Page images
PDF
EPUB

For me, September 11 started out like a normal day. I hit the "snooze" button a couple times, finally got out of bed, and rushed to get ready for school. After my first class, a friend told me that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers, although at the time, I did not quite understand what she meant.

My next class was held in the school library because we were doing a college career unit, so I was not able to watch the news, but our library has a lot of windows, so I was able to see the reactions of my fellow classmates. I saw teachers carrying notes that told other students that their parents were all right and that their parents were coming to pick them up. I saw students sobbing on their way to the office. One guy, who is actually a very bit, football player-size guy, was being physically held up by his friends. Kids who were normally confident-you know, our biggest worry had been finding a date for homecoming-now wore terrified expressions on their faces.

Dr. Smith, our principal, came on the loudspeaker twice to tell us what was happening and to clear up confusion, because at the time, rumors were flying that the Capitol, the White House, and the Pentagon had all been bombed.

On my way to lunch, I told a friend how glad I was that only New York had been hit. I guess she did not realize that my dad worked at the Pentagon, because she immediately blurted out that the Pentagon had been attacked. For me, I was now in the same situation as the people in New York, and I had to call my dad as soon as I could.

I could not get hold of him because if any of you tried to get hold of anyone at that time-the phone lines were jammed. So I just went to lunch because there was nothing else I could do.

My lunch group and I ate in a teacher's classroom that day, which was different than normal, so we could watch the news. We also prayed, and as we prayed, my instant reaction of fear melted away into an indescribable peace that I know only came from God. We prayed that God would help us comfort the people around us who were almost hysterical with fear.

In our classrooms, teachers had the news on, kids were passing around cellphones to call parents and loved ones, people were crying, and overall, we were just in shock. We had always known the United States to be a safe place. The seniors were in first grade during the Gulf War, so we do not really remember that very much. Now the U.S. was under an attack, and that attack was in our own back yard, at the Pentagon.

Parents came to pick up their kids early, and in some halls, there were more parents than students. My mom came to pick up a group of us, and she says she told me that my dad was okay at that time, but I do not remember hearing-maybe it was just the hustle and bustle. I drove some friends to my house, and they turned on the TV while I checked our answering machine, which was filled with messages from family members and friends trying to check on us and on my dad.

While my mom was calling everyone back, my dad called my cellphone and told me that he was okay and that he was at the Springfield Metro Station. So my mom went to pick him up, and I called the rest of the family members.

My friends and I were glued to the TV, and at 1:30, I finally saw footage of the towers collapsing. That footage was on every channel of our TV-MTV, VH1, ESPN, even the Food Network. That night, I finally pried myself away from the TV and went to church to meet with some friends from other area high schools. I soon found out that some of the schools told teachers to turn off the TVs and tried to hush the information. I think it was Springfield being informed of the news that really helped us feel empowered at a time of total chaos in our Nation.

My friends and I at church prayed for the victims and their families. We also prayed for our Nation and our leaders. We prayed for our schools and our community. We also prayed for our Arabic friends. While we were praying, a man was waving an American flag across the street in front of the Afghan Mosque, and his friend was taking a picture. My friends went over to find out what he was doing, and the man told them that we should wipe off all the Arabs from the face of the Earth. I have never seen such blatant prejudice and hatred in my community.

Things have changed at my school. The moment of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance have become more important. My guy friends have talked about enlisting. Students are worried about anthrax and another possible attack. Many of us are rethinking our career options, and life just seems different.

Our school sponsored a Race for America, our choir is running a clothing drive for the rescue workers, and clubs are raising money for the Afghan children. People are waving American flags and becoming patriotic, and my classmates have waited in line to give blood, only to be turned away because so many people are already there. We all just want to do something to help.

I think the two things that helped me the most through this time and helped me sort out my emotions were my church and my school. My faith in God has brought me a peace and a hope through this whole situation, even when I was not sure if my father was still alive.

At school, teachers were willing to take time out of class to let us talk about our feelings. They never pretended that they had the answers, and they never told us that our feelings were wrong or invalid. They just listened. This helped us to gradually assimilate back into our daily routines. But all the while, there is still the gnawing fear in the back of our minds-what will the terrorists do next?

Senator DODD. Very, very good. That was excellent testimony, and we thank you very much. I do not think we need to worry about the future; as long as you are around, Nikki, more than likely we are going to do just fine. Your mother ought to be very proud, and I am sure your father is very, very proud of you as well. So thank you. We will have some questions for you in a few minutes. That was very well-prepared, and I thank you immensely. Ms. Milton.

Ms. MILTON. Thank you very much.

I am pleased to be here representing Save the Children to help you address the special needs of children in time of crisis.

First a word about Save the Children. We were established in 1932 to work in some of the poorest areas of the United States, and

we have been working in many of those communities since those times. But as you know, we also work in 48 countries across the world, with most of our focus on health and education but also, of special interest today, in the areas of crisis and humanitarian relief in times of war.

I want to commend you, Senator Dodd and Senator Collins and your colleagues, for paying attention, because experience has shown that we need to pay special attention to the problems and challenges of children during these special times.

From our experience, whether in Bosnia, Kosovo, or Mozambique, as well as our work in the United States, the first thing we have learned and I have heard it again today, and I have to emphasize is the need to prepare din advance.

Each crisis brings a different risk, whether it is an earthquake, a flood, or a war. Unfortunately, what happens, and particularly in this country what has happened up to now, is that we have prepared for the last crisis as opposed to being ready in advance. I think this has given us an opportunity to have this as a wakeup call and realize how important it is to do that kind of careful planning now.

