Art therapy intern makes a world of difference

News-DemocratMarch 23, 2014 

A guy with a ponytail and a "Cho" name tag adds color to the world of seniors living at Our Lady of The Snows.

Last week, Cho, a Taiwan native and SIUE art therapy intern, showed them how to create alcohol ink designs on ceramic tile squares.

"Just drop the color," said Yun-che "Cho" Chiu, 27. "You can have 10 colors if you like to. Cover you sleeves. I don't want to dye your clothes. Put another color on top. That is a good try."

A senior apartments class of seven shared tiny tubes of paint, squirting bright dots onto white tiles.

"If you get halfway through and decide it's not what I want," said Cho, "we can wipe off and start again. ..."

Bob Landes did a swirly mix of yellows, reds, oranges, limes with a little black.

"Bob, I love yours," said Cho. "That is so beautiful."

"I want pink, please," called out Bernice Dressler, 89, who is considering using hers as a coaster.

Across the table, retired Cathedral Grade School teacher Kay Dahlmann watched bright orchid merge with pale green.

Doreen Roache's design looked like a happy abstract daisy. The 92-year-old makes the best of things, always has. She had a stroke 30 years ago that paralyzed her left side.

"It's a very wonderful social occasion," she said of art class. "We're commited to talk about art, and talk to friends. It's a wonderful, therapeutic thing. If you make something and you don't like it, you say, 'I'll do better next time.' The tiles are one of our best projects."

Colors spread and merged. Alcohol evaporated and left abstract designs. Christie Hart, activities director, collected the tiles on trays to dry. There was time for another project.

Cho, who likes sketching and collage, has an undergraduate degree in Chinese painting from Taipei National University of Arts. For the seniors' art class, he looks online for projects that can be completed in less than an hour.

"I try them out first to make sure the elders here can do it, too," he said.

Cho also brings his computer to show examples. The process is just as important as the finished piece.

"Art is a way to connect to each other without a word," he said. "Art is a universal language."

Before studying for his master's, Cho often combined travel and volunteerism. He has volunteered in Thailand, Nepal and India, at Mother Teresa's house.

"You don't apply. You just go. Orientation is Monday afternoon. "What can I do?" It has seven sites. I have been to the (disabled) children's home, the unit for males with chronic disease, and the home of dying patients. The jobs were similar. Wash patients' clothes and dishes, feed patients, or just be with them. Wrap people who have died, so they can move to next step.

In the home for dying patients, the jobs were not the hardest part. The hardest part was to see so much pain constantly happening in front of my very eyes and the things that I could do were so few. Then, I saw a quote from Mother Teresa on the wall. 'It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.'

"Each of them teach me something to make who I am now. The things that I have learned from them are more than I have given. It is the same to do art therapy with patients. Art therapists learn from their clients. Each client has a unique life experience. It is a privilege having the clients share their experiences through art."

We asked Cho about how a guy from Taipei, Taiwan, happened to be teaching in Belleville.

What made you decide to attend Southern Illlinois University at Edwardsville? "It was a small program. It offered a lot of graduate assistantships to help with tuition. The staff is excellent. My professor, Gussie Klorer, just got a huge award from the art therapy association.

Are art styles different around the world? "Yes, of course. Different countries have different ways to create art. Taiwan is from an Asian culture. The art is more focused on the power of lines. Nepal is a very religious country. Most art is related to religion. America is a well developed country. Therefore, It develops multiple aspect of art."

How long have you lived here? I've been here 2 1/2 years. This semester is my last semester. I'm going to go back to Taiwan in August. I will be a counselor. ... I will keep doing art."

When did you learn English? "We start from middle school. English was my worst, worst subject. For study abroad, I had to work hard. On a test, I was supposed to score a 120. I scored 46. I stayed after school for three months to study. I took the test again and got 80. It was the minimum to apply to SIUE."

Any surprises when you got here? "It's a more rural country than I thought it would be. It's not as crowded as Taipai (population 2 1/2 million) where streets are very narrow. Buildings are so high there you barely see the sky. When I see the sky here, it's so wide. And the stars, there are so many. Also, the animals are all over the place. I can see deer on campus and geese and raccoons. I was very surprised."

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