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Children of Tsunami revisited two years after the disaster
26 December 2006

TVE Asia Pacific’s  Children of Tsunami regional media project was a bold and innovative effort to cover one of the biggest stories in recent years. It allowed TV journalists and film-makers in Tsunami affected countries to go beyond news headlines and capture many nuances that are often left out of typical media coverage of disasters.

Panel on Beyond news headlines - L to R - Manori Wijesekera, Dendy Montgomery, Fred Noronha, Joanne Teoh Kheng Yau and Pipope Panitchpakdi

This was acknowledged at a regional brainstorming meeting on ‘Communicating Disasters: Building on the Tsunami Experience and Responding to Future Challenges’, held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 21 – 22 December 2006.

Children of Tsunami
Children of Tsunami:
Rebuilding the Future

  • Filmed at Asian     Tsunami’s Ground Zero

  • In the 4 hardest hit Asian     countries.

  • Involving 8 children,    families and communities.

  • Over 11 months: Feb –     Dec 2005.

  • Featuring dozens of     stories of how Tsunami     affected Asians recovered     from the disaster.

The meeting, organised by TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Centre in Bangkok, was attended by a select group of media practitioners, media managers, disaster managers and development professionals from South and Southeast Asia.

Children of Tsunami was one key experience discussed during a panel on ‘Covering the Asian Tsunami: beyond news headlines’. It was moderated by TVE Asia Pacific’s Regional Programme Manager Manori Wijesekera, and consisted of media panellists from India, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

Children of Tsunami was TVEAP’s major journalistic response to the devastating Asian Tsunami that hit the region on 26 December 2004. It tracked on television, video and web how affected people were rebuilding their lives, livelihoods and homes after the disaster.

Manori described it as ‘an open-ended experiment that took us beyond the comfort zone of conventional television journalism’. Positioned between hard-edge news and current affairs TV journalism and the development community, TVEAP was well equipped to engage in this exercise, she said.

Children of Tsunami was an open-ended experiment that took us beyond the comfort zone of conventional television journalism.”
- Manori Wijesekera,
Regional Programme Manager, TVE Asia Pacific

Manori Wijesekera, Regional Programme Manager, TVE Asia Pacific

“As a regionally operating media organisation, we were extremely keen to tell the story of tsunami recovery using the audio-visual medium. But instead of producing documentaries laden with information and statistics, we opted to personalise the stories,” Manori added.

This was done by tracking the recovery efforts of eight Tsunami affected families in the four countries most affected – India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. “It’s called a longitudinal study in some circles,” Manori said.

From February to October 2005, TVEAP-commissioned local film-makers made monthly visits to two chosen families in each country. Based on location filming and field investigations, they produced television, video and web stories for a global audience.

The main focus was on eight surviving children, who served as ‘story guides’ – but the stories also covered their extended families, neighbours and communities. Using their specific experiences, Children of Tsunami showed how tsunami recovery was progressing – or, in some places, stagnating – across affected Asia.

“As we kept returning to the two families, we became attached to them. It was difficult for us to maintain the journalistic distance that we are trained to have.”
- Pipope Panitchpakdi,
Director – Documentary,
Nation Broadcasting Corporation, Thailand

Pipope Panitchpakdi

The eight families participated in this project with informed consent, and with no material benefits for themselves.

Children of Tsunami was one of the most ambitious and challenging projects undertaken by the decade-old TVEAP. Within a few days of the disaster that happened on 26 December 2004, it had identified and commissioned locally based television journalists and film-makers to be part of this regional effort.

“We always believe that locally based journalists are best positioned to cover and amplify such stories. We were fortunate to find partner with four teams of outstanding and committed film-makers,” Manori said.

Members of the Indonesian and Thai production teams were part of the Bangkok panel.

“As journalists, we've trained to do quick, sharp and precise stories that will have the most impact with our viewers. In doing that, we lose many nuances in a story,” said Pipope Panitchpakdi, Director – Documentary of the Nation Broadcasting Corporation in Thailand.

Jantakarn Thep-Chuay, nicknamed Beam, ThailandPipope, who directed Children of Tsunami Thai stories, was deeply moved by the Tsunami and wanted to find a way to stay with the story. “When TVEAP approached me with this idea, I welcomed it as that would allow me to track two Thai families for a whole year. Nation TV agreed to let me work half time during that period, but with full pay.”

According to Pipope, much of the Tsunami coverage in the Thai media (as well as international media reports filed from Thailand) was centred around how foreign Sanan Kla-Thalae, nicknamed Bao, Thailandtourists were killed or injured. No one had looked at how the disaster affected the Moken (‘sea gypsies’) -– nomadic, indigenous people living in coastal areas and some islands.

One of the two Thai families Pipope tracked for Children of Tsunami was a Moken one – the story of Bao, 16, who lost both his parents and his home.

Yenni Maulia, Indonesia“As we kept returning to the two families, we became attached to them. It was difficult for us to maintain the journalistic distance that we are trained to have,” Pipope said.

