Floods, Kurit Aki, and December colors
Joven was eight years old, very shy, and socially in recluse when his Mama, a laborer’s wife with four other children, decided to register him with the Kurit Aki program in 2018. The mother, Josie, is a member of Ilaw ng Kababaihan, a women’s group that Tabang Bikol Movement organized in the aftermath of Typhoon Nina, which struck Bicol on Christmas day, December 25, 2016. That typhoon was so tragic it flooded entire barangays and left them homeless, along with thousands of low-income families in many parts of Bicol.
Josie worried that the situation of her once-active son might worsen. However, since they lost their home and began living a life of distress in a house surrounded by floodwater every day, Josie felt a significant change in her children, especially Joven, who became almost uncommunicative and detached from her family and friends.
The Kurit Aki (Children Drawing) is an art workshop that TBM designed as a psycho-social intervention for distressed children. TBM partners with artists and cultural workers to provide immediate relief and coping strategies for children who experience trauma from calamities like flooding or losing one’s home or loved ones. The primary goal is to prevent chronic distress and try to inject a sense of optimism, especially among children.
Several weekends spent drawing, painting, and social interaction with other children at Kurit Aki sessions significantly changed Joven’s outlook and behavior. I saw how he started his first brush of paint with dark, sad, and muted colors like black, deep blue, and gray, that metamorphosed into bright hues of pastel colors evoking vibrant energy.
That was in 2018. Fast forward to the present, Joven transforms into a happy, energetic, and well-behaved boy of 12 who is doing very well in school and athletics. In addition, participating in Kurit Aki art workshops has become a part of his young life.
Flooding and disaster cause distress
Many studies have shown that natural disasters like flooding that displace and cost lives among people are major psychological stressors that trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Flooding and evacuation are major twin problems in Bicol. Children are the most affected by dramatic environmental and social changes.
For example, the recent continuous intense rains for almost two days since Sunday, December 18, triggered floods and landslides in many parts of Camarines Sur, Albay, and Camarines Norte towns. As a result, many poor, vulnerable families fled their homes. Although there was no typhoon yet, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), the heavy rains came from the combined effect of the shear line and extension of a low-pressure area.
Over at Barangay Haring in Camarines Sur, flooding has become a part of daily life among the residents, even without rain. So on Monday, one can imagine the terrible impact on children’s physical and emotional health. Joven lives in that community. As floodwaters rise, water is more contaminated with sewage, chemicals, and other pollutants. So do dermatologic or skin diseases and other illnesses rise that put children and adults alike at greater health risk.
Poor drainage and lack of zonal planning are a cause of why water seems not to disappear from the main roads. Is Barangay Haring fit for a residential community or an aqua-agri project? Why, to this day, the problem of flooding in Canaman’s poorest barangay remains unresolved?
Two days before the rains came, more than 50 children gathered at the Mariners JCJ Gym in Canaman for the Kurit Aki workshop in time with the Alay kay Boboy 2022 event of the Mariners schools. The invited artist mentors from the youth group Bugkos ng Kabataan led by Ella, Ilaw ng Kabababaihan, led by Nanay Grace and Tatay Ben, and students from the Mariners Community Volunteers provided the tools and support to each child participant. Sir Eric Lucena, the OIC of the Extension Office with his team, was at the event’s helm. Some came with their Mama or Papa, others with their Ate and Kuya, Lola or Tita. I joined the painting workshop with Nay Virgie, the president of the People’s Organization of Disaster Survivors (PODiS) which TBM organized among the recepients of Pagheras: Yero Pako in February 2017, two months after Typhoon Nina.
Joven was one of the “Kurit Aki” veterans who also came. I met the children with a big smile and cheerful greeting, hoping to get a quick reaction. I knew who were the “veterans” from the new ones. Except for a few children of some officers of Ilaw ng Kababaihan, most kids sat quietly in one corner, not minding the other. Some boys were arguing and misbehaving, unable to focus. A few grabbed pencils, brushes, acrylic bottles, and some tools on the table and postured as “warriors” and fighters ready to hit at each other.
Christmas colors to de-stress
But, whoa! After a few hours of basic orientation, storytelling, and practical applications of various colors, shapes, and sizes, I sensed a transformation of moods and everyone was focused on their moment of artistic creation. It was quiet, and the children were more immersed in blending brighter and more intense, cheerful colors. I found the same kids interacting and enjoying each other’s company. Children have the innate power to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives after stressful happenings.
Before I left for another call, I took a couple of shots of their works of art. Words are beyond me. They were as beautiful as the paintings shown at the First Kurit Aki Exhibit in SM Naga, which TBM spearheaded with partners in 2018. For the 2022 Kurit Aki, their artworks will be on exhibit on December 29.
My artist friend, Alex, used to say colors speak louder than words and that colors matter.
Providing a venue for psycho-social intervention for the children of distressed families has proven stress relief and therapy for trauma. Trauma experienced by children, primarily from unhealthy conditions, is now a public health issue and necessitates a strong community response. The Kurit Aki is a therapy, a way to de-stress. It gives a jolt of energy in the bleakness of a disaster or tragedy. It is a painting session where children learn how to combine colors into a whole expression of positivity and creation. However, it is a temporary relief. The real solution lies in LGUs providing decisive actions to make each community livable, resilient, and sustainable.