Child-friendly spaces for reading, drawing, playing together without fear
by Galina Solodunova
“I don’t know how they will go to school.”This week, Osh town witnesses tiny signs of a return to normal life: the streets are filling up with people and cars. Some rush to the market to buy food, others go to visit their relatives and share their blankets and clothes with those who lost everything. But there is one vital element missing – the children. Many were sent away by their parents for safe keeping, to stay with relatives in remote villages. And only a few families have started to bring them back.
Kozybaeva Gulnara, ethnic Kyrgyz, from Furkat District has just returned with her six children. Gulnara’s children are finding it hard to adapt. They follow her all the time, and spend the whole day at home, feeding the chickens or playing close to the tent that they have just received from one of the aid organizations. “I don’t know how they will go to school. They are scared and only feel at ease when we are together in our yard”, Gulnara says.
Missiryo Ismanova, ethnic Uzbek, from Cheryomushki District also plans to bring back her three year old daughter from her relatives. She is worried her little girl suffers from being separated from her parents, and is concerned that in her community there are no children left. “We have a small part of the house that survived and my child can stay there with us, but it would be difficult for her to stay indoors all the time. The kindergarten is not open. Most of my neighbours keep their children with their relatives”, she says.
The on-going field assessments reveal numerous problems and hardships for children and women regardless of ethnicity who suffered the most during the civil conflict in the south of Kyrgyzstan in the middle of June and now have a long way to recover. With this in view, UNICEF has opened an operating base in Osh, 600 km form Bishkek, the capital. One of first projects for the team is to facilitate the psychosocial support to children and help them to learn to play, draw and read again, without fear.
Gulnara’s and Missiryo’s families live in temporary homes but are starting to think about the future. They welcome the initiative of UNICEF and its partners in opening safe places where children can play together and receive psycho-social counseling. These centres will help the community to get their children home and restore a sense of normal life.
The Ministry of Education and Science has agreed to base 20 such centres at schools. Twenty more locations for such centres are being identified in communities and in camps for internally displaced people which are still the reality of Osh Province.
UNICEF is playing a major part in equipping these safe spaces by training teachers and psychologists, helping to set up the rooms, and has already delivered special toys that help a child’s development. “Children need a safe space to pick up threads of their lives. This is a place for them to play, draw, sing and dance and be active together. Communities need these spaces to overcome fear and return to some kind of normalcy”, says UNICEF Kyrgyzstan's Acting Officer in Charge, Samphe Lhalungpa.