Entry Number 4
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.