|© UNICEF Myanmar/2008|
|A UNICEF-supported child-friendly centre in Phayargyi Village, Twante Township.|
By Wendy Myint-Myint Hla
PHAYARGYI VILLAGE, Myanmar, 22 May 2008 – When the 10-foot tidal wave caused by Cyclone Nargis surged into three-year-old Thè Su Wai’s village in Kungyangone Township, she was swept away from her mother. Somehow, she managed to survive by holding onto a strong tree.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the first words Thè Su Wai spoke upon seeing her mother were: “If you’re here, Mommy, I will not die, will I?”
Her sister, Ei Ei Nyein, says that whenever there is rain, Thè Su Wai is afraid and clings to their mother. Clinging to a caregiver is one of the signs children typically show after a distressing experience such as a natural disaster.
Pa Pa is also a three-year-old survivor of Cyclone Nargis. All of the huts in her village were destroyed and some of her neighbours died as a result of fallen trees.
Like Thè Su Wai and Pa Pa, there are many children who have experienced fear and distress due to the cyclone. One of the ways in which UNICEF is helping is by setting up child-friendly spaces in temporary shelters.
UNICEF and its partners have already set up child-friendly centres in Yangon and Ayeyarwady Divisions, in collaboration with the communities in those areas.
Helping children cope
Of the cyclone-affected populations across Yangon and Irrawaddy Divisions, one third or more are estimated to be children.
In partnership with non-governmental organizations, UNICEF has been providing technical support for recreational activities, life skills, non-formal education and first-aid care for children in Myanmar.
When children visit a child-friendly space, their names are registered – ensuring that separated and unaccompanied children affected by the cyclone can be identified.
The child-friendly spaces are also serving as makeshift classrooms while UNICEF works towards getting children back to school.
Returning to normalcy
Child-friendly spaces offer care and protection for children and young people, especially those who have lost or been separated from their families. With the help of community members who are offering rooms and other suitable areas, these spaces are providing children with stability, routine, supportive relationships and emergency educational support.
Most importantly, they help children return to some semblance of normalcy.
“We have never seen toys like these before,” said Pa Pa's mother while she was watching her daughter playing with toys provided by UNICEF at the child-friendly space.
But Pa Pa, like any child, needed no instruction on how to play with the new toys and games.
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