Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Crayons help 'lost boys' lose their pain
I have a young daughter at home. We recently bought her a set of crayons. My wife thought it was important to start letting her express herself in different ways. All I could think about was the cost of repainting the walls after she indelibly marked them up. Truth of the matter is, I can't really tell what she is drawing, but sometimes my wife sees images of our dog, whom our daughter loves, or a favorite toy of hers.

Well, as I have been traveling through Africa, my daughter has been on my mind a lot. Oftentimes, I see young children smiling and waving from the streets as we walk by, and I almost want to cry. I am not sure why, exactly.

Perhaps, it is because I wish these children could have a nice, safe place to sleep tonight. I know, instead, that many of them will sleep outside, hungry and worried that bandits will take them or their parents away. Perhaps, it is because I see my own child in their eyes and I cannot wrap my mind around the injustice that allows such different lives for the incredibly young. Perhaps, selfishly, it is because I pray my child will never have to lead that sort of life.

This week, I visited Goz Amir refugee camp in Koukou, Chad. It is a UNICEF-funded camp for lost boys. The first thing I noticed was lots of boys sitting with paper and crayons. Of course, I immediately wondered what pictures they were drawing. What I found was really stunning.

These were young kids, yet they were drawing people with guns shooting at other people. There were pictures of people with blood squirting from their heads and other people who had flames coming from their bodies, after their homes had been set on fire. There were pictures of bombs falling and missiles rising. One boy simply drew a man hiding in a bush outside the boy's home. It was clear the boy was really scared of that man, but he wouldn't tell me why.

What these boys are doing is a sort of art therapy. I have seen it used before in Pakistan, after the earthquake, and in Sri Lanka, after the tsunami. The idea is that some form of expression is important in order to get past the atrocious events these children have suffered. Since many of them don't wish to talk about what happened, they turn to drawings instead.

Unlike with physical injuries, which may require a stitch or a pill, there are no rules when it comes to emotional trauma. And, even though many of these children have never seen a crayon in their lives, they do seem to take to it rather quickly and start an important process of discussing their fears.

I was also reminded of just how low a priority emotional health can be. Many of these boys have been refugees for three years now, after fleeing Sudan as orphans. Yet, it was just over the past few weeks that they have been encouraged to start this form of emotional healing. I asked one boy if it helped to draw. "It doesn't relieve all the pain," he told me. I can't imagine it would.

One day, I will tell my own daughter about the lost boys I met in Africa. Until then, I simply hope she will never have to draw those sorts of images.
Posted By Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Medical Correspondent: 4:57 PM ET
Dr. Gupta: I guess these children draw only what they know or what they see in their lives. They have been robed of their childhood so soon in life. Do they have anyone around to confort or smile at them sometimes? Who makes them feel better when they are angry or overwhelmed? And still have have hope for a better future. It breaks my heart to read and see the reports but I hope that drawing helps them a bit. Thanks for your work and efforts and good luck for the next days.
PS Anderson, were you scared when the male gorilla passed right besides you? I would have stopped breathing for sure...What a moment and I hope that they will be more protection for them in the future. Josee
Posted By Anonymous Josee (Montreal, Canada) : 5:24 PM ET
With two children, I often feel that my house has been taken over by crayons. After reading your blog, I will never again look at a crayon in the same way. Thank you, once again, for opening my eyes to the atrocities that these children have faced.
Posted By Anonymous Sandy V. Lititz, PA : 5:44 PM ET
Sadly, it seems children everywhere are suffering the effects of our poor decisions. What world will our children inherit from us? It's great to see these Lost Boys being given an outlet to express their feelings.
Posted By Anonymous Sal - Las Cruces, NM : 5:53 PM ET
Hi Dr. Gupta,
It makes you really wonder how on earth these kids could ever be sane adults. Perhaps that's why the cycle keeps spinning. They just SURVIVE their lifetime..Never really getting the chance to live their lives too the fullest. It's sad. But I truly believe...Sad, does not equal hopeless. One person at a time, one family, one cause. Sometimes we humans can be the HOPE for each other. Take Care..Thanks for your work.
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton,Calif. : 5:55 PM ET
Dr Gupta thank you for the story on the cchildren caught in the middle of this horrific war. I think sometimes we forget that these children are as impressinable as our own and that what they see can and will most likely scar them for life. Bravo to those who are trying to make their world better one crayon at a time.
Posted By Anonymous Marcia, Warren Mi : 5:59 PM ET
Dr Gupta

If it was that easy to relieve pain, then I would send tons of crayons all over the world. Love and hope can't be send by cargo either. Anyway thank you for letting us know that at least they can have a little bit of help to let out their bad dreams on paper.
Posted By Anonymous Johanne, Ottawa, Ontario : 5:59 PM ET
Watching this series right now on 360 is really making me re-evaluate my own life and how I'm living it. So many Americans (and others!) are fat and content and rarely think about anything outside of their own little box. Watching the pain and suffering right now... it made me cry. It also made me look around at my nice comfy house, with my giant TV and stocked 'fridge... and then I came to the blog and clicked all the links here to see what I could do besides get mad.

