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The Power of Theatre - Drama Therapy in Kyrgyzstan

© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan
Small clowns running out of stress and depression. Art therapy in practice.

Bishkek, 21 May 2008 - Have you ever tried to put yourself in the position of a boy who all of a sudden is left without a family?  Or who lives in a family where nobody cares about him?  What would you do?  Cry?  Withdraw into yourself and become embittered with the whole world?

Dimka(18) didn’t become embittered or withdrawn.  He became a playwright, a stage manager, and a casting director for a play based on the true story of his life.  In the play there are no professional actors – the parts are played by residents of a Rehabilitation Centre for homeless children in Bishkek.

Dimka has suffered cruelly at the hands of fate.  His biological mother rejected him at birth, and he was adopted by a childless family.  It turned out to be a good family.  His father was a successful businessman, and his mother a medical professional, the head doctor of a maternity hospital. But when the boy was six years old, disaster came to the household - the family was left by Dimka’s father, and his mother turned to drink.  First she lost her job, then the roof over their heads.  She forgot about her son and Dimka eventually ended up on the street.

The things which the child had to struggle with on the street cannot even be called difficult - they were brutal.  Dimka has seen cruelty, and has lived through lies and violence: he was forced into larceny and begging, forced to live by the laws of the underworld.

“When the boy got to us, he was terrifying to look at,” says Alexey Petrushevskiy, Director of the Rehabilitation Center for homeless children in Bishkek.  “His eyes were empty, he trusted nobody...”

But it was only here that, after many years, Dimka could be a child again.  A child who feels wanted, about whose future someone cares.

However the pain in his heart did not allow him to live peacefully, until the teachers at the Centre discovered an ingenious solution for the difficult situation faced not just by Dimka, but also the majority of children in the Centre.

They suggested to the children that they put on a performance. To put it on by themselves, without any professional actors or directors. “At the beginning nobody believed that anything would come of it,” says the hero of the story himself.

But the children themselves wrote the script, basing it on the disturbing life of Dimka.  They designed the set, sewed the costumes and selected the music.  Dima himself carried out the casting among residents of the Centre – he chose actors for leading and supporting roles.  The children enjoyed the process so much that they didn’t miss a single rehearsal.


© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan
Actors of the famous drama.

Art therapy is practiced in Kyrgyzstan thanks to UNICEF.  Experts have shown that children who have suffered from various types of abuse find psychological rehabilitation very difficult.  Art therapy, however, has been proved to work – a child steadily regains self belief, and belief in kindness, and studies how to overcome fears, and feelings of worthlessness.

With the support of UNICEF, Helen Woolley, a British art therapy expert, worked for a week in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, in 2003 with 37 psychotherapists working with children from risk groups.  The Kyrgyz specialists learned a very important technique for psychological rehabilitation, thanks to which hundreds of children in the country have been given a chance to return to ordinary life.

“We’ve already put on more than 30 performances,” says Aleksey Petrushevskiy.  At the beginning even we teachers didn’t believe that this work would so enthrall the children, and that the play would be so well acclaimed.  We regularly make “guest performances” at various schools in the city, and the premiere of the play was put on in the Kyrgyz Philharmonic Hall in October 2003.”

“Nobody, not one person could watch the play without feeling something,” says Aleksey Petrushevskiy.  “Those have seen this monstrously cruel and true to life story will never be able to forget it.  And besides that, they leave convinced that homeless children are just ordinary children like all others, except for the fact that they need more attention and love,” he says.

One government official admitted to the Centre’s Director after a performance that he had never received a bigger slap on the face from anybody.  “And he had never wanted to thank anyone for a slap on the face before,” said Petrushevskiy.

Art therapy helps the small staff of the Rehabilitation Centre to bring children back to life, gives them the will to cross the threshold into a happy life. In the Rehabilitation Centre’s art therapy room, fully equipped by UNICEF, children are now engaged in drawing and music, performance and dance.

Psychologists say that there are no children without talents – all that is needed is for children’s natural talents to be noticed and revealed in time. But it is especially important for children who have found themselves in crisis situations, because when children have the opportunity to realise their abilities, there is more chance to return to a normal life – it is easier to overcome depression and to be an ordinary child again.

Therefore besides the drama group, the Centre also has a troupe of clowns, and a dance ensemble, and the youngest group of artists simultaneously dance and sing.  

“We try to cure children, to return them to normal life,” says Alexey Petrushevsky.  “But our main task is to return children to their families if conditions have been stabilised, or to find new parents for the children. Because no matter how great the conditions created by the state for children in institutions, every child always dreams of family,” he says.

The story in the performance has a happy ending - mum, dad and Dimka are together again.  This is the only deviation from the truth because in fact neither Dima’s father nor his mother is alive any more. His adopted father has died of a heart attack, and his adopted mother died from vodka.

But Dimka, who has been abandoned twice in his short life by his parents, is happy. He is already working, and has his own family - a loving wife and small daughter Yulechka who just celebrated her first birthday.  


For more information please contact :

Оlga Grebennikova
Communication Officer
UNICEF in Kyrgyzstan




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