Children dealing with trauma
No government, however wealthy, can be expected to prevent what rose to 10 metre tsunami waves smashing down on and fairly disintegrating articulated trucks to houses, schools and tragically people. And it was this new reality that I faced on arrival to Asahi city. Here the authorities estimate nearly 19,000 households have been affected by the earthquake and tsunami. That’s a lot of families in need of help to get back to normality.
Along the sea front homes in Asahi were decimated and have been left caked in mud. I saw people sweeping mud from their homes. They weren’t having much success.
The streets nearest to the beach were full of bizarre sights – overturned vehicles wedged in houses or leaning on walls. These scenes are similar to ones I saw in Aceh following the Boxing Day tsunami, but I’m always in awe of how brutal Mother Nature can be.
The most distressing experience for me was meeting Natsumi, only 10 years old, and Nao, just 11. They were afraid of the water and desperate to return to school to be with friends they’d not seen since the earthquake and tsunami.
Moving along, I met the Takane family who along with hundreds of families had sought shelter in one of 17 classrooms at IIzuka Primary School. Mum Mariko and her four children Yuto, eight years, Aika, age seven, Kanato, one year old and newborn Amihi had been living in one of those small classrooms since Friday. They told me that, at first, they were afraid to go home, but once they summoned the courage to return they found there was no water supply and they had no choice but to return to the school for shelter. Continuing on to meet others, I realised that the Takane’s story was not uncommon and would, no doubt, be playing out right up and down the east coast of Japan’s most densely populated island.
The trip here has been part of Save the Children’s assessment of the extent of the damage to help us determine how best we can contribute to the aid relief here. Hearing the stories of families in Asahi, we were left in no doubt that we should start setting up what we call Child Friendly Spaces as we have done in response to previous Tsunamis. These spaces are effectively a safe space where children can play with other children of a similar age under close supervision from responsible adults. The idea is to relieve the stress on parents and to give them a break from childcare duties as they register for emergency assistance, try to find food, locate friends and family members and, in the longer term, jobs and housing.
But our main priority in setting up these spaces and in all our work here now is to help children return to as normal an environment as possible (given the circumstances). Our experience in decades of disaster response shows us that children must be returned to a normal routine as quickly as possible to help ward off the risk of long-term psychological problems.Tagged in: charity, earthquake, japan, natural disaster, Save the Children, tsunami
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