More than 200,000 people lost their lives on Dec. 26, 2004, when, without warning, a tsunami hit countries surrounding the Indian Ocean. ChildFund was among the first responders, attending to children’s needs, distributing emergency supplies and helping families and communities organize for survival and recovery.
Our field staff in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka recently provided updates on the significant progress since the tsunami—and the continuing need to support children in the region.
Restarting sustainable livelihoods for devastated communities and helping children cope were top priorities for ChildFund Indonesia in 2004. Immediate focus was placed on helping communities provide safe and healthy spaces for children, with special attention to orphans, children separated from their families and households headed by one parent or grandparents.
ChildFund Indonesia was able to assist communities with income-generating skills and improve educational opportunities for children with no access to schools. As schools were rebuilt, ChildFund established a mobile library to put books in the hands of children on a regular basis.
Another program provided families with gardening tools, vegetable seeds and fertilizer. ChildFund also helped with the formation of “Self Help Groups” to start up small businesses and microenterprises within communities.
Today, community-based organizations and youth clubs continue to pave the way for improvements in education, child protection, nutrition and employment skills.
ChildFund National Director Guru Naik recalls 70 staff being redeployed and 1,000 community volunteers being mobilized to handle the humanitarian crisis five years ago. In the first three days following the tsunami, assistance was provided to 102,000 children and 12,000 adults who spontaneously gathered in makeshift shelters in the surrounding countryside.
Early childhood development activities, health and nutrition programs and child-centered spaces were top priorities.
In the five intervening years, the effort has shifted to reconstruction and rehabilitation activities, and reassessing the needs of the most vulnerable, still mostly children and women.
To augment recovery, ChildFund Sri Lanka focused on civic work projects, micro-enterprise development to help communities reestablish their livelihoods and vocational training for youth in high-demand skills such as three-wheeler repair, cell phone repair, electrical wiring installation and pottery and Batik painting.
Today, the areas in which ChildFund Sri Lanka works have regained some degree of normalcy, Naik says. The communities continue to make good use of the common facilities such as water/sanitation facilities, renovated community centers, children’s play areas and preschool buildings provided by ChildFund Sri Lanka through its rehabilitation program.
ChildFund India’s tsunami recovery and rehabilitation programs were aimed at protecting children coping with the loss of homes, parents and family members, reports Ilango Balu, child protection specialist in the India National Office.
Working in 35 villages, ChildFund India set up child-centered spaces, where children were given health care, nutrition and other creative activities to provide psychosocial support.
In the past five years, ChildFund India has established support groups for children, adolescent girls and youth, as well as community Child Well-Being Committees. We’ve also provided child-protection training for parents and communities, life-skills training for girls, employment skills training for youth and psychosocial support training for teachers.
Resources have also been allocated to economic recovery efforts, such as fishing boat repair, fishing net replacement and small-business startups.
Tsunami recovery efforts by ChildFund and its community partners have focused on sustainability. Balu estimates that about 75 percent of the people affected by the storm regained normalcy as they received shelter and were able to continue their regular occupations. Yet, 25 percent of the affected population continues to struggle with recovery even five years on.
Many lessons have been learned in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami. ChildFund has recently responded to the typhoons in the Philippines and the earthquake in Sumatra, and we have also begun implementing child-led Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) training in communities where we work.
The goal of DRR training is to further mitigate the vulnerability of children and their families in the face of large-scale or smaller emergencies, by helping children increase their positive coping strategies should a disaster occur.