Guest post by Alan Elliott
San Francisco Bay Area native Alan Elliott is taking time out from his master’s degree studies at the University of California San Diego School of International Relations and Pacific Studies to pursue a 10-week internship in ChildFund’s Sri Lanka office. He is regularly blogging about his experiences.
I’ve just returned from Tangalle, my first visit to a zone affected by the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. I interviewed children and youth who were so traumatically affected by this disaster that they still struggle seven years later. One youth I met, Sanath, inspired me on a personal level. Not only did he give himself a new lease on life, but he also has become a leader in his community. He is proof that progress by the individual and by the community provides a recipe for sustainable development and positive change.
“Before 2004, the community was normal, united,” 25-year-old Sanath explains, “but after the tsunami hit, everything fell apart and many youths became addicted to very ugly things.”
Sanath’s rural community was devastated by the tsunami that swept Sri Lanka’s eastern and southern coasts. Although ChildFund was quickly on the scene to provide emergency relief in the form of nutritional foods, infrastructure support and child protection, physical aid alone is but one component of disaster recovery.
After the tsunami, ChildFund identified drug and alcohol addiction as a big problem in Tangalle, especially in Kudawella. Many youth felt lost, with no skills, no goals and a lack of involvement in a community broken by disaster. Sanath was one who developed a paralyzing addiction to alcohol.
Children and youth needed more support so they could rediscover a sense of community and develop practical skills for employment. Working with the local parent federation Ruhunu Wellassa, ChildFund started children’s and youth clubs. At those club meetings, children ages 5-14 and youth from 15-24 come together to socialize, learn and develop job and leadership skills. Through these clubs, ChildFund prepares young people to become the primary agents of change in their communities.
At first, Sanath, who was 19 at the time, was “afraid to join” the Youth Club in Kudawella. He was unsure of what the club intended to do, and he lacked the self-confidence to participate. But in 2005 he overcame his fear and began rebuilding his own life. Leadership training, which offers confidence-building and teamwork exercises, helped Sanath become an effective organizer among his peers. He made such progress that he won election as chairman of the Youth Club in 2008-2009.
Additional career guidance and personal development programs also helped Sanath identify a career that was well-suited for him. He even received support in learning to drive and obtaining a driver’s license.
“The Youth Club helped me to discover my talents and what options were available to me” Sanath says. For the past two and a half years, he has been working for an insurance company, earning a good salary, and nurturing ambitions to become a manager.
Most important for Sanath is his personal recovery and the positive steps he and other youth are taking to help the community. “After joining the Youth Club, I have become freer of mind, and my community has regained the unity that it had before the tsunami.”
by Virginia Sowers
Our three-part series on recovery efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami concludes today with an update from India.
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. They’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. Ilango 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.
And, of course, the services ChildFund provides in 31 countries around the world would not be possible without the support of child sponsors, major donors and others who respond to the call with generosity in times of incredible, unforeseen need.
by Virginia Sowers
Our three-part series on recovery efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami continues with an update from Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka, 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, Guru says. “Communities are happy and carry on their activities freely, and children enjoy the facilities now extended to them in a good environment.”
Tomorrow: 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.
by Virginia Sowers
Today begins a three-part series on ChildFund’s recovery efforts in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India following the 2004 tsunami.
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.
Like most of you, I watched the catastrophe play out on television, shocked by the devastation across Asia, and moved to make a modest contribution to disaster relief. But as is often the case in the U.S., the media cycle moves on to keep pace with Americans’ notoriously short attention spans.
Since joining the staff of ChildFund this past year, I’ve happily come to realize that our organization has a long attention span in the wake of disasters. Our field staff in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka recently updated me 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 the 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.
Tomorrow: Much work remains in a country still recovering from a 30-year military conflict and the deadly tsunami of 2004 — Sri Lanka.