Chinnaiyan Sonia (17 years) lost her mother in the tsunami and to overcome her own grief, volunteers at the children's day care centre
Chinnurpudupettai Village, Parangipettai Block, Cuddalore District, Tamil Nadu, India
Her smile spreads an unmistakable warmth wherever she goes, and the toddlers at the Anganwadi center (day care center) simply adore her. But the lovely smile and congenial face belie the terrible tragedy that overcame seventeen-year-old girl Chinnaiyan Sonia just a few months ago. If anything, she seems to have come out stronger. There is not a hint of sorrow on her face even though she is herself a survivor of the devastating tsunami that hit her village on December 26, 2004, a disaster that took her mother’s life. In Sonia’s own village 43 people lost their lives that fateful Sunday morning.
Taking a few moments off from her bustling routine around the Anganwadi, Sonia recalls events of that morning. She was at home when the waters came gushing with awesome force. Sonia quickly assisted her brother – laid up with a fractured leg – on to the roof of a neighbor’s house and then helped others to get to safety.
Tears well up in Sonia’s large black eyes as she recalls how her fisherwoman mother was on the beach when the tsunami struck and she perished in the waters. It is a loss she finds very difficult to put behind her but this shy teenager says "playing and singing with the children who have enrolled at the Anganwadi center has helped me overcome some of the mental trauma". Overcoming her own personal grief, Sonia now volunteers at the children’s day care center set up in the temporary shelters provided by the Indian government to assist the 81 families affected by the tragedy. Sonia underwent a training program conducted by UNICEF in a nearby town, on how to correctly monitor the height and weight of children, the basics of sanitation and the importance of eating and providing a balanced meal. Along with other community women Sonia now looks after the under-five children in her village. Fondly, she recalls how her mother had always "wanted me to become a nurse". Now, with her short stint at the Anganwadi center, Sonia says "my determination to become a compassionate nurse has only increased".
Sonia helps in weighing a child. UNICEF helped train her and other young women in the basics of good nutrition and sanitation.
The seventeen-year old starts her day early, cleaning and sprucing up the place along with other volunteers before the children arrive. There are some fifteen children at Sonia’s center, and once they arrive they play games, sing songs, go through some numbering exercises, learn calls of some birds and animals – all this before preparations begin for the mid-day meal, something all the children look forward to with expectant eagerness. The hot, hygienically cooked and balanced meal of rice, lentils and vegetables is made fresh in the adjoining kitchen.
There is a lot of jostling and shoving as the children settle down on the floor in front of their stainless steel plates provided by UNICEF. Sonia enjoys this excitement, because as she says `the children relish the meal very much’. The meal over, children are made to settle down for an afternoon nap, and the volunteers finally get to catch their breath, and find some time for themselves.
There are 15 other tsunami- affected young women who have been identified and trained by UNICEF to volunteer at the many Anganwadi centers. Says Sonia "I enjoy coming to the center because when I teach the children I seem to forget the horrors of the tsunami that continue to haunt me even today". If one person’s therapy can become another’s comfort, it certainly is something achieved.