Seeing through other eyes
“Christchurch: See Through My Eyes”, a visiting photo exhibit on the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, runs from June 21 to July 2012 at the Water Dragon Gallery, Yuchengco Museum, RCBC Plaza Building, Makati City. Sponsored by the New Zealand Embassy in cooperation with Unicef, the exhibit showcases photographs taken by 24 children, aged 11 to 14, from Christchurch. Video by Ryan Leagogo/INQUIRER.net
On Sept. 4, 2010, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city, and the central Canterbury region. But while it caused considerable damage, it had no direct fatalities. Almost six months later, on Feb. 22, 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit the same area, and when people and authorities toted up the damage, they found that the quake, believed to be an aftershock of the 2010 temblor, had left 185 dead and caused even more widespread damage. Authorities later said the damage and the deaths it caused may have been “exacerbated” by the buildings and infrastructure “already weakened by the 2010 earthquake and its aftershocks.”
It’s said that the number of fatalities in the 2011 earthquake alone makes it “the second deadliest natural disaster recorded in New Zealand.” People from more than 20 countries were included among the fatalities, with nine of them Filipinos. Most of the Filipinos were most probably caught in the collapse of the six-story Canterbury Television (CTV) building which was felled and caught fire in the quake. Aside from the TV station and a clinic, the building housed the King’s Education School, which catered to students from Japan, China, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Korea and the Philippines. Of the 185 dead, 115 were counted in the CTV building collapse alone.
Undoubtedly, the twin temblors left many “Kiwis,” the nickname citizens of New Zealand have adopted for themselves, reeling in shock and enduring the aftermath of trauma. But considering that New Zealand—and the Philippines—are both found in the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” the lands bordering the edges of the Pacific Ocean that are vulnerable to earthquakes, tidal surges, typhoons and volcanic eruptions, the disasters are not exactly unexpected or unprecedented.
As Unicef Philippines representative Tomoo Hozumi puts it: “The countries on the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’—be it the Philippines, New Zealand, or Japan (his home country)—share the challenge of high susceptibility to major disasters, which is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’”
* * *
There are many ways of coping with the inevitability of disaster.
For young residents of Christchurch and environs—aged 11 to 14—coping took the form of photography lessons from professional photographer and ICT educator Stuart Hale, learning the basic skills for taking quality digital photos and “how to compose a shot to communicate their thoughts and ideas.” Every young photographer then provided a caption to each photo.
Selected photographs taken by 24 children are currently on exhibit at the Water Dragon Gallery of the Yuchengco Museum in Makati. Titled “Christchurch: See Through My Eyes,” the exhibit attempts to portray how the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes affected the lives of young Kiwis and their communities. At the same time, says New Zealand Ambassador Reuben Levermore: “We hope that the exhibition will encourage people to reflect on how best to prepare for disasters, including here in the Philippines.”
For the youthful photographers, the impact of the earthquakes seemed best counted in how the many familiar landmarks of their lives—playgrounds, jogging paths, roads, churches, and schools—were damaged, if not lost outright. Many of them chose to focus on the physical manifestations: cargo containers used to shore up weakened foundations and walls of public buildings; cracks on roadways and sidewalks; even a view from below the surface of a cracked sidewalk, where, the young photographer remarks, “everything began.”
* * *
One section of the exhibit contains a “wall of messages,” where exhibition-goers are encouraged to post brief missives to the photographers, and to all of New Zealand by extension, after walking through the photographs and several information materials on earthquakes and their aftermath posted on the walls.
One commented: “Living in a country also on the Pacific Ring of Fire, I know how you feel.”
Perhaps that is one reason not just for the exhibit, but for the project as a whole. By the standards of world disasters, the Christchurch tragedy may seem modest in nature. But for a child caught in the fear and stress of the moment, and in the uncertainty of the aftermath, the earthquakes may very well have been life-changing, a time when one’s perception of safety and solidity is quite literally shaken.
Indeed, as fellow citizens and members of the “Ring of Fire” family, “seeing through the eyes” of those who fall victim to disaster is but one first step in fully understanding, empathizing and even preparing.
* * *
Also a disaster is the smog and smoke blanketing Singapore. Children and elderly residents, particularly those with respiratory ailments, have been advised to stay indoors, while schools and offices have been closed on the worst days of the atmospheric pollution.
The air pollution has been blamed on wide-ranging forest fires in Sumatra in Indonesia, where trees are being cut and burned allegedly to make way for palm oil plantations, a repeat of a similar disaster that afflicted Singapore and Malaysia many years ago.
Smog in Singapore is but the latest manifestation of a growing environmental crisis in Southeast Asia. Following the release by the World Bank of a report on climate change, Greenpeace has called on governments to get serious about addressing climate change, saying the report “gives an even bleaker picture of the future of the region.” The smog in Singapore is definite proof that what happens in one corner of the region affects all other nearby areas. The need for concerted regional action is urgent and imperative.