“The feelings that refugees typically have from their home are both resentment and longing. They recover their self-esteem by putting such a subtle mix of feelings in their paintings.” explained Park Jin-sook, a 45-year-old founder of EcoFemme, a nonprofit organization helping female refugees to get back on their feet, about the purpose of art therapy.
“Refugee women are struggling to land a job in Korea, but most of them are considered as elites back home, many with a doctorate,” Park said urging to help them recover their self-esteem and engage in social activities. Marking World Refugee Day on Thursday, the Dong-A Ilbo had an interview with Park at a café in Jongno, Seoul, to share her passion about refugee women and the power of art therapy.
Following a proposal by her lawyer husband, Park joined a civic group called “Shelter” in 2007 to teach Korean to refugees. In December that year, she attended a conference on immigration in Ottawa and ran into a piece of art painted by a refugee woman. Park says she was instantly reminded of the Congolese women who were eager to learn Korean despite their pregnancy.
Coming back to Korea, Park proposed her class to make a T-shirt and a mug painted with the traditional patterns of their home countries. The art class paid off handsomely. The face of the refugees deeply shadowed with the difficulties in daily life and the arduous screening processes began to lighten up at last.
Having founded EcoFemme in 2009, Park served as its representative until last month, before handing the post over to Miya, a 43-year-old Congolese woman who sat on the steering committee. Park expects to see some positive change of perception about embracing the displaced, citing an ever growing sponsorship of EcoFemme. “Whenever I gave a lecture at a school or an organization, it translated into one or two more sponsors. And that’s when I feel that I am doing the right thing,” says Park.