Flood emergency in Laos: A haven for happiness in Laos

Flood emergency in Laos: A haven for happiness in Laos

Simon Nazer
Laura, 6, smiles and looks at a volunteer teacher in a class activity in a Child Friendly Space
UNICEF Laos/2018/Simon

17 September 2018

For many children like 6-year-old Laura, the last month has been a distressing time. Huge floods in Southern Lao PDR triggered by a damn breaking have taken away her home and her parents’ livelihood, and her aunt remains missing. But today she is smiling again thanks to a new child friendly space in her camp that is bringing fun, games and learning to her each and every day.

“She’s really happy there, she never wants to leave,” says Laura’s mother while watching on. “As soon as she wakes up in the morning she asks to go right away.”

A fun game in a UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Space
UNICEF Laos/2018/Simon
Laura, 6, second right in light blue dress, takes part in a fun game in a UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Space in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.

The flood has affected over 13,000 people and left around a third of those in camps like Laura’s in remote Ban Bok. UNICEF and partners are working to deliver clean water, sanitation facilities, and non-food items such as hygiene kits, tarpaulins and medicines, among other things, to these hard-to-reach camps to help children and families stay safe and healthy. Nutrition screening of children in camps, treatment of malnutrition cases and promotion of exclusive breastfeeding are some of the priorities for UNICEF in the aftermath of the flash floods. 

UNICEF, with support from the Australian Government and USAID, UNICEF is working to provide a safe space for children to learn and play before they can go back to their schools. So far six child friendly spaces have been setup, supporting about 1,000 children.

Laura, 6, second from right, takes part in 'the mango game' in a UNICEF-supported child friendly space in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.
UNICEF Laos/2018/Simon
Laura, 6, second from right, takes part in 'the mango game' in a UNICEF-supported child friendly space in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.

For Laura, coming here is the highlight of her day. “I really, really like it,” she says while finishing a reading activity. “My favourite thing to do here is the mango game!”

Volunteer teacher Maliathone takes flood-affected children through a story telling activity in a UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Space, Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.
UNICEF Laos/2018/Simon
Volunteer teacher Maliathone takes flood-affected children through a story telling activity in a UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Space, Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.

Volunteer teachers like 21-year-old Malaithone spend around four hours a day with Laura and her friends, teaching them games and songs as well as taking them through counting and reading activities. 

“This is really good for children and it’s important to give them a safe space after all the problems,” she says. “I’m actually very happy to be here to help – I just graduated from teacher training and I’ll be here for as long as I’m needed.” 

In the child-friendly spaces set up in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu province, the 21-year-old volunteer teacher Malaihone was interacting with children affected in the flood.
UNICEF Laos/2018/Simon
In the child-friendly spaces set up in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu province, the 21-year-old volunteer teacher Malaihone was interacting with children affected in the flood. “Having this safe space is very good for families and children. Before this started kids would just be playing outside, in the forest or even around the waterfalls. It’s dangerous and lonely. This is a safe space for them to play and learn," said Malaithone.

“It was a distressing time for them,” continues Malaithone while preparing for another activity. “This helps take their minds off of what happened – it’s making them smile again.”

A safe space for every child affected by disaster

Laura is shy at first but Malaithone leads her and the others through a series of activities to help them relax and open up. Sure enough, after a few minutes of introductions Laura is dancing and playing with all the other children. 

“It’s difficult to stay in this camp, she misses her home,” explains Laura’s mother. “We don’t know how long we’ll be here and what the future holds. It’s hard here but I’m so thankful for this safe space for her to play and to help keep all the children happy.”

The tents are equipped with UNICEF’s School in a Box to help teachers bring the best out of children. “There are lots of materials in the box like books, blocks ad balls for games, colouring kits,” says Malaithone. “It’s very useful for us teachers and the children.”

Laura, 6, centre, take part in a reading activity in a UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Space in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.
UNICEF Laos/2018/Simon
Laura, 6, centre, take part in a reading activity in a UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Space in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.

Disasters such as these can have huge, long-term impacts on children’s mental well-being. This is why, with support from partners -  Save the Children, Plan International and Child Fund, under the leadership of the Ministry of Education and Sports and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, the volunteers are also trained to provide psychosocial support to the children and women affected by the flood.

This space will give Laura and the many affected children like her a better chance to move on from the disaster and to start learning, and smiling, again.

A UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Space in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.
UNICEF Laos/2018/Simon
A UNICEF-supported Child Friendly Space in Ban Bok camp, Attapeu, Lao PDR.