This year, Bihar was devastated by floods said to be unprecedented in terms of severity and damage. To help heal children traumatized by the floods, UNICEF supported the government and four NGO’s, in setting up a model of psychosocial care and support for children and families from the affected districts of Muzaffarpur and Samastipur.
Raju’s mother had died in the flood of 2003. Since then the seven year old had developed a great fear of floods. His father remarried and Raju did not relate to his stepmother. This year, when the floods forced his family on the roads and they had to go without food and water Raju was distraught. He started manifesting behavioral problems. However, Raju’s life changed with the intervention of counselors from the Alternative Learning Centre at Anusuchit Jati Prathmik Vidyalaya, Darhipatti.. He now is a happy child, confident, emotionally stable,, and he attends school regularly.
Seven year old Khushi of Meenapur woke up one morning to see her house surrounded with water on all sides. She was horrified. When she along with her family took refuge in the nearby school, Khushi refused to leave the place as she did not feel confident to return to her house. Her grandfather Nandu Prasad says she came back to normalcy only after she started attending counseling sessions at the school.
Chandra Pasvan, son of a rickshaw puller, had dropped out of school. Thanks to the counseling sessions he attended during floods, he has resumed going to school everyday. He still works for a few hours picking cow dung, plucking brinjals, and doing other chores before going to school each morning.
These are just a few of the success stories at the Alternative Learning Centres and camps. There were between 300 to 1200 children at each Centre. The program focused on two blocks of Muzaffarpur - Kanti and Meenapur, with two and eight centres respectively and two blocks of Samastipur. Experts from Chennai were specially flown in to train the counselors in these areas.
The process began with meetings with headmasters and teachers of schools. Then the counselors met with the children, and those in need of care were identified, based on the discussions with the teachers and children At times, to help the children return to normal routine, and to address their behavioural and emotional concerns, the help of community and friends was taken, says one of the co-coordinator cum counselor from Muzaffarpur. The counselors also held group shows and took recourse to music, dance and games to help children come out of their painful experiences during floods.
"In the beginning, children looked very depressed. As we started interacting with them, they developed communication with us and more kids started coming to these counseling sessions," reveals one counselor. Mr Bijaya Rajbhandari, State Representative, UNICEF, said 'This was the first initiative of its kind in Bihar and it had its impact on building confidence and resilience of children along with helping address enrolment, and school dropout rates" At the Rajkiya Primary school, there were twenty new admissions between the 1st and 5th of October, says a counselor..
The counseling programme spun off other benefits as well. For instance, following the initiative of the counselors, the Panchayat Shikshak of Meenapur Panchayat agreed to teach seven child labourers in his community for an hour each day, before they left for work at 8 a.m.
When young Sandeep, who cannot speak, learnt about the importance of hygiene at one of the counseling sessions, he started coming to the class with oiled hair and clean clothes and also pestered his classmates to do the same. He would hit the desk with his fingers to match the rhythm of the songs. For him, these classes were special as they made him feel needed apart from helping him forget the ravages of the flood.