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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 112 JUNE 2008 / CONTENTS/ BACK
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From New Zealand

Can it really be the middle of 2008 already? Northern Hemisphere folk are starting to enjoy summertime activities but here in the Southern Hemisphere, winter is really setting in. Schools are going full steam ahead. I have been struck during this trip by how easy it is to slot into time zones, seasons and activities as the months roll by. Itís only when travelling across multiple time zones and hemispheres that one really notices differences in child and youth care routines!

Comparatively speaking, opportunities abound for New Zealand kids

In recent weeks, the world media has highlighted two major events that have impacted thousands of children and young people. During the first week of May, Cyclone Nargis slammed into southern Myanmar (Burma). Estimates are ranging upwards to as many as 100,000 deaths in that destructive event. The storm surge left survivors clinging to boats, their feet touching rooftops; such was the scale of this disaster.

A terrible fate befell thousands of Myanmar children and families

Then, a week later, the earthquake reading 7.8 on the Richter Scale hit the Sichuan Province of China. The death toll from both of these environmental disasters hitting north and south of the Himalayan Mountains serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of life. In spite of the politics of rescue, disaster aid relief and reconstruction, the whole world changed with minutes beyond all recognition for thousands of children and families. One of the saddest features was the number of schools demolished while children sat learning in their classrooms. In some villages it is said these old schools, poorly constructed to withstand earthquake conditions, were the first buildings to collapse. And very few children survived the collapse of their schools.

Many schools collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake

The following question keeps floating around in my head: What reactions have CYC workers encountered amongst the children and young people with whom they work about the Myanmar and China disasters? Are world events such as these a part of daily conversations with children and young people? Or is it possible that those whose lives arenít directly impacted by these disasters are numbed to their emotional impact? While acknowledging on an intellectual level that such events happened, the true scale of human tragedy lies quite beyond our comprehension with some 130,000 confirmed deaths or people officially missing. By comparison Hurricane Katrina on the US South Coast killed roughly 2000 people. Estimates from the Sichuan Province earthquake are now rapidly approaching 100,000 deaths but that number is expected to rise further. And in this mountainous region of China more than a million people are being evacuated from the path of potentially devastating flooding caused by rock falls that have blocked rampaging rivers flowing down from the Himalayas.

Youths hanging out at Kuha Marae, Lake Waikaremoana

Yes, New Zealand feels a very long way away from these events. True, we do have earthquakes here and we also have cyclones. By comparison, however, our natural disasters are relatively small. 6 young people and their teacher were swept away by flood waters on a recent school outing with devastating impact on families and friends. Do we talk with young people about world events like these? Or is it easier to change the channel and steer conversations towards happier topics? I hope not.

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