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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

India: Food and fun help tsunami children thrive again

© UNICEF Video
Young tsunami survivors at a UNICEF-supported relief centre.

By Arabella Phillimore and Radikha Srivastava

TAMIL NADU, India, 21 June 2005 -  Many young tsunami survivors in Tamil Nadu are beginning to smile again as they prevail in the battle against malnourishment and physical and psychological trauma.

The majority of children who first came to the temporary Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centre were sick, both emotionally bruised and malnourished. UNICEF is supporting 350 ICDS centres in Tamil Nadu, each caring for about 35 children. For the past five months the centres have been feeding children with nutritious meals – supplemented with protein mix – and supplying play materials.

Twenty-month-old Arun Kumar is from Uraga Sandhai village in Nagapattinam, the district worst hit by the tsunami. When the wave struck, he fell into the sea and swallowed large amounts of water. In the following four weeks Arun’s weight fell from 10 kg to 6.6 kg.

Two main meals

Devastated, Arun’s mother brought him to the centre. A volunteer says, “Arun was the weakest out of all the children in our centre. His ribs showed through his clothes and he had several festering sores on his body. His eyes were yellow and he was highly irritable. He also suffered from a respiratory infection.” A special diet chart was drawn up for Arun and he was started on highly nutritious meals that included an egg every day.

UNICEF district coordinator Dr. D. Gopinath says, “Since many children in the tsunami-affected areas were undernourished, we decided to feed them two main meals instead of one.”

© UNICEF Video
A child at a UNICEF-supported relief centre in Tamil Nadu.

Children at the centres are fed lunch twice, at 12.30 p.m. and again at 3.30 p.m. These meals consisted of rice, lentils and vegetables. For their morning and evening snacks, they drink milk and enjoy sweets made of a nutritious mix of gram, wheat, lentils and oat.

The centre’s care helped Arun regain both weight and health. In just a month his weight increased to 7.1 kg. By the end of March, he weighed 8.5 kg, and by the end of April, 9.5 kg.

Nutrition and fun

UNICEF Tamil Nadu State Representative Tim Schaffter says, “These centres have played a crucial role in restoring health and happiness to the tsunami-affected children. We aim to reach out to each and every needy child in the state.”

The centres do more than just provide nourishment – they also give children a chance to have fun. Kovalam ICDS centre in Kanyakumari district is abuzz with the sounds of children playing. Five-year old twins Nancy and Dancy and their best friend Rajoni are excited about an upcoming big event – in two weeks time the three will start school.

Kanyakumari district child protection officer Josephine Sagaya Pramila says, “The parents bring their children to the centre because the children need help to think about things other than the tsunami. Many are living in temporary shelters and still afraid of the sea, but they are much happier when they are here with us playing games and singing songs.”




June 2005:
UNICEF New York correspondent Chris Niles reports on how children who survived the tsunami are regaining health and happiness, in Tamil Nadu, India.

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