Life after the big wave: UNICEF launches a travelling exhibition in Prague

Photo: Giacommo Pirozzi, Unicef

It is now close to three months since news of the tsunami disaster shocked the world. With the help of charities and NGOs, the people of south east Asia are slowly rebuilding their lives and coming to terms with their grief. UNICEF, which was providing around the clock assistance within hours of the tragedy, has now decided to show the world what the past three months have been like in the Maldives.

The travelling exhibition of documentary photographs and children's drawings called: The Maldives after the Big Wave, which was launched in Prague this week, is UNICEF's way of thanking donors around the world for their generosity and letting them see how their money is being spent. Pavla Gomba heads the Czech branch of UNICEF:

"The first priority was the survival of children, meaning: clean water nutrition, emergency health care, vaccination. About two weeks after the disaster we started registering the orphans. We are setting up special centres for these children but of course the priority is to find a family for them - either their own extended family - aunts, grandparents, whoever has survived - or foster care."

The photographs are divided into several sections: the time of grief, depicting the hours and days immediately after the disaster, the aid operation and the recovery -children going back to school and playing with friends again. All the documentary photographs were taken by Italian photographer Giacommo Pirozzi:

"We've been working for UNICEF for 15 years now and I have covered lots of tragedies, the genocide in Rwanda, I was in Beslan when the school was taken, and it is always very difficult to draw the line so as not to just exploit human suffering. I think UNICEF is quite good at finding the right balance. You obviously have to show human suffering otherwise there would be no impact but at the same time we always try to promote the positive side of things."

Were you able to communicate with the children while you photographed and what impression did you get?

"Sadness, always. There was a little girl who had lost a twin sister and she was very sad. Another child told us he thought it was the end of the world. These are the kind of moments when you really feel it - even if I've been doing this work for 15 years - anytime you find yourself in these situations it is quite hard, but you have to carry on because that's your job."

While the material damage is being repaired fairly quickly, the psychological damage will take years to mend. Tom Bergman Harris is head of UNICEF in the Maldives:

"There were no psychologists in the Maldives before the disaster and so we got together with Save the Children and the Red Cross who helped us to train local teachers to recognize trauma, to recognize psycho-social problems. They were basically given crash courses. This is a long term activity that cannot be resolved quickly because every single Maldivian has been affected. Some show the signs of trauma very quickly while others hide the problems that they have with this disaster."

Part of the exhibition is made up of children's drawings. Psychologists are getting them to portray the disaster in order to help them to come to terms with it. The pictures show dead people floating in the sea, people running in fear or clinging to palm trees, destroyed houses, upended boats and helicopters flying overhead. "The tsunami seen through the eyes of children" is a powerful account of the disaster.

The exhibition is open in Prague's Toskansky Palace, on Hradcany Square / near Prague Castle/ until April 4th.