Saturday, April 3, 2010

Psychological First Aid for Children affected by North Karnataka Floods

The devastating flood that hit North Karnataka in October 2009 exposed yet again how unprepared society is to tackle calamities/disasters of this scale. After the first few days of numbed disbelief, relief in terms of money, clothes, food etc poured in from many individuals and organizations towards rehabilitation of those affected by the floods. 

But help for the psychological trauma felt as a result of the devastation has gone unaddressed. This issue is of special concern in relation to children whose needs and fears take a backseat whilst families are busy trying to get their lives back to normalcy.

Sadly, while these floods are now long forgotten by most, those affected by the floods still continue to struggle to cope with the effects of the disaster. With the struggles of children, as always, being the least addressed. 

Mr. Nagasimha G Rao, Associate Director-CRT, who had surveyed the flood affected areas with the specific aim of engaging children and bringing them back to normalcy, observed that most children were still finding it difficult to come to terms with the disaster and its effects on their homes and lives. Many children said that they still had nightmares about it. Most children confided that they had no one to talk to about their feelings or fears since their parents were themselves struggling to move forward.

On November 16, 2009, an one day orientation programme was organized on psychosocial support, in which a number of NGOs reported on the psychological trauma experienced by the population in general and children in particular (sleeplessness, fear of being alone, nightmares, lack of interest in studies, irritability, clinging attitude etc). 

During the last one decade, systematic efforts by agencies like the WHO-SEARO, National Institute of Mental health and Neurosciences, Bangalore(NIMHANS) and American Red Cross, India have resulted in the development of practical models of providing ‘psychological first aid’ to children. The chief focus of these interventions are to use the existing infrastructure like the schools, anganwadis, relief camps to provide children an opportunity to (i) ventilate their feelings; (ii) face their personal feeling; and (iii) enhance self-esteem.

Against this background, Child Rights Trust, in association with an expert in this field, developed a plan to conduct training in 4 phases on ‘Psychological First Aid’ for children through NGOs, schoolteachers and anganwadi workers from the 12 affected districts. 

Resource Persons: Dr. R. Srinivas Murthy (who has worked extensively on developing psychosocial interventions for survivors of disasters nationally and internationally) and Mr. Nagasimha.G.Rao (trained counsellor and child rights activist), supported by Mr. Girish (worked extensively in the field of children’s issues using theatre, drama and extra curricular activities as tools) 

Methodology of the Interventions

The specific interventions at the level of classes in schools, the Anganwadi centres and groups of children in relief camps, are to provide a safe, supportive and activity oriented environment for children to understand the experience of the floods that they have had and to develop measures to master the experiences through (i) ventilation of their feelings; (ii) facing their personal feelings; and (iii) enhancing of self-esteem. The practical session are about 3 hours duration and the chief methods will be play activities.

The entire programme will be conducted at four levels:

1. Training of trainers workshop of 4 days;

2. Training of teachers and/or NGOs of 2 days

3. Classroom/angawadi/relief camp level practical session of 3 hours;

4. Follow up evaluation to document and plan for future interventions.

The first phase has been initiated and one workshop completed in January. It was received very well by the trainers from the flood affected districts who attended the workshop. A detailed report on Phase I of the program is available for more information.

CRT is now trying to mobilise funds for the remaining phases which is proving to be a difficult task with the issue not in focus anymore. It is not apparent to most people who are not in direct contact with the affected children that their trauma continues, and if it is not alleviated, will damage their potential and their very personalities. Another important point is that with North Karnataka being susceptible to disasters of one type or another, this project will help prepare the teachers, NGOs and Anganwadi workers to help children face any that might occur in the future and thus avert fresh trauma.

Please contact us if you are interested in donating towards the project or would like the detailed proposal for the project

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