Riverside is usually far removed from the disastrous images that too often show up on our TV screens. But events in the last several weeks make it apparent that for some of our younger citizens, that distance hasn't fostered any lack empathy for the less fortunate of the world.
For Trinity High School art teacher Viki Siliunas and many others on the River Forest school's staff, one of the core values they seek to inculcate in their students is to use their talents to leave the world better than you found it.
"We're always telling them to use their talent to make the world a better place," said Siliunas, who is also a Riverside resident.
Over the past three weeks, over 20 Trinity students took that lesson to heart, using their artistic and organizational talents to help raise money for some of the thousands victims of the Dec. 26 Southeast Asia tsunami. The aftermath of that terrible and historic event continues to unfold, with over 250,000 people killed, and millions more facing a future with shattered homes and hopes.
Riverside residents Bridgette O'Connor and Jessica Koenig brought different talents to that project, but both share a desire to use their energies to help others in desperate need. So far those efforts have paid off to the tune of $1,400, and Koenig and O'Connor hope to raise even more.
The Trinity project started several weeks ago when the Trinity administration decided to raise money for a Sri Lankan orphanage run by a Dominican priest, the Rev. Paul Satkunanayagam, better known as Father Paul, who lived at a North Shore church rectory while a student at Loyola University. He returned to Sri Lanka in 1975.
The tsunami was just the latest tragedy to befall the area around the orphanage, which was founded to help the children of those killed during Sri Lanka's two decades long civil war. According to press accounts, Satkunanayagam was in a room overlooking the sea with the children, saying Mass, when the tsunami hit. Satkunanayagam saw the huge wave of water coming and got 300 children to higher ground, but the orphanage was completely destroyed.
Siliunas had the inspiration to design and execute a mural reflecting scenes from the tsunami on an 8-by-16-foot section of wall in a school hallway.
"We hoped that students would be reminded of the suffering of others," said Siliunas.
Over a dozen Trinity art students gave up their lunch hours and after school time for two weeks. While the painting was underway, O'Connor and other members of the school's Amnesty International chapter made the rounds of the lunchroom and hallways, soliciting donations.
"Our officers went around during the lunch hours collecting money," explained O'Connor.
For the girls, it was an opportunity to step outside themselves.
"We basically put it out to the art students that if you want this to happen, it's going to have to happen on your lunch hours and after school on your own free time," said Siliunas. "It was two weeks of solid work."
The girls also credit their classmates with being particularly generous.
"We just asked them to donate and they donated," said Koenig.
Siliunas first produced a collage sketch of scenes taken from the many photographic images taken of the events in the wake of the tragedy. A grid pattern was then sketched out, and the images sketched out on the wall in gesso. The drawing was then filled in with charcoal, with some of the red gesso still visible. The effect is both powerful and stark, just like the subject matter.
In the mural, huge curling waves break on either side behind the people, as various individuals reach out in fear and suffering. Particularly poignant is a terrified woman extending out her hands beseechingly, so that in the viewer's perspective they look far larger than the rest of her body. Wrapping around all of the people in the mural are a pair of arms, as though the rest of the world is trying to envelope and comfort them.
Painting the mural was also a learning opportunity for the young artists involved, and the cooperative effort produced a piece of artwork that reflected the different approaches and techniques of its 16 creators.
Asked if the fund raising effort was satisfying, all six girls nodded and smiled.
"We felt really good about it," said River Forest resident Emily Lappe, echoing her classmates shared belief that they all have been involved in something special. Something special that they all also agree isn't finished yet.
"We can't stop here," said Oak Park resident Lauren Matthews of the fund raising effort. "We have to keep going."
Those wanting to donate to the Trinity Tsunami Mural Fund can contact Mary Tansey at 771-8383.