Dendy Montgomery, a freelance TV professional based in Aceh, Indonesia, recalled how he and his wife Nur Raihan filmed the recovery struggles of two Tsunami affected girls -- Putri, 8, and Yenni, 15. The duo worked for Jungle Run Putri Karmila, IndonesiaProductions of Indonesia, local producers of Children of Tsunami .

Dendy recalled how the conflict in Aceh was still raging when he and colleagues were filming Putri’s story in the Lampaya village in Lhok Nga district. “But we didn’t focus on that. We were interested in how the Tsunami affected families were slowly rebuilding their lives.”

Although Putri’s family moved back into their home by the end of 2005, many others Aceh were not so Selvam, Indialucky. Dendy said some families were still in temporary shelters as 2006 ended – two full years after the disaster.

“Yes, there has been progress, but not for everyone. President Clinton was in Aceh recently, but when I asked affected people, some said: ‘We don’t care who comes visiting. When do we receive our permanent houses?’” Dendy said.

The good news is that children in Aceh are no longer afraid of the sea. “They go to the beach every Sunday,” Dendy reported.

Dendy MontgomeryFor Joanne Teoh Kheng Yau, who for the Singapore-based regional broadcaster Channel News Asia, the post-tsunami experience was different. In the days following the tsunami, her channel received satellite news feeds showing the extent of devastation, as well as what experts, charity workers and politicians were doing to provide relief.

“But we felt the need to move beyond headlines. We wanted to examine the various facets of the tsunami’s impact – social, cultural, political and even scientific aspects,” she recalled.

Shortly after the disaster, Joanne visited her native town of Penang, Malaysia, where her grandmother was among the affected.

“I have seen many types of TV and video productions related to disasters, but never come across a sustained effort like Children of Tsunami.”
- Joanne Teoh Kheng Yau, Channel News Asia

Joanne Teoh Kheng Yau

“The randomness of this event caught many journalists by surprise. Many of us were groping for words to describe the impact,” she said.

It was in the second half of 2005 that she became involved in Children of Tsunami, when TVEAP negotiated a co-production arrangement with Channel News Asia. She was designated as executive producer for CNA’s own documentary based on the material filmed by the four country teams: Children of Tsunami: No More Tears.

“I have seen many types of TV and video productions related to disasters, but never come across a sustained effort like Children of Tsunami. It covered the struggles of some very ordinary people with extraordinary courage in the tsunami’s aftermath. It captured many nuances and subtext,” Joanne said.

“These details tell us more than the screaming news-headlines,” she added. “My challenge was to distil so much that was gathered over the year into 26 minutes.”
Fred Noronha

Children of Tsunami: No More Tears was first broadcast globally on Channel News Asia in the last week of December 2005 to mark the tsunami’s first anniversary. It has since been repeated several times, Joanne said.

She noted how most media organisations still worked according to a ‘disaster template’, which needs to evolve.

Frederick Noronha, freelance journalist and new media activist from Goa, India, talked of a ‘hierarchy of reporting’ in disaster related coverage. For example:
  • Some disasters are covered much more widely than others.
  • The international news media takes an interest in some countries only when a major disaster strikes.
  • Even within countries, some areas receive media attention only when a disaster strikes

Thilainathan Theeban, Sri Lanka“We need to critique the media for not telling the stories that break over a long period. The tsunamistory is not yet over. It may no longer be ‘sexy’, but there is much unfinished business in the post-tsunami recovery process,” he said.

Heshani Hewavitharana, Sri LankaThe under-reporting and non-reporting of many human interest and human development stories was a scandal, Fred added.

“There are many silent emergencies that never attract sufficient media coverage or public attention. Today we have the tools and technologies to spread information quickly and inexpensively. We need to find alternative communications strategies,” he suggested.

In the ensuing discussion, the following highlights of Children of Tsunami’s distribution and outreach came out:
  • Every month from January to October 2005, a 5-minute video update on each child/family was Mala, Indiaproduced and distributed to Asian broadcasters and also placed on the dedicated website.
  • Two long format documentaries were produced at the end of the process: Children of Tsunami: The Journey Continues (48 mins) and Children of Tsunami: No More Tears (26 mins).
  • The former was broadcast on 17 Asian TV channels across the region, while the latter was repeatedly broadcast globally by Channel News Asia.
  • The film-maker teams in each country ensured that the participating families and local communities were shown all the finished media products.
  • Children of Tsunami website archived all the five-minute video reports as well as the long format documentary, in addition to text, images and links.
  • TVEAP produced an educational outreach section of the website that enabled schools, universities and other groups to use films for learning about disaster recovery.
  • The films continue to be screened at meetings, conferences, film festivals and other public and private events, catalyzing discussion and debate on Asia’s recovery from the 2004 tsunami.

Children of Tsunami documentaries are available on VHS and DVD formats from TVE Asia Pacific’s electronic shop.

The UNDP’s Asia Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP) was among several sponsors of the Children of Tsunami media project.

How to order Films

All media products of Children of Tsunami are available without copyright restrictions for educational and non-commercial use anywhere in the world. For details and terms of use, visit: Broadcast queries may be sent to: sales.

VHS/DVD copies can be ordered directly from TVE Asia Pacific’s e-shop.

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