Conquer the Dragon, an event featuring a group of francophone artists from British Columbia, aims to raise awareness of children affected by special needs such as autism, dyslexia and OCD.
The event doubles as a fundraiser and runs until Dec. 17 at Le Centre culturel francophone de Vancouver. The money raised by sales of the artworks will help fund a project to establish a centre where these young people can find support through the arts.
At the heart of this project is martial arts expert Christian Héno. Héno, the event’s organizer, has created a program he is immensely proud of. His program, Conquer the Dragon, seeks to help special needs children in Vancouver through movement therapy.
“I don’t teach physical education, fitness, or martial arts,” he says. “I use martial arts as a holistic tool. I use qigong and meditation as tools to help kids. So in a way, it’s a form of therapy, but it uses movements as a medium to deal with all the emotional and intellectual maladjustments that are reflected in the body.”
Héno’s movement therapy prepares his students for the future by increasing their confidence and helping them deal with their special needs.
Public school beginnings
The program started in 2004 when Héno worked in a public school as a physical education teacher. This job, he says, was extremely difficult because he would have classes of thirty boys who just wanted to fight. He recalls how he would see the boys who needed real help be bullied but he couldn’t do anything about it because he was distracted by the other boys.
“I realized those kids were always bullied by the others. I said, ‘I’ve got to take care of those boys,’” Héno recounts.
Seeing the children that needed help being bullied is one of the reasons that pushed him to create Conquer the Dragon.
Conquering the dragon
According to Héno, the key to Conquer the Dragon’s success is his ability to adapt to the needs of every student and adjust the program to each students’ needs.
“I don’t deliver promises. I am proving it to you that it’s going to work just by the result,” he states confidently.
The story he shares of a boy with special needs illustrates the ability to adapt.
“[The young student started off having] social skills [that] were very poor. His body language was showing that he was closed in. He had no eye contact,” says Héno.
Héno says that even if initially the challenge was great, he continued to help the boy a couple of times a week. In the end, the breakthrough was not through martial arts, but Qigong meditation, a meditation technique that resembles tai-chi, which helped the boy become grounded. Then, after more than a year and a half of work, Héno felt that his student was ready to perform on a stage in front of 400 people. Right before the show started, Héno saw his student dancing with another student, completely relaxed. He saw this as a sign that Conquer the Dragon was working. Héno says he has many similar stories.
Héno’s ultimate vision is to create an institution where children and teenagers with special needs can be helped by a variety of experts in different therapeutic fields. The institution would involve movement therapists, as well as music, drama and art therapists, and would be coupled with the therapeutic aspects of neuroscience and counsellors to better help children with special needs across Vancouver. This institution of movement for youth is in the works.
“It’s going to happen. I don’t know when, but it will happen,” says Héno insistently.
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