As Europe's children flocked back to school after a Christmas break, teachers and other adults were faced with the difficult job of explaining the tsunami disaster and accompanying bereaved children in their mourning.
"Need for soldarity." A tusnami surivor and his stranded boat in Ban Nam Khem, Thailand. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)
Many children in Europe are missing relatives who perished or went missing in the killer waves that hit south Asia on December 26 and others are worried about friends, while countless more are finding it hard to cope with pictures and footage of horror and destruction brought into their homes by the world's media.
"We need to prepare for empty desks, perhaps for teachers who don't turn up for class, and for children who are affected by the death of friends of family members," said Norwegian Education Minister Kristin Clemet, who has advised teachers to talk freely to pupils about the tragedy.
Efforts to help children cope will now enter a new phase as
survivors, among them many children, return from Asia, bringing with them traumatic memories of death and mayhem, and in some cases, having lost parents or siblings in the Indian Ocean.
In Germany, the Order of Malta on Monday had 400
specially-trained child psycho-therapists read to help children who survived the tsunami. One of them is treating a five-year old child whose father died and whose mother was badly injured in the tidal waves. "These children are usually completely apathetic and it takes a long time for them to understand that they will never see their dead parents again," Order spokeswoman Claudia Kaminski said.
In Hungary, where children returned to school on Monday, the first 15 minutes in class were spent discussing the events in Asia.
In Italy, school holidays last until the end of the week, and
the authorities said while there would be initiatives at schools to help children understand the catastrophe, nothing concrete had been decided. But UNICEF spokeswoman Donata Lodi said the organization's Italian branch was planning visits by members of the country's Sri Lankan community to schools to explain what has happened to their country.
French Education Minister François Fillon told school staff to earmark time in class to work on the Asian catastrophe and "the need for solidarity", although it was already clear that the crisis had prompted, including among France's young, "an unprecedented level of generosity".