I can understand why seeing the children smile and wave nearly made you cry- it's almost as if, how could they even be happy here? It makes me want to just grab them all and take them home so that I can help them all.
Posted By Anonymous Sharla Jones, Buckeye, AZ : 5:59 PM ET
Dr Gupta, it is amazing what you see happening to these children. It is unbelievable that these young children's lives have been written off. I know the world cannot be silent about this, but as an American, I have no idea what to do. Please advise us.
Posted By Anonymous Mary McKinney, Houston, TX : 6:08 PM ET
I was deeply touched by this account of Dr. Gupta's experience in Chad. As a parent I can easily relate to the emotions and thoughts that he shared with us. I am dissappointed, however, that this article was posted on the CNN website directly below an article describing Paris Hilton's latest social escapade. To place such a socially relavent and important commentary as Dr. Gupta's next to something so inconsequential and frivolous is disrespectful to Dr. Gupta, your readers, and the boys of the refugee camps of Koukou.
Posted By Anonymous Jackie deRuyter, Simsbury, CT : 6:16 PM ET
What is the point of this blog? What did you expect would be the subject of their drawings? Of course they are living a completely different life than your priveledged daughter's. It is a good thing to know that stuff like this is happening in the world, but it is a disservice to compare their lives to ours in a way to make us feel better about ourselves.
Posted By Anonymous Cynthia Charleston,SC : 6:16 PM ET
Yes, I was delighted to read your article. I too am a firm believer in crayons. I am the founder of a non-profit organization that ships crayons to hospitals, orphanages, and to children all over the world. Donations welcome.Something seemingly small can make such a huge difference.
Posted By Anonymous M. E. Muradian, Seattle, Washington : 6:16 PM ET
Dr. Gupta, As I watch these stories from Africa, I am saddened and outraged that those in power can even live with themselves. It is my vision for our world that every child will be loved, have a home, healthy food, and a good education. So, how do we get there? It seems hopeless to me.
The courageous aid workers, courageous journalist, (Anderson Cooper, Jeff Korneige, and you) are real heroes in my mind. I hope and pray that your reporting will force change.
Posted By Anonymous Judy Stage Brooklyn Michigan : 6:18 PM ET

Every child deserves a "busy" box of his/her own. Filled with anything and everything that will color, draw ,paste or cut. Then throw in coloring books, story books, every kind of paper, in every color, density and size. In time these children will hopefully share with another child, then with you.

In the beginning try to put the work in a "hidden" place, of the child's choosing, so the "bad" people cannot see them, no matter where they are. The best final scenario will be the time when the child can wad, rip or tear the drawings up and throw the bad people away, forever.

Unfortunately, it's not qyitw as simple where these children are and so much patience is required, but God, it's so worth it. Children and supplies should be safe of course, and pray that no one likes the taste of paste or glue sticks.

Every child deserves his/her own busy box, a warm safe place to sleep, and someone to love him.

Thank you for the almost forgotten memories from my childhood.

Posted By Anonymous Maggie, Grain Valley, MO : 6:22 PM ET
I would highly recommend to others, should you either get the opportunity or are able to create the opportunity, watching the documentary "Lost Boys of Sudan". I will include the link. I was fortunate enough to be able to see it in Denver, at the 10th Peace Jam conference. I am hoping that people see this and stop talking about it, but doing something about it.
Posted By Anonymous Lori, Calgary, Canada : 6:31 PM ET
Washable crayons and magic markers can solve your problem. How about bringing back the Art for a travelling 'Awareness-Fund Raiser' Show?

Kids art with no frig to put it on, or family to admire it or mail it to or put in a box to save.
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista, ar : 6:31 PM ET
Dr. Gupta,

If a picture is worth a thousand words and crayons can draw a thousand pictures just imagine all the words that are being spilled on to paper by these young boys. I teach first grade in rural Tennessee and I've seen it myself many times the hurt and heartache children tend to hold inside is often easily released into their art work. Line by line the anger, worry and stresses of little lives color crisp clean pages. Afterwards they are eager to share their stories with classmates and teachers. They readily explain what every color and angle stand for.
Certainly if any children in our world deserve to spill their troubles it is this group of lost boys. The weight of the world reflects in their eyes as their faces flash across my television screen.
I can understand exactly why you want to cry! Innocent children filled with hurt, fear, hunger and pain should make us all want to shed a tear.
Thank you Dr. Gupta, Jeff and Anderson for sharing a good dose of reality with us each night.
Stay safe.
Posted By Anonymous Zann Vickers Easterwood Martin, Tennessee : 6:33 PM ET
I've done some short term mission work in Haiti and Dominican Republic. And one thing that stuck out to me the most about these trips is that the children seem to be so joyful there, despite their poverty (much happier than American children). Food and clothing does not always equal happiness. So, after reading this artical, it dawned on me that we should be focusing on the mental well being of these children as much (if not more) than their more obvious needs. It is just as important for children to be happy as it is they be fed. What good is a childs life if they don't know how to smile?
Posted By Anonymous Elana, Ridgefield, Ct : 6:33 PM ET
Dr. Gupta,

