Special needs students join Disaster Risk Reduction education activity and outreach
By Jeff Morski
If it’s an earthquake, crawl under a strong table or if you’re in bed put a pillow on top of your head to protect yourself from falling objects.
Never go outside during a thunder storm and close the door and shut all the windows!
AKHALTSIKHE, Georgia, 6 November 2013 - We are sitting in the recreation room of Special Needs School No. 7 in the town of Akhaltsikhe, located in south-central Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region near the border with Turkey, and listening to the advice from the school’s nine young participants in the recently implemented Disaster Risk Reduction Education project which sought to raise community awareness about local natural disasters and the proper response when they happen as well as include and engage young people with special educational needs in the activity and outreach and highlight the unique – and often overlooked – contributions which they can make.
The youngsters, with their happy smiling faces, are eager to share everything they learned about protecting themselves and those around them in a region which is prone to earthquakes, floods and forest fires and tell us how exciting it was to be an active part of the project.
The Disaster Risk Reduction Education project comprised the second phase of the bigger Supporting Disaster Risk Reduction amongst Vulnerable Communities and Institutions in the South Caucasus project. It was funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Directorate General (ECHO) and implemented by UNICEF Georgia in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Science, the Emergency Management Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Disaster Risk Reduction Centre of the Rural Development for the Future of Georgia association.
The Disaster Risk Reduction Education project began in June 2012 and will run until the end of November 2013. It has included the participation of more than 30 schools Georgia-wide implementing individual disaster risk reduction-related projects and boasts an impressive overall outreach of up to 60,000 community members.
“Our students were active participants in the project,” said Maka Janashvili, Director of Public School No. 1 in Akhaltsikhe, full of pride, as she introduced the seven young members of the school’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Club and described their initiative, leadership and dedicated community spirit. “They organised an Intellectual Games competition with six other schools as well as including the children from Special Needs School No. 7 and then encouraged everyone to start up DRR Clubs at their own schools. The results were overwhelmingly positive as these seven new clubs are now functioning and implementing their own DRR projects. What’s more, our younger pupils here at the school saw what their older peers were doing and were inspired to also become engaged. They started their own projects, like going to the local fire services department and interviewing fire brigade members and presenting the results to the other classmates.”
Manana Chichinadze, aged 16, is one of Janashvili’s students who participated in the project’s activities and who joined us for the visit to meet the children at Special Needs School No. 7. “It’s been very important for us to work with the students here,” she said. “Our approach has been that everyone has abilities and it was this perspective that guided us in our activities with them. Initial steps had their challenges, as there was some shyness and other communication problems, but soon everyone opened up and became readily a part of the activities.”
Current plans for the students of Public School No. 1 in Akhaltsikhe include writing and producing a play on local DRR issues as a means of further information sharing and awareness raising for community members of all ages. The students are planning to work with a producer to develop the play and perform in it themselves together with the project participants from Special Needs School No. 7.
Shorena Khmaladze, Public School No. 1’s DRR Club Leader and teacher of Civil Protection and Safety, commented on what she saw first-hand working with the students. “They got the chance to put into direct practice the things we are studying in class. It is wonderful to see these young people as real messengers in and for their community.”
Never play with fire. Candles are only for church!
Our visit with the children at Special Needs School No. 7 finishes but not before Nodari, one of the students, runs after us as he remembers a last piece of advice from the new things he learned.
The newly-confident smile on his face alone underlines the project’s success.