Myanmar: Children of the cyclone

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Cyclone Nargis left hundreds of children orphaned and vulnerable. These are the stories of Htoo and Pont Pont.

By Lasse Norgaard, Information Delegate, Bangkok, Thailand

Saw Kay Htoo

You could be forgiven for thinking that Saw Kay Htoo is just like any other 11-year-old boy. Walking home from school with a beaming smile and chatting with his classmates, there are no obvious signs of the tragedy he has lived through. Home, however, is the child protection centre in Labutta, where seven orphans live together. They all lost their parents during the cyclone almost five months ago. Three of the smaller children are from the same family, but Saw Kay Htoo is alone.

Htoo lost his parents and ten siblings when Cyclone Nargis ravaged the Ayeyarwaddy Delta that fateful night in May. His family tried to escape the cyclone in their boat, but the boat was dashed to pieces by the waves. He saw his parents and siblings disappear one by one during the night. Htoo managed to survive by holding on to some wreckage until he landed on higher ground.

Sitting on a chair in the child protection centre, you can sense the sadness in Htoo's eyes, but it will take a psychologist to treat the underlying trauma. Fortunately, Htoo has been surrounded by committed and caring volunteers from the Myanmar Red Cross Society, who run the center.


Since the cyclone struck, the volunteers have taken turns looking after the children, preparing their meals, helping them with homework and organizing plays when possible. Now a more systematic psychosocial support program is being implemented as the whole operation gradually moves from relief to recovery.

So far, 25 volunteers from the Myanmar Red Cross Society have been trained in psychosocial counseling, and they in turn will train their peers. The training will target community leaders, teachers, monks and other groups, and it is designed to help the healing process as the children deal with their trauma and loss. Htoo and the other children from the center, together with 443 orphans from the area around Labutta, are all in need of this psychosocial support.

Pont Pont

Children like Pont Pont are simply happy to be alive. Pont Pont is 15 years old and she wears purple grips in her hair, and her face is decorated and protected with thanaka (a traditional cosmetic paste). The wind blew away her family's home and her parents were swept away by the floodwater. Pont Pont was rescued by a group of people who managed to take refuge on higher ground. Using a map pinned to the wall of the Red Cross office in Labutta, Pont Pont was able to point out the location of her parents' house.

Eleven days later, Red Cross volunteers were able to locate her parents, who amazingly were alive, and they arranged a family reunion. Pont Pont's family survived the disaster. Her gratitude for the help she received from the Red Cross led her to enroll as a volunteer, so that she too can help other vulnerable people.

The American Red Cross has contributed more than $3.6 million, deployed an international disaster worker, and sent more than 204,000 relief items-such as blankets, tarpaulins, hygiene kits and insecticide-treated mosquito nets-to help families affected by the cyclone. This contribution includes a $1 million grant from the US Agency for International Development's Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA).

American Red Cross
All American Red Cross disaster assistance is provided at no cost, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. The Red Cross also supplies nearly half of the nation's lifesaving blood. This, too, is made possible by generous voluntary donations. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. To donate blood, please call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE (1-800-448-3543), or contact your local Red Cross to find out about upcoming blood drives. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.