Katrina: the Hurricane, the Flood, the Children
Their Stories
Penny Patch
September 18, 2005

Dear SNCC folks and the many others on this list:

What follows is a proposal to help the children effected by Katrina written by my husband, David Martin. He is a retired teacher, an early literacy specialist and a published children's book author. This is not a fund raising request. He is looking for anyone who is willing to help or who can provide contacts to get the idea off the ground. He has written public sector organizations as well as places like Staples, Binney-Smith (the Crayola people), Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres and others with a national presense who can give the idea clout. He and professionals he's in contact with would happily provide the nitty- gritty expertise. If any of you have contacts or suggestions that would help, please write David at pendavid@kingcon.com.

Penny Patch

Their Stories

One of the many grave consequences of Hurricane Katrina has been the vast upheaval of children's lives: a trauma to our young on a scale unlike anything that has ever happened in the United States. Many of these children have lost family members, friends, homes, neighbors, and communities as well as belongings, pets and links to their past. The fabric of their lives has been shredded, and may not be repaired for a long time. Hundreds of thousands of children are now homeless, and are being moved to places far from where they lived. Even those who have only been temporarily displaced will likely carry the scars of the hurricane and flood for years or forever. The immediate effects of this battering is being felt now, and the longterm effects of post traumatic stress will haunt them for years.

Social workers, therapists, clergy, school guidance counselors, parents and others are working hard to help these children. But it is an overwhelming task. Fortunately there is something relatively easy to do that can help the healing begin. And fortunately there are already enough trained people to do it, and the cost, compared to the vast resources that will be needed to rebuild what's been destroyed, is negligible. It is simply to have every one of the children, whether they are back in their home towns in Mississippi or Lousiana or transplanted to North Dakota, to get their stories down on paper in words and/or pictures. This is already happening in some places. As reported on NPR Morning Edition, some of the children will be given opportunities to create memory books. But every child needs to be able to do this, and not only because it will help their recovery. These stories need to be collected and placed in the national archives. These stories shouldn't just be school writing exercises. They will be much more important than that. They will be history books.

Why should the stories be written and/or drawn? Though recording oral histories is easier, writing and drawing is an activity that helps focus and clarify thoughts in a way that talking doesn't. Furthermore it provides a concrete product: something you can easily hold, look at and use with no special equipment. It's a lasting product that can be kept for lifetimes. It's something a person can be proud of. My story, my book is much more appealing and valued than my tape cassette.

Who is trained to do this? Teachers, guidance counselors, para- educators, childcare workers all have the qualifications to help children record their stories in writing and pictures.

How to help children whose writing ability is limited because of age, education or other factors? Helping children who have trouble writing is something that teachers do all the time. And for the younger children, they often draw pictures and then tell an adult what the picture says so that the adult can write it down.

What materials need to be available? The most basic of school supplies: pencils, pens, markers, and crayons, and paper.

Should all students be encouraged to draw or just the young? Words and pictures clearly go together, although older students have often lost the ability to express themselves through art and are embarrassed by their efforts.

Should fiction, poetry and collages be encouraged along with the nonfiction stories? Of course.

How will this work with the federal No Child Left Behind initiative? The more children write, the better readers they become, and in that way this project would clearly support No Child Left Behind. Moreover helping children recover from the Katrina experience will enable them to concentrate more on all their academic work. But it's recovery and healing that's the first priority, and though Bush's Sec. of Ed. has expressed her opinion that schools shouldn't just disregard NCLB and write off the rest of the school year, she isn't in a classroom dealing with Katrina's children.

In summary, the stories the children create will help them remember what happened and how they felt more clearly than if just left to memory and talking. They will provide material that social workers will be able to use when they work with the children, and they will be a way for children to share their stories so they won't feel isolated. They will validate and honor the children and their experiences. This will especially be true if the stories are preserved in an attractive binding that can be shelved and shown to others. They will, if collected and archived, tell the story of an event in the history of this country in a way that no other event has been told.

So what I am proposing is:

  1. That there be a widespread and organized effort to give every child who was gravely effected by Hurricane Katrina and the flood of New Orleans a chance to write and or draw their stories.

  2. That the children be given an opportunity to tell their stories to groups of their peers and adults.

  3. That each child's story be preserved in a specially designed binder so that the stories can be kept as a part of the family history.

  4. That copies of the stories and pictures be made, collected and stored in the US Archives or the Library of Congress.

Copyright © 2005
Last Modified: September 18, 2005.
Webspinner: webmaster@crmvet.org
(Labor donated)