Local Team Aids Tsunami Victims

1 decade 7 months 6 days ago February 23, 2006 Feb 23, 2006 Thursday, February 23 2006 Thursday, February 23, 2006 5:07:05 PM CST in News

The December 2004 tsunami was one of the world's worst natural disasters becaused it killed more than 220,000 people in 12 countries.

Nearly a year later, survivors are still trying to cope with the psychological effects of losing so many family and friends.

A group of doctors in Missouri recognized a need that has helped the people deal with this disaster. 

Dealing with disaster means traveling around the world and for the University of Missouri International Center for Psychosocial Trauma they reached out to the people in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is a place where in one day 3,000 children lost a parent and 12,000 children lost their lives.

In Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital city, this used to be a popular beach. Now, it's a reminder of what the tsunami took away and whom it left behind.

On December 26, an undersea earthquake sent three huge waves crashing into South Asia. It took just minutes for the water to recede and to reveal a lifetime of damage.

Damage not just to bricks and mortar but to boys and girls most of who lost their family members.

A 14-year-old boy lost a brother and a sister in the tsunami. His brother was washed away by the strong tides. Like many of the children in Sri Lanka, he said he has never talked about his loss or received counseling.

Dr. Arshad Husain leads the International Center for Psychosocial Trauma Team. His group has traveled to 8 different countries over the last 10 years. Along with Dr. Wayne Anderson of Columbia and Dr. Judith Millner of Washington State, they arrived in Sri Lanka after 30 hours of flying, followed by a 12 hour drive through the mountains.

They're exhausted but there's a reason why they traveled more than halfway around the world.

"Disasters and wars have a terrible effect on children. These children need to be helped quickly to cope with these losses and experiences that they have," said Dr. Husain. 

Here in Sri Lanka, more than 30,000 people died in the tsunami and thousands more are still missing. Dealing with that huge amount of grief requires a lot of counseling, yet there are very few counselors in this area who do this kind of work. That's why the MU team for psychosocial trauma is training teachers and faith healers to be counselors.

Sri lanka has fewer than 50 psychiatrists for the entire country. That's about 1 psychiatrist for every 400,000 people.

Before the tsunami, the country already had one of the highest suicide rate in the world. But the trauma team is found the children are displayed their anxiety in a variety of ways.  For instance, after the tsunami, many of the victims in Sri Lanka were covered in a brown, black dirt and teachers are now finding children didn't want to use those colors in their drawings.

Shazuli Mohammed, a teacher said, "I want to give some counseling to the children but I don't know if I'm doing it correct or wrong."

In Palamunai, 125 people packed into a crowded unairconditioned room to learn about "psychology" and months after the tsunami, thanks to these MU doctors, surviors finally found a name for their symptoms, "post traumatic stress."

But, it's not just the tsunami that country is dealing with. Sri lanka is also in the middle of a civil war. In fact, the day we arrived in Sri Lanka, rebels killed a government officer in a grenade attack and the trauma team had to detour around some of the rebel controlled territory.

We should  also mention that same group of doctors went to Pakistan to help in the aftermath of the earthquake that took place there.

In addition to providing psychological support, the Columbia based charity that funds the group called "Village of Hope" that wants to build a village of 1,000 prefab homes in Pakistan.

 

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