TORONTO Â? A charitable group for children is sending information kits to teachers across Canada to assist them in helping students understand the effects of tsunamis in southeast Asia that have inundated the world with haunting images of grief and destruction.
Save the Children Canada has prepared separate kits for students in elementary and secondary schools, with the goal of helping young people understand the catastrophe that has claimed about 140,000 lives in 11 countries.
"Both of them deal with helping teachers to understand and help relate the latest headlines and the story of the tsunami and the impact on children and their lives to children in a classroom setting,'' said Rita Karakas, the group's CEO.
The elementary program includes physical activities to help children express their feelings and thoughts about the disaster.
"The activities will involve everything from using crayons to engaging in group discussions in a very gentle and soft level,'' Karakas said Monday.
The secondary school program will examine geographic, scientific and environmental matters related to tsunamis.
"We're trying to help secondary school students understand the impact of such an environmental disaster and the relationship between earthquakes and tsunamis and the psycho-social effects,'' Karakas said.
Thousands of children were killed and orphaned when tsunamis struck on Dec. 26 after a massive earthquake off the coast of Indonesia.
In Sri Lanka, 40 per cent, or 12,000, of the island country's death total of 30,000 were children, officials said.
Some grieving parents have wandered wave-ravaged beaches day after day, hoping their children might miraculously return.
Children seeing a non-stop stream of images of the disaster in newspapers and on TV could be overwhelmed by what they see, and anything to help them cope with it is welcome, said Eyglo Thorlaksdottir of the Canadian Association of Psychoanalytic Child Therapists.
"Too many children are exposed to frightening images that they have no way of processing or understanding, and that can be deeply troubling to them,'' she said.
"Children can be quite traumatized by these images.''
Thorlaksdottir said the most important thing that teachers and parents can do is encourage children to ask questions and reassure them.
"It's not so much that they need the full facts, but they need to have the questions made sense of,'' she said.
"Sometimes parents or teachers give too much fact, and that can leave the child feeling quite anxious because it's going beyond what they're ready and able to comprehend.''
Rick Johnson, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, said the project will help children understand the tragedy and perhaps inspire them to help the victims.
"That's part of what education is all about, is developing compassion and understanding towards our fellow human beings,'' he said.
"You can impress upon the children that these things happen, and how to deal with it, and how to be compassionate towards our fellow human beings, so that when something like this does occur, they're prepared to reach out to these people.''
Such compassion was evident in the Edmonton region Monday, as 203 public schools lowered their flags to half-mast to honour those killed by the tsunamis.
Students at the schools were also to observe one minute of silence Tuesday morning.
Edmonton's Catholic schools will observe a day of prayer and fasting on Jan. 10.
"Children have a natural sense of generosity and compassion,'' said Svend Hansen, chairman of the Edmonton Public Schools board of trustees.
"Local and global citizenship is a value we foster in our students.''
Karakas could not say how many kits are being sent out, but said the organization hopes to reach as many students as possible.
"We have been directly e-mailing teachers,'' she said. "We have a list of 100,000 some-odd teachers. We have access to a broad network.''
Save the Children Canada is a member of the International Save the Children Alliance, an international network of 29 organizations working in more than 120 countries.
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