Child-friendly spaces help conflict-affected children play and learn in Georgia
By Guy Degen
LAMISKANA, Georgia, 19 August 2009 – The village of Lamiskana lies a few hundred metres from disputed territory. People here live with an ever-present tension, and many children witnessed violence during last year's conflict.
Four-year-old Mari fled the village of Akhalgori with her parents and now attends kindergarten near her temporary home in the Tserovani Settlement.
It's estimated that some 30 thousand people remain internally displaced. The settlements are often isolated and offer little in the way of amenities for children. There are few places to socialize and children generally do not have access to playgrounds.
In response, UNICEF is establishing child-friendly kindergartens in partnership with the Elizabeth Gast Foundation to give displaced children access to early childhood education. The new kindergartens also serve as a resource centre for parents in need of advice on health, nutrition and protection.
'The essential business of children'
For Mari, who is just one of thousands of displaced children trying to adapt to a new a life after conflict, the kindergarten is a welcoming space.
"Often we forget that play, learning, exploration and communication are the essential business of children - this is what children do with their lives," said UNICEF Georgia Deputy Representative Benjamin Perks.
Mr. Perks added that child-friendly activities and a stimulating learning environment help get children 'back on track' and can challenge the impact war has upon them.
60 new centres
Supporting children affected by conflict also helps to ensure their rights to protection and development. UNICEF and its partners are aiming to continue supporting child-friendly spaces for children to learn, socialize and recover from the stress of war and displacement.
By the end of 2008, UNICEF, in partnership with World Vision, IRC, and the Elisabeth Gast Foundation had established approximately 60 child-friendly centres in Tbilisi and Gori, Shida Kartli villages and in various settlements.
Drama and poetry
Inside the village school, laughter and music echo down the corridors. In one classroom, Georgian actor Bacho Chachibaia is conducting a drama workshop.
Along with painting and sculpture, the drama classes are one of several activities offered to children outside of school hours.
For 17-year-old Pikria Totosashvili, drama and poetry have made an enormous difference in her life.
"Children were worrying a lot and we had enormous stress. Children are trying to ignore the fact there's a conflict, soldiers are still around and something could happen," says Pikria.
She says she tries not to think about the conflict.
"This place has helped us to overcome trauma we experienced during the war."