|© UNICEF Ecuador/2006|
|Angel Menendez, 10, worries about the animals he left behind when his family fled the Tungurahua volcano in Ecuador.|
By Jane O’Brien
NEW YORK, USA, 30 August 2006 – Thousands of children and families were displaced when Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano erupted this month. Rivers of molten lava destroyed roads, houses and farmland while ash and gas emissions caused a spate of respiratory infections.
UNICEF took immediate action in response to the crisis, setting up operation centres in affected communities and training volunteers to provide psychosocial assistance for traumatized children.
Angel Menendez, 10, and Juanita Pitaxi, 13, lived in Bilbao, which was engulfed by the blast. They witnessed the destruction of their community and are now staying with hundreds of other children in scattered camps around the area.
Ten-year-old Angel remembers having dinner with his family when a loud noise made him rigid with fear. From the volcano, burning rocks and columns of smoke and ash erupted into the air. “The noise was like a gunshot and I told my brother we were sure to burn,” he says.
|© UNICEF Ecuador/2006|
|Thirteen-year-old Juanita Pitaxi’s grandfather was killed when Tungurahua errupted.|
Terrified neighbours ran from their homes and in the rush to safety Angel didn’t even have time to collect a toy. He and his family found shelter at Cotalo, but he only sees his mother at night because she spends her days trying to get news from their village.
He is anxious about his home and farm animals they were forced to abandon. “I miss them very much and I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. They have no food or water,” he says.
Juanita’s home is buried under a pile of ash. The volcano destroyed everything her family owned – their land, the crops and their animals. It also killed her grandfather.
“My granddaddy Lucho didn’t want to leave the house,” she says. “He said that he had worked his entire life with granny Maria and that it took all his life to get what we have. He would get up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows and after that, take breakfast before going out into the fields.
“He would come back in the evening to tell us how happy he was with the crops and he would figure out how much corn he was going to harvest.”
UNICEF has set up a play corner at the shelters where Juanita and Angel and other children can use toys and drawing materials to help express the trauma they have experienced. Volunteer psychologists are on hand to help them cope.
The children worry about the future. But with a high risk of further eruptions from Tungurahua, there’s little chance of returning home just yet.
Consuelo Carranza and Rafaela Barona contributed to this story from Ecuador.
25 August 2006:
UNICEF Ecuador’s Cecilia Davila gives a full account of the evacuation of villagers near the Tungurahua volcano and how this has affected children.