addition to the direct grief and trauma counseling provided to the
adults, an art project was initiated with children. The purpose was to
give the children some attention in their own right. I had studied
education in college and was trained in teaching art. I remembered my
student teaching with the inner city kids in Detroit and how they found
the art class to be a haven and a place of expression.
We were working at the Loadstar Relocation Camp on the Galle Fort Road
in Welligama. Betty and Katie were working with our translator in
counseling. I took my few pads of art paper and oil crayons to the open
air classroom located in the middle of the camp. This structure was
only few feet from the railway tracks on which the ill fated train
carrying several hundred passengers was destroyed by the tsunami
killing most of the riders.
A few boys about 7 years old followed me into the classroom. I gave
them pieces of paper and some oil crayons. I had to break the crayons
in half to make them go around. After 4 p.m. the school children came
walking along the tracks in their blue and white uniforms and heavy
shoes. The only time I saw children wear shoes was with their school
uniforms. A number of them ranging in age from 7 to 15 years old came
in. I tore more sheets off the pads and broke up more oil crayons. In
the end, the children presented me with a dozen or so color drawings. A
15 year old boy named Vimukthi, who took his drawing very seriously,
asked if I would come back. I said I would see if I could. That
evening, we put the drawings on the ping pong tables in the hotel and
saw how wonderful they were. The tsunami pictures were poignant and
told stories in and of themselves.
We went back to the Loadstar camp two more times. The second time, the
school space was being used for a meeting, so I used an empty family
shelter with a cement floor and poor lighting. It filled up with kids.
We all sat on the floor. Whenever a piece was completed, I would hold
it up for the others to see and we would all clap.
Since I had run out of art supplies, we went to Galle and I bought a
lot of art paper pads, oil crayons and colored pencils. On our final
trip, Betty, Brian and Lahiru all came into the school space which
completely filled up. Since we then had Lahiru taking pictures, we
tried to photograph each child with his or her art work. When we were
leaving, I gave all the art supplies to Vimukthi so he could do more
art work with his friends in the future.
In the end, this was a very powerful project. Many children depicted
the tsunami in no uncertain terms. One girl even drew the red train
with the huge wall of grey water about to hit it. A 13 year old boy
named Buresh even did a portrait of me teaching! There were some
drawings with people being rescued by helicopter (something which never
actually happened). All the pictures used a great deal of color and
detail. They are profound in the straightforward way in which they
depict something which was too big to describe verbally. There is hope
- such as the helicopter rescue and love such as in the picture with
the mother holding hands with a child on the roof. Some of the
geometric patterns - such as the birds flying in perfect formation try
to make some order out of the chaos. The very gratitude of the children
for our doing this re-energized us as we continued to listen to the
stories of loss and devastation.
Charles Flood, D.Sc.
the children's artwork
A gallery of photos
from the children's art classes