Healing Arts Programs

In response to the Asian tsunami of December 2004,the ICAF developed an innovative healing arts program. The ICAF’s objective was to transfer the knowledge and experience gained from the treatment of the child survivors of the 9/11 tragedy and other recent disasters to help the tsunami child survivors. Scientific studies on the psychological effect of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center found that directly affected children were at risk for a variety of mental health problems including anxiety disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and childhood traumatic grief (CTG), a condition affecting those who see people dying under traumatic circumstances.

In recent disasters the number of people whose experience may have left them traumatized is far larger than the number of fatalities. For example, the 9/11 attacks killed fewer than 3,000 people but affected more than 410,000. The 2004 tsunami in Indonesia killed nearly 300,000 and affected about five million. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 killed 1,800 but affected 15 million. The Sichuan earthquake in China in 2008 killed 69,000 but affected ten million.

The ICAF’s Healing Arts Program focus on children because they are the most vulnerable, and their emotional scars can stay animated for the longest period. On the other hand, children are also the most resilient and the first to recover, as though protected by their innate creativity and a natural coping mechanism.

According to the ICAF’s child-centered approach, children who survive disasters must be allowed to be the central actors in rebuilding their communities. The ICAF employs art therapy to assess and treat anxiety, depression, trauma and loss, and other mental and emotional problems of children. The ICAF’s approach is most cost-effective in the case of a mass trauma event. The ICAF’s spotlight on the children:

  • Inspires the affected community to focus on its future needs, and not just on restoring the past that is lost
  • Leads to a focus on family as the most important social unit and the school as the community center for post-recovery
  • Deepens the children’s emotional bonds with the place where they grew up, hence offsetting the unbearable memories of the disaster which may motivate the talented to leave and cause brain drain
  • Aids and accelerates the children’s emotional recovery, which revitalizes the community around the strength, hope, and optimism of its children
Although the circumstances and implications of every natural disaster are different, the knowledge gained from one tragedy is useful in diagnosis and treatment of the survivors of another. The Tsunami Healing Arts Program proved to be an effective tool in community building and reconstruction. The program was extended to the U.S. Gulf Coast as Katrina Healing Arts Program following the destruction caused by the hurricane. In December 2005, The ICAF partnered with the World Bank Arts Program on its “Destruction, Reconstruction and Prevention” program to broaden the understanding of natural disasters in the international development community.

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