Seeing the Earthquake Through Children’s Eyes
By Michael Bociurkiw
ISLAMABAD, April 20, 2006 -- When a devastating earthquake struck northern Pakistan some six months ago, it was quickly dubbed the “children’s catastrophe” due to the high number of young casualties.
“The children were fascinated with cameras – squinting through the viewfinder, pretending to pose and snap away. For all but three of the children it was the first time they had held a camera.”
About half of the affected population of more than three million were 18 years old and under. What was worse is that the powerful quake struck on a school day, when most pupils were in school.
The aftermath was shocking even to the most battle-hardened humanitarian aid workers. Some 10,000 schools were leveled, and thousands of students and teachers were killed instantly. Many remain with permanent injuries.
Despite the distress they suffer, children are often the most resilient survivors.
As part of an innovative project to help amplify the voices of children and to promote participation and empowerment, UNICEF Pakistan along with CommunitySpeak, a local NGO, launched the “EYE SEE: Looking at Life From a Different Angle” project.
Covering Mansehra in Northwest Frontier Province and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, it was meant to motivate children to document –through photography – daily life in the camps in the aftermath of the earthquake.
In January 2006, trainers conducted basic photography skills workshops for 40 young people living in the IDP camps. Basic 35mm cameras were distributed and, through four sessions, lessons were provided on such topics as composition and subject selection.
The important life skills of decision making, managing interpersonal relationships and negotiation skills had to be practiced in order to complete their photography assignment. Exercises were incorporated to help the children to experience how it felt to be listened to and respect others ideas.
Said trainer Darakhshan Batool: “The children were fascinated with cameras – squinting through the viewfinder, pretending to pose and snap away. For all but three of the children it was the first time they had held a camera.”
Once the photos were processed, they were critiqued by each group. Each trainee explained why they selected an image and what it meant to them. They were encouraged to express feelings about the conditions they had experienced during their months in the camps.
Each child shot about 100 images, making a total of 4000. The children, with the help of trainers and professionals, short-listed their work to just a few images.
The quality of the work amazed even the professionals. UNICEF photographer Asad Zaidi was one of them. “Some pictures are amazing - like professional photographers like to shoot. With practice the kids took great images which showed the story of their life.”
The photos were diverse as the kids themselves. Subjects ranged from doctors to people working in open fields to a mother and child.
Said one of the young photographers: “My photo shows the great affection and love of a mother for her child – a mother is a great blessing of God. Thousands of people lost their parents in this earthquake disaster and I feel very sad about the message in my picture.”
Said another: “I selected a picture of teacher sitting with students. I think education is vital for every child and I want to convey this message to the world that education is important. I feel happy about my picture as it communicates my voice to other people”.
UNICEF maintained a significant presence in the camps since Day One, focusing its efforts in the areas of education, water and sanitation, health and nutrition and child protection.
The collection of photos were displayed in an art gallery in Islamabad for several days starting April 10 and then moved to Mansehra for viewing.
During both exhibits, groups of young students were invited to view the photographs. They were then invited to sit in a circle and share feelings of what they just saw.
Darakhshan recounted how they kids reacted when they first saw the end result of their shutter clicking.
“As they looked through images of mothers and fathers cooking together, of children playing in the tents and we realized that we were being shown an insight into these children’s lives that no photographer or journalist and few aid workers would be allowed to see. It was a humbling experience.”