By Karen Anderson
The three month program starts this week and will help 1300 kids and adolescents from Hualpén, Coronel, Penco, San Pedro y Talcahuano
Concepción, VIII Región (April 14, 2010) – Two programs aimed at returning emotional peace of mind to kids and adolescents affected by the earthquake begin this week in Concepción. These programs are lead by EPES, a community organization that has been working to promote health and dignity in the poor sectors of the area for almost 30 years.
“Our children need help,” notes Dr. Lautaro López, the director of EPES Concepción. “Their worlds and homes have collapsed and they are deeply frightened – they are scared of the aftershocks, the treacherous ocean, of living in their wrecked homes or of having to spend the winter in a plastic tent in a camp.”
Two psychologists who worked with children after Peru’s 2007 earthquake are in charge of training the first group of 60 facilitators. By using stories, games and sports, the facilitators will counteract the psychological harms that Chile’s earthquake has caused.
The program will involve elementary and pre-school teachers, social workers, parents and guardians of public school students, volunteers, municipal services, NGOs and community organizations in Hualpén, Coronel, Penco, San Pedro y Talcahuano.
In the program Mi Historia del Terremoto y Maremoto de Chile (My story of the Earthquake and Tsunami in Chile), 7 to 10 year old kids will narrate and color a workbook with their own experiences, dreams, fears, and lessons learned. Fabian Vinces, the therapist in charge of the training, notes that narration is vital to recovery because, “What is unspoken remains unresolved.”By writing their own stories, “children recover a sense of what is their own, because they lost everything and now have to share everything.”
Along with the workbook, every child will receive a new backpack with pencils, erasers, a stuffed animal and a small flashlight to scare away the monsters under their beds.
For 10 to 14 year old children, the program Hacia Adelante (Moving Forward) offers support through games and sports. The facilitators will work with groups of 10 to 12 kids in sport clubs, youth groups, church groups and other community organizations. Each facilitator of the sports activities will receive a kit with soccer and volleyball balls, a net, cones to outline court boundaries, marbles and team shirts. The kit also includes a whistle and baseball cap for the trainer.
The program will begin with weekly sessions for the next three months. After this pilot experience, EPES will be able to repeat the program throughout the year. After an earthquake, leaving children without treatment and support can cause serious harm as they can develop regressive or anti-social behavior, depression, aggression and school problems.
Mercy Corps, the humanitarian organization working with EPES in this initiative (www.mercycorps.org), developed this methodology to help the children of NYC recover after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The program subsequently helped children and their families in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and in Peru (2007), China (2008), and in Haiti (2010) after their respective earthquakes.