ChildFund Responds to Children and Families Fleeing Mt. Merapi

by Julien Anseau, ChildFund Asia Regional Communications Manager
Reporting from the field

Deyangan camp

Continued eruptions of the Mt. Merapi volcano in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, during the last two weeks has forced 280,000 people into temporary shelters at schools, village halls and makeshift camps. Indonesia’s president has declared the situation a national disaster.

Camps are overcrowded, with a reported combined capacity of only 40,000.
Yet in the districts of Magelang and Boyolali alone, where ChildFund is focusing its emergency response efforts, displaced persons total more than 150,000.

Children and parents have told ChildFund staff that sanitary conditions in the camps are poor. ChildFund is distributing some 1,250 hygiene kits (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes and diapers) to evacuated families staying in shelters. We are also providing food for breastfeeding mothers as well as food, clothing, mattresses and blankets.

Three-year-old David, one of ChildFund’s sponsored children, is staying in Deyangan camp in the Magelang district with his family. His mother, Wanti, says that her family’s village is located only 5 km (3.1 miles) from the mountain’s peak. “We want to go home, but we don’t know when that will be. I don’t know what state our house will be in when we return. My husband sometimes ventures up Merapi’s slopes to check on our cattle and goats, but I tell him it’s probably best not to check on the house or he will cry.”

People living on Merapi’s slopes depend on cattle for their livelihoods. Thus, many evacuees, stressed over the safety of their livestock, are entering the restricted zone to check on their cattle, goats, ducks and chickens. In an effort to prevent residents from returning to their homes to feed livestock, volunteers and military personnel have evacuated animals within a 20 kilometer radius of Merapi’s peak.

“We want our normal life back,” Wanti says. “But I am worried about the future. Our paddy fields have been left unattended. Our crops are ruined.”

Children also are in shock and confused. The loss of educational materials and toys, separation from home and play areas and a general lack of security is traumatic. Schools in affected areas remain closed and a lack of activities for children in the camps is causing children to be restless, anxious and noncommunicative.

As parents worry about their livelihood and the potential loss of property and livestock, they are often unable to adequately provide the care and attention needed by children.

ChildFund is establishing child-centered spaces where children can engage in normalizing activities such as drawing, singing, dancing and storytelling to enable emotional expression.

“Child-centered spaces provide protection and psychosocial support for children who have been affected by emergencies. They also provide a safe, physical space for children to gather in an unstable environment,” says Sharon Thangadurai, ChildFund national director in Indonesia.

Yuni, 12, is staying at Deyangan camp in Magelang. “I have to help my mom with washing clothes and taking care of my younger brother,” she says. She is happy to have the opportunity to play with other children at the child-centered space. “I enjoy it here. It helps me to be strong because I want to be strong for my mom.”

Additional child-centered spaces are urgently needed. To help ChildFund respond to the Mt. Merapi disaster, please consider a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.

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