Child friendly spaces help young survivors of cyclone heal in Myanmar
By Sandar Linn
Myaung Mya, Myanmar, May 2008- As putting the pieces onto jigsaw puzzle board, it seemed that 7-year-old boy, Min Thu*(not his real name) has locked himself out of the outside world and put his particular interest on the game, which is putting the pieces together to have a complete picture of a house.
Finishing the job, he said, “I’m not interested in the other games and toys. I want to build a house. I want to rebuild my home and go back to my village with Mom. I don’t want to be surrounded by stranger anymore.” said Min Thu with tearful eyes.
On the night the cyclone hits, his river-side village, he lost his father and sisters.
“That night, the wind was so strong, the rain was heavy and the sky was so dark. Our house, our cows, my father and sisters, everything was swept away,” recalls Min Thu.
Sadly, Min Thu is not alone, many children suffered the hardships, some have lost or been separated from their families.
Providing psycho-social support
Their parents and relatives, who are also in desperate situation and living in chaos, often lack the means to offer their children the attention and the care they need, said a volunteer from Myanmar Red Cross Society.
UNICEF, in partnership with non-governmental, national and international Alliances, plans to establish more than 100 child-friendly spaces to assist cyclone affected children over the next few weeks. Thus far, 30 safe spaces have opened in Yangon and Ayeyarwady Division.
At a child friendly space, they will find recreational activities, life skills, non-formal education and first-aid care. Child-centered learning approaches such as singing, storytelling and playing games are being used.
“I like it, it makes me forget my sufferings at least for a while,” said Ma(Ms) Mya Mya*(not her real name), 8, who lost both her parents on the night the cyclone struck.
“Singing is my favorite part,” she said.
“The children were devastated when they come,” says U(Mr) Si Thu*(not his real name), a camp residence, who is also helping with the set up of child-friendly space.
“They were so distressed by the cyclone. Now they are playing, singing, dancing and reciting. They forget for a while and their outlook is improving,” he adds.
Protecting the vulnerable children
Child-friendly spaces are not just about recreation, but also serving as a place to identify separated and unaccompanied children affected by the cyclone by registering when they pay visit there.
Children are also being taught how to help protect themselves from strangers who may cause them harm.
Local monks actively participate in spreading the valuable child protection messages using existing public address system at the relief camps.
Volunteers involving in child-friendly spaces are also able to attend children’s’ medical and emotional needs, and because they are in one space, the more serious cases requiring referral can be quickly identified and helped.