Children in Indonesia draw pictures of the tsunami
Fun and games play a major role in the counselling process
Learning to Cope
In a refugee camp in Aceh, Indonesia, a Salvation Army medical team sets up a clinic and offers treatment to people who were injured trying to escape the destruction brought by the tsunami.
While people are waiting to be treated, Claire Campbell, a clinical psychologist from Melbourne, places a mat in the shade and gets out materials including crayons, paper, origami paper and two balls. She starts to draw.
Many children are nearby, waiting for their parents, relatives and guardians to be seen. Their curiosity is aroused and soon they go over to see what is going on. They quickly begin drawing. In an hour, the number of children grows to more than 50.
The children may not realise it, but they have taken the first steps to dealing with what they have experienced. It’s a simple but effective piece of psychosocial counselling – working through the trauma of the tsunami.
In the next two days up to 100 children took part in the activities. It did not take long for them to begin drawing their personal experience of the tsunami, and many of them shared their stories.
Erna, a nine-year-old girl, was living with her grandmother in the camp. After making a picture of her experience of the tsunami, she insisted on explaining the drawing. It showed a large wave engulfing her, her family and her home, which was destroyed. At the top was written tulong – which means ‘help’ – and in the waves were images of bodies with the word mayat written, meaning ‘dead’.
Erna explained that her family had escaped the first wave but the second wave had caught them. She, her father and younger brother had escaped on top of a car. Her mother and other brother were mayat.
When the clinic was closed and the team was preparing to leave, one of the parents came up to a team member and said, ‘Before you came our children never smiled. Now they are smiling and playing like children again.’
One child asked, ‘Can you come every day and do this?’
The Salvation Army’s relief effort after the Indian Ocean tsunami has taken many forms. The provision of food, water and shelter are obvious entry points but a counselling service, run by professional teams coordinated through the International Health Services section of International Headquarters, has proved to be a great success in Indonesia and India.
Counselling workshops have been held, allowing community members to pick up skills and tools they will be able to use among the people they live with. In the long term, these volunteers will provide counselling for entire communities, supported by The Salvation Army.
A debriefing and trauma counselling workshop conducted in Nagerpattinum was attended by Salvation Army officers from the India Central and South Eastern Territories as well a group of five volunteers who have made themselves available to work in their communities. For these people, the workshop not only provided the skills they want but also gave them the opportunity to speak about their own experiences.
One community volunteer comes from a very poor village on the seashore. It was not a fishing village but was comprised mainly of construction workers. On the morning of the tsunami many of the villagers had been involved in bridge construction.
He recalls that he was coming out of his home when he saw the wave approaching. The first thing he did was run down to the shore.
He saw a group of 16 children there and he made them run further inland. As they ran he yelled at his fellow villagers to run from the coming water. Only after reaching safety did he think of his family – so he went back to see if they were safe. Fortunately they had all escaped. His home and all his belongings, however, were destroyed.
He commented that before the tsunami he had often thought about doing something for his community but was not sure what he should do. Now he feels compelled to help his community move forward with both the physical reconstruction and in dealing with the distress they are experiencing.
A second community volunteer related his story of survival and how this has motivated him to help bring his community together.
A fisherman, he was out at sea when the wave came. The wave pushed him ashore, where he survived by clinging to a coconut tree. When the water receded he climbed down and began helping the survivors. He and a friend took a number of people to hospital. They also collected many dead bodies from the shore. He later found out that his grandmother, his aunt and her son had all been killed.
He commented that, before the tsunami, people in the community did not always come together. After the tsunami, however, there is a sense of unity and a desire to work together. He said he wants to help this process which is why he has joined The Salvation Army’s response team. He feels it is his responsibility and duty to help people in his community support each other.
These are still early days, but already The Salvation Army’s training of volunteer counsellors is bearing fruit.
Benjamin Dhaya, a community development coordinator working in association with the staff of the Catherine Booth Hospital, Nagercoil, arranged for some training of local community volunteers in counselling approaches.
In an area known as Kanyakumari, which is close to the hospital, a group of volunteers has been visiting community members in their homes since soon after the tsunami struck.
They report the story of a woman who lost her two daughters. Both had been working in an area some distance from Kanyakumari but had come home for Christmas. While bathing, soon after arriving home, they were swept away by the waves.
Salvation Army volunteers have been visiting the woman every day. At first she could do nothing but cry and wonder what was the point of living. Gradually, however, as the visits have continued, she has started to smile again. She still weeps on occasions during the visits but the volunteers feel she is moving forward slowly, as a response to the care and support that is available in her home and her neighbourhood.