Relief workers play games with kids to ease trauma

Clowns dance as they entertain children who were affected by the tsunami, at a temporary shelter in Pandeglang, Banten, Indonesia on Dec 27, 2018.
Clowns dance as they entertain children who were affected by the tsunami, at a temporary shelter in Pandeglang, Banten, Indonesia on Dec 27, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

LABUHAN • Ms Via Sundari Octavia keeps a watchful eye on her young children as they sing and dance - part of a trauma-healing programme for children displaced by Indonesia's deadly tsunami.

Ms Octavia was with dozens of parents lining the edge of a futsal field turned evacuation shelter in the town of Labuhan yesterday, where relief workers played games with children to take their minds off the disaster.

The 30-year-old, her husband and three children - two sons aged three and five and a baby boy - survived the killer wave that killed more than 400 people and left many homeless. However, they have little left beyond the clothes on their back and some meagre belongings strewn on the floor.

"My house was swept away by the waves," Ms Octavia told Agence France-Presse. "I brought only a few things with me; everything else is gone."

At another relief centre in hard-hit Kalianda, volunteers handed out drawings for kids to colour along with stuffed animals and other toys.

But volunteers in both places were also looking out for signs of distress, with some children eating little and struggling to sleep.

"Psychologically, many children have been affected," said Ms Dina Amanah Tayusani of children's aid group Anak Banten.

 
 
 
 

"They lost their parents... Many of them lost their homes and their belongings."

Medical workers have warned that clean water and medicine supplies are running low.

Children are now the most vulnerable of some 22,000 people forced out of their homes, said Mr Michel Rooijackers, an adviser to Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik, a Save the Children partner in Indonesia.

The organisation was handing out shelter and hygiene kits for about 10,000 people and setting up spaces to help distressed kids.

"The situation in the temporary shelters is improving, but not optimal," he said.

The healing programmes are an important part of recovery, even if not all of the children understand the gravity of the situation.

"It is very useful, my (kids) can get to know other children so they won't be bored," Ms Octavia said. "My son said 'Mum, we are on vacation now'. I started crying because we are actually suffering."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2018, with the headline 'Relief workers play games with kids to ease trauma'. Print Edition | Subscribe