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UNICEF to set up ‘child-friendly spaces’ in the Sichuan earthquake zone

© UNICEF/China/Diego Herrero
Children enjoy their class break by skipping rope on the playground in the temporary summer school at the resettlement camp in Anchang Township, near Mianyang City, Sichuan.

By Dale Rutstein

BEIJING, China, 11 August 2008 - UNICEF will work with the government of China to set up 30 centres for the long-term psychological recovery of children and families affected by the 12 May earthquake. To that end, intensive training and basic facilities are being provided to local partners and social workers.

By the end of August, a number of these ‘child-friendly spaces’ are expected to be up and running in the worst affected areas in Sichuan province, such as Beichuan, Anxian, Pingwu, Qingchuan, Mianzhu and Jiangyou.

"UNICEF is committed to offer support as long as it is needed," said UNICEF Chief of Child Rights Ms. Kirsten Di Martino. "Children are very resilient and most of them can recover with the help of psychosocial support.”

Life after the earthquake

Many children in the worst-affected areas are still traumatized by their experiences during the earthquake, UNICEF's field assessment has found.

"My granddaughter looks quite fine, but I know she is under great pressure. She cried secretly under the quilt at night," said Guo Yixiu from Beichuan County, one of the worst-hit areas in Sichuan province.

Her granddaughter was one of the survivors of a collapsed school.

"It is difficult to talk about our experiences with other people, because they can't help us, and retelling our stories makes us feel worse," said Yang Yan, a mother who lost her elder daughter in the collapse of the Beichuan Middle School, in which roughly 1200 teachers and students lost their lives.

"We are now very concerned about vulnerable groups such as separated or unaccompanied children, parents who lost their children, the injured, the disabled and the elderly," said Ms. Di Martino.

Creating child-friendly spaces

UNICEF has already provided basic facilities such as tents, prefabricated rooms, toys, books, sanitation equipment and the like to local partners to aid in the set up of child-friendly spaces inside relocation communities.

UNICEF is also offering training to the locally hired staff, as well as to the community volunteers who will provide for the long-term needs of the affected children.

In the child-friendly spaces, children will be able to join together in group activities such as playing games, singing, dancing and painting. This will help them to bond with each other, and to feel that they are safe and not alone.

Such activities will also help the trained workers identify those children showing signs of more serious trauma, so that they can be  provided with more specific forms of support.



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