by Martin Hayes, ChildFund Child Protection Specialist
Reporting from Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Relative calm has been restored to the towns and villages surrounding Mount Merapi. Evacuees are leaving internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and returning home. In many cases, parents are leaving their children with families and friends in the camps so that they can begin cleaning their homes and clearing the debris.
I traveled to two of the villages about 4 kilometers (2 miles) south of the volcano. The roads were covered with an inch of gray powdery ash. In some spots, rain water has combined with the ash to solidify like concrete. Most village residents are farmers. They depend on the rice and vegetables that they grow. The hardened ash has caused many of the crops to die. For now these farmers are living on handouts delivered to the village by volunteers.
I spoke with a few villagers who have returned home. One young mother explained to me, “We don’t have seeds for next season…we’re worried about what we’ll do.” In this part of Indonesia, farmers plant regularly and are able to harvest every few months. They sell part of their harvest and consume the rest. Their subsistence is a delicate balance contingent on the cyclical harvests.
Despite the crop problem, residents are happy to be home. I spoke with a few young children about their experiences over the past few weeks. One 10-year-old girl named Wanyu explained the events immediately after the volcanic eruption. “I felt so scared… I cried. All the lights went out. We looked at the mountain and we saw red lights coming from the top.”
Wanyu fled with her parents to a shelter in the nearest town about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away. “I didn’t like the shelter because it was too hot.” But she explained that she did like meeting new children living at the shelter and learning new traditional games with them. Nonetheless, she’s glad to be back home and eager to return to her fourth-grade classroom. However, the school has not reopened. The students are helping some of the teachers who have returned to clean the school.
Wanyu’s mother is also happy to be home. However, she is noticeably anxious. “I’m worried about Merapi erupting again. I’m also worried about our future as all our vegetables have died.”
by Julien Anseau, ChildFund Asia Regional Communications Manager
Reporting from the field
Each of the 963 ChildFund-sponsored children in Magelang and Boyolali districts have been found staying in evacuation camps or with relatives. All are in good health, although some are complaining of eye irritation caused from ash and sand rain.
“We worked with our local partners and an experienced team of volunteers to locate the children,” says Kuntum, a ChildFund staff member. “We visited camps in Magelang and Boyolali to find them. We spoke to village leaders, family members and neighbors to find out if they knew where the children were staying. Phone connection has been limited in remote areas following the first eruption so we visited every camp on a daily basis.”
Approximately 280,000 people have been forced to leave their homes for temporary evacuation shelters, following Mount Merapi’s most violent eruption in 140 years. Conditions in most of the camps are cramped with poor sanitary conditions.
In emergency situations, children need a safe space in which to play and reestablish a sense of normalcy. ChildFund is opening child-centered spaces to provide educational and recreational activities for children.
“Children take part in drawing, singing, dancing, playing and storytelling, which allow emotional expression,” says Susana, a ChildFund staff member in Indonesia. In our child-centered space in Gunungpring camp we are exhibiting children’s drawings. Children are happy about this, and we hope it helps restore their confidence.”
Tegar, 10 years old, says, “I drew a picture of a volcano because I still remember what happened. My house was destroyed. I am very afraid.”
Susana explains that the vast majority of children initially drew volcanoes, but in more recent days, they are drawing the crater, without the volcanic eruption. “Some of the girls are drawing flowers. This is an important sign in post-trauma healing. Child-centered spaces help in this respect.”
In Deyangan camp, 9-year-old Arif says he likes the child-centered space. “For some time I can forget about what has happened. But when I go back to my parents sitting there in the camp, I only think about the eruption. I am scared at night.”
Although children may be living in evacuee camps, they still have a right to education, says Hurmiyati, a teacher in one of ChildFund’s child-centered spaces. “They will sit a national examination in May next year; they can’t fall behind.”
ChildFund is partnering with psychologists who, by interacting with children in the child-centered spaces, can better understand the trauma children are going through. Children have told ChildFund staff that they are afraid because they have had to leave their village and make new friends.
In Maguwo camp, the largest camp where more than 20,000 people have taken refuge, the popular child-centered space is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is well stocked with books and toys. Children come to spend some time to forget about their painful experience, under the supervision of trained volunteers.
ChildFund is providing age-appropriate activities for younger children, but there is a need for materials for older children. Sugeng, a volunteer, says, “There is nothing for teenagers to do in the camp. They are bored and don’t know how long they are going to be here.”
Sugeng is also concerned that the children have a balanced diet. Children eat rice or noodles every day. They need fruit and vegetables. So ChildFund staff and volunteers are involving children in the activity of making a fruit salad, and then partaking.
Overcrowding is a problem in the child-centered spaces. In Gunungpring, more than 100 children are attending activities during the course of the day, but the room is too small to accommodate everyone. More space is needed.
With your support, ChildFund will be able to open additional child-centered spaces for the children whose families have fled the volcano. Thank you for considering a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund to help improve conditions for children in Indonesia.
by Julien Anseau, ChildFund Asia Regional Communications Manager
Reporting from the field
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.