China

Child-friendly spaces after the earthquake in Sichuan province

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UNICEF and the Chinese Government have set up 40 child-friendly centres in the earthquake recovery zone of Sichuan province.

By Steve Nettleton

LEIGU, China, 18 May 2009 – At a resettlement centre in one of the hardest hit areas of earthquake-affected Sichuan province, Doudou, 6, spends her days riding her bicycle, or singing and dancing with other children. For her, it has been a long road toward recovery.

She lost both her parents in the quake that struck in May 2008, and now lives under the care of her grandfather.

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“The earthquake ruined everything that our family owned,” says Doudou’s grandfather. “At that time, Doudou missed her parents very much. She didn’t want to eat. When she went to bed at night, she cried for her father and mother.”

When a special centre for children opened near her home, Doudou slowly began to find comfort in songs and games with other children. UNICEF and the Chinese Government have set up 40 centres across the quake zone. These shelters provide safe, protective environments where children can interact and develop through play and creative expression.

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The effects of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China are still being felt throughout the region.

Recovery and support for survivors

The effects of last year’s quake are still taking a toll on families throughout the region. The 'Child-Friendly Space' initiative aims to give children the psychological and emotional support they need to recover from their distress and prepare for a new start in life.

Parents and teachers say they’ve noticed a dramatic change in children’s behaviour over the past year. The manager of a child-friendly space in Feishui township, Tang Xiaoping, says this emotional progress can be seen from how their drawings have changed since the aftermath of the quake.

“Our first activity here was to have the children draw what was in their minds,” she says. “One boy drew a capsized boat; a girl drew buildings falling and people running in the streets. This year, we again invited children to paint pictures. Now you see colourful balloons and smiling faces.”

The child-friendly spaces not only offer emotional aid to children but also support adults like He Liping, who lost her child in the quake.

“I was extremely sad for the first couple of months after I lost my daughter," says Ms. He, who chairs Leigu township’s chapter of the All China Women’s Federation. “But now I work here and I am with children every day. I feel happiness. It is like when I see them, I can see her.”


 

 

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UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on the Child-Friendly Space initiative in Sichuan province.
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