By: Rabia Ajaib, IFRC Pakistan
Shayan is a sweet four year old boy. Before the super floods last summer, he enjoyed an innocent happy childhood with his family in the village of Bashirabad, in northern Pakistan.
He would play with his younger brother Shahan, and like any active four year old boy, get into a lot of mischief.
All that changed when the Kabul river broke its banks in late July, destroying entire villages and Shayan’s life, as he knew it. “Just hours before the floods, we were looking at photographs of Shayan’s last birthday,” says Rashid Ali, his father. “When my wife and I were woken up by the thunderous sound of flood water, we took our children and rushed in search of a safer place. Shayan’s immediate reaction was strange. At times he laughed. Sometimes he cried. He kept on asking for his birthday photographs but they were lost. As we ran, Shayan kept looking back to the house and crying for his photos and toys.”
The active, lively, naughty child was gone. In his place, a quiet and reserved little boy.
“We noticed changes in Shayan’s behaviour,” explains his father. “He started sleeping and eating less. We found a place to live in a Red Cross camp for flood survivors. Shayan did not want to play with the other children. I bought him a small bicycle but even that didn’t make him smile. All he wanted to do was go home.”
As if on cue, Shayan pipes up, “I do not like this place. I want to go home. I love my village.”
“Such kinds of behaviour are very common in children after any disaster,” says Ea Suzanne Akasha, psychosocial support delegate with the Danish Red Cross. “These are normal reactions to abnormal situations. Shayan cannot understand what has happened and is trying to get things back to normal. He was inactive in the camp. He was showing his discomfort of having lost his familiar surroundings.”
The psychosocial support programme (PSP) is one of the many ways the Red Cross Red Crescent is helping flood affected survivors in Pakistan recover from the trauma of last summer’s disaster. To date, more than 26,000 people have received treatment, the majority of them, children. Activities for children include playing sports, dancing, singing and drawing.
Anxious to have his real son back, and concerned about his mental well being, Rashid decided to return to the family’s village, with his young son in tow. Shayan instantly became a different child. “He was so alive, so full of energy,” says Rashid. “He began trying to pull out items from the remains of our house. He was pointing out pieces of furniture that were buried under the soil. I began taking him back every day. I had my little boy back. He was happy again.”
A few months later, the family decided it was time to leave the Red Cross camp and return to their village for good, even though their house was too damaged to live in, and shelter for many months to come would continue to be a tent. Shayan wasn’t sad to see his house in ruins. In fact, he was quite happy, again pulling out salvageable pieces of cloth and wood from the rubble. He helped his father start a fire so he and his brother could stay warm. When volunteers from the Pakistan Red Crescent Society pitched the family’s tent, Shayan started making it a home, filling it with various household items.
“I am very happy today and thankful to father who took me back to my village. We will live here and we will rebuild our house,” says a now boisterous Shayan, before shouting out loud, “we are back!”