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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Young Thai girl finds inspiration through photojournalism project

© UNICEF Thailand/2006
Mod, 13, stands in front of photographs she shot for the ‘InSIGHTOut!’ project, which teaches Thai children in tsunami-affected areas how to take pictures and write journals.

By Robert Few

PHANG NGA, Thailand, December 2006 – Hot and dry wind blows up gritty dust as a team of UNICEF staff approaches a roadside shack in rural Thailand. The dilapidated mixture of peeling wood, grey concrete and corrugated iron has been home to 13-year-old Mod and her 10-year-old brother since their father was killed in a recent motorcycle accident.

Inside the dark house, the children share a single room with their extended family – their grandparents, an uncle, two aunts and a cousin. Mod and her brother are among the few healthy members of the household.

Their grandfather is almost immobile due to kidney failure, and their grandmother is paralyzed from a stroke. Mod’s uncle stands by the door, his left arm hanging limply by his side as a result of a severe burn in an accident. His disability prevents him from working, and the family is mired in deep poverty.

Skills and inspiration

The staff is here to make sure that both Mod and her brother make it to the final workshop of the ‘InSIGHT Out!’ project, a UNICEF-supported initiative that teaches vulnerable children in tsunami-affected areas how to take pictures and write journals.

The two children have been identified by project staff as at risk of dropping out. Their mother abandoned them years ago, and since their father’s death they have become more secluded and withdrawn. And taking care of their ailing grandparents has left them with very little time.

© UNICEF Thailand/2006
Mod’s grandfather; Mod and her younger brother have been taking care of their grandparents since the death of their father.

But the staff is convinced that these are the type of children who are most in need of the skills and inspiration InSIGHT Out! offers. The project, initiated by a group of Bangkok-based journalists and photographers who covered the 2004 tsunami, aims to empower children and bring together communities who suffered in the disaster.

“When the tsunami hit, even though I was okay, all I could think about was which of my friends would be gone,” said Mod. “When I went back to school, I found that I had lost some of them, including my best friend.”

Children from excluded groups

Along with 70 children aged 10 to 15, Mod learned how to use photography and journalism as a way of expressing herself. She documented the village she lives in, her friends and her family – especially her aging grandparents.

Among her classmates are boys and girls of Buddhist and Muslim backgrounds, as well as children of the Burmese migrant workers and the minority sea gypsy Moken, two of the most excluded groups in Thailand. For many of these children, Insight Out! is the first formal schooling they have ever had.

“I’ve learned a lot on this course,” said Mod. “If my father was still alive, I would love to have photographed him. In the future I would like to be a journalist. If there is another tsunami, I hope I will be photographing it instead of experiencing it.”

‘Speaking out for us’

Soon, a selection of work from the students in the programme will be included in exhibitions in Asia, Europe and the United States.

Meanwhile, UNICEF and its partners are looking at ways to expand the project so that more children like Mod will have an opportunity to discover their potential and develop their talent.

“These children have shown us things about our life that we have never noticed before,” said InSIGHT Out! project staff member Htun Htun Naing. “And they can say things about our communities that we cannot say. They are speaking out for us.”




December 2006:
UNICEF’s Rob McBride reports on ‘InSIGHT Out!’, a project designed to help children in Thailand express themselves and cope with the effects of the tsunami.
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