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Last Updated: Monday, 11 April, 2005, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Tsunami children get puppet help
By Steven Shukor
BBC News website

Dr Lynne Jones holding a bird puppet
Dr Jones says the children make a connection with the puppets
Lynne Jones could see that the brightly coloured bird puppet in her hand had the silent Indonesian girl captivated.

The six-year-old had not spoken since the 26 December Indian Ocean tsunami swept away her village of Lamno, on Aceh province's west coast, taking her mother with it.

Rosie survived only by clinging onto a palm tree, and was rescued after two days, crying for her mother.

Her grandmother brought her to Dr Jones, a child psychiatrist with the International Medical Corps (IMC), a humanitarian organisation providing mental health assistance to the tsunami-hit region.

With 15 years experience working with children in disaster zones from Kosovo to Indonesia, Dr Jones has found "play", including puppetry, to be an effective means of communication.

Puppets are one step away from being human and so there is distance but at the same time we can identify with them
Dr Lynne Jones
She admits to never leaving home without her bag of toys which contains among other playthings, a menagerie of finger-puppets and hand puppets, including tigers, birds, turtles, monkeys and crows.

In the wake of the Asian tsunami, she discovered that many young survivors were ignorant of what had befallen them and she started information workshops using puppets to explain the tsunami.

"The puppets are all animals. They are all culturally neutral and they can take on different roles," she says.

"Puppets are one step away from being human and so there's distance but at the same time we can identify with them."

She has taken care not to include puppets of humans, pigs or dogs - taboo for Muslims in Aceh.

She uses the puppets to explain the tsunami - its causes and effects -, how to avoid getting caught up in one in the future and to help the youngsters deal with their loss.

Play therapy

She also uses the puppets for child therapy. With the support of an interpreter, she created a simple scenario based on Rosie's own experience but set in a different context.

She had gleaned information about Rosie's story from speaking to her grand-mother and other family members.

She laid out several puppets on the mat before the little girl.

"She was very interested," says Dr Jones. "She chose the little bird. We gave the little bird the girl's name."

Dr Lynne Jones and children interact using puppets
[The children] see that somebody is acknowledging the painful thoughts and feelings they have
Dr Jones
Dr Jones made up a story of a young bird living in a tree with her mother.

"The wind came and blew all the birds in the forest away. The little bird clung on and managed to survive but her mother had gone."

Dr Jones expressed this by throwing the mother-bird puppet away from her hand.

"People who see me do this asked me: 'How can you do this? It's too shocking for them'.

"But it is not shocking to the children because they are thinking about it all the time.

"They see that somebody is acknowledging the painful thoughts and feelings they have."

The stranded little bird is eventually rescued by a monkey who takes her to meet other members of her family who survived.

"After a very long time the little bird started to feel better and wanted to sing again," Dr Jones told Rosie.

At the end of the session, Dr Jones said the little girl wanted to take the bird home with her.

She came back the following week and brought her cousin whose parents had died, who also wanted a story.

Although the healing process will be a long one, Dr Jones says the girl has since started speaking again and is making new relationships with surviving family members.

In the days following the tsunami, the IMC sent teams of doctors and nurses to provide emergency medical relief in Aceh as well as Sri Lanka.

Outsiders can listen. It is as simple as that. People want to feel that what has happened to them is significant
Dr Jones
That work has now evolved into a variety of programmes including one to develop long-term community-based mental health services, which involves training primary health care staff.

Dr Jones has found that being an outsider is a real benefit in helping survivors of mass disasters.

"In normal circumstances if a loss occurs your neighbours and friends will rally round and support you.

"But when everyone is affected, everyone protects everyone else by not talking in order not to burden them, and there is a feeling that one's own individual losses are somehow without meaning in the larger catastrophe.

"Outsiders can listen. It is as simple as that. People want to feel that what has happened to them is significant," she said.

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