Mapping lost homes

Mapping lost homes

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Mike McCall
Mike McCall
Department of Urban and Regional
Planning and GeoInformation Management
ITC, The Netherlands
[email protected]

Drawing “mental maps” of their former home and life spaces can have long-lasting benefits, especially for children. Not only is it a therapeutic activity for them related to the recent pains, but it is also about overcoming the losses of home space and neighbourhood, the places where they used to roam and play and to walk with their parents and siblings and friends. The neighbourhood is the immediate areas and streets and open space near the house where they used to live

Beyond the terrible loss of life and infrastructure caused by the tsunami disaster in coastal South and Southeast Asia was the physical loss of home spaces and neighbourhoods and the cultural, social and psychological losses of community which go along with that. The physical neighbourhoods cannot be recovered materially as they were, but something might be done for reinforcing and reinvigorating the spiritual life of the communities.

Within those communities the survivor children suffered a distinctive damage from the tsunami. Children may be resilient, but they also have less life experience on which to rebuild normality

There is an opportunity, maybe an imperative, for working with children affected by the tsunami to use drawing and the ´mapping of lost homes´, both as therapy and as recovery of heritage. Support to survivor children may be given as:

  • Drawing and painting being therapeutic after the trauma of surviving the tsunami, especially for children, and
  • for children, as for everyone, memories of home, neighbourhood and community need preserving, including a “home map” which recreates the child’s mental picture or “mental map” of the lost home and its surroundings.

Drawing Therapy
There is plenty of evidence and understanding that drawing and painting have an amazing power to heal after traumatic experiences. This is true also for releasing emotions and imaginations through play-acting, and dance etc., but here the consideration is with visual pictures. Children can express though drawings, paintings and other art forms, feelings and emotions that are difficult to describe in words. These forms of expression have no language barriers.

The idea of children making paintings is frequently applied for individual children after personal or family traumas, including violent accidents, fires, or attacks. And it is also used on a bigger scale with children after major traumatic events, such as after the Bam earthquake in Iran, the 9/11 attack in New York, earthquakes in China, civil wars and hostage atrocities in Serbia and Chechnya, etc.

“Home Maps” as Therapy
Drawing “mental maps” of their former home and life spaces can have long-lasting benefits, especially for children. Not only is it a therapeutic activity for them related to the recent pains, but it is also about overcoming the losses of home space and neighbourhood, the places where they used to roam and play and to walk with their parents and siblings and friends. The neighbourhood is the immediate areas and streets and open space near the house where they used to live, but can also include the houses of grandparents, cousins, relatives and friends, and where they played and shopped with their mothers.

Many of those places have been physically lost, but they remain stick mentally in the children’s minds and dreams. Recovering them by drawing does not make the memories worse, it helps the children to accept what has happened.