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South/Southeast Asia and East Africa: Earthquake and Tsunamis - Fact Sheet No. 27


Psychosocial support programmes

Psychosocial traumas are the invisible wounds suffered by many people caught in the wake of large-scale disasters. The recovery process for these traumas often takes much longer and is less visible than the more tangible physical reconstruction of homes and communities. Preparedness is vital to be able to provide quality services that address the psychosocial needs of the affected population.

Psychosocial support programmes (PSP) are an on-going process that aim to meet the mental, emotional, social and spiritual needs of individuals who have experienced deep emotional shock. To address the long-lasting and often harmful effects of trauma and stress, the Red Cross and Red Crescent (RC) psychosocial support programmes place particular emphasis on the emotional and psychological aspects of the recovery process, using creative approaches designed for different target groups to help affected people, individually and collectively, renew social interactions, and take adequate and appropriate steps to address and control their situational responses in the decision-making processes.


In the days, weeks and even months following the tsunami, many people in Indonesia's Aceh province showed few obvious signs of their loss and suffering. Yet, with more than 167,000 lives lost, there was not a family untouched by this sweeping tragedy.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is renowned for its effectiveness in disaster response. Less obvious, however, is the specialty of some Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in providing post-disaster psychosocial services. In Aceh, three national societies - the Turkish Red Crescent, and the American and Danish Red Cross Societies have been playing a lead role providing psychosocial support.

On 3 January 2005, just days after the tsunami struck - a Turkish Red Crescent Society (TRCS) psychosocial support programme (PSP) team arrived at the joint Indonesian Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia or PMI) and Federation emergency operations centre in Banda Aceh to deliver PSP services. This Movement partner set a precedent by working with PMI to start a radio programme that aired in the spring of 2005, where people phoned in to share their tsunami experiences with fellow listeners. This initiative has evolved into "Rumoh PMI" (PMI House), a popular radio show supported by the Irish Red Cross community outreach programme.

The TRCS is making a long-lasting contribution to psychosocial well being in and around Banda Aceh with the construction of a community centre specializing in PSP services. The centre's facilities include meeting rooms, a disaster studies library and a multi-functional sports field.

A professional team has been locally hired to train PMI Aceh branch staff and volunteers to deliver psychosocial activities in their own communities.

Activities include handicrafts, computer literacy and language training, as well as health-related courses such as psychological first aid, maternal child care and personal hygiene - to reintroduce a sense of normalcy and opportunity into the lives of people affected by the tsunami. One of the TRCS most effective outdoor courses was "nature is still my friend", where children cleared debris from the shoreline to help overcome their fear of the sea.

The PSP community centre built, equipped and staffed by TRCS will be officially handed over to PMI on 26 December 2006 to commemorate the 24-month mark after the tsunami.

The Danish Red Cross (DRC) is well-known for its PSP expertise. During the tsunami emergency response phase in Aceh, the DRC focused their efforts on assisting people in the hard-hit towns of Meulaboh and Teunom. The DRC's practical approach to help communities return to a sense of wellbeing included the provision of school kits for children as well as the construction of traditional meunasa (gathering places), and livelihood-based establishments of coffee shops and tea stalls for social interaction.

In the current recovery phase, DRC is conducting a well-planned programme for introducing PSP techniques into schools. Beginning by gaining acceptance from school authorities, the DRC then works with local PSP specialists to prepare teachers for delivering PSP-related curricula (inventing games, acting-out plays and drawing). This approach ,recognizes that teachers are often best placed to identify individual cases that need special attention for onward referral to professional counsellors.

DRC is also making a strategic contribution to the development of PSP capacities of PMI. DRC support of PMI PSP began six months prior to the tsunami, responding to an initial expression of interest from PMI, and has continued with assistance in the development of a standardized PSP training curriculum for PMI volunteers, including the Satagana disaster response teams positioned in PMI branches across the archipelago. The American Red Cross (ARC) is also working with PMI to build the national society's PSP capabilities. PMI staff and volunteer training programmes are underway in the Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar branches, and are expanding to include the Calang branch in Aceh Jaya district.

The ARC's collaboration with PMI allows them access to schools, where teachers are trained to deliver PSP-related creative and expressive activities such as drawing, mural painting, traditional dancing and team sports, with the intent to help traumatized children express their anxieties in safe and accepted ways. One innovative activity is the preparation of a school-based disaster response plan by teachers together with their students, which involves risk assessment and evacuation routes, as well as physical and psychological first aid.

A third component of the ARC programme is an effort to help rebuild the community's social fabric - to address the disruption of traditional support systems. Activities include the facilitation of burials according to local customs and the subsequent grieving process and related rituals, as well as the establishment of informal education so that school dropouts and students needing remedial teaching can have a safe alternative to continue their learning.

Psychosocial support training is now an integral part of PMI's disaster preparedness programme. There is much work ahead to maximize PMI's capacity for delivering PSP as an integral part of disaster recovery throughout PMI's branches in all 33 Indonesian provinces.

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