Kids show resilience in tsunami aftermath
GALLE, SRI LANKA
"Twinkle, twinkle, little star" is one of Rangika De Silva's favorite English songs. So when the 5-year-old, whose favorite food is mangoes, sang it perfectly amid the heavy rubble of her former oceanfront home, applause was spontaneous.Skip to next paragraph
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Earlier, adults had crowded round Rangika, squatting to hear how she was saved when head-high water engulfed her on Dec. 26. "The sea came and my brother put me in the kotambe tree, far up high where I was safe," she recalls. "He carried me above his head, with his arms, like this," she says, with her palms stretched up.
Children were hit particularly hard by the tsunami that flooded and flattened Southeast Asian coasts. Officials say the current was swifter - and the impact more terrific - than small people could handle.
But as parents come to terms with the calamity, children here are sharing stories of survival. And they're making a common request: It would be wise, they say, to create an early-warninging system - should a tsunami come again.
Few children of any age interviewed this week in south Sri Lanka could define a tsunami or its cause. But having weathered its effects, they were clear they didn't want to repeat the experience.
Askanka Nuwan Pradeep, age 9, for example, did not attend the tsunami relief summit in Jakarta yesterday. But the bright-eyed cricket-lover, who "ran fast" to high ground at a Buddhist temple during the flood, has a message about an early-warning system: "We need to know if a wave is coming; many more people will live. I want to be a doctor; but the tsunami will harm my future if I can't study and I fall behind."
Some stories in the flood's aftermath have been told dozens of times, and some are only now coming out.
Shenan Menuranga, for example, the 5-year-old son of a fisherman in Beruwala, was one of a handful of survivors of a south-bound coastal train that cracked up and flooded when the waters came, one of the worst single tragedies here. Shenan had been running around the compartment where his two sisters and mother were sitting when the second wave hit. They did not make it. "I went up into the bag holder because it was away from the water," says young Shenan, speaking of a narrow luggage rack in the back of each car.
Today, Shenan, who likes karate lessons, sits in his father's arms, wearing a Sacramento Kings T-shirt, a donation. The father, Rangit Leelananda, only discovered several days ago that his son was alive; he returned from the ocean at four in the morning on Dec. 26 and didn't take the train. When hearing the rest of the family perished, Mr. Leelananda assumed the son was gone, too. But Shenan says a lady took him to a village after the water subsided. At the village, Shenan was eventually routed to authorities who eventually put his photo on a TV message board, where the father saw him.
"I thought my family was gone, and now I feel like there is something to live for," says Leelananda. "The boy is going to get a good education, he is going to a good school."
Up and down the coastal highway, some parents tell reporters that the tsunami has powerfully brought their family together - by clarifying how important children are to them in a way they never experienced before.
One father, M.W.M Pradeep, an electrician in the village of Marissa, says the wave came so fast that he instantly found myself picking up his 3-year-old.
"I gave up everything and without thinking I selected the most important thing in my life - my girl," he says. "It made things very clear to me, at that level."
Children here are showing remarkable resilience. Some children run around refugee camps or in the ruins of houses within a mile of the coast, like flocks of birds, playing and laughing. Many experts say that play and laughter is what seems most normal for children, and they advise a healthy dose of play, and a new set of toys or games.