Life as a Refugee

1 decade 3 years 3 weeks ago Thursday, February 23 2006 Feb 23, 2006 Thursday, February 23, 2006 5:07:21 PM CST February 23, 2006 in News

Sarah Hill followed the University of Missouri based team for psychosocial trauma as these doctors help refugees deal with disaster.

Right now in Sri Lanka alone, there are about 750,000 tsunami refugees still living in temporary shelters. Entire families living in a space about the size of the room where you watch TV. These boys and girls not only lost moms and dads, but brothers and sisters. Add in the loss of their homes and a shortage of counselors and you have all the makings of a "mental health" disaster.

To give you an idea of how powerful the tsunami was, it ripped palm trees up by their roots. But there are signs things are returning back to normal. For instance, freshly planted palm trees all along the beach.Some problems have deeper roots.As the smallest survivors have become the biggest victims.

"Sleep disturbances. Nightmares. Wake up in the middle of night," explained trauma team member Dr. Judith Milner.

After a trauma like the tsunami, studies show an estimated 40% could suffer from post traumatic stress. In one camp alone, that's several hundred people.

"They don't have psychiatrists in the area. They don't have psychologists in the area," Milner said.

But thanks to Dr. Arshad Husain and his fellow team members from the International Center for Psychosocial Trauma, the hope is that counseling won't pass children by.

From this camp alone, 15 family members died in the waves. Just the sound of the water is enough to send children running. Nearly a year after one of the world's worst natural disasters, families are still living in temporary shelters. Metal walls, roofs made of a combination of tarps and coconut leaves. Their clothing washed from a well scrubbed by hand on cement. Their school has no desks. No toilets just several holes in the concrete. Entire families living in a 12 by 15 foot space.

"I've seen as many as I don't know where they sleep. Thirteen people and you saw the same thing here," trauma team member Dr. Wayne Anderson said.

They are no toys. There's no playground. Kids are playing in the sand.

"But amazingly, children are happy and families are happy," trauma team leader Dr. Syed Arshad Husain explained.

Happy because the 300 children living in this camp have each other. Notice their hands... They're always in each other's grasp. For the children of the tsunami, perhaps it's an effort to hold on to what they do have left.

You'll learn more about the members of the trauma team next week as we followed them to Indonesia. We should mention these team members give up a lot to travel around the world. They've survived a sniper attack in Sarajevo, they pay their own airfare.

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