Miranda recently accompanied designer Kim Lewis and the amazing women at Touch A Life to transform what was once an abandoned house boat floating on the waters of Battambang, Cambodia, into a colorful space ready for creativity and healing. After months of planning and a furious few days of building and painting, Selah Art Center was completed! Working with their partners at Rapha House, together they joined forces in the fight to end human trafficking and exploitation though the creation of the Selah Art Center – a sanctuary and tool they will use to restore survivors of slavery. Here, she shares a little bit about her adventure in Cambodia….take it away, Miranda!
When my friend Kim Lewis at Vagabond Designers asked me to join her on a trip to Cambodia to help her build two art centers, I responded with an enthusiastic YES! Anyone who knows me knows I’m always up for an adventure, and this sounded like a good one. It wasn’t until I had booked my flights and reserved my hotel rooms did I stop to ask, “Hey Kim… what exactly are we DOING in Cambodia?”
Kim laughed in that high pitch squeal I love so much. Before striking out on her own, Kim used to be the lead designer on the TV show “Extreme Home Makeover,” which, In case you missed it, was a reality TV show that provided home improvements for underprivileged families as well as community schools in need of new hope. Kim is one of the most creative and talented people I know – and standing at 4-feet nothing, she is also the tiniest adult person I know! But this little lady has a HUGE heart. And her compassion for others and her talent for design is what ultimately led us to Cambodia.
The Cambodian art centers project involved several organizations coming together to achieve one goal – to provide a healing and creative space for young girls rescued from human trafficking. Kim had been commissioned by Touch A Life Foundation to design art centers around the world to bring healing to children that had been exploited. After completing the first one in Ghana several years ago, it was time for the Cambodian edition. Touch A Life teamed up with Rapha House – a safe home for rescued girls – and Art Feeds – an organization that provides therapeutic art programs for children. The plan was to build an art center at two Rapha House locations in Cambodia, where the kids could have a space for restoration through art therapy.
I really wasn’t sure what my role was in the project… until Kim said, “Miranda, you have to bring them Flash Tattoos! We need to let them know that they are worth GOLD!” That was all I needed to know. And so I flew across the globe to help share Kim’s message to the girls.
As soon as we landed in Cambodia, we hit the ground running. The first few days were spent shopping for paint, fabrics, rugs, furniture, lighting and lumber. Then we got into the real work – transforming an abandoned houseboat floating on the waters behind the Rapha House into a space for creativity and healing. We each had a specific job to do, and mine was to build a stage and fill a few trunks with costumes, puppets and all the ingredients necessary for theatrical self-expression.
After an intense four days of painting and building, we managed to turn that boat into a giant ray of sunshine. I couldn’t imagine anyone more deserving of such a magical space than these brave girls who have endured so much. We couldn’t wait to show it to them!
I wish I could express how much the girls lit up when they saw their new art center. They squealed with excitement and couldn’t wait to try on all the costumes and create their first piece of art to hang on the wall. It was perhaps the first time in a long time that these girls had experienced the pure joy and delight of being a child. To be able to witness this moment was a true gift.
Of course, I still had a little gift to give to the girls – the Flash Tattoos! While it always makes my heart smile to see a child putting on their first Flash Tat, this time was TRULY special. We wanted the girls to know how important they are, to believe that they are worthy, and to know that the actions of others do not dictate their value as a human being and as a woman. To remind them of this, we gave each of the girls a leather-bound journal to capture their dreams, hopes and desires. We also gave them a small, customized Flash Tattoo with the words “You are worth Gold” to apply to the outside of their journals. We can only hope that this simple reminder will help the girls regain the confidence and courage they need to leave the Rapha House and return to their villages.
We ended our visit to the Rapha House by releasing a cluster of wish lanterns into the evening sky. I’m not sure what any of these young girls wished for, but I know what I wished for – to be able to give them their childhood back.
A big hug, kiss and a thank you to the Rapha House for the amazing work they do to help rescue and restore these girls, and to Touch A Life and Art Feeds for building art centers and programs to help the kids heal. Also to Kim Lewis, for including me on this trip and for always being an inspiration. And last but most certainly not least, to all the girls – for showing me what it means to overcome adversity and continue to SHINE! They will always be in my heart.
Photos by Pam Cope, Kim Lewis, and Laura Rhoades. For more info about the finished Art Center, head over to the Touch A Life blog.