A moment of inner satisfaction
Following the Kermanshah earthquake of November 2017, in partnership with the IRCS Youth Organization, UNICEF Iran supported the IRCS Psychosocial Support (SAHAR) teams for provision of community-based psychosocial support
“A man committed suicide in the woods near the Park in sheer despair. The children witnessed the incident.” This is how Azita Sayyahi, a volunteer with the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS), described the living conditions of the survivors in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit Kermanshah Province in Iran in November 2017.
At least 630 people were killed, more than 12,386 injured, as well as almost 90,000 residential units partially or totally ruined, in what was the deadliest earthquake of 2017 in Iran.
Following a natural disaster, when parents’ priorities usually shift towards meeting the basic needs, children can become neglected and suffer from psychological and emotional trauma while living in unhealthy and hazardous conditions.
Children and their psychological needs were at the core of the joint UNICEF and IRCS cooperation. Following the Kermanshah earthquake of November 2017, in partnership with the IRCS Youth Organization, UNICEF Iran supported the IRCS Psychosocial Support (SAHAR) teams for provision of community-based psychosocial support (PSS) to the most-affected children and families.
Azita and her colleagues, as members of the IRCS Psychosocial Support volunteer teams, arrived in Sar-e Pol Zahab city in May 2018, after attending a training workshop organized jointly by UNICEF Iran and the IRCS on how to provide community-based psychosocial support to the affected population. Upon arrival in the city, Azita and other team members went to Neshat Park, a concentration point for the families who had lost their homes and were living in temporary tents and shelters.
“In the training workshop, we learned how to identify, prioritize and find solutions for the problems,” says Negar adding: “We were going to teach the affected people how to manage the solutions by themselves, how to tackle the issues without waiting for outside help.”
Four SAHAR teams were established to conduct community-based Psychosocial Support interventions in six selected communities i.e. Neshat Park (in Sar-e Pol Zahab) and five villages. The four SAHAR teams conducted assessments, mobilized communities, and established local teams to determine and implement appropriate interventions. The SAHAR teams worked from April to July 2018, with UNICEF providing technical support to supervision of the intervention. An estimated 6500 children and their families have benefitted from these interventions.
“At the beginning, mothers did not show up. Then we asked the children to gather around their parents for our sessions. This helped us a lot, as the children were very cooperative,” says Azita, “An adolescent girl named Zahra was very shy at the beginning but, after attending the counseling sessions, she became the person in charge of collecting signatures for the final notes.”
During the intervention, the quest to enhance the psychological conditions of the children turned into a collective campaign to tackle the root causes of problems and increase the welfare of the community.
“To solve the psychological problems of children, families learned to solve the general problems of the community in a collective manner. After finding solutions for their general problems such as sanitation, health, and water shortage, they felt more empowered to address the problems of children,” Azita added.
At the end, those who were in doubt about their capacities were empowered enough to take matters into their own hands and find solutions for the general, as well as children’s problems.
“At first, they asked us to provide water containers for the playground but, in the end, they themselves prepared the water containers and wrote collective letters to the officials demanding safety measures for the children,” says Azita.
And Negar continues with another example: “When one of the mothers tried to raise an issue and requested help, another mother told her: ‘We can solve it together. This is the day to say farewell and, from now on, we will handle the issues ourselves.” She remembers this conversation as “my moment of inner satisfaction.”