Taking care of children in crisis situations

What we learned from the catastrophic flooding in Croatia and the region

Marina Knežević Barišić
Ariana (11) u igraonici Ganja u Gunji
UNICEF/Knežević Barišić
09 September 2019

Arianna (11) and Leon (6) visit the play centre Ganja in Gunja, whose work is supported by UNICEF. They spend quality time there and every day they learn something new and useful. Arianna spends a lot of time in Ganja: “I arrive at Ganja at around 10, I stay there until 1 pm and then I go home. I am bored at home, so I go to Ganja again. I always come to Ganja when I’m bored, because it is nice here, and I just love to draw. I like to read, too, and the book I like the most is “Sleeping Beauty”. I have four sisters, I’m the fifth, and my brother is number six.” Arianna tells us all this in a single breath. Leon also often visits Ganja. When we visited, they were learning how to protect themselves from fire. Leon and all the other children have learned how to prevent fire through their behaviour, but also what can cause fire. “There can be a fire if you go to the store and leave the oven on. You return and there is a fire. Then we have to call the firemen on 112 or 193,” Leon tells us. Both Arianna and Leon visit Ganja daily.

mali dječak u igraonici Ganja u Gunji
UNICEF/Knežević Barišić

 After this part of the country was exposed to unprecedented flooding, Ganja was a refuge for children who needed a safe place to play while their region fought the consequences of this big natural disaster. Arianna remembers the flooding well. “We were at home and we knew nothing. Dad thought that there would only be a little water, but then my uncle called and told mum we had to leave the house. Dad saw the water coming and we got on a bus. It was horrible to see water coming. When we returned home, everything was full of mud. We all helped clean up. For a long time, we lived in a container settlement.” Children in Gunja were forced to learn a lot about flooding.

“Flooding happens when the dam breaks and then there is a flood. Then it looks like a bathtub, only it is bigger than a little bathtub. Then firemen pump water, I saw them do it. And you have to fill the dam with gravel, so that the water cannot enter. There was flooding here in Gunja. It was horrible, but not too much. I was safe. I went to sleep in Zagreb,” six-year-old Leon told us. He also told us proudly that he knew a lot about earthquakes, too: “It’s when the earth shakes and then the paths or roads break. They can be fixed with tape when they break. Sometimes there is thunder before an earthquake. I saw it on TV, in a cartoon. It was not horrible because it was only a cartoon, but in Japan there are earthquakes and people must be afraid there. There are no earthquakes here.”

igračka u igraonici
UNICEF/Knežević Barišić

Still, the same as flooding, earthquakes and numerous other disasters (droughts, violent storms, landslides and other catastrophes) can happen in Croatia, too. In order to make sure that in such situations the most vulnerable amongst us are also the most strengthened group, we launch educational activities to prepare children for crisis situations, so that they know how to protect and save themselves. Natural catastrophes happen, but how we react is our responsibility. By learning about risks, protection and rescue, dangers can be reduced and we and others can be protected.