Restoring children’s lives in Thailand
By Natthinee Rodraksa
RANONG, January 2005 – Eleven-year-old Isamael Gumuda remembers clearly the day the huge waves took away his seven-year old brother. They were at school rehearsing a performance for the upcoming New Year celebration when they heard a roar.
“We turned and saw a giant wave, taller than our school building, coming to hit us. I held my brother tightly, but the wave separated us. I survived because the wave carried me to the bottom of the mountain while my brother couldn’t make it. I miss him very much and pray for him,” said Esamael.
Teachers at his school have noticed that Isamael has not been the same since the tsunami struck. He has lost weight and has been miserable and quiet. He is one of many students at Baan Talaynok School who have been part of a psychosocial rehabilitation programme sponsored by UNICEF.
As physical reconstruction gets underway in tsunami-affected areas, UNICEF is also aiming to ensure emotional recovery with the delivery of psychosocial aid to traumatized children to help them recover psychologically from the devastating catastrophe.
Various activities, including art therapy, story telling and games, are designed to encourage them to learn how to express their feelings to ease their grief and anxiety. Mobilizing support from their friends, teachers and parents to assist in the recovery of the traumatized children is also necessary.
Supported by UNICEF, a team of pediatricians, psychologists and specially trained nurses from Khon Kaen University and Prince of Songkhla University conducted intensive two-day psychosocial rehabilitation activities for the affected students in an attempt to restore a sense of normalcy and security to their lives.
During the initial phrase, six severely affected schools in two of the tsunami-struck southern provinces, Ranong and Phang-Nga, were chosen.
“The death of eight students and one beloved teacher has clearly left the 22 student survivors distraught,” said Director of Baan Talaynok School, Supawadee Nakvichien. “Most children are still terrified and scared of the sea. Some are easily frightened by any sounds that are similar to the sound of the waves. They become noticeably depressed, less lively and turn quiet. The most severe trauma is found among those who lost their loved ones, including parents, caretakers, teachers and friends.”
Eleven-year-old Usa Munoh, a Baan Talaynok School student, lost her mother, older sister and sister-in-law to the tidal waves. “I am still sad with what happened. The waves took away the lives of my loved ones, including my mother, sister and teacher, to whom all my fellow students were close. My father and I feel miserable about my mother’s death although he doesn’t show it. I also feel sorry for him because he cannot go fishing now since his fishing boat was destroyed. I miss my mother so much that I cry. But I know that I need to be strong. I’m angry at the sea for murdering my mother and sister,” the little girl said gloomily.
The two-day programme is just the beginning of the healing. “Resolving these psychological problems, however, requires united efforts from all stakeholders to rebuild and repair what has been destroyed. Psychosocial intervention must be made at all levels, including among parents, teachers and the community as a whole to provide a protective environment in which the children can recover from this traumatic event,” said Dr. Poonsri Rangseekajee of the Department of Psychiatry of Khon Kaen University.