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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

‘After The Big Wave’: Exhibition of children’s art and photos from the Maldives shows the impact of the tsunami

© UNICEF/HQ05-0273/Pirozzi
A schoolgirl from Huraa Island, in the Maldives, draws during a weekly class in which specially trained teachers supervise art and play activities to help children recover from trauma resulting from the tsunami.

NEW YORK, 15 March 2005 - The impact of the tsunami on the Maldives and the subsequent UNICEF relief effort there has inspired an art and photo exhibition which is scheduled to tour Europe, Japan and Korea. The drawings are by schoolchildren from the islands. The photographs are by Giacomo Pirozzi, who has been covering UNICEF’s post-tsunami work.

Art therapy began almost immediately after the disaster, as a means of helping children cope and recover. Teachers went through a 2-day ‘psychosocial first aid’ course to help them work effectively with children recovering from stress and trauma. Materials (drawing pads, crayons, paints, modelling clay) were provided by UNICEF. The programme, devised by the Psychosocial Support (PSS) Unit of the Maldives Government Crisis Task Force, includes sessions of drawing and painting for children under 12. It was from these sessions that artwork was selected for the exhibition, which is called ‘The Maldives After the Big Wave – the tsunami through the eyes of children and how UNICEF is helping’.

According to Pirozzi, the artwork is “an ideal way to portray through the eyes of children the vivid sense of the horror and enormity of what happened.”

At first glance, the drawings seem to capture nothing more than the Maldives’ world of sea and sky. Then it dawns: These images depict a world turned upside down. The waves are higher than the houses, the people are on the rooftops, the trees are under the water. The drawings also depict people running in front of the wave, others climbing up the coconut palms, panicked faces struggling in the water. Small details have not been missed: Jerry cans bob on the waves, fish gasp on the sand.

© UNICEF/HQ05-0274/Pirozzi
Triplets Samiha, Saniha and Saiha, 5, attend a weekly art and play class on Huraa Island in the Maldives, to help children recover from trauma resulting from the tsunami.

Paintings interspersed with photos

Created only days after the events of 26 December, the eight works on display draw on children’s traumatically fresh memories. One shows pools of blood on the ground, another a drowned man, floating in half-sitting position. “From the colours chosen by the children we recognized how disturbed they still are,” notes counsellor Shahula Ahmed. “Even with the whole spectrum to pick from, they use a lot of black – often with force – for the sea. This denotes fear. The red colour, also predominant, tells us about strong emotion.”

Interspersed with the paintings are photographs showing the delivery of UNICEF relief supplies for the 12,000 displaced people from devastated island communities.. Barges bring water tanks, family water and hygiene kits, buckets, soap and toothbrushes. School-in-a-box and recreation kits come next, followed by books, furniture and construction materials for rebuilding damaged classrooms.

Some of Pirozzi’s images are from Gemendhoo island. Describing them, he says, “The grief and bewilderment in the eyes of mothers, fathers, children tell their own story.”

Numerically, the Maldives’ tsunami losses may be comparatively small, currently totalling 82 deaths and 26 missing. But the extent of the effects on the country’s formerly stable way of life remains to be determined. In a country of 300,000 people every single Maldivian felt the tsunami impact.

The exhibition “The Maldives After the Big Wave – The tsunami through the eyes of children and how UNICEF is helping” launches on 23 March in Prague. It offers an opportunity for those who generously gave money to the emergency appeal to see how their donations are being used, and to engage again with the Maldives in its continuing struggle for recovery.



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