Trauma recovery to take years
A. Junaidi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Husen, a six-year-old boy at a shelter in Banda Aceh, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, drew a big red wave and several figures in black on a piece of paper.
Husen and dozens of other children, accompanied by volunteers from Yayasan Pulih and UK-based Save the Children, tried to express their memories of the Dec. 26 disaster.
Drawing is part of a recreational, trauma recovery approach to help thousands of children in the province deal with their grief and loss.
"Drawing is a method by which children can express their feelings and memories. We didn't ask the children to draw pictures about the tsunami," said psychologist Norcahyo Budi, head of the community recovery and empowerment division of Jakarta-based Yayasan Pulih.
Besides art therapy, Norcahyo also uses song, dance and games to help the children heal.
He emphasized the importance of introducing elements of local culture in recovery methods, such as traditional Acehnese songs and dances.
"It's better that the children maintain ties with their culture during the process of healing," he told The Jakarta Post last week.
Norcahyo, who had been in Aceh six months when the tsunami hit and remained there for two weeks afterward, said it would take at least two years for the children to recover psychologically and emotionally.
"It could be more or even less than that, since children are generally more resilient than adults," he said.
Norcahyo urged people not to assume off-hand that a child was traumatized, as this could have a negative impact on the child, and could alienate them from their friends.
He said a child could be diagnosed as suffering from trauma if a change in behavior was observed over an extended period of time.
"Feeling sad after the tragedy is normal. It's not trauma if the child can resume their social activities within their personal environment," he said.
Separately, Save the Children country director Tom Alcedo said a comprehensive effort was needed in trauma recovery for Acehnese children.
"Besides the psychological method, other efforts, such as reconstruction of educational facilities and economic recovery, are important for the children," Alcedo told the Post.
He said all efforts targeting children should be based on five principles: family unity, the children's best interest, community-based care, local culture and the child's participation.
He said separated and unaccompanied children must be provided with services focusing on reuniting them with their parents or primary or customary caregivers as soon as possible.
"We have a list of hundreds of separated children. Dozens of them have been reunited," Alcedo said.
He agreed that children who had lost their entire extended family could be helped best in their homeland.
Save the Children is cooperating with the government, local leaders and organizations to develop a policy for Aceh's orphans, such as fostering, community-based care and local adoption schemes.
The organization is also targeting around 3,000 separated and unaccompanied children in several areas across the province, such as Banda Aceh, Pidie, Lhokseumawe and Bireuen.
Save the Children has allocated US$2.8 million for this year's program, and plans to channel more funds annually for the next five years, he said.