The Boxing Day tsunami highlighted the vulnerability of children in the region as many were separated from their families.
More than one third of 250,000 people killed in the Boxing Day tsunami were children. And many of those who survived were left orphaned, their communities destroyed. UNICEF UK chief executive David Bull went to Sri Lanka after the disaster in 2004. “I don’t think I have been anywhere in any disaster situation where that kind of destruction of people has happened and where so many children have been left without their families,” he said. But the charity response meant that, for once, UNICEF knew that it had enough money to help. “Even to this day the response was the biggest ever to an emergency fundraising. £23m was raised in the UK just by UNICEF,” Mr Bull said. “I think the fact that it was Christmas meant that people were at home, and sitting in front of TV and could see what was happening. “They could see families on the other side of the world being broken apart and destroyed.” UNICEF workers joined forces with government agencies in countries like Sri Lanka to help to rebuild schools. In the Sri Lankan village of Katugoda more than 800 people died, leaving many of the children at the local school orphaned and traumatised. Many of them needed counselling after the disaster. Ten years on the headmaster Aflal Hussein remembers those difficult days. “We really thought it was the end of the world – that the whole of Sri Lanka was finished,” he said. The children drew dark, disturbing pictures of the things they had seen when the wave hit – filled with screaming faces, dead bodies, broken buildings. “The children were left with a fear of the tsunami. The government sent people to help them to get rid of that fear – it took about five years to bring them back to normal,” he said. Indonesia was the country that was worst hit by the tsunami. “The tsunami in Indonesia was a real wake-up call. Children were very vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. Bad people can prey on children in that situation,” Mr Bull said. Intan Afriati is now 17, but she was just seven years old when she was swept away in Banda Aceh in Indonesia. She was left miles from her home, believing the rest of her family was dead. “I was struggling by myself – I was really starving, and I didn’t know what to do – I felt like it was the end of the world,” she said. “I asked for help, but nobody helped me.” At last a man befriended Intan and took her back to his home, but he made her a virtual prisoner. “He said he wanted to raise me and when I grow up he wanted to marry me, but I didn’t want to do that because I was still a child,” she said. It was only when a distant relative spotted the seven-year-old and contacted her mother that Intan was rescued with the help of UNICEF workers. Ten years ago the Sky News team in Indonesia found a boy called Martunis wandering alone on a beach, 19 days after the tsunami. He too believed his whole family was dead. With the help of Save the Children, the seven-year-old was taken to hospital, where he was rehydrated – and miraculously, the charity managed to reunite him with his father. After the tsunami, the Portugal football shirt he was wearing when he was found gave Martunis new chances in life. He was taken by FIFA to meet the Portuguese national team and his hero Cristiano Ronaldo went to Indonesia to meet him. Now Martunis is a promising football player himself, playing for a Real Madrid youth team in Banda Aceh. He remembers being very scared on the beach all alone ten years ago, surrounded by bodies. But he is also happy about the life chances he has had since. “Because I was wearing my Portugal shirt, I went to Portugal to see their country, it’s gave me more spirit to enjoy life,” he said. “Football is my passion – now I have a dream to be a professional player like Ronaldo.”