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Making friendly spaces for Venezuelan children

Making friendly spaces for Venezuelan children in Trinidad and Tobago  

by Heather Stewart

UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Child Protection Specialist

TRINIDAD, 8 March 2019 - Happy and relaxed children, having fun making carnival masks. This was the scene that greeted me when I recently visited the child friendly space in Arima, Trinidad and Tobago, which is being supported by the Living Water Community and UNICEF. The space, in a church, has been set up to ensure that Venezuelan children seeking sanctuary in that area of Trinidad have somewhere to go which feels secure, and allows them to interact with their peers while developing practical skills such as learning English. Two such spaces are available at present, with another three soon to be opened.  

The atmosphere in Arima was calm but busy as the facilitators, two of whom themselves come from the Venezuelan community, guided the activities of the 18 or so children in two age-appropriate classes. I spoke to one young man, a very confident 13-year-old with great English, who told me that he had come to Trinidad with his family, to flee the chaos in Venezuela. He is a little torn: sometimes he embraces his new home, sometimes he feels sad about what he has left behind.

Facilitators know that things are not easy for these young people and all have been trained in the Return to Happiness programme which offers children the chance to work through any crisis using play, drama, prose and poetry. They also work to help them integrate into the host community.

This seems to have been successful in Arima where Venezuelans appear to have been welcomed and embraced. Some faith-based organizations offer services in both English and Spanish. Such acceptance is not the case everywhere…

What do we need to improve? When talking to parents, the issue of extending the hours of the child friendly spaces was mentioned: they should be open throughout the day rather than just in the morning. And there is the much bigger question of access to formal education which child friendly spaces are not designed to provide. A number of partners are discussing how best to open temporary learning spaces both for those who can remain in their adopted home and for those planning to go back to Venezuela.

Plenty to do then, but for the moment, I feel heartened that we are giving vital support to people who are on the move: with children protected, stimulated - and just being children.  





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