Early Childhood Development kits help conflict-affected children in Georgia
By Matthew Collin
TBILISI, Georgia, 15 July 2009 – In August 2008, some 127,000 people were forced out of their homes by the fighting in and around South Ossetia, Georgia. Although the majority of them have since returned, approximately 30,000 will not be able to go back in the foreseeable future.
Many dilapidated hospital buildings were turned into temporary accommodation for those who have been displaced. But what was short-term at first now seems permanent.
For some of the youngest displaced children, UNICEF's new Early Childhood Development (ECD) Kit is making life more bearable and helping to ensure that they do not fall behind developmentally.
A safe place to play
Before the war, Luisa and her younger brother Giorgi lived with their family in the rural village of Dirbi. Now, the two children live in a disused former Soviet military hospital in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi alongside some 400 other people.
Many families like Luisa’s and Giogi’s left their possessions behind when fleeing their homes, leaving children without any sort of toys. Luisa and Giorgi are amongst thousands of displaced children in need of a safe place to play, learn, develop and build up their confidence amid a life disrupted by conflict.
“The majority of displaced children living in collective centres experience very high emotional distress, and this is because of the very hard times they went through during last summer’s crisis,” says UNICEF Representative in Georgia Giovanna Barberis.
Some sense of normalcy
Every weekday, Luisa and Giogi’s mother, Tamriko Shotulova, takes her children to a child-friendly space established by UNICEF and its partners. In this space, children can express themselves, continue learning and experience some sense of normalcy – assisted by materials provided by UNICEF.
At the space, Luisa and Giorgi watch intently as a caregiver builds a tower of multi-coloured bricks. Then, they run to their tables eagerly to play with puzzle games, crayons and drawing books.
Ms. Shotulova says her children receive much-needed support and attention in this safe environment. “I think it plays an important role in the children’s education and upbringing,” she explains. “They have gained a lot of experience in terms of education and social skills.”
One of the centre’s caregivers, Eka Chubinidze, says some of the children at this centre have suffered psychologically because of the conflict they lived through.
“It’s difficult for them to focus their attention,” she notes. “They have difficulties about how to act in certain situations and how to concentrate. They react harshly to sounds. When they hear a helicopter, they come to the window or go under the table. They are really very stressed.”
There’s a clamour of excitement as the caregivers pass out toys from UNICEF’s ECD Kit, which has been used during its pilot phase here. The kits – officially unveiled by Executive Director Ann M. Veneman in Geneva today – contain early-learning, psycho-social and play materials for children under the age of six.
The ECD Kit acts as a complement to UNICEF’s School in a Box and recreation kits. It aims to foster young children's self-esteem, develop critical early-learning skills and create opportunities for creativity and self-expression.
Most of the materials in the ECD Kit can be used for several years. They are designed to help children continue their development both during an emergency and afterwards. And although the kit can’t replace a normal school environment, it can help with rapid-response interventions in emergency situations, as well as post-crisis transition environments.