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Psychosocial support in Madagascar helps children heal from the effects of political crisis

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Psychosocial support helps students in Madagascar to express themselves while confronting and healing from the effects of political crisis.

By Guy Hubbard

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar, 2 December 2009 – The Indian Ocean island of Madagascar is a country in crisis. Since recent political unrest began this January, the country has been isolated and poverty among the people there has deepened.

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During weeks of rioting and violence, over 100 people were killed and thousands injured. The impact on the country – especially the youth – has been devastating.

In order to better understand what they had experienced, UNICEF and its partners conducted a study of 12,800 youth and children from all over capital. The results indicate that all the children were affected in one way or another – every youth surveyed had either suffered from, witnessed, or committed violence. 

Helping with trauma

Students at the Lycee Rabearivelo, a high school in the centre of the capital, were especially impacted. Rioting, looting and shooting took place right outside their school gates. Students bore witness to extreme violence and death and were often in fear for their own lives.

“I saw people looting shops and I, myself, was teargassed and it burned my eyes,” said one boy who asked not to be named. “I saw the security forces shooting. It felt like a movie. I saw many, many dead people outside the shops… I saw a pregnant woman who had been shot dead and I can’t get the image out of my mind.”

UNICEF has been working hard to help with the emotional and psychological trauma suffered by children. It is part of an effort to make sure their rights to be protected against all form of exploitation, especially violence and abuse, as outlined in article 36 of the Convention on the Rights of the child, are met.

Psychosocial support

The organization’s education and child protection sectors have supported the training of social workers and the implementation of psychosocial support to both primary and secondary schools.

“The main goal of the psychosocial support is to help students to express their emotions, their feelings and to help the with their school work. Social workers do individual counseling with the students who were individual victims of violence,” said Head Social Worker Norotiana Jeannoda Randimbiarison.

Ms. Randimbiarison adapts sessions according to students’ age. They express themselves through drawing, writing and singing.

Amazing results

According to Ms. Randimbiarison, the results have been amazing: “After the psychosocial support we asked the students to evaluate [the programme]. 90 per cent of them felt that it had really helped them. Many of them said they are now much happier and we see it in their faces, in their actions.”

Over 33,000 children from 60 different schools throughout the country were assisted between April and August.

Child-friendly spaces have also been reinforced and developed throughout Antananarivo, giving preschool children a safe place to play and learn, away from the potentially volatile streets. The children are supervised and given toys, games and musical instruments to play with.

Interventions like these are helping Madagascar’s children and youth heal from the traumatic effects of violence and return to normalcy.




July 2009:
UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on how children are healing from political crisis in Madagascar.
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