatic experiences.


The creative process employed by many psychosocial teams such as Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) is summarized in the words of Gail Billones, “this workshop program intends to engage the participants on the creative processes of various art forms such as poetry, narrative, visual and performance as expressive therapy. These creative expressions are employed as tools for empowerment and transformation. This is guided by the framework that survivors of traumatic events are capable of their own healing but the healing process is facilitated through creative psychosocial support. The power of the arts to aid in healing and transformation will be harnessed.”

I realize in difficult times like this, artists do what they do best, use creativity to reinvent and transcend the narratives into powerful works of art for healing. The participants were surprised themselves of what they were capable of doing as they turned out to be first time actors, writers, poets, performers, puppeteers and visual artitsts. It was a powerful scene of transformation and social catharsis in most occasions became a comic release, when tragic and traumatic narratives turned out to be outrageous theater pieces and ironic dialogues which became a universal theatrical experience for everyone. The collective experience was a reflective moment for the survivors to come face-to-face with their own trauma from another perspective as spectator to one’s personal narrative.


The Filipino resilience is somehow evident as survivors dramatized and improvised their traumatic ordeal with so much humor injected in every scene. The participants expressed later that it was their first time to really laugh again. During evaluation, the teachers expressed that they wished all the teachers can experience this kind of workshop.

In their own words Evelyn Juntill said, “It really helped me not only to relieve stress, but also to enhance our skills in arts. This therapy helped me a lot to express my feelings through creative writing and I was so surprised that I was able to write a poem, then my co-teachers put a melody on it.” The poem was sang as part of the finale of the showcase with other performances integrated with music, puppetry and theater.

On Dec. 27 and 28, 2013, we carried out the first Expressive Arts Training for Educators among 112 teachers and eight cultural workers and members of Teatro Bol-anon. We conducted this two-day workshop in the Dr. Cecilio Putong National High School in Tagbilaran. The third day was spent on an exposure trip to a community to conduct the practicum – the teachers we trained would, in turn, conducted a workshop in this heavily devastated barangay.

On Dec. 29, thirty-seven of these teachers we trained, carried out a practicum exercise where they used what we taught them to conduct a half-day workshop in barangay Napo. This was in cooperation with DepEd Bohol, DepEd Tagbilaran, the local leadership through the coordination of Labad. Kasing Sining also served more than 80 teachers in San Jose ,Tacloban last Januray February 1-2, 2014 while another round will be done in March 28-30, 2014 with teachers in Palo, Tacloban.

Our Expressive Arts Therapy team from University of the Philippines and Philippine High School of the Arts, is composed of Alma Quinto (visual artist), Aileen de la Cruz (music educator and puppetry artist) arrived on Christmas Day, Vim Nadera (poet, performance artist and arts educator), Rosalie Zerrudo (theatre/performance artist, NCCA-NCDA) and Dr. Belen Calingacion (Chairman, Dramatics Arts, UP Diliman).

There are many nameless people who were involved in this project that came and poured their generous support to the disaster areas who believed in the power of each individual. It was a human spirit rising above the debris and destruction caring for one another.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 23, 2014.


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