Indonesian tsunami: Songs and toys for disaster-zone kids

LABUHAN (AFP) – Via Sundari Octavia keeps a watchful eye on her small children as they sing and dance – part of a trauma healing programme for kids 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 Thursday (Dec 27), 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.

But 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 AFP, as she sat on a tarpaulin, clothes drying on a fence behind her. “I only brought 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 keeping a close eye out for signs of distress, with some youngsters eating little and struggling to sleep.

“Psychologically, many children have been affected,” said Ms Dina Amanah Tayusani from childrens’ aid group Anak Banten. “They lost their parents… Many of them lost their homes and their belongings.”

An eruption of the Anak Krakatoa volcano, which sits in the middle of the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatera, caused a section of the crater to collapse and slide into the ocean, triggering the killer tsunami on Saturday evening.

The waves washed over popular beaches, inundating tourist hotels and beachside communities on both sides of the strait – leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake.

On Thursday, the disaster death toll was at 430 with some 159 still missing, as authorities raised the danger alert level for the rumbling volcano amid fears of another tsunami.

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 from their homes, said Mr Michel Rooijackers, an advisor 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.

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

“It’s very useful, my (kids) can get to know other children so they won’t be bored,” Ms Octavia said. “My son said ‘Mom, we’re on vacation now’. I started crying because we’re actually suffering.”

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