Is it possible to use a term besides "Lost Boys". After working with several children affected by the war in Sudan I feel this term implies that they are indeed lost, and beyond hope. What impact are we having on them by calling them lost? The term just rubs me the wrong way.
Posted By Anonymous Andrew, New York City : 1:41 AM ET
Dr. Gupta:
Thanks for this story. I think there are many people, especially prisoners, who could heal from the pain that they have experienced and the pain that they have caused through art and gardening and drama and other positive outlets for emotion. These boys are obviously victims. Hopefully we can help them and many others by improving their opportunites in the future.
Posted By Anonymous Eileen, Orem, Utah : 5:20 AM ET
Thank you Dr. Gupta for you have given them a 'voice'. A loud voice that would hopefully reverberate throughout the world to bring about not only awareness but a desire to truly reach out to help them get back their lives. Take care.
Posted By Anonymous Laipeng Foong, Penang, Malaysia : 5:52 AM ET
Pictures drawn by children of this world are reflections to all of us what the world we live in is. We , collectively, individually, are allowing this world to be as it is drawn by the shattered innocence of children. It is by degree and geography that this world exists in its lack of human caring. Perhaps to change the themes in these pictures we need to let the children lead us in our individual and collective daily contributions to this world wherever we exist.
God bless and God speed
Posted By Anonymous karen pappin, sudbury, ontario, canada : 7:56 AM ET
Dr Gupta,

I have a 11years old boy. Sometimes I look at him sleeping, he is so peaceful. I always think at that time of the children suffering in the world. Some being abused,some hungry, some terrorized by nightmares too real,some not able to sleep, to afraid.

Thank you for sharing this story. I'm glad they have a little way of dealing with their pain. But it's just that, they shouldn't have to deal with such horrors.

That is why we need to get involved. Children are our world of tomorrow. They are all our children. We can't look the other way. It is unmoral to do so.

I started a few years back talking to my son about how some children are treated in the world. He has seen reports,images,and now, he is up to his 3rd expose on it in class. The last one, the teacher asked him to talk about it. It has sparked conversations with the children and their parents. We need to talk about it and do something about it.

Take care
Joanne Ranzell
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne Ranzell Laval Quebec : 8:40 AM ET
Dr. Gupta,

Thank you for your post. Having worked for the past several years on a project helping Liberian orphans and teachers, I can certainly relate the feelings you have shared. Our Liberia Orphan Education project stemmed from a crayon story, and I had to smile at all the crayon posts in response to your post. I was fortunate enough last year to hear author Mark Bixler speak at The Carter Center about his book, The Lost Boys of Sudan: An American Story of the Refugee Experience. I would recommend this book very highly to any and everyone!
Posted By Anonymous E. Iden, Atlanta GA : 8:58 AM ET
Dr. Gupta is doing a terrific job of helping Americans understand what we "slept" through: the horrors of Africa. The type of brutality experienced there would not have happened, I believe, had the children being brutalized been white. Or if there had been oil in the mix. Thank you, Dr. Gupta, for your reports, your sensitivity, you appreciation of healing. Godspeed. C.E. Smith, Atlanta, GA
Posted By Anonymous C.E. Smith,Atlanta, GA : 9:08 AM ET
Very touching, Doc. Thanks for taking the time to share these experiences and observations.
Posted By Anonymous Kevin Casey, NY, NY : 9:42 AM ET
Most Americans don't get to see childrens lives in countries unlike our own. They don't see what horrors their day to day life is. But, they are very quick to judge our government when we send our troops overseas to help a country that knows not what it is like to live free and in peace.
It amazes me, what we as Americans take for granted every single day.
Posted By Anonymous L. Smith, Newport, NY : 9:47 AM ET

Thank you for bringing out a wonderful article on the suffering of children in the strife torn countries.

I hope this article reaches the creators of such a situation and I will be extremely happy if at least one such person responsible for this, repents to his actions !!
Posted By Anonymous Krishna Kanth V, Hyderabad, India : 9:48 AM ET
These pictures should be aired/published for the world to see and for social scientists as well as Dr. Gupta to explain. People should understand the terror these children feel and have experienced. Any profit made from these pictures should be used in honest relief efforts to help quell the suffering - to make the kids safe.
Posted By Anonymous Patricia Joffer, Brookings SD : 10:00 AM ET
Its quite naive to even imply that pain goes away and suffering vanishes with crayons:) Ask people working with the muslims in Gujarat in India. Ask Action Aid's social workers, what they do and had to do!

