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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

India: Volunteers put smiles back on young faces

© Tom Pietrasik
Young people take part in a two week summer camp at the St. Joseph's Primary school, staffed by volunteers of the Nehru Yuva Kendra (Nehru Youth Centre).

By Arabella Phillimore and Radikha Srivastava

CHENNAI, Tamil Nadu, India, 23 June 2005 - O.K. Swami, 20, is studying for a BA in Literature. This summer break, he is back in his home village, Melamanakudy, volunteering to help young tsunami victims cope with lingering trauma caused by the loss of homes, family members or friends.

O.K. leads children from grades one to five in activities during a two-week summer camp in the village school. Every day begins with spoken English practice, followed by fun activities such as songs and games.

The youth organization Nehru Yuva Kendra supplied more than 270 volunteers, among them O.K., to provide psychosocial support for out-of-school children affected by the tsunami, throughout the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

UNICEF trained the volunteers in how to recognize signs of trauma, and in how to use songs and games to help children overcome their fears.  

Bebison, 11, is attending the camp and is living with his parents and younger brother in a temporary shelter. Their home, situated only 25 m from the sea, was destroyed by the tsunami.

Bebison likes the camp activities and especially enjoys being among his friends. Delighted, his mother Lilypushpam encouraged her friends to send their children to the camp as well. Today, more than 300 children are enrolled.

“Little by little they are forgetting the tsunami,” Lilypushpam says.

The tsunami was a heavy blow to three-and-a-half-year-old Subina from Sonakuppam village. Once chubby and playful, the toddler lost her elder brother and only sibling to the disaster.

Seetha, a volunteer providing psychosocial support for children, says, “Subina also went through the shock of seeing her brother’s dead body, which was washed up three days later.” That’s when she stopped talking. She also often refused to eat.

“In the beginning, Subina was very depressed and did not go out and play with other children. She would only ask for her brother. But then we started visiting her every day and would play simple games,” says Seetha. “One day Subina told us everything about her tsunami experience and the loss of her brother. This helped her to open up to us,” she adds.

Subina’s village has a special playground developed by UNICEF. Every evening, volunteers hand out badminton racquets, shuttlecocks, rubber rings, tennis balls and cricket bats to children coming from the nearby shelters for people who lost their homes.

The programme is yielding positive returns throughout the state. Children older than Subina and Bebison are also benefiting from psychosocial counselling by trained volunteers. In Kanyakumari town, Father Leon is running a two-week summer camp for children aged five to 15.

Amjit, 13, admits he was very frightened of the sea after the tsunami. But he is less afraid now. “My favourite story told by our counsellor is how Jonah is saved by the whale during a storm at sea,” he says.



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