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Aid workers face daunting task: helping survivors deal with grief



Published: Sat, January 8, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- In the refugee camp, the young woman named Yunidar sits in silence, occasionally talking to herself. She has been that way since she lived through the cruelest moment of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia.

When the water came, Yunidar, 30, grabbed two of her three young sons under her arms and ran. But she was engulfed by a torrent over her head.

"I lost my grip," she says, telling the tale in a monotone voice that suddenly accelerates into a panicked plea and gulps of air.

Ultimately, the two sons drowned and a third son and her husband are missing. But it was the wrenching of the two from her motherly embrace -- a horrifying ordeal told by parents across the region -- that haunts Yunidar the most.

With basic relief efforts now under way, rescue workers are beginning to focus on trying to help tsunami victims like Yunidar cope with what they saw and endured, as well as the waves of grief, mourning and guilt that have washed over them in the past two weeks.

"This is the time when people really recoil into themselves," said Ron Waldman, a World Health Organization official in Banda Aceh. "Right now, we're trying to first prevent outbreaks of diseases, but not because it's more important than the psycho-social aspects. It's just that the solutions are easier."




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