Art and puppet theatre provide relief for child survivors of Pakistan quake
By Kitty Logan
BALAKOT, Pakistan, 9 March 2006 – Here in northern Pakistan, the children of Balakot have suffered a great deal. First there was the earthquake that killed more than 80,000 people and left millions homeless in the region last October. Then came the freezing winter and miserable conditions in tent camps for the displaced.
With the impending arrival of spring, however, life is no longer just about surviving. It is time to begin putting smiles back on the faces of the children.
Nine-year-old Nasreen witnessed the horrors of the earthquake firsthand. She and her family left their devastated mountain village behind and travelled a long way to find a shelter. In the camp where they are now staying, Nasreen spends most of her time at the UNICEF-supported child centre, site of a special pilot project designed by UNICEF and its implementing partner, Masquad, to help young survivors cope with emotional stress.
“It will take them a long time to recover and come out of the trauma,” says Programme Manager Mahwish Shaukat. “Slowly, we encourage them to express themselves, to say whatever they are feeling.”
Not just fun and games
One way for children to express their fears and emotions is by drawing. “My teacher says when I feel angry I should scribble on paper, to take away my frustration,” explains Nasreen as she scribbles away.
Children at the centre are also encouraged to create and perform plays using puppets. The puppet shows are not just fun and games; they provide psychological support and contain useful messages about daily life, such as good hygiene practices.
Sameira, 10, is busy writing a script with a group of boys and girls. “The play is about a sick girl,” explains Sameira. “She has to attack the bad germs so she isn’t sick anymore. It teaches us to stay healthy.”
The puppet theatre programme is still in its beginning stages. The children will soon take their plays out of the classroom to perform in public, reaching other young earthquake survivors who desperately need something more cheerful in their lives – and helping them to smile again.