Dont produce such shady readymade answer to conflicts!

I hope you look at it differently
Posted By Anonymous Abraham, Bangalore Karnataka : 10:27 AM ET
The problem is heart-wrenching, and no one individual, or even group, can effect all the changes needed, even in this isolated crisis. Only by making the largest group possible aware of just how prolific this sort of tragedy is can we ever hope to have enough resources available to have a real impact. Therein lies the need for publication...and therein lies your own heroism on this front! Each mission like yours has a cost in not everyone is willing to know you're prayed for and appreciated.
Posted By Anonymous Ray H., New London, CT : 10:40 AM ET
Very nice . You are absolutely right that the injustice being suffered by the children all over the world be in developed or developing nations makes me feel so very helpless , its so painful and the worst is almost all of us feel about it but none of us can do anything about it .

Also your reporting last night was excellent as you saw those refugees dreaming the same dream of ours.
Posted By Anonymous Rupa , Boston ,MA : 10:53 AM ET
Its painful to think about the trauma these boys have gone through. Its even more painful to think that this is not only happening in the Sudan, but in dozens of other places around the world. I am friends with some of the adult "Lost Boys" of the Sudan. They continue to struggle and strive for normalacy in their daily Western lives, although they have been in the U.S. for several years now. I wish a simple crayon could dispell their haunting nightmares and erase the horrors they have lived through.
Posted By Anonymous Carrie Saum, Houston, Texas : 11:11 AM ET
Dr. Gupta,

I worked with Russian orphans two summers ago, and I was also struck by the tenacity with which these kids would cover pages with crayon. Some of the kids would hardly talk, but all of them (ages 4-13) would color with all their might.

I wonder if there is something theraputic about being able to reduce fears and traumas to 8.5 X 11, two-dimensional, blues, greens, yellows, reds, oranges, and pinks?
Posted By Anonymous Joel Gheen, Boulder, Colorado : 11:19 AM ET
Beautifully written story about
a heart breaking subject. I'll
now think of these lost children as you do.
Thank you.
Posted By Anonymous Ann Whitney, Zephyr Cove, NV : 11:41 AM ET
Media churns money from emotion on TV, but this article reflects true emotion that only a few can grasp/conceive. I wish the rest of the media learn from this report and be qualitative.
Posted By Anonymous Akhil Karanam, Monterey CA : 3:23 PM ET
Dear Sanjay,

"A picture is worth a thousand words." This proverb immediately came to mind when I read your post yesterday afternoon. As an art history major and artist I know that complex ideas and feelings can sometimes be best expressed through art. For example, can any amount of words adequately convey the beauty of the "Mona Lisa's" smile or the torment of Munch's "Scream?"

Art is a beautiful thing. It allows anyone, no matter what their education or background, to express their feelings to others even if language is a barrier. It is a universal form of communication.

The word "lost" has such a feeling of finality about it. We should not allow these children to be lost to us. They are all individuals who can be nurtured if we care enough to get involved and take action. I believe everyone can do something, even if it is just to put pressure on our leaders.

Thank you for your wonderful segment on last night's "360. " I was deeply moved by what you said about those in the Chad refugee camps: "So happy in part because they have no idea what they do not have." The shame of it all is that many of us do know what these people "do not have" and still little is done about it.

The pictures I have seen on "360" this week are worth more than a thousand words.

Jo Ann
Posted By Anonymous Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 6:28 PM ET
I tried so hard to watch AC360 this week but, was just too exhausted to do anything more than fall asleep w/ in the first few miutes of the show. I was so glad to see that you are re-airing the footage you all have compiled this week. I did see the piece w/ you on the UNICEF truck and you mention them in the piece on the lost boys. YOu should do a stroy on UNICEF and the Trick or Treat for UNICEF program. It is a way that we all can contribute. It gets our children involved and helps them to become socially aware. It is a wonderful program and more people might contribute if it got more media attention. For more info and a list of what UNICEF does w/ your donations see For the price of what it cost 2 people to eat at MCDonalds; UNICEF can provide 20 packets of high energy biscuts to feed malnourished children. One dollar that will barely buy a soda here in the states will immunize 2 children against measles for a life time. I think we could all give up a trip to MCdonalds and a sugarey caffinated soda for those who will probably never know the taste of a Coke or a Quarter Puonder w/ cheese. I hope someone from the show sees this and acts on my suggestion. God Bless you all for bringing this to our attention and God bless them for having the misfortune to have been born to those circumstances.
Posted By Anonymous Beth L. Laurinburg, NC : 9:54 AM ET
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