How to overcome sadness, boredom, viruses and other stuff!

Grandma’s letter to children in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Angela Hawke
Grandma's letter
UNICEF/Goran Djemidzic, 2020.
13 May 2020

“Here I am sitting in my apartment. Grandpa and I must not go out because there’s a virus on the loose out there. The doctor told me I can’t come to see you. I have to listen to him. That’s why I’m writing you this letter. I want to tell you some important things…”

 

‘Grandma’s Letter’ has reached children across Bosnia and Herzegovina ever since the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from meeting their grandparents in person. Offering both vital information and words of comfort, the easy-to-read letter from a fictional grandmother, with its colourful illustrations, was developed by UNICEF in partnership with the country’s Associations of Parents of Children with Autism and Downs Syndrome.

In her letter, ‘Grandma’ explains why she can’t spend time with her grandchildren, using language that is easy for any youngster to follow, including those with disabilities.

“And why can’t we hang out with others anymore? If someone around you is coughing or sneezing, you can catch the virus, too. So, it’s better not to hang out with others until the doctors says it’s safe. I have one thing to ask of you! I need you to wash your hands every time you go to eat or touch something. While washing your hands, count to 20.”

This initiative builds on foundations that were in place long before the current crisis, like the partnerships with the Associations of Parents of Children with Autism and Downs Syndrome. As COVID-19 has made it impossible for their children to use the services they used regularly, from speech therapy to day-care, parents have mobilized their expert knowledge to help UNICEF produce information their children can use and enjoy.

It was the parents, for example, who suggested adapting existing guidance from the Down’s Syndrome Association on easy-to-read language. UNICEF took this guidance to Ferida Durakovic, a local writer and poet, asking her to craft a story to give children all the basic information they need about COVID-19. She created ‘Grandma’ and her draft was then checked and amended by parents to make sure that it would really work for their children.

Children and their mother reading a book
UNICEF/UN049473/Kapetanovic
Children and their mother read a book.

In her letter, ‘Grandma’ does not only tell children how to protect themselves and others from COVID-19: she has plenty of fun suggestions for children who are stuck indoors:

“Listen to music and dance, watch a good movie, draw your favourite heroes. Make a comic book about someone who is fighting the coronavirus! Read your favourite books or picture books. Keep a diary of everything you do during the day. Read it to your friend over the phone or Skype. Talk about how you’re feeling. Ask someone from your house to show you their childhood photos. Let them tell you about what happened in the photos.”

But she also knows that this is a strange and stressful time for children, and offers them plenty of reassurance: If you’re sad and worried, tell someone,” she urges them. “Cry if you need to, and get these feeling of sadness and worry out of you. It’s not embarrassing. I have a granddaughter who calls me when she’s worried. We have a long talk and she calms me down and I calm her down.”

‘Grandma’s Letter’ has proved so popular that it is now being used in Montenegro. Plans are also underway to translate it into Russian for use elsewhere in UNICEF’s Europe and Central Asia region, with the potential to reach millions more children and parents.

The letter features in the new Inclusive Corner web page created by UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here, all the key information on COVID-19 has been adapted to meet the needs of children with a range of disabilities. As well as easy-to-read materials, the web page features audio descriptions, sign language and video transcripts.

The web-page and its materials, including ‘Grandma’s Letter,’ have been produced with little or no funding and no studio facilities. UNICEF has drawn on the creativity of staff members and partners who are, like everyone else, working at home with very limited resources. Even so, UNICEF has ambitious plans for the web-page.

Letter's design
UNICEF/BiH

“At the moment, everything on the page relates to COVID-19,” says Dr Rownak Khan, UNICEF Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “But we are already looking ahead. Our goal is to adapt all of our materials, wherever possible, so that this page becomes the ‘go-to’ resource for children with disabilities and their families in Bosnia and Herzegovina, long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”

‘Grandma’s Letter’ also looks to the future, ending with a message of hope -- aimed at children, but also readers of every age:

“Once this is over, we’ll go to school, to the park, to the country again. We’ll be together again and I will hug you tight. I’ll congratulate you for being brave and staying safe and sound. Love, your grandma!”

 

You can read the letter here.