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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Maldives: Healing the scars left by the tsunami

© UNICEF video
Educational workshops, creative arts sessions and individual counselling helps children to put the terrible memories of the tsunami behind them.

By Jadranka Milanovic

GAN ISLAND, Maldives, 21 June 2005 – “When is it going to happen again?” asks seven-year-old Aishath, holding tight to her mother’s hand. Like many children in this region, Aishath is coping with the trauma of having lived through the tsunami, which forced her and her family to flee their home. While relief efforts have focused primarily on the physical damage wrought by the tsunami, survivors also struggle to overcome the deep shock and upheaval resulting from the catastrophe.

Many who experienced the tsunami are now visited by memories and flashbacks that trigger feelings of intense anxiety and panic. Those feelings were heightened after a second earthquake struck the region in March.

Aishath and her family are now living at a relief centre on Gan Island, south of the Maldives capital Male. The island now hosts 408 internally displaced people from the nearby islands of Kalhaidhoo, Isdhoo and Mundoo.

The second earthquake

Aishath’s problems began when she and her family were forced to leave their home on Mundoo Island after it was damaged by the tsunami. She would awaken from nightmares and was unable to sleep unless her mother was nearby. She lost her appetite and could not concentrate.

© UNICEF video
Establishing a normal learning routine helps children who at high risk for psychological distress.

“When we finally got settled in the relief shelter, it looked like she was getting better,” says Aishath’s mother, Hawwa Ali. “After a short period of time she started going to school, but all of us – not only her father and I, but also her brothers and sisters, her grandmother and her grandfather – had to promise her each time that we would be at home when she comes back.”

Since March, when a second, much smaller earthquake hit the region, Aishath has been afraid of being separated from her parents, even to study or go to the bathroom. "She will not play with other children unless we are around," her mother says.

Child psychologist and UNICEF consultant Dr. Reina Michaelson says the second earthquake put people – especially children – at high risk for psychological distress. “This seven-year-old girl experienced a deep trauma. She keeps going back to the first stage of her trauma, to the time of the tsunami wave. She is unable to move to the phase of emotional maturing.”

A continuing need for support

To help relieve the feelings of loss and helplessness caused by the apparent senselessness of the tsunami, and to support people’s emotional and psychological recovery, UNICEF Maldives has developed a series of therapeutic activities for the Psychosocial Needs Assessment Programme, which is being undertaken by the Ministry of Gender, Family Development and Social Security.

Those activities include educational workshops, creative arts sessions and individual counselling for children, parents, teachers and health workers.

Parents and teachers who participate are given an overview of the common psychosocial effects of surviving a natural disaster, along with coping strategies and advice on seeking further assistance.

The Psychosocial Needs Assessment Programme and related efforts have been conducted on six islands, with some 1,100 adults and children having participated in the UNICEF-organized workshops and support sessions.

The tears of workshop participants as they describe the impacts of the tsunami are a testament to the continuing need for programming to support them in their work toward psychosocial recovery.




20 June 2005:
UNICEF Correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on the efforts to help children recover from the psychological trauma of the tsunami.

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