The Digital Journalist
Father in Me
February 2005

by Chang W. Lee

Although covering a disaster has been a part of my career for some time by now, Tsunami and its after-mess in Sri Lanka was different from other assignments, from the scale of the disaster to the casualty that far exceeded what one can imagine.

But most profoundly I was a different person.

To be exact, now I am a father of a one year old boy, Baby Gio.

Refugees sleep on the concrete floor at Al-Hilal Vidyalaya public school in Kalmunai, Sri Lanka

Photo by Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
That made everything different. It was harder to see children sleeping on concrete floors, nothing covering their bodies but dirty clothing they have been wearing for days. It was harder to look at the eyes of a mother tending her crying baby after midnight in a school without windows, crowded with hundreds of refugees, school chairs and desks.

Children meant something more to me than before. And their suffering was more than heartbreaking.

But so was their happiness. The father in me was so glad to see a girl with a big toothy smile, holding her mother's hand as they returned to rebuild their destroyed house that stood between the once heavenly beach and the railroad track.

Sanduni Priyadarshini, 8, holds her mother's hand, at their home in Panadura.

Photo by Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Our coverage for the New York Times continued with the survivors. Some left with only bare hands and bare feet. And it was amazing to see how people survive and continue their lives.

Amy Waldman, a foreign correspondent based in India, and I, ran into a fisherman who was cleaning his well, half of his body submerged under the dirty water that was filled with debris and salt water. We found a blind man who relied his entire life on a 4-foot stick, who survived the unimaginable Tsunami with help of his cousin and neighbors, and one day, along the once beautiful coast of Sri Lanka, we ran into a woman taking a shower. Among the hopelessly scattered debris, the water poured out shining from the solitary shower. It was certainly more than refreshing to photograph the woman. I was amazed to see the shower working, and maybe it is not too much to say that in that moment, I saw hope of life surviving.

This was one of the last pictures I took during a few days of sharing the bits of people's lives in a difficult time, whether they lost their family or not. It was a difficult time for the world to witness their loss and tragedy. A difficult time for the survivors, but I saw, still standing still like the shower faucet and the water that cleaned survivors' tiring body, their spirit.

Photo by Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

© Chang W. Lee

Chang Lee is a New York Times staff photographer.

Dispatches are brought to you by Canon. Send Canon a message of thanks.