In a church in the bayside city of Palu, Indonesia, volunteers smile wide as they lead dozens of children in sing-alongs with hand motions. They pass around coloring pages with packs of crayons and colored pencils. The group sits cross-legged on the white tile floor, hands folded in their laps, to pray together.
It looks like a typical day at Sunday School—and that’s the point. Because outside of the walls of GPID Manunggal Palu, these kids’ world is a disaster zone.
A 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck nearby in late September, causing a massive tsunami, aftershocks, and mudslides that killed more than 2,000 of their neighbors—including hundreds of students at a Bible camp. Their streets are unrecognizable, with crumbled buildings and buckled roads. They’ve lost homes, electricity—and normalcy.
“The kids miss their normal routine,” said Priscilla Christin, spokesperson for World Vision Indonesia. “Routines like school are especially important when children have experienced a scary event.”
Days after the earthquake, ministries rushed to provide safe spaces and trauma recovery programs specifically for kids, who often can’t process what has happened or what they’re feeling as readily as adults. “They lack both the language and life experience to understand what they’re going through,” said Jamie Aten, founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College.
Relief charities like World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse have seen on the ground what researchers like Aten have concluded: Even basic care—like a safe location, kids to play with, and someone to talk to—can go a long way toward reducing long-term trauma.
“If you’re meeting the physical needs of a child, know—according to the research that we’ve done—you’re also attending to that child’s emotional well-being and their spiritual well-being and even social well-being,” said Aten, who studied children’s responses to disasters such as the San Francisco earthquake and Hurricane Katrina.
“All of those parts of who we are, that make us human, are all interconnected. When we’re able to intervene in one area, it starts to minister to other parts of that person.”
Across Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province, nearly a half-million children were affected by the disaster. More than 2,700 school buildings were reported destroyed, so churches and ministries opened their doors to offer kids a place to go beside the makeshift tents their families now live in.
Within three weeks after the disaster, more than 1,000 kids—Muslim and Christian alike—were regularly showing up at World Vision sites across the province. At these “child-friendly spaces,” they could play, sing, draw, and socialize, with the help and direction of trained facilitators. “When we ask them how they feel, some of the children would remain silent, staring at a blank space,” Christin said.
In crisis mode, many little kids have the same big questions as their parents: What will we do next? Why did this happen to us? Where was God?
“Giving them a safe space to play, to learn, to be a child, helps reconstitute themselves, to build confidence. You want to give them opportunities to express themselves, to talk,” said Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs and government relations at Samaritan’s Purse.
In addition to the basic necessities, children need “psycho-social activities, an encouragement, a hug,” he said. “They need to know there’s going to be a tomorrow.”
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Source: Christianity Today