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Tsunami steals a generation and the future
Updated: 2005-01-03 20:14

NAGAPATTINAM, India - It took just a few seconds for Shiva Shankari, like her village, to lose her future.

And her husband blames her for losing it, for not holding on hard enough to their two sons when the Indian Ocean tsunami swept through their south Indian village.

"I thought that my two sons were my future. With them I could build this family," the 22-year-old said, choking back tears at a refugee camp in the sprawling Hindu temple of Neela Dayachi Amman.

"What can I do? I am lost. My husband said, 'Why are you alive and my sons are dead?"'

Three-quarters of her village's children, virtually an entire generation, died in the Dec. 26 tragedy. More than 500 were buried in a mass grave, sometimes before their parents could hold them for one last goodbye.

Children, too small and weak to run fast enough, to swim, or to hold on to safety, are the biggest victims of one of the world's worst natural disasters. UNICEF estimates about 50,000 children died across the region -- a third of the total death toll of 144,000.
Tens of thousands more were orphaned. Education, the only hope of a better life for many of Asia's poorest kids, has been badly hit, with schools and teachers wiped out and many child survivors struggling just to survive.

"Our children are now busy looking for food," says Effendi, a 37-year-old father in Indonesia. "I don't know when the schools are going to open."


The U.S.-based Christian Children's Fund (CCF) has sent counselors to Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka to treat traumatized children.

"The psycho-social needs will be great as mass burials continue to take place," said Daniel Wordsworth, director of the fund's international programs.

"(CCF) will provide a safe space where children can play and participate in normalizing activities with other children to express their fears, loss of family and friends, and the trauma."

Shiva's sons, Sunder, five, and Gautam, three, were having breakfast while their six-year-old sister, Abhinaya, fetched water from the village well when the wall of water hit.

A neighbor saved the little girl and Shiva and her sister each grabbed one of the boys and ran.

"I was holding him very hard, but it was a tremendous force. I just couldn't hold on," she sobbed. "When I lost him, I still believed that all my children would be alive. But 15 minutes after the wave, they brought me Gautam's body."

She never saw Sunder again. Her sister's husband identified the small body as it was tossed into the pit of a mass children's grave, one among hundreds.

Across India, schools reopened Monday after the year-end holidays. But in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which bore the brunt of the tsunami, they stayed closed in the worst-hit areas. Instead of students, classrooms were crammed with water pots, buckets, clothes and other relief supplies.

Outside, community kitchens cooked giant vats of rice and vegetables to feed still dazed survivors.

Teachers milled about in a state of shock, trying to take stock of how many of their students had died or lost one or both of their parents and what to do when school does start.

"I feel like I lost my own children," said Lima Rose, who teaches seven-year-olds at the Ghauthia primary school in the town of Nagore. "I feel like they are my own children. I'm beside myself. We feel like God has abandoned us."

The school estimates at least 10 percent of its 800 students died and another 20 percent lost a parent. But the teachers won't really know until classes resume Wednesday.

"I will console them. I will tell them things will get better," said Rose.

Shiva Shankari still doesn't have the strength to tell Abhinaya her brothers are dead.

"She thinks they are staying at their aunty's place," she says, holding the bewildered girl tight and looking uncertain.

"Every day, she asks 'where are my brothers?' They used to do everything together. They played together, they ate together, they bathed together. Now they are separate."

"Now, I live only for this child."

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