Lídia: Lost and found
By Dulce Nhacuongue
Chiaquelane, GAZA, February 2013 – It was another day at the Chiaquelane camp, with a hot sun high in the sky. A live radio program broadcasting educational messages had just begun, and camp residents were gathering around listening to the presenter share information about hygiene, health and life skills.
Suddenly screams rang out over the crowd. She can’t have been more than 7, and wore a faded pair of overall shorts and had braids in her hair. She was sobbing uncontrollably, with her hands on her face. Her voice was husky and her eyes red. She seemed to be all by herself.
Seventeen-year old Sandra, the child-to-child program producer working on the live broadcast, was quick to react and immediately walked over to the child and tried to calm her down.
"Don't cry, it’s going to be okay. Tell us your name," she asked the girl, who struggled to reply through her sobs.
It turns out that Lídia, the little girl, was lost and couldn’t find her mother. Sandra comforted the girl as best she could, and promised to try to locate her family quickly.
Using the public address microphone she had with her, she began making announcements.
"Lídia does not know her way back home and is looking for her family. If you recognize this child, please come through," she announced.
A few announcements later, someone came running to where Lídia and Sandra were standing. It was Lídia’s neighbor, who had recognized Lídia, and who said she knew where the family tent is pitched. Sandra wanted to make sure this was true, but the relief on Lídia’s face spoke for itself. With a big smile and tears that were slowly drying up, Lídia jumped into the neighbor’s arms. All’s well that ends well.
Lídia is one of the thousands of children who escaped the flooded town of Chókwe, to seek refuge in the Chiaquelane displacement camp. Neighbours are as a general rule encouraged to remain close and pitch tents next to each other once they arrive at the camp to increase the sense of familiarity and neigbourly support. And yet every week children such as Lídia do stray away from their families and sometimes get lost in the camp, with neighbors often playing a key role in the reunification process.
In fact, it was thanks mainly to quick neighbourhood reaction that the few children who were separated from their families during the flooding itself quickly found their way back to their families in the very beginning of the crisis. Once accommodation centres became more populated, organised reunification interventions that involved the police force and local authorities quickly took shape, with UNICEF support.
Over 50 lost children, aged between 2 and 7 years old, have so far been reunified with their parents or guardians at the camps. The police, who receive special training about protection issues, are involved to make sure children are in fact handed over to their real relatives or guardians. The activity is implemented mainly through multi-media mobile units, using vehicles to drive around the camp making announcements when a child is lost. The child's parents or guardians are asked to present themselves to the police station to collect the child. Children may also stay overnight at a facility run by the church when parents don’t show up by nightfall. Lost children are also announced during the live broadcasts in the camp, taking advantage of the gathered crowd, and sometimes, as was the case with Lídia, the case is quickly resolved, and the child is happily reunified with its parents.
For Lídia, and for everyone else who saw her frantic cries that day, this was a good day that ended well.
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