For an hour a week, Laras Kasih, a community of artists, gives children with cancer a reason to smile.
Childhood is a time of joy, of having the freedom to run amock and of general enjoyment. Unfortunately not for all. Dharmais hospital has a special ward for patients with cancer. Young patients with cancer. Some too weak to smile, to enjoy life like their healthier peers. But every Wednesday morning —from 9:30 to 10:30— on the hospital’s fourth floor, there are smiles, however courageous, from these youth. And joy. The floor is filled with children using pencils and water colours and making their own artisitic creations.
Laras Kasih, a community of painters who specialise in watercolours volunteer their time at the hospital helping children paint. For this brief moment each week, these young children forget their pain, and focus on enjoying themselves.
It all began when Getarti Donny Nitisastro, affectionately called Ibu Donny, visited the hospital in 2010 with her friends from a meditation club, Bali Usada, to discuss collaboration with the hospital. During her visit to the pediatric ward, she noticed a schedule for patients to play and saw that there were a few volunteers engaging in a activities with the children. An idea was born.
After she left her job at a renowned bank and trading company, Ibu Donny worked as a freelancer, focusing her time on art and meditation. She pursued her interest in art—focusing on watercolours—in 2003 by studying with watercolour master, Agus Budiyanto.
“I asked myself ‘ why don’t I visit them and teach them how to paint during their play time?’ My house not far from the hospital and I had time to do that, and I could paint with watercolours,” Ibu Donny said. “So, I discussed this idea with Dr. Edi Setiawan Tehuteru, one of cancer specialists in the hospital who I had met through my meditation club. The hospital gave me permission after determining that watercolours were quite safe for patients because they contained very minimal chemical elements compared to oil paints or acrylic,”she added.
At first, Ibu Donny conducted the painting class independently and bought all the materials, such as watercolours, drawing papers, pencils etc with her own money. She recalled that at first the patients were shy, but they slowly warmed up to her and began to enjoy the process. Participants slowly increased and the hospital began regular classes.
Ibu Donny then began inviting friends and also her teacher Agus Budiyanto. With the increasing number of patients interested in the class, Ibu Donny needed more teachers to accompany the children. In 2013, there were seven teachers who joined and helped form a community, named Laras Kasih (love in harmony) and was registered as a non-profit organisation.
To motivate the children and their families, their paintings were exhibited. In 2013, for the first time, their paintings were exhibited in the hospital’s lobby to commemorate International Childhood Cancer Day. In 2014, their paintings also decorated Siloam Semanggi Hospital’s children’s ward’s lobby. In the Dharmais’ anniversary celebration in 2016 and 2017, the paintings were prominently displayed.
Ibu Donny admitted that at the beginning students imitated the teachers for half the session in order to improve their drawing skills. Later, she and the other teachers brought sample images based on the chosen theme and helped guide them to recreate the images.
“What our community does is art as therapy. Painting is one of art activities which we believe can help in the healing process. The painting class that we have created is really flexible and they are not pushed to paint using proper techniques. We understand they’re patients who are often in pain and often don’t feel strong enough to function. We have to see their mood especially after they undergo chemotherapy. We also go to their bed and help them paint if they really would like to. It’s important that they are comfortable doing this and we’re happy when they show progress,” Ibu Donny notes.
This year marks the programme’s ninth anniversary. 13 teachers are now dedicated to running it in addition to their regular routine. The community also plans to help children with special needs, and collaborate with other organisations in the future.
In December 2018, Laras Kasih collaborated with Hotel Pullman Thamrin to exhibit the children’s work during the Christmas Charity - Art Market.