The lack of planning has been particularly acute in the afterschool programs and community-based programs and that sort of safety net that work with children in those nonschool hours. I think the schools, frankly, in my opinion, as a result of Columbine and other emergencies, have been forced to be prepared and have done things that I have not seen happen in the community-based organization, and I am very concerned about that because most of our children spend many of their waking hours in those program. They do not have the basics should they stay open. What should they tell they children and not tell the children of the incident? How do they get special help if the children and families need help after the trauma?

The second thing we have learned from our experience overseas is the very important need to have a safe place and to reestablish a normal life for the children. We have learned from working in refugee camps and from working in times of war, that it is very important to establish a place where children can be, where the parents feel safe to have the children, and where the children can resume normal activities, whether it be school, sports, or whatever. Children need the routine that is the most important thing that our experience has taught us for them to be able to recover. They need stability. We have found that having those normal activities is probably the single most important thing to their recovery.

We have also found, particularly with our experience in the United States, that it is important for children and youth to have a feeling that they are part of the solution. They want to do something. So what you talked about, Senator Collins, we have seen happen throughout the country with our programs, where the children have either been writing letters or wanting to do fundraisers. They are basically asking: What can we do to help?

I think that that is something that we should recognize and realize as part of the healing.

Save the Children had established a website before the trauma as a way for children to reach out and help other children around

the world. It is called YouthNoise.org. We had just opened it about a week before the actual traumas of September 11. Within the first few days after September 11, we had over 3 million hits on the website of children trying to find ways to help each other, children sharing their experiences and trying to come up with solutions.

We are finding even today that children are still going to that website and to other sites, I am sure, to find the best way to make a difference. I think that as a country, we ought to build on that strength.

The third lesson that we have learned from both overseas and in the United States is how important the infrastructure of caring adults is to help in times of crisis. Caring adults are the obvious ones in schools-they are the teachers and the principals; in the afterschool settings, they are the people who are there on a dayto-day basis working with the children; and they are also that national network which I think the committee could actually also help, the national network of AmeriCorps, VISTA, Foster Grandparents. There are hundreds of thousands of those individuals across the country who are there on a day-to-day basis.

What I learned from the most recent experience is the very important task that we have now to prepare those individuals to deal with the crisis so they will have some understanding of the important role they will have, and also helping them to be able to respond in the best way-because frankly, this was not something that we worried about in advance.

We have learned again from overseas as well as in the United States that a good response is a flexible response. We heard earlier from Dr. Arons, and we know from our experience that different children and families react very differently to the same event. Some can take the toughest events in stride and not seem to be affected, while others suffer severe stress.

We also know from our research that children can usually handle one or two stressful events; it is when you get into the third one that you see some problems.

We have done many forums with parents and children in the Connecticut and New York areas, and we have learned that the families most closely affected are the ones who are obviously suffering more. We have also completed a survey of 240 different programs around the country, and there, not surprisingly, we found that the further people are away from the events, the less real they seem to them; even though they were watching them on the media; it did not have the same traumatic effect as for those who were closer.

But we are also seeing a ripple effect now, particularly with the military call-up and other things that are affecting families that we think are serious and we need to be worried about.

One thing that has worried me in many communities, and I would say many of the rural communities, is the ethic of saying "We can handle this. What happens in the family stays in the family" and "We do not need help from the outside," particularly mental health work. I must say, having visited many of these sites across the country, that I think that in fact they are not aware that we do have people who are necessarily aware of the fact that there

is a need for special help in terms of detecting signs of trauma and then responding.

I also want to mention that based on our survey, one of the most disturbing things that came out was the deep anti-Arab feeling on the part of many of our children, particularly children in remote areas. We had comments back saying that some of the children and families had said things like "Round up and deport all the Arabs" or "Kill all the Muslims." I am very concerned about this and think that we have to recognize that we need to take this as an opportunity to use our schools, our afterschool programs and our youth leadership programs as a chance to reinforce the values of respect and tolerance.

One of the things that we are going to be doing in the first week of December is to put into place some of the recommendations that we think are important. We are going to be working with the Yale University National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, which is one of the best groups that we have found, to have them begin train-the-trainer sessions to help the people in the afterschool programs to recognize the behaviors that children may be giving out that are a signal of distress, and second, to build those very important linkages at the local level so there is an infrastructure, particularly with the mental health services, so that that infrastructure is available in advance. We are also going to be preparing some materials that we would be happy to share with other such groups.

In summary, our recommendations are that we do think there is a need to have special training and technical assistance both for school-based programs and also for afterschool programs and looking at the networks such as the national service networks that are out there to give them help in terms of how to do this planning in advance and how to recognize the problems that are there and to make the connections.

Second, we see from our work that there is a need, particularly in the poor rural areas as well as inner cities, for more mental health services; they just do not exist.

And third, we see a special need for the development of activities and curricula that will reinforce enlightened cross-cultural understanding so that we can all reinforce the values that we hold dear in our country.

Thank you very much.

Senator DODD. Thank you very much, Ms. Milton.

[The prepared statement of Ms. Milton follows:]

PREPARED STATEMENT OF CATHERINE MILTON

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee: I am pleased to be here, representing Save the Children, to help you address the special needs of children in times of crisis. A word about Save the Children. We are a global child assistance organization working, since 1932, in many of the poorest communities in the United States. We also work in 48 countries overseas with programs of health, education, and economic development and, most relevant to this Committee's interest, in programs of disaster relief and humanitarian aid in times of crisis. I want to commend Senator Dodd and the Committee for their efforts to ensure that the special needs of children are taken into account in difficult times, such as those we now face. The "Protecting Children Against Terrorism Act" would provide many of the things that Save the Children has long felt are essential for children in times of crisis.

Let me share some of our experience from working with children in crises around the world, as in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Mozambique as well as in our work

« PreviousContinue »