Refugee Children’s Artwork Given to EMU

Ken and Ellen Peachey Lawrence
Ken and Ellen Peachey Lawrence show an example of the Salvadoran refugee children’s drawings they have donated to EMU’s Conflict Transformation Program.
Photo by Jim Bishop

The art is simple, stark, yet powerful. The images depict, and evoke, a flood of emotions growing out of the effects of war on children.

A collection of 123 drawings made by refugee children from El Salvador has been donated to the Conflict Transformation Program (CTP) at Eastern Mennonite University.

The drawings were done by children, mostly 6 to 12 years of age, in refugee camps on the Honduras-El Salvador border. The refugees fled El Salvador during protracted civil war between government forces and guerilla movements in their native country. The children created the art based on their personal experiences of devastation and trauma.

Ken Lawrence of Spring Mills, Pa., was part of a peace group fact-finding mission to Nicaragua and Honduras in 1984. He was one of four persons from his group able to visit the camps where the art work was discovered.

Lawrence determined to bring back the drawings to show Americans the violence and suffering taking place in Central America, some the direct result of U.S. involvement there.

close-up of artwork

Photo by Jim Bishop

“It was hard to believe the horrible things that were happening in one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever seen,” Lawrence said. “These are universal images showing the barbarism of war through childrens’ eyes even while being uniquely Central American,” he added.

After returning to the U.S., Lawrence went on tour with the children’s art. He sold an article detailing his experience to “Life” magazine, but it never was published.

The couple, friends of James and Marian Payne of Richmond, Va., long-time benefactors of the CTP program, decided to give the collection to EMU’s graduate-level peacebuilding program because “we felt it had a better chance of more people seeing this striking art work if it went to an organization that is addressing the very ills caused by war and injustice.”

The children who made the drawings would be in their 30’s now, if they’re still living, Lawrence noted, adding: “It would be something if one day these materials could be given back to their creators.”

“These pieces are a striking, painful reminder of how trauma can be reflected in art,” said EMU President Loren E. Swartzendruber. “EMU is grateful to receieve this collection in recognition of the work that CTP does on behalf of hurting people around the world. We will do our best to be good stewards of this gift,” he added.

Ruth H. Zimmerman, CTP co-director, said the artwork will initially be put in acid-free sleeves and placed in notebooks for public viewing. Some “will certainly be displayed as part of the 10th anniversary celebration of the CTP program being planned for June, 2005.”