When Katrina Happened, Children Drew

On the third anniversary of Katrina, children draw and tell.

Posted Aug 28, 2008

It’s the eve of the third anniversary of a disaster that literally drowned a city, displaced thousands, and remains a reminder of failed recovery efforts. Three years later, some children are coping while others still struggle.

I visited the Ninth Ward area of New Orleans earlier this year. Traveling through neighborhoods on pot-holed streets I saw houses being rebuilt along side residences that were abandoned in 2005. Some homes still had the ominous X symbol used by rescuers in the first days after the flood to indicate that a structure had been searched for the living and the dead. While driving past a row of homes near the levee, a young and strikingly beautiful girl walked down the sidewalk toward the car. I rolled down the window to say hello, but was greeted to my surprise by a 7-year-old’s rage—unsmiling, she extended her middle finger at me. Her anger was tangible and unforgettable.

Having worked with so many traumatized children over the past two decades, I continue to closely follow the status of the child survivors of Katrina. My art therapy colleagues who
worked with children in the now closed Renaissance Village FEMA site provided intervention to hundreds of children up until recently. I have learned firsthand and from mental health professionals who work in the region that the anger and sense of betrayal in many child survivors continues to be palpable, the result of trauma, displacement, and loss. Others, like researchers Joy and Howard Osofsky,report evidence of resilience despite direct exposure to crises and unspeakable experiences. In contrast to other disasters, New Orleans has not yet made the transition to recovery that other communities affected by crisis have made, including the rebuilding of human services and educational infrastructure. Any degree of resilience in its survivors is, in and itself, a miracle.

In remembrance of a national tragedy and as a reminder of how Katrina’s aftermath continues to affect thousands of individuals, take a couple of minutes and watch a brief excerpt from the film, “Katrina’s Children.” Filmmaker Laura Belsey’s compelling work exceptionally honors the smallest survivors, but includes no footage of winds or floods, rescues, or mayhem at the Superdome. Children are the heart of this documentary that offers a rare opportunity to view their drawings and listen to their first person accounts about the day of the hurricane. Their images and narratives illuminate the core of human spirit, helping us to more deeply understand how it feels to lose everything and, at the same time, leaving us to wonder why something so terrible happened.

© 2008 Cathy Malchiodi