Harmony amidst challenges: Echoes of joy in an earthquake-stricken village
United by song and resilience, students in an earthquake-stricken village find solace amidst the challenges. Dedicated relief workers, with the support of UNICEF bring joy and hope to their young hearts.
In a small elementary school nestled amidst an earthquake-stricken village in Khoy County, Northwest Iran, the clouds above, despite their gloominess, appeared to reflect the resilience of the students, mirroring their happiness and contagious joy. Despite the challenging circumstances, a popular children's song resonated through the air, broadcasted from the speakers that had been set up in the courtyard. "I am merry, joyful, and filled with glee. I understand the value of this world, and I am grateful. I will laugh, clap my hands, stomp my feet, for I am youthful," echoed through the hearts of the children as they sang with beaming smiles on their faces and hand in hand with dedicated relief workers who had come to bring a moment of joy.
Nine-year-old Amirali, reflecting on the night the earthquake struck their village, shared his experience, saying, "when the earthquake happened, we were at my aunt's house. We got in the car and went to our own house and took our necessary belongings." Amirali and other children found themselves living in tents as their homes were deemed uninhabitable. This is where the Iranian Red Crescent Society’s (IRCS) psychosocial support (SAHAR) teams intervene.
As Mr Mohaddese Noormohammadi, a SAHAR team leader, puts it, “unfortunately, in earthquakes and major disasters, the focus tends to be on visible physical injuries, while other issues such as the mental well-being of children are often overlooked. This could lead to adverse future consequences for the community.”
Addressing the mental well-being of children affected by disasters constitutes an essential part of the collaboration between UNICEF and IRCS. Ms Noormohammadi explains their role, saying, "we are a group of volunteer psychologists who have completed a series of courses supported by UNICEF. The courses we have completed include psychological first aid and establishment of Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS). We utilised the learning from these trainings in our Khoy response. When we arrived, the shelters had already been set up, but all the children had very low spirits. Based on the training we received, we implemented a series of programmes to restore the morale of both the children and their parents."
The SAHAR teams, specialised in psychosocial support, swiftly initiated their interventions in temporary shelters following the earthquake. They continued their work weeks later as children returned to school. "The Red Crescent people celebrated for us. We played the train game. We played games and recited poems and songs. We played with balls. Then we went to class, and they gave us a prize," Amirali recounted with gratitude.
Amidst the joyful play and melodic singing in the schoolyard, yet another part of humanitarian support arrives. A truck unloads packages provided by UNICEF. These packages for mobile Child-Friendly Spaces included recreational and educational materials for thousands of students in the earthquake-hit areas. Specifically targeting children in remote areas, children with disabilities, and other marginalised groups, the mobile CFSs bring services to those who lack access to established fixed centres.
Trained and supported by UNICEF, SAHAR teams’ volunteers remain ready and available nationwide to identify vulnerable groups and extend their services to children and parents during disasters.