Ho Chi Minh City doctor enlists student volunteers in art therapy

By Nguyen Ngoc Lan Chi, Thanh Nien News

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An art class at the An Binh Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Lan Chi An art class at the An Binh Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Lan Chi
Patients and relatives were recently surprised to encounter a group of painters in An Binh Hospital.
The Ho Chi Minh City hospital began offering free art therapy classes to patients being treated for communication disorders caused by brain injuries.
Over the past nine months, many patients have been touched by their experiences in the classes, which were led by a group of art students from Saigon University, which was coordinated by Dr. Le Khanh Dien.
Dien said he has wanted to offer such a class after being inspired by a visit to the War Memorial Hospital in Sydney in 2011.
“After studying similar models in the Europe and America, I decided to launch art therapy in Vietnam,” he said.
Dien said he began by reaching out to Do Xuan Tinh, head of the Art Faculty at the Saigon University who jumped on board.
“Teaching painting to patients offers students a great opportunity to give back to the community,” Tinh said.
“The class is just like a family. The students and patients have a good time together and both benefit,” he said.
According to Dr Dien, the students are patients who are recovering from serious illnesses or brain injuries that have caused problems with their ability to speak. 
“Art is really a miracle," he said.  "Many patients have recovered well and smiles appeared among them after a long, slow process.”
Many art students had a difficult time teaching the class, in the beginning.
Nguyen Thi Van, a third year student at Saigon University, said she was excited from the beginning. “But I felt a lot of pressure when I first got to the class; I feared I wouldn't be able to communicate with them.”
Her classmate Truong Minh Sang, a student who is active in many social activities, was also shy at first.
“It is a unique activity that I had never heard about,” he said.
However, nearly ten months into the program, Sang said it has proven to be a good experience.
“I used to be afraid of hospitals. But now, I find myself missing the place whenever I can't come to the class for a few days,” he said.
Tinh, the head of Saigon University’s Art Faculty, said that the volunteer group recently held an exhibition of the group's work at Art Gallery on Nguyen Trai Street in HCMC's District 5.
“The students, who are teaching painting to patients, actually get a lot out of the experience, including patience, sympathy, sharing and the ability to express an issue thoroughly,” he said. 

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