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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

India: Young tsunami survivors volunteer at day care centres

© UNICEF India/2005/Bagla
Chinnaiyan Sonia, 17, helps to measure children’s height and weight at the Aanganwadi Day Care Centre.

By Pallava Bagla

CHINNURPUDUPETTAI, India, 9 May 2005 – A casual observer watching 17-year-old Sonia Chinnaiyan smiling and working with toddlers at the Aanganwadi Day Care Centre in this village in Tamil Nadu, India, would never guess that her mother lost her life in the tsunami of 26 December 2004.

Sonia now volunteers at the day care centre, which was set up in the temporary shelters provided by the Indian government. Sonia’s work helps both her and the children recover from the tragedy.

Sonia’s mother was one of 43 people in her village who lost their lives that Sunday morning. Sonia remembers that she was at home when the waters came flooding into the house. She helped her brother, who was hampered by a fractured leg, climb onto the roof of a neighbour’s house, and then helped others get to safety as well. It was only later that she realized how close she had been to death.

Training programme provides needed skills

Tears well up in Sonia’s large dark eyes as she recalls how her fisherwoman mother, who was on the beach when the tsunami struck, perished in the waters. It is a loss she finds very difficult to put behind her, but this shy teenager says, “Playing and singing with the children who have enrolled at the Aanganwadi centre has helped me overcome some of the trauma.”

© UNICEF India/2005/Bagla
Sonia lost her mother in the tsunami. Her volunteer work at the children's day care centre helps both the children and herself.

Sonia underwent a UNICEF training programme to equip her with the necessary skills to work in the day-care centre. The programme included instruction on how to measure children’s height and weight, basic sanitation and hygiene practices, and proper nutrition.

Sonia’s mother had always wanted her daughter to become a nurse – a goal which Sonia still cherishes. “My determination to become a compassionate nurse has only increased.”

Sonia’s daily routine

Sonia’s day starts early. She begins by cleaning the day-care centre along with other volunteers, before the children arrive.

There are some 15 children who come to the Aangawadi Centre. When they arrive in the morning, they play games, sing songs, practice arithmetic, learn bird and animal calls– all before lunch. The hot meal of rice, lentils and vegetables is made fresh in the centre’s kitchen.

There is a lot of lively jostling and shoving as the children settle down on the floor for their meal. Sonia does not mind the commotion. “I enjoy coming to the centre because when I teach the children I seem to forget the horrors of the tsunami that continue to haunt me even today.”

UNICEF Coordinator on Health and Nutrition Leela Krishnan says there are 15 other tsunami-affected young women who have been identified and trained by UNICEF to volunteer at the many Aanganwadi centres in other villages.

The work required to identify and train the volunteers is more than justified by the smiles that blossom on the faces of the children, and of the young women who help care for them, as they continue the process of recovering from the devastating tragedy that affected so many.



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