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Overcoming The Trauma Of Sulawesi

3 year old Lisa was traumatised by the Sulawesi disaster. UNICEF is helping her recover.

On September 28th, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and 6m high tsunami struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. More than 2000 people are confirmed dead, with 10,700 severely injured and many more missing.

83,000 people are now homeless and without permanent shelter, more than half of which are children.

Children like Lisa, age 3.

Lisa lived in the Balaroa province of Sulawesi – one of the worst sites affected by earthquake liquefaction. This is common in areas of reclaimed land where a quake can have increased water pressure and can cause the soil to take on the properties of liquid.

The ground beneath Balaroa became wavy, muddy and loose, dragging and drowning buildings and killing many in the process.

Lisa was swallowed up into a hole that formed beneath her home.

She was trapped for more than 5 minutes before her mother was able to save her.

"When the ground started moving, my children were thrown about the house. I crawled on my hands and knees to save Lisa from the hole in the ground. It felt like the world was ending, the land was breaking up, and we were trying to save ourselves” said Ms Hasti, Lisa’s mother.

Fortunately, Lisa and her mother survived, along with Lisa’s two brothers and sister. Their father, who works in Papua, feared that his family may have died. It took three days before he was able to contact them.

For two days Lisa and her family were without shelter and had to sleep out in the open, unprotected.
"It was so cold at night, Lisa kept crying.”

According to Lisa’s mother, she didn’t speak at all in the days following the earthquake and tsunami and just sat quietly beside her all day.

When they reached a site for displaced people, Lisa’s family received tarpaulin for a tent, cardboard boxes for sleeping mats and food.

To help families overcome the crisis, UNICEF is providing health, food, water and sanitation services for displaced people. We’re also reuniting lost children and families and setting up temporary learning and child-friendly spaces, such as The Happy Children’s Centre.

The Happy Children's Centre was established in partnership with Indonesia’s Ministry of Social Affairs.

Here specialised workers provide emotional and psychological support to children affected by the disaster. Services like these are vital to help children learn, play and recover from trauma. 

Lisa attended the centre with her siblings and is now back to speaking and playing again.
While the immediate aftermath of the disaster is over, UNICEF knows the recovery process will be slow and ongoing.

An estimated 1.5 million people have been affected by the disaster. Infrastructure and essential services have been hugely impacted, and it will take a great deal of time to restore services, clear the devastation and bury the dead.

Meanwhile, many children have been orphaned and are at risk of being targeted by traffickers in the wake of the disaster. They urgently need care and protection.

UNICEF will continue to be on the ground, helping Indonesian children like Lisa overcome the Sulawesi crisis. We can’t let kids miss out on reaching their full potential. Or even worse, die because they can’t access basics such as clean water, food or medicine.

If you’d like to be part of this life-changing work for children, please consider making a donation to our Indonesian Disaster Appeal.