In a church in the bayside city of Palu, Indonesia, volunteers smile wide as they lead dozens of children in sing-alongs with hand motions. They pass around coloring pages with packs of crayons and colored pencils. The group sits cross-legged on the white tile floor, hands folded in their laps, to pray together.

It looks like a typical day at Sunday School—and that’s the point. Because outside of the walls of GPID Manunggal Palu, these kids’ world is a disaster zone.

A 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck nearby in late September, causing a massive tsunami, aftershocks, and mudslides that killed more than 2,000 of their neighbors—including hundreds of students at a Bible camp. Their streets are unrecognizable, with crumbled buildings and buckled roads. They’ve lost homes, electricity—and normalcy.

“The kids miss their normal routine,” said Priscilla Christin, spokesperson for World Vision Indonesia. “Routines like school are especially important when children have experienced a scary event.”

Days after the earthquake, ministries rushed to provide safe spaces and trauma recovery programs specifically for kids, who often can’t process what has happened or what they’re feeling as readily as adults. “They lack both the language and life experience to understand what they’re going through,” said Jamie Aten, founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College.

Relief charities like World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse have seen on the ground what researchers like Aten have concluded: Even basic care—like a safe location, kids to play with, and someone to talk to—can go a long way toward reducing ...

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