Helping children overcome their fears after the Maluku earthquake

Written by: Musfarayani, IFRC, as told by Indonesian Red Cross psychosocial support volunteer, Thia

It’s drizzling in Maluku, Indonesia, where communities have recently been affected by an earthquake, but that doesn’t affect the cheerful mood of children participating in games about disaster preparedness at a temporary evacuation camp set up by the Indonesian Red Cross Society or Palang Merah Indonesia in the village of Waai.

“What should you do and what should you not do when an earthquake happens?” Senthia Maria Lanan, a Psychosocial Support Services volunteer from the Indonesian Red Cross, asks the children.

The children scramble to answer all at once. Senthia calms them down before asking them to each explain their own experiences during the earthquake that struck Maluku on 26 September 2019, displacing more than 170,000 people.

“I was at school, studying when the earthquake struck,” says 8-year-old Ishak Ririhatuela. “Students were panicking, crying and trying to get out of the classroom.Wwithout any adults there to guide us, we didn’t know where to go.”

He adds that the students’ biggest fear was a tsunami following the earthquake, because their school is close to the beach. Fortunately, there was no tsunami and the pupils were safe.

Ishak goes on to add that when the earthquake struck, many students decided to return home to find their parents.

Twins Roin Arfin Noya and Roli Arnesius Noya, 10, tell Senthia they were separated temporarily until they found each other in front of their collapsed house. “Luckily we met our uncle and aunt who helped us reach higher ground for fear of a tsunami. We found our parents on a hill where many other people had gathered for safety.”

Senthia says that the psychosocial support programmes were designed to explore children’s knowledge and understanding of disasters and help them better prepare. It is delivered in an entertaining way that uses games and local songs the children are familiar with.

The Indonesian Red Cross branch in the Maluku province has been conducting psychosocial support activities since early October. Sessions are conducted by 12 volunteers – all of them women – in the most affected areas of Maluku, mainly in the villages of Waai and Liang.

Both villages are very difficult to access, and the Red Cross has limited transport options and resources. But that doesn’t stop the dedicated team of volunteers from providing psychosocial support to children who need it.