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The Art Project
Children's Art Project

Charles TeachingIn 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.

A gallery of the children's artwork

A gallery of photos from the children's art classes