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Attendance in schools doubles

Children are back to playing football on the Nagapattinam beach that became synonymous with death and devastation a year ago.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2005 04:17 IST

Children are back to playing football on the Nagapattinam beach that became synonymous with death and devastation a year ago. Many more children are back to school. But it took months of efforts to get them there.

To prevent the tsunami generation from bottling up the trauma of facing largescale death and destruction, the Tamil Nadu government partnered UNICEF and Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) to start psychosocial interventions for children in the state’s worst tsunami-hit districts. Puppets, dance, song, yoga and crayons are some of the tools that helped children overcome the terror of the killer wave.

Once the emergency response to the tsunami was over — “There were no disease outbreaks in any of the affected areas and not a single child died of a vaccine preventable disease, which in itself speaks of the effectiveness of the emergency response,” says a health ministry official — work began to piece together the shattered collective psyche of children affected by the tsunami.

“Most children started showing signs of pent-up fear and deep-rooted trauma right after the disaster, which was evident in children becoming withdrawn, restless and attention- deficit,” says Thomas George, communication officer, UNICEF, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The biggest challenge was getting children back to school. “Most families had lost someone and did not want to send their children out of sight for even a minute. Added to that were rumours of another tsunami, and it is only after teachers explained to the families that a tsunami was a very rare phenomenon and would not happen again that children started attending,” says George. Teachers and volunteers were trained to identify signs of trauma for counselling and treatment. Play activity in and after school helped several children leave their past behind.

One year later, the gains have been tremendous, more so because the devastation led to the setting up new educational and welfare modalities from scratch. “After studying while sitting on mats for years, even studying on new tables and chairs was very exciting for many children and attendance has increased this year,” says Sivam, a NYKS volunteer.

First Published: Dec 25, 2005 02:17 IST