The little boy sat
alone in a corner of the monastery, his eyes focused on the
ground. He said nothing, unaware of the hubbub around him,
locked into a world of his own.
Sandar Aungr, 28, a Myanmar Red Cross Society volunteer,
was scanning a crowd of cyclone survivors who had arrived
in the town of Maubin. Some had been directed to the monastery
and as they settled down, she looked for people whose needs
were most urgent.
“What’s your name?” she said as she knelt
beside the boy. “Where are you from? Is anybody with
He looked up. “Don’t remember,” he mumbled.
She held him in her arms and he started to cry. Sandar Aungr
cried with him. He did not need to tell her his story. She
had read it in his eyes.
“I’ll stay with you,” she said. “Don’t
Cyclone Nargis ripped through the Irrawaddy delta on 2 May,
leaving more than 100,000 people dead or missing, affecting
an estimated 2.4 million people, and resulting in overwhelming
Within two months, the Myanmar Red Cross Society, with support
from the International Federation, the ICRC and partner National
Societies, reached 500,000 people with 2,500 tonnes of relief
items. They distributed 61,000 jerrycans, 1.5 million water
purification tablets, 59 tonnes of rice, 62,000 mosquito nets,
27,000 hygiene kits, 93,000 tarpaulins, 59,000 blankets, 15,000
shelter kits and 24,000 kitchen sets. Programmes were also
set up to improve hygiene, water and sanitation, and to trace
missing family members. But long after the bodies have gone
from the landscape, homes have been rebuilt, livelihoods restored
and the physical wounds healed, emotional ones will remain.
The harm may be less visible but it is no less real for that,
and the pain will never ease for many. The best they will
do is learn to cope with it.
For the boy with no name, coping may be a long journey. What
happened to him, what he saw, he does not wish to remember.
Perhaps his parents survived, perhaps brothers and sisters
did, but his eyes suggest that they were swept away by the
sea surge that came with the cyclone. Efforts will be made
to find out. In the meantime Sandar Aungr works to bring him
out of his nightmare.
She calls him Thar-nge, which roughly translated means My
Little One. She hugs him a lot, shows him love and care, and
asks other children to come over. Sometimes they do and he
joins them in play. She is there in the evening to put him
He talks to her now, but only to her and when her work takes
her elsewhere he goes back to his corner.
The stories of the boy and of countless others now emerging
in the delta reflect the enormous need for emotional support
and show why the International Federation is systematically
integrating this kind of assistance into its US$ 50.8 million,
three-year operation in Myanmar. Having someone to turn to,
someone who will listen, share the grief and offer hope is
of immense importance to disaster survivors. Early and adequate
psychosocial support — in relief delivery as well as
in structured programmes — can help affected people
cope better and prevent distress from developing into more
It isn’t just the young who are especially vulnerable.
Sandar Aungr has another anonymous survivor, a woman, perhaps
in her 70s, who is paralysed down one side and has lost her
power of speech.
“She is alone and she cannot tell me her name, where
she is from or whether she still has family,” the volunteer
said. “Someone found her somewhere and put her in one
of the vehicles that brought survivors to my town. She must
have spent many days in the wind and rain. She is very distressed.”
Although the woman cannot speak, Aungr is beginning to gain
some information. She asks her questions to which she can
nod or shake her head. Meanwhile the Myanmar Red Cross has
spread her picture round other survivor camps asking if anyone
can recognize her.
Nightmares are surfacing in other places. Sansan Maw, a Red
Cross programme officer assessing needs and operations across
the delta, found a 65-year-old woman clearly deeply disturbed
in a Labutta shelter.
Like the little boy, she had withdrawn into herself. When
she finally spoke she explained that her husband, her daughter,
daughter-in-law, mother-in-law and her seven grandchildren
had all been swept away by the storm surge.
Her 22-year-old son had saved her from the torrent by hauling
her on to a passing tree. They had drifted all night in the
flood and in the morning came to rest on a riverbank. They
walked for miles to get home, fearing all the way what they
Another son had survived but the rest had gone, their bodies
ending up against the gates of a sluice. When the gates were
opened, the bodies floated back and she watched them pass
her by in the village.
Such is the anguish in the delta.
A boy displaced by Cyclone Nargis stand in his tent in Kyondah
village in the Irrawaddy delta.
©REUTERS / STAN HONDA, COURTESY www.alertnet.org
©JOHN SPARROW / INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION