New toys, new friends and a new start
Naghma finds fun and healing in a UNICEF child-friendly space after the June earthquake in Afghanistan
GAYAN, AFGHANISTAN – “I am here!” Naghma called. “I am afraid!”
A few moments prior, Naghma’s house shook violently as a powerful earthquake rippled through her little village. She had been sleeping, but woke up crying and hugged her knees to her chest. She could see nothing in the black night.
“I started to cry and felt frozen in place,” she recalls. “My siblings were in another room. Their ceiling collapsed and I did not know what was happening anymore.”
6-year-old Naghma would come to learn that the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that rattled her family’s walls had also devastated the community around her. In the early hours of 22 June, powerful quake shook three districts in Paktika and Khost Provinces in the southeast, killing over 1,000 people and injuring over 3,600.
“I think I fainted when the roof collapsed,” Naghma says, unsure. “And when I woke up, I could see my uncle. He called to me repeatedly, ‘Naghma, are you alive?’”
There were tears in Naghma’s eyes as she called to him from under the rubble, “I’m here! And I am afraid!”
Naghma’s uncle pulled her from under the bricks, mud and wood beams. She cried, insisting that her mother and father had been right there next to her. They searched for her parents and rescued her mother, injured, but alive. Her father was killed in the collapse.
“Every day I felt so sad. I was afraid the earthquake would come again and take the rest of my family.”
Naghma brightens a bit, remembering a detail from the last few weeks.
“After five days of feeling sad, I remember that I saw people from UNICEF in my village. They were putting up tents, and there were lots of toys inside,” she says. “They had created something like a classroom for us and enrolled me there.”
Now each morning, Naghma wakes up early, throws a bright scarf around her hair, and runs to the new child-friendly space. Here she is surrounded by puzzles, games, coloring books and pencils, and dozens of other children to play with.
With funding support from the German Committee for UNICEF and the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), UNICEF supports 12 child-friendly spaces in Paktika and Khost, like the one where Naghma enrolled. These spaces provide a safe, stimulating, and healing environment for children affected trauma, helping restore a sense of normality to their disrupted lives.
“We get to learn poetry, painting, the alphabet…” Naghma smiles, emphasizing again with a smile, “…and there are a lot of toys.”
Naghma’s family is still feeling from the loss of her father, and Naghma had been feeling quite depressed since the earthquake. But Naghma’s mother, Zarghona, noticed small glimmers of positivity in her daughter.
“She is much happier since UNICEF opened these spaces,” says Zarghona.
Within the child-friendly spaces, UNICEF is also placing social workers to provide crisis counselling and mental health support to Naghma and her new friends.
“I feel happy here, and I feel better because I am learning,” says Naghma.
“My friends here make me laugh, and we get to play and read,” she says, emphasizing again, “Now I feel better.”