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At a glance: Nicaragua

Children coping with tragedy caused by mudslides in north and central Nicaragua

Mudslides caused by rainstorms in Northern and Central Nicaragua have recently killed more than 25 people and left thousands of families homeless and traumatized. UNICEF and its partners have mobilized in affected regions in order to provide relief to children and families hoping to get their lives back on track.

MATAGALPA, 15 July 2004 – Only eight years old, Francisco can find no explanation for what happened on Friday 25 June. A large part of the hill known as Musún gave way under the continuous assault of rain pelting the northern and central areas of Nicaragua. The only thing he recalls is that “there was a lot of rain, the hill roared and we went running out of the house.”  He and his mother, along with seven brothers and sisters, are now being housed in a shelter for the homeless in the municipality of Río Blanco, Matagalpa, 216 km north of Nicaragua’s capital.

© UNICEF Nicaragua/2004/Moraga
Thirty-year-old Leoncia Loáisiga and her eight-year-old son Francisco in the Río Blanco shelter. Leoncia lost both her husband and her four-month-old daughter.
Francisco’s 30-year-old mother, Leoncia Loáisiga, rescued him from the swift current of mud and rocks rushing down the hill toward their community of Palan Grande. His father and four-month-old sister were swept away by the avalanche and have not been seen since.  Leoncia now has to face life alone with her eight children, all under the age of fourteen. Her story is similar to that of 908 other families, over 5,500 people, affected by numerous mudslides originating on Musún Hill.

Francisco’s arm was broken, and he is also hurting inwardly from the tragedy experienced by his family. In Nicaragua, personnel from the health and education ministries, including teachers, psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists, have adapted ‘Retorno de la Alegría’ (Return of Happiness), a psychosocial rehabilitation programme aimed at helping children like Francisco who have suffered firsthand tragedies to return to their normal lives.

“This strategy was also used to help the children affected by the Masaya earthquakes in 2002,” explained Anyoli Sanabria, UNICEF’s Education Officer. “This team has a lot of experience and above all a strong spirit of solidarity.”

© UNICEF Nicaragua/2004/Moraga
‘Return of Happiness’, a UNICEF initiative, is designed to bring smiles back to the faces of children and adults affected by the Cerro Musún slide, Matagalpa.
The ‘Retorno de la Alegría’ programme involves play-related activities in four stations: drawing, physical activities, recreation and orientation. Two or three facilitators at each station coordinate the activities with the children. One plays the role of ‘fisher’, observing the children’s reactions during the activity. Any child who demonstrates certain behaviours associated with stress is scheduled for a talk with the psychologist or psychiatrist, in the company of at least one parent.

Among the people I treated was a family that was in bad shape because they lost everything,” said Esmeralda, a psychologist at Managua’s Psychiatric Hospital and a member of the interdisciplinary team that conducted the first ‘Retorno de la Alegría’ sessions. “The family is traumatized, under great stress. They cry incessantly, and can’t deal with the change.”

The Nicaraguan Government estimates that 18,000 people have been affected by the mudslides, and is requesting US$11.2 million in assistance from the international community to care for the population in the affected areas.



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