Putting art to work
Pam Guneratnam

In the #MalaysianHeroes series, we feature #YSDAF2018 partners who have been making a change in bridging the gap between the arts and the community.

Art is a small word that means many things. It’s more than just appreciating the complex works of Vincent Van Gogh and Andy Warhol in an art gallery. Art is an expression, and most importantly, art is for all.

And in the case of Humankind Malaysia, art can also be used as a means for mental wellness and well-being.

Meet Pam Guneratnam, a psychologist by profession and the founder of Humankind. In conjunction with the Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival (YSDAF), Pam will be conducting a workshop during the festival finale this 18 & 19 August 2018 at The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre to promote a free expression of art in cultivating mental wellness and well-being.

So, what exactly does Humankind do?

Humankind focuses on the therapeutic and transformative powers of art-making. With the aim of human growth, development and healing, Pam and her team provide individuals with an avenue to express themselves through art in a safe and protected environment.

The team works with all sectors of society — with a priority on marginalised communities — and collaborates with schools, shelters, orphanages, community organisations, and hospitals.


“[Humankind] is really about training people who want to be of service in some way using the arts as a means.”

Pam Guneratnam


What inspired Pam to utilise art as a means for mental wellness and wellbeing?

Not too long ago, Pam realised that refugee issues were being highlighted more and more in Malaysia. But she also found out that there weren’t enough resources in the country to meet the needs of these displaced communities.

She had her heart set on filling that gap, but she wanted to do it right and do it well. Knowing that traditional talking therapies would not be useful due to language barriers, Pam turned to the curative and transformative power of art. It was something she had tried first-hand, and loved the value it brought to her own personal growth and well-being.

“Let’s try this,” she said. “Let’s use this free-expression-type art and see what impact they could have with working with these communities.”

And that’s how Humankind came about.

Nice! How does Humankind teach art? Is it a case of “Here’s an art block, go have fun”?

Most creative programmes conducted by Humankind cater towards children of displaced communities. Although each session is meant to be fun and therapeutic, Pam ensures that each project is equipped with trained volunteers and a clear programme structure.

Every volunteer who signs up with Humankind will embark on a training session before being fully qualified to facilitate creative programmes. Some programmes may last just three days, while others can go up to several weeks.

Humankind focuses on two renowned approaches in teaching and facilitating art expression — namely Process Painting and Expressive Sandwork. Using the tools of paint and paper, and sandboxes and miniatures, respectively, participants are given the freedom to express themselves with colours and images, and to make visible their inner world in a safe and protected space.

Have the children (and adults) enjoyed themselves and benefited from the programme?

The obvious and heartwarming answer: yes!

Pam notes how children who have been anxious, aggressive and unengaged in the past have now seen improvement in their overall well-being and propensity to express themselves.


“The caregivers and caretakers were coming to tell us that the children were much better behaved and calm. You don’t have to shout at them so much anymore!”

Pam Guneratnam


What’s the greatest lesson Pam has learnt from her experience with Humankind?

The first thing that comes to mind for Pam is the sheer power and impact ordinary people can make in their communities. For her, gratification from working with Humankind comes in the form of simple things: the connection between people, the relationships, and the kindness that these communities foster.


“It’s recognising that we’re all part of the same community, and that we’re all in it together.”

Pam Guneratnam


This is inspiring, and I want to contribute in some way too! How or where do I begin?

One of the reasons impeding most people from volunteering is fear, Pam says. “They feel inadequate and think ‘I want to help, but I don’t know how’.”

This is why people like Pam and organisations like Humankind provide the kind of help and support you’d need before embarking on and engaging with causes that are dear to your heart.

The best answer? Go for it and reach out.

To find out more about Humankind Malaysia and what Pam and her team does, visit www.humankind.my.