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Arts and Culture:
Suvivors: Q and A with Andréa Zalzal-Sanderson
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Andréa Zalzal-Sanderson is a therapist at The Center for Multicultural Human Services outside Washington, D.C. She was integrally involved in the production of Ping Chong's Children of War. You can learn more about the Center's programs below. Learn more about the children featured in the play here.

Q: Tell me about the history and work of the Center.

The mission of the Center for Multicultural Human Services (CMHS) is to help people from ethnically diverse backgrounds succeed by providing comprehensive, culturally sensitive mental health services by conducting research and training to make such services more widely available.

CMHS was founded in 1992 by Dr. Dennis Hunt to respond to the social and mental health needs of the growing immigrant and refugee population of the National Capital region. This organization grew out of Dr. Hunt's work in the 1980's finding foster care placements for unaccompanied Vietnamese minors through Catholic Charities in Richmond, VA. Over the years, CMHS has evolved into a multi-dimensional service provider responding to the mental health and social service needs to the immigrant and refugee community. The organizations, professional mental health staff and volunteers, speak a total of 32 languages. CMHS also trains local, national and international, human service professionals to provide culturally appropriate services to people in need.

CMHS provides low-cost mental health, social and educational services to low-income immigrant, refugee and other cultural-minority families and children. They help people understand and navigate the American culture and organizations, so they can become self-sufficient. The CMHS approach is holistic, Community and family centered, with a special focus on children and at-risk youth.

CMHS is the recipient of a United Nations (UN) grant to treat survivors of torture and severe trauma. CMHS is also a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), whose mission is: to raise the standards of care and improve access to services for traumatized children, their families and communities throughout the United States. Some of our network partners include: The Boston Medical Center, UCLA, Yale Child Study Center, Duke Medical Center and the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing. CMHS has developed extensive experience and expertise in treating people of all ages who are dealing with traumatic stress resulting from surviving war in their homelands.

Q: Tell me about your cross-cultural training programs. -- What is the special need for these programs?

The Multicultural Training Institute at CMHS offers numerous cross-cultural training programs for businesses, state, local and federal governments, universities, schools and various other groups. These cover a variety of issues from diversity workshops and clinical/treatment trainings to issues specific to certain ethnic populations. The trainings are conducted by mental health professionals. Please see CMHS' website for more details regarding trainings.

Q: Tell me about your work with the Ping's group. -- How did you get involved? What kind of experience was it for you?

Our work with Ping Chong's group grew out of an earlier project where Ping Chong and company put on a production of his well-known "Undesirable Elements" series, as a fundraiser for CMHS. "Undesirable Elements," involved the personal accounts of five adult immigrants. Dr. Dennis Hunt, began speaking with Ping Chong about adapting a version of his Undesirable Elements highlighting the struggles of refugee and immigrant children impacted and displaced by war. Dr. Hunt, and Mr. Chong, came to an agreement and decided that there would be a collaboration to bring this play into public view to help increase awareness of child trauma issues, and educate the community about the impact of war on children. Last summer, the work began in earnest, where Kacie Fisher, LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) at CMHS and Andrea Zalzal Sanderson, LPC (licensed professional counselor) began searching and screening children for the project. CMHS was responsible for finding and screening the child participants and educating Ping Chong and his staff on the issues of child development, trauma and the history and cultures of the participants. After a very lengthy and in-depth, set of interviews the children were selected by Mr. Chong, and he began writing the script based on their individual stories.

For us, it was fairly non-traditional, since we usually function as therapists at the agency. As child trauma specialists, and members of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, we had to rely heavily on our knowledge and expertise in identifying and working with children who have been adversely affected by traumatic situations. We used well developed interviewing skills, to try to determine and predict how best a child may respond to the stress of telling their personal history to the public and the stress of the project's schedule.

Q: How is it different to work with children (rather than adults) who've lived with violence?

This was a major task for us in educating the playwright, Ping Chong. There are many fundamental differences, between how children respond to traumatic stress and how adults respond. First, one must consider the developmental stage of the child. Depending on a child's developmental and cognitive stage, the child's reaction to the trauma manifests itself differently. For example, a very young child of four may regress and begin to wet their pants again, while a teenager, may become very quiet and withdrawn. However, it almost always interrupts some aspect of development. Adults, have presumably negotiated these stages of development and are better able to reason and use abstraction to deal with stressful events.

To learn more visit the Center's Web site.

The Center for Multicultural Human Services
701 West Broad Street, Suite 305
Falls Church, VA 22306
(703) 533-3302 phone
(703) 237-2083 fax

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