Helping Indonesian Children Feel Safe Again

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

A child's drawing of Mt. Merapi eruption

ChildFund’s initial response to the Merapi disaster in Indonesia focused on the search and rescue of sponsored children.

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.”

Finding friends in the evacuation camp.

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.

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