As you can imagine, the daily lives of children from inner-city New Orleans and the rural seaside villages of Sri Lanka are very different. Yet nearly a decade ago, I witnessed the incredible similarities both shared after surviving major natural disasters.
Worlds apart, both groups of children wanted one thing more than anything else—a return to a sense of normalcy. These children had lost all their belongings and sometimes their loved ones. They had lost their daily routine and the luxury of carefree play. They also lost the comfort of feeling their parents were ready to protect them.
Imagine being only 6 or 7 and wishing you could recapture the innocence of your youth.
Hurricane Katrina struck my adopted hometown of New Orleans while I was working on a project thousands of miles away, interviewing young tsunami survivors and their moms about what it would take to help them recover.
Soon I was back in the United States, where I joined Save the Children’s psychosocial program team to help the youngest Katrina survivors recover. I worked alongside teachers, childcare providers, and mental health counselors to lead children and adults through programs designed to help them cope, build on their natural resiliency and strengthen their network of social support.
I learned that to help the children recover we first had to help their adult caregivers. Being a parent is tough under the best of circumstances – and these parents were facing some of the most stressful times of their lives.
Together we helped children get back to the business of being children. And, slowly, the city has come back stronger, and Hurricane Katrina has dropped from everyday conversation. But no one has forgotten. It’s not something that you ever forget.
Since becoming a mother myself in 2012, it’s up to me to do everything I can to protect my own child. And that means preparing for disaster before it ever happens. Stockpiling baby-friendly supplies and having a plan in place was critical when a New Orleans hurricane evacuation set my family out on traffic-clogged highways.
Now my son is 2 and we just moved to California right in time to experience the largest earthquake to hit the San Francisco area in 25 years. We were shaken awake in our beds, but luckily experienced no other damage. It was my first earthquake and a good wake-up call to get me thinking – do I know what to do in an earthquake to keep my family safe?
Unfortunately, while many American parents feel anxious about disaster, we don’t always act on those feelings as much as we can. Check out the unsettling results of Save the Children’s poll of U.S. parents below. Then take the time to make your own plan.
This National Preparedness Month, take action to protect the children in your life. Find resources here: www.savethechildren.org/checklists.