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Child friendly space gives Jagannath a voice

© UNICEF/BANA2011-00537/Mawa
Robin, 7, displays his artwork at a UNICEF-supported child friendly space at Old Dhaka on 9 May 2011.

By Vanessa Curney

Satkhira, Bangladesh, 8 February 2011: At first 11 year-old Jagannath Sarker didn’t want to go to the child friendly space. “He hasn’t spoken since he was a baby” says his mother, Namita Sarker. “He has always been self-centered and aloof, staying alone and dirty. And as well as always being sick, none of the medicines worked for him.” The floods that lashed through Satkhira (his home in the district town of Southern Bangladesh)last year triggered his own fear of water – but the floods also introduced assistance in the form of a UNICEF-supported temporary child friendly space which would soon impact positively on Jagannath’sown life.

The child friendly space (CFS) set up in Sathkhira to provide support for children for three to six months during and immediately after an emergency. Children face heightened risks in emergency and post-emergency contexts including child marriage, sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking. The spaces provide psychosocial support through play but also structured learning, sports, drama, art and music.

The educational activities support children’s critical thinking and cognitive development and, in some cases, prepare children to re-enter the formal classroom. For example, the Satkhira floods caused disruption to schoolchildren preparing for end of year examinations, but the child friendly spaces were able to provide stop-gap assistance in preparing the schoolchildren for those exams. The spaces are built in close proximity to government mainstream schools.

© UNICEF/2012/Khokan
(Right)JagannathSarker, 11 with his mother Namita.

Children also receive relevant life skills training for living in a post-emergency environment or to prepare them to deal with future emergencies.  Child friendly spaces also support children by providing direct access or referrals to health and social services.

At each child friendly space two teachers, one animator and a peer educator oversee age group specific activities. A paramedic is there for weekly checkups. A sports teacher, cultural teacher and child facilitator from the Bangladesh Shishu Academy also provide support.

Parents benefit too

After his initial reluctance, Jagannath joined the other children in the child friendly space activities. Over time, his parents began to notice changes in his behaviour and abilities: the friendly environment and engaging, creative activities and lessons were developing his mental and even physical growth. He started talking, addressing them as “mother” and “father”; he was asking for his favourite toys; he became good at the fine arts, producing amazing shapes and images out of clay. “He loves to be neat and clean, and enjoys nice relationships with the other children now” says his mother proudly.

Trained social workers interact regularly with the families of the children attending the child friendly spaces, strengthening their child care capacities by teaching them parenting skills. In addition, the child friendly spaces benefit parents by operating throughout the day for at least 6-8 hours, five days a week.



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