In northern Pakistan, ‘child-friendly spaces’ help young quake survivors heal

UNICEF Image: Pakistan, Earthquake
© UNICEF Pakistan/2006/Zaidi
Children come out to play at a child-friendly centre in the quake-affected village of Nilly Shung near Battagram, in Pakistan’s mountainous North West Frontier Province.

By Sabine Dolan

NORTH WEST FRONTIER PROVINCE, Pakistan, 1 November 2006 – As Britain's Prince Charles pays a highly publicized visit to earthquake-affected communities of Pakistan-administered Kashmir today, quake survivors there and in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) continue their struggle to resume a normal life.

Humanitarian relief groups are welcoming the royal visit, which has brought global media attention back to the effects of the October 2005 disaster. More than a year after the earthquake struck, thousands of children and their families are still living under very challenging conditions in camps for the displaced.

At one camp in the town of Jabba, NWFP, children of various ages recently came together to play ball in the camp’s dedicated play area. This ‘child-friendly space’ is the only place where they can take part in recreational and educational activities.

Playing and learning – simple ideas that have been terribly absent from these children’s daily lives.

Children’s emotional scars

In the nearby district of Battagram, Shabir, 9, says he likes to go to his village’s child-friendly space. “I usually come here to play. I also study but I’m more interested in playing,” he enthuses.

Throughout Pakistan’s quake zone, children bear emotional scars from experiencing the tragedy, which killed some 75,000 people and displaced millions. Many, like Shabir, remain afraid of another earthquake. “I’m scared,” he says. “My house was completely destroyed and we haven’t been able to rebuild it since.”

To assist children in the months after the quake, UNICEF and its partners set up child-friendly spaces throughout the hardest hit-areas – many in very remote communities.

The spaces give children a chance to “get together and play, and have some normalcy in their lives,” explains the UNICEF Representative in Pakistan’s quake-affected Mansehra District, Alhaji Bah. Fifty of 75 planned child-friendly spaces have been completed in partnerships with the social welfare authorities and local non-governmental organizations, adds Mr. Bah.

UNICEF Image: Pakistan, Earthquake
© UNICEF Pakistan/2006/Zaidi
A girl plays with a balloon at a child-friendly centre in Nilly Shung. At the centres, children can play, listen to stories, draw and learn new skills.

Learning new skills

And child-friendly spaces have been useful in monitoring children’s emotional states in the aftermath of the disaster. The children who are most seriously affected and need individual treatment have been referred to specialists.

At the centres that house child-friendly spaces, children take part in a range of activities designed to boost their self-esteem. They’re encouraged to interact with their peers and to play, listen to stories, draw and learn new skills.

“We teach the girls flower-making, arts and crafts, cutting and stitching clothes,” says Sobia, who has been teaching for seven months at the child-friendly space in Gandhia village near Mansehra. “We also teach the younger children essential skills like the alphabet and counting.”

Transition to school

Sobia notes that in mountain villages like Gandhia, not all children go to school. For these pupils, child-friendly spaces provide basic knowledge and sometimes serve as a transition to formal schooling.

Back in Battagram, Shabir doesn’t attend school, but he has learned the alphabet and counting, as well as other practical skills, at the child-friendly space. “I have learned everything here like counting, drawing, cutting my nails, cleaning my teeth and combing my hair,” he says.

Child-friendly spaces both recognize and address the unique psychological needs of vulnerable children and their families – providing them with an opportunity to recover and rebuild their lives.




22 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on ‘child-friendly spaces’ in areas of Pakistan affected by the October 2005 earthquake.
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