The powerful earthquake that jolted large areas along the Turkish-Syrian border did not only bring destruction and death to Syria’s northern city of Aleppo, but also inflicted an indelible trauma on the survivors, especially the children.
The Abdul-Mutaleb school in Aleppo has been made into a temporary shelter for around 450 survivors, 75 of whom are children. During a visit to the school, children were seen outside in the schoolyard, enjoying the warm sun, singing and dancing in groups. Some older ones were engaged in group games that kept their minds busy.
The atmosphere was filled with music and laughter as the organizers tried to replace the bad experience with fun new memories.
Adham Bakr, a psychosocial support officer with UNICEF, told Xinhua that psychological and social support services were something they had already been offering to local children during the country’s civil war.
Following the earthquake, they began a program called psychological first aid for children, he said.
“We started the psychological first aid program the very next day because the earthquake is a new kind of catastrophe for Syria and the children have been greatly traumatized,” Bakr told Xinhua.
Safaa Saloura, leader of a local charity group, told Xinhua that many children had been isolating themselves after the earthquake but she and her colleagues have succeeded in engaging with them through specially-designed activities.
“We started seeing laughter on the faces of the children,” she noted.
Sana Al-Kurdi, a schoolteacher, found herself seeking refuge in the same place where she works. The mother of two told Xinhua that when the earthquake hit, the first safe haven that came to mind was her workplace.
“My kids are releasing their stress and energy here with other kids. They stopped thinking about the earthquake, so this is a positive,” she said.
While Al-Kurdi was familiar with the school and felt comfortable there, she still hoped her stay would be brief and that the whole family would be able to return home after necessary repairs were made.
“I have made friends here. People here are helping each other. But normal life should return,” the teacher said.
The Syrian Health Ministry said on Tuesday that the final death toll from the earthquake that hit Syria stands at 1,414, while the number of injured people reached 2,357.
The ministry’s count of quake casualties only includes the quake-hit areas under government control.
On Monday, a UN relief agency said 4,300 deaths and 7,600 injuries caused by the quake had been reported in the rebel-held areas in northwestern Syria.
Meanwhile, the latest statistics from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights showed that the quake killed about 7,000 people in Syria’s government- and rebel-held areas.