Sandun (real names withheld) is a 14-year-old boy who was caught in the full force of the tsunami surge. He was swept away from the rubble of his destroyed seaside home almost kilometer in to an inland lagoon, where some people on a boat managed to rescue him and save his life. Although Sandun and his siblings survived, they lost both parents and their home.
While Sandun's younger siblings appear to have adjusted to life after the tsunami in the care of a relative, he still suffers nightmares and wets the bed. Ten months after the tsunami, the trauma of it all has not quite subsided in the psyche this young boy.
Kamala, 15, from the east coast is another child who lives with the tsunami trauma. She lost her mother and their home in the disaster but to date cannot recall any part of that day. If she is asked to recount the events of December 26, the tsunami day, she faints. Saman also has a problem.
The stick thin boy has suffered from an eating disorder since the tsunami and looks, by now, quite under-nourished for a 13-year-old. Then there is baby Manel, who lost her mother when she was just around one year. For the past year she has been in and out of hospitals suffering from a range of diseases and disorders.
There are Damith and Dinusha, young brother and sister from Hambantota who are still afraid of playing on the beach despite living a stones throw away from the ocean. These are but a very small cross section of children who have suffered through the tsunami and have lost parents, family members and homes. The fact is that many of these children still suffer from trauma and the effects manifest in many different ways. Some children drop out of school and refuse to go back, especially if they have to attend a new school.
Others withdraw and become uncommunicative. Some children who had showed no signs of trauma or ill effects right after the disaster have since then developed various personality issues.
But there are stories of amazing resilience too. Geetha, an 18-year-old from Batticaloa suffered a tremendous loss-parents and six brothers and sisters, but she managed to sit for her A/L exam last June studying borrowed notes. She is determined today to re-sit her exam to get better results next year and follow further education.
Although it is easy to think that the child has a stable foster home, continues school and maintains social contacts that trauma will not be a problem- we see that the actual situation is much more complex on the ground.
There is no one-fits-all solution. Every child is an individual and they suffer differently. Children from the same family will manifest different levels of stress- even though they have suffered the same loss and are now in the same foster home. Some adjust well, recall the tsunami without fear or hesitation and do well in school - while others, clearly need help.
The frenzy for psychiatric help and counseling that was spurred by the tsunami has now died down.
In the first few moths after the tsunami we saw all kinds of experts, counselors, interns, etc. etc. flying over to treat these traumatized people, children were a special target.
There was a story about how children in refugee camps (at the time) would hide from teams of such well-wishers who come and initiate games, drawing and interactive sessions with the 'victim' children- because there were so many such teams coming at different times of the day.
But today, no one talks about the psycho-social aspect, except the very grass roots organizations who are working with such children and their families.
There is a huge need for such services out there and this needs to catch the attention of all those working in child welfare.