Today, 80 Nargis orphans are gathered at a monastery for their monthly get-together. The children are learning to play a game called “Chickens and Eagles”. Young volunteers divide the children into groups of three and tell them to pretend to be “chickens”. Each time they hear, “Eagles are coming,” the little “chicks” quickly run into the arms of their "parents". Those who do not run back in time will be caught by the “eagles”.
Seeing the children’s happy faces and hearing the sound of their squeals and laughter, one can easily forget that just two years ago these children suffered the loss of their parents to Cyclone Nargis.
Maung, a 13 year-old eighth grader, is one such child. He still does not like to talk about what happened on that terrible night; instead. he shows a picture he drew of himself clinging to a coconut tree. When their house collapsed, Maung's father put Maung, his elder sister and his mother into their boat, hoping to row to higher ground. The waves smashed the boat to pieces, and his father and sister were swept away. Maung held on to his mother’s hands as long as he could, but when his mother’s weight kept dragging him deeper and deeper under water, he had no choice but to let go. He swam to a nearby coconut tree that provided some degree of safety.
All of the orphans have heart-breaking tales to tell. But they also have hope, thanks to the volunteer efforts of an AFSC partner organization. The organization focuses on educational activities for children in poor communities. After Nargis, many children were at risk of being sent to orphanages because their families were gone and their guardians were too poor to provide care for them. Working closely with a local monastery, the group devised a plan to ensure that the orphans could continue to live in the community and enjoy a more normal childhood. Their program provides a small monthly stipend to the guardians of the Nargis orphans, with the agreement that the children be properly cared for and attend school.
The organization supports 80 orphans, providing 8000 Kyat (US$8.00) a month to each family to cover school fees, food, and incidental expenses. While this sum may seem small, it is a welcome relief to their guardians who are themselves poor and struggling.
The group also organized a monthly gathering for the orphans in the monastery during which young volunteers provide psychosocial support through educational activities. They spend time with the children as “buddies,” and help the children slowly overcome their trauma. The volunteers also visit the orphans’ homes and talk to their guardians to make sure all is going well.
“The children look forward to our visits as they really enjoy playing games, making drawings, or reading. Some children are still traumatized, but we’ve seen great progress. Most of them now can laugh and play like other normal kids,” said one of the volunteers.