Volunteers Combat Post-Earthquake Trauma With Music Camps For Children


By Amrit Sharma

Volunteers have stepped up to make a real difference in Nepal since the earthquake. Nepalis from all walks of life, especially young adults in their 20s and 30s have fund-raised, personally delivered critical supplies, crowd-sourced their local knowledge on relief websites, and much more.

In the past few weeks, Nepal has shown signs that things are moving back to “normal”. Schools and offices across have reopened, there are traffic jams across Kathmandu, and parking woes in New Road. But moving forward hasn’t been easy for everyone. Many people in Kathmandu and across Nepal continue to show signs of post-traumatic shock and stress.

Children are especially vulnerable to post-traumatic stress, and this hampers their social life at home and at school in the short-term, and may even present developmental challenges in the long run. Maila Lama, 45, in Manekharka Village of Sindupalchowk District said, “Before the earthquake, he (son) was always happy and talkative, but now he doesn’t want to meet anyone.”

A determined group of volunteers from the JRM Foundation has taken the initiative to touch children’s lives through music and activities backed by psychological research.

“We’re trying to remove fear from the minds of the children,” said Samita Regmi (23), a student at the Tribhuvan University’s Peace, Conflict and Development Studies Program.

Last Sunday’s camp was run by Patrick Amar Scannell (35), Samita Regmi (23) and Bettina Dietrich (48), who were implementing a counseling program designed by Ana van Eck, a Music Therapist from SPAK (School of Performing Arts Kathmandu).

The volunteers have hosted almost 20 music counseling camps so far across Kathmandu, Kavre, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur. This time, they were counseling 20 children at Partnership Nepal, an NGO in Kathmandu that supports HIV affected and infected children.

The children, between 4 and 12, held hands together in a light-blue colored classroom. Some of the girls even dressed up in beautiful glittery clothes, while several boys wore t-shirts with characters from their favorite game, Angry Birds.

Dietrich started off the music camp with some icebreaker games and musical activities to get them engaged and actively involved in the camp. They really enjoyed it, and chimed in with meows, woofs, grunts and other adorable sounds.

“The relaxation exercises in the program are inspired by Buddhism-based psychological counseling techniques”, said Scannell, a former-music teacher and medical doctor. Square-breathing is a meditation technique where

After the deep breathing exercise, the children are given crayons to draw whatever they want, while Scannell hums and strums a gentle tune on his guitar. “The drawings bring out what’s on their mind onto the paper,” explained Regmi, a student in the Conflict, Peace and Development program at Tribhuvan University. Scannell further added, “If a child draws destroyed buildings or people crying, then the volunteers know to give them further attention.”

At Partnership Nepal, most of the children drew beautiful hillsides with people playing. It’s reflective to the communal and collaborating culture at this NGO.

A young boy, Nishant Ghimire (7), drew a Nepali village with a beautiful view of the Himalayas with a river. But that wasn’t all. In Ghimire’s world of unlimited possibilities and creative spirit, he added a large red “angry bird” flying through the sky.

This workshop also teaches practical ways of maintaining proper hygiene, including washing hands. Hygiene and sanitation is particularly important in villages outside Kathmandu, because many people are living in temporary shelters with poor arrangements for toilets and a limited water supply. Regmi spent over 15 minutes demonstrating how to wash hands thoroughly.

Scannell is currently working with Maiti Nepal to incorporate effective techniques to raise awareness among children about child-trafficking. They will soon be adding that into the counseling program.

Post-disaster trauma is often taboo and also challenging to solve in the short term. Doctors across Nepal have increasingly voiced the importance of addressing it, and volunteers and relief workers are increasingly stepping up. Dr. Pramod Khanal who walked to several villages in Sindupalchowk District immediately after the earthquake to treat injuries said, “We need to support the children and be with them to talk through these issues. Unfortunately there’s no quick fix.”

Dr. Fahim Rahim, Chairman of the JRM Foundation the work the volunteers are doing combating post-earthquake trauma and stress, but also added, “We need to rush to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Nepal. Landslides, water-borne diseases and inadequate temporary shelters pose a serious risk to Nepal this monsoon season.” Besides addressing trauma in children, the JRM Foundation is working with Child Reach Nepal to build temporary shelters for villages in time for the monsoon.

On April 25, thousands of people lost their lives, centuries-old monuments turned to dust, and many millions more are vulnerable to unrelenting rains and winds this monsoon season. In spite of seemingly insurmountable challenges, there’s an unprecedented wave of grassroots campaigns from all corners of Nepal, and the message is clear, “Together we will rebuild Nepal again.”

Amrit Sharma is a Freelance Journalist and Entrepreneur based out of airport lounges around the world. He loves to travel, drink coffee and say “Why not?” Follow him on Twitter at @amrit_sharma

NOTE: Views expressed are the author’s own. Janta Ka Reporter does not endorse any of the views, facts, incidents mentioned in this piece.

(Photo credit: Asiri D Vitharana)