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Life after the tsunami

What are the long-term effects of the tsunami on children?
What are the long-term effects of the tsunami on children?

The tsunami that hit parts of South Asia on 26th December in 2004 had devastating consequences for children in the region. For those that survived, life changed forever. Many lost parents, siblings, their home and their school. How are these children doing today?

It’s estimated that close to 230,000 people were killed due to the 2004 tsunami, and 1.6 million were made homeless. While international attention on the region has subsided, the long-term effects are still felt by the communities affected. For swift reconstruction of the social and economic life of the countries that were impacted by the tsunami, active and healthy children are essential. However, children living in the region experienced and witnessed terrible suffering. 

There are nearly fifty SOS Children’s Villages in the regions affected by the tidal waves, including in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. What have been the long-term effects on the children living there? By interviewing children and mothers in SOS Children’s Villages in southern India our colleague, Silvia Exenberger, gained insights into the trauma endured and the resilience shown by the communities affected. She began by finding out how children define well-being. To make the concept less abstract, Silvia simply asked the Indian children, “When are you happy?”

How do children define well-being?

Many of the children said that success in school was important to them, because they want to provide for their family in the future. Several children identified nature as an important resource, reflecting the cultural traditions of southern India where withdrawing into nature, peaceful contemplation, and taking strength from nature’s beauty are integral. The children’s answers to what makes them happy can be categorised into their social environment, school, and material conditions.

Sri Lanka: girls in the care of SOS Children following the tsunami

Mothers who were interviewed explained that after the tsunami, some children would display trauma symptoms, such as crying in the night. The mums knew their children’s well-being was improving when these symptoms disappeared, and the children became more independent and started playing again. 

As we might suspect from our own experience, the well-being of a mother impacts upon her children. These mothers endured traumatic experiences due to the tsunami. As their well-being improved in the years after the disaster, they were better able to recognise and respond to their children’s needs.

What did SOS Children do immediately after the tsunami?

Being established and trusted in the region, we were well placed to rapidly provide first aid where it was needed. Our expertise in child trauma, extensive resources, and local networks meant that we could effectively support families in many ways. For those whose homes were destroyed, we provided emergency shelters and aid, and SOS team members provided basic supplies to refugees. On top of this, to ensure that specialist and expertise help was available, doctors, psychologists, teachers, social workers and technicians worked with SOS to support families and their children.

How did SOS Children help with reconstruction after the tsunami?

SOS Children has continued to work closely with local communities in the regions affected by the tsunami. The active participation of communities was as important to us as respect for cultural and local characteristics, the sustainability and quality of projects and the focus on the individual needs of families and their children. Despite great difficulties, the vast majority of projects were completed within the scheduled time frame. For our reconstruction work, SOS Children were awarded top marks by UN Habitat. We built, 

Boys after tsunami
  • 2,261 family houses (1,014 in Indonesia, 78 in Thailand & 648 in India) for around 11,200 people 
  • 15 community centres
  • 7 SOS Children’s Villages which house 600+ children orphaned by the tsunami (incl. nurseries, youth shelters, vocational training centres)
  • 6 SOS Social Centres

We also rebuilt school buildings and opened activity centres to help children overcome trauma. Our work in the tsunami affected region demonstrates SOS Children's endeavour to provide families and their children support both in emergency situations and in long-term and sustainable projects. The well-being of children is paramount to us, and we understand the many factors that support their health and happiness. 

Find out more about our on-going work in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.