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Oklahoma tornado: facing a future full of uncertainty

Moore, Oklahoma, 23 May: ‘I’ve been here since the day after the monster tornado devastated many parts of this city. Hundreds of families are homeless and thousands are in need. I’ve been visiting the shelters, talking with parents and children who have lost everything.

“I feel like I just came out of a daze and realized I’m homeless,” a mother named Kristi told me. The tornado collapsed the roof of Kristi’s apartment building, and then it pouredwith rain the next day. Her family has lost everything. “So many things go through your mind. You reach for a toothbrush and you don’t have it. You reach for a comb and you don’t have it. You think, how am I going to pay the bills? How am I going to get mail? There’s nothing left.”

Kristi’s 3-year-old daughter Peyten misses her stuffed rabbit. “I wish I could go home,” she says.

“She doesn’t have anything to play with,” says her mum.

Peyten’s 13-year-old brother Jhaunel likes to play video games and go outside and play basketball. He can’t do those things now because he lost his games and he doesn’t have a ball.

Strength in adversity

People here are amazingly strong and positive despite all they’ve been through. I’ve seen countless families whose homes were destroyed and who are facing futures full of uncertainty. They say they’re just grateful to be alive. They don’t cry. They rarely complain. But one thing I hear repeatedly from parents is that their kids don’t have enough to do – they need activities to keep them busy.

The Save the Children team here has responded to every major disaster since Hurricane Katrina. Most recently, we have been helping families affected by Hurricane Sandy and the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Our experts know that what children need most after their lives have been up-ended is a return to normalcy.

Today, we’ll set up our first “child-friendly space” in a shelter here. This will be an oasis of calm and fun activities for the children. It’ll also give stressed parents a break so they can recoup the energy to start putting their lives back together. Our staff will use play activities to help the children heal their emotional wounds. When children have been through a traumatic experience, we know it’s very important to give them a way to express what’s inside them. It may be fear. It may be anger. Every child is different, but they all need to play and laugh again in a safe environment. This will be an important first step for the children of Moore, and we are eager to provide this for every child in Moore who needs help on the road to recovery.’

Tracy Geoghegan is Director for Publications and Branding at Save the Children USA.

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