Helping children cope with disaster trauma through art

EVER since he was young, Nikolo Salazar, a Tacloban-born young artist has always had a knack for the visual arts. He said that when he was young, he would draw on the walls of his parents’ room human figures, animals, and airplanes.

His journey to becoming an artist was jumpstarted with good education in De La Salle–College of Saint Benilde where he finished a BA in animation, followed by an intensive seven-month course computer graphics in Cebu where he was a scholar.

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But it is perhaps his real life struggle that honed him to become an artist not just for himself but for his own community.

Nikolo was among the thousands of victims who went through the wrath of typhoon Haiyan—one of the world’s strongest tropical cyclones—when it hit the country last November 2013.

At 24, Nikolo looks back at his life changing experience, ponders on how fragile people can be and has his creative process largely shifted to making art meaningful for the people around him: children.

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“I think I took a leap of faith to devote myself to teaching and to practice arts,” he said. A year after his experience with Haiyan, Nikolo, from his usual dark and mysterious art, put more light on paper and drew resilience in so many forms.

This shift led him and a network of equally passionate individuals to create Art Road Incorporated, a social enterprise aimed to support young boys and girls in pursuing tertiary level of education.

Art Road has its focus locked on children who survived from disasters but lost their parents and those young individuals with disabilities that have the capacity to pursue higher level of education. By producing art and putting these out on the market, Art Road hopes to be able to raise funds for these kids. (For more information on how you can be involved, visit Facebook.com/pages/ArtRoad-Inc/975755452446084)

Today, Nikolo makes baby steps by being engaged in doing art workshops for children who are going through trauma.

A coffee table book that is underway best describes where he is right now as an artist. This tome comprises a compelling series of hand drawn portraits on children called Beauty of Survival.

Using his medium–a careful mix of charcoal, watercolor, and oil, and old analog and digital tools—he said that he wants to keep engaging audiences by putting focus on children and their need to cope with life’s difficulties.

“I taught them how to express their traumas,” he said. All of the kids that he met tell the same story: “a lot of them have something to prove and to fulfull their dreams.”

By empowering kids to express themselves, Nikolo, conversely, learns more about art and its importance.

“If you’re a man of the arts it’s easy for you to understand things in life. Whether it’s trauma or difficulties that you’re doing through, you’re able to interpret these creatively,” he said. “I learn a lot in terms of understanding individuals. Art, to them, becomes the exit of turmoils.”

Art is not just there because it’s fancy and because people love it look at it, he said when asked about art as therapy.

“We do this because we want to help ourselves and to enrich our minds,” he said. “It’s therapy with an output that reminds you of your process. It inspires you.”

Nikolo is also active in participating in disaster response mobilities that concern children—especially in initiating activities for child-friendly spaces (CFS). These CFSs are an integral component of emergency response calamity specially created by NGOs to help children cope with trauma.

These pop-up spaces are relevant in the way these provide comfort and services to children who are going through tough times.

Nikolo said that he will always remember one of his students who told him how learning how to make art relieved him of so much emotional turmoil. This kid 10-year-old kid went through severe trauma after finding out that his beloved friends perished during the typhoon.

Other than closely working with NGOs in the past and now teaching art to kids in workshops, Nikolo busies himself with film production. He handla a film production crew that he co-handles Wolfpac films where he works as producer and film scorer. He also acts, draws, animates, and composes.

Stronger

Going through the typhoon and having to deal with the trauma that went with it was tough. But at the end of the day, Nikolo said that he was taught to value the things around him. “It’s all about being able to appreciate daily life,” he said.

Nikolo recalled his experience at the height of the typhoon and waking up to its left trail. “Everyday we had to search for food,” he said. “Money didn’t matter. It’s all about survival. We were all back to zero.”

He said that he is lucky to have been spared by Haiyan’s full wrath: his family at the mercy of the tip of the storm surge. “I thought that the whole world was affected—that it was the end,” he said.

After the typhoon, he was subjected to even more trauma when he saw dead bodies. “They were all piled up,” he recalled. “I initially thought to myself that life as it is, is what you have. It is fragile and you just have to make the most of it depending on circumstances.”

After the typhoon and now getting back on his feet as an artist, he said that “I’m just going to love life everyday,” he said, sharing that at trying times, even the fate of the strongest of people are sealed.

As he teaches kids to explore trauma as he also explores his, Nikolo said that questions about life and coping never stop to crop up.

“We do not run out of questions to ask ourselves, but as long as you’re doing the things that want to do, no matter what happens, you will always arrive with good answers.”

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