Sri Lanka Journal: June 2005

Sri Lanka Journal:
Entry Number 4


Although I was not certain as to whether I would ever use them, I purchased some art supplies in Colombo. These consisted of big pads of paper and oil pastels. I felt that there might be a possibility to do some artwork with children - something for which I was trained as an undergraduate years ago.

One camp we went to was in Weligama, north of Unawatuna. This camp was located around the railway tracks which ran directly through. On the ocean side of the road was another camp and new housing being built by the Italian government. On one particular day, we had only Brian for translating so I walked around the camp taking some photos. The day before, we had visited another camp and two adolescent girls there used some of the art supplies and made some drawings with me. On this day, I wandered into the open air classroom and sat down and started to do a drawing. I was soon surrounded by children 5 to 15 years old. I pulled sheets off the pad and gave out oil pastels. They sat down and started working on drawings. I went around and encouraged their work. They finally produced their pictures and I took several photos of the children and their art work. A fifteen year old boy - Vimukthi - asked if I would come back and do this again. I said I would try to do so.

As it turned out, we came back there twice and I had to go to Galle to buy more art supplies. On the second visit, the classroom was being used for something, so we had to crowd together in a small empty wooden shelter. I sat on the concrete floor with 22 children. At the end of that visit, Vimukthi was very solemn and surmised I would not return. However, I said I would try. We all did go back on our second to last day in that area and Betty, Brian and Lahiru helped give out the art supplies. I brought a large number of extra pads of paper, colored pencils and oil pastels. These were all entrusted to Vimukthi and I made it clear he was in charge of the art supplies and would give them out in the future. A few mothers tried to interfere but I said he was in charge since he had organized these art sessions.

I had read a short essay in Newsweek written by a women from the U.S. who had gone to Indonesia for two weeks of tsunami aid. She said that it did not matter much what she was able to achieve there in the way of aid but it mattered a great deal that people saw how far she had traveled and that she had done this to be with them in their time of tragedy. I felt that the art symbolized this attitude in that I kept my promise and returned two more times and had bothered to spend time with these children in the first place. Many parents stood around watching this display of enthusiasm on the part of their children.

Of course doing drawings of the tsunami with bodies in the water and people clinging to palm trees was an entree to empowerment for the children just as much as the adults telling their stories of the tragedy. There was not the opportunity to discuss this work much with the children but there was a great deal of opportunity to praise their creativity. Most did not do "tsunami drawings" but drew beautiful scenes, elephants, mountains, trees and the ocean in its calmer state. They were very anxious to make these with me. One boy even did a portrait of me teaching the class! In the end it was their offering to us - a chance to give back to these people who came so far to listen to stories of pain, tragedy and loss.

Charles Flood, D.Sc.

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June 2005 Journal Entries
Introduction | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5