When natural disasters strike, parents and teachers face new challenges. After ensuring the safety of our near and dear ones, we focus on the rescuing our personal belongings. Children rely on us, the adults in their lives to keep them safe. In instances like the recent Chennai rains, almost all children felt a sense of loss—either because they were directly affected by the flooding or because they knew others who were affected by it. Even those who were relatively safe were inundated by pictures in the news and social media as rescue operations were underway. How do we help our children make sense of the loss of security?
Recently I was in a class of 2nd graders who showed me how. I walked into their class thinking that they’ll want to talk about the upcoming holiday. They had other priorities.
“Miss, Miss, did you know we had a lot of rain in Chennai?” they asked as soon as they saw me. Different narrations came pouring out as each student started to speak about his or her experiences. Some were dramatic and others were quite somber. It seemed like they just wanted to talk about it to someone who hadn’t been there.
I put away my plan for the day and gave them a paper and pencil and asked them to draw a picture of their experiences. They started with a drawing of their homes and the narration of events added details.
Children’s experiences in the Chennai rains in their drawings
“I actually live in flats but I don’t know how to draw one. Water entered my house and we went upstairs to our neighbour’s house. We slept there for two nights. We couldn’t go to our house. My clothes and my school books became wet Miss. SO my mother threw away the dirty wet things. I had to get new books,” said one student, as he tried to draw ‘flats’ with a ruler.
“The water came up to my neck, Miss. My mom grabbed me and took me to her sister’s house. The water made our house very dirty and we had to clean it a lot. We had to stay away for many days. I had to buy new books too,” one little girl with twinkling eyes narrated, looking not at all scared at her ordeal.
“Miss, my aunt and my cousins came to our house because their house was flooded. The water took everything from their house. Water didn’t come inside our house but after a few days, we didn’t have enough food. We children had some food but the adults didn’t have enough.”
“Miss, next to my house there is a big hole. The water came up to the steps in our house but it didn’t come into the house. My dad said the water went down because it filled the hole. See the water is brown because it is muddy. The tea shop next to my house was open for a little while and people came to buy hot tea when it rained. My brother and I stayed inside the house to be safe. There was no power for 3 days,” a calm older sister reported.
“It rained, and rained, and rained and the plants were covered. Water entered some houses on our street but not others. We didn’t have power for 5 days. We didn’t have school either.”
“My neighbours helped us. They have a big house and all of us went to their house. Even other people came to their house and we all slept there. Lots of kids were there so it was nice.”
“I was a bit scared miss. My nice clothes all got dirty and wet. I was sad too. There were many boats on our street. Some people had to leave their homes in those boats. I am happy it stopped raining.”