Maria Mia Salazar escaped terrorism in her home country Peru, joined the Marines, fought in Iraq, and now provides art therapy for veterans through her non-profit Claymore Vets.
Maria and her family immigrated to New Jersey after applying for political asylum. It’s during this time where Maria would witness the tragic events of September the 11th. This resonated so much with Maria that she decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. She deployed to Iraq in 2003.
Maria was just 22 years old, she calls this time the “wild wild west.” As a logistics specialist dealing with computers crashing and preventing her for doing her actual job, she would constantly volunteer to also do convoy security.
Upon returning from her deployment, she decided to leave the Marine Corps. Maria turned to art therapy to not only help with her post-traumatic stress, but to help other veterans as well. After the suicide of a fellow Marine, Maria was fueled to do something for fellow veterans to have an alternative outlet of therapy and to prevent veteran suicide.
As a result, she formed Claymore Vets, non-profit organization whose mission follows their C4 philosophy:
“To cultivate a creative and connected community of veterans, first responders and artists to foster social reconnection and growth rooted in clay and visual arts.”
The organization provides mobile workshops for veterans with clay work in the New Jersey area.
Most recently, Claymore vets hosted an art drive for the Afghanistan refugees who are in Ft. Dix New Jersey. Maria gathered her fellow art therapy classmates and conducted art therapy sessions for children in the refugee camp.
They concentrated on reminding them about their self-identity. Maria, says they “are given a wristband with numbers on them and that’s how they are identified.” We wanted to ensure that they remember they are not just a number.
She mentions that most of these children, women, and men miss their home, a home they can never return to. She gave them a creative platform to showcase emotions they are feeling. The images she shared were after a prompt exercise.
The image of the stethoscope is from a female doctor who practiced medicine in Afghanistan, and hopes to practice medicine in the United States.
The image of the young girl was done by a teenage boy who had to leave his sister and mother behind.
She is currently working on curating an exhibit to showcase some of these self-reflective portraits. To support Maria’s work please click here.