Child-friendly spaces provide a safe place to recover after Cyclone Sidr
By Kathryn Seymour
PATUAKHALI, Bangladesh, 30 November 2007 – It is 7 a.m., and approximately 200 children have gathered on the roof of a government office in cyclone-ravaged Subidkhali village. They are waiting for the doors to open on ‘Amader Jaiga’ (My Place) – a day-care centre and safe space for young victims of cyclone Sidr.
Having few options since the cyclone hit the coast on 15 November, children often wait on this roof for hours. Many of them are living in temporary shelters without latrines, food or safe water. Their parents, who are desperately trying to put their lives back together, often lack the means to offer their children the attention and care they need.
Amina, 10, has been coming to Amader Jaiga in Patharghata every day. “On the night of the cyclone, we went to the shelter,” she recalls. “When we returned home, everything was swept away – our house, our cow, our goats. Now we have nothing. Our parents are busy fixing our houses and getting food, so we come here.”
Providing shelter and meals
UNICEF, in partnership with the non-governmental Save the Children International Alliance, plans to establish 380 child-friendly spaces to assist 20,000 cyclone-affected children over the next few weeks. Thus far, 27 other safe spaces have opened in eight affected districts.
Each space provides for the basic needs of 50 to 200 children. Local NGOs and their UNICEF-trained volunteers run the spaces with support from district governments.
Save the Children is supplying safe drinking water and warm meals at each child-friendly space. For some children, this food is their only meal of the day because their homes have been completely destroyed.
Across southern Bangladesh, thousands of children were severely affected by the destruction they witnessed and need help readjusting to life after the disaster. As part of the process to help children recover, volunteers use UNICEF recreation kits containing books, crayons, games, toys, musical instruments and sporting equipment.
“The children were devastated when they came,” says Nusrat, a volunteer at the safe space in Pourashav.
“They were so disturbed by the cyclone. Now they are playing, singing, dancing and reciting. They forget for a while and their outlook is improving,” Nusrat adds.
Assisting vulnerable children
Visiting the affected region this week, Ara Yoo and Shabnaaz Zahereen, both Child Protection Officers at UNICEF Bangladesh, are appealling to local officials to support the Amader Jaiga programme. Ara Yoo explains that in crisis situations, children who have been separated from their families need special attention.
“In emergency situations like this, children are very vulnerable, especially to trafficking,” adds Siddhartha, manager of the Amader Jaiga in Naltona.
The children themselves also recognize that being with other children is helping them to recover.
“My parents are busy, fixing our home and getting food," says Shahnaj, 12, who has been attending Amader Jaiga in Naltona since it opened. "Here, we are playing, eating and reading. Some children have lost their parents. It’s better that they’re here with us, as we can comfort them.”