In earthquake-affected western Nepal, child-friendly spaces established with UNICEF support are offering a chance for children to heal from the psychosocial impact of the disaster
Jajarkot, Nepal: When western Nepal was rocked by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on 3 November, Sapana KC – who had been away from home and her two young sons at the time – could think of nothing else but rushing back to Nalgad Municipality in Jajarkot District as soon as she possibly could.
When she was finally reunited with her boys, eight-year-old Sanjog and 10-year-old Sandesh she found them in a state of utter distress.
“They could not stop crying, they kept telling me that they had almost died,” she says.
As the days wore on, and the family – owing to the damage caused by the earthquake to their house – began sleeping under a tent set up in their yard, Sapana observed some worrying behavior in her children.
“They become scared when it gets dark, and can’t sleep properly…they are too afraid something will happen,” she says. “They haven’t been eating well either, and they just seem very anxious, especially during the evenings and nights.”
“They were not like this – my boys used to be very active, alert. Now they are too afraid to be by themselves, even for a little while.”
Children are especially vulnerable to the emotional and psychological impacts of disasters. These events also disrupt their normal routines, leading to feelings of insecurity, fear and confusion, among others.
In this recent earthquake, as in most disasters, children were disproportionately impacted. UNICEF estimates out of 250,000 people affected in the seven hardest-hit municipalities of Jajarkot and Rukum West Districts, 80,000 are children.
Recognizing this widespread impact, and to help these children begin to heal, UNICEF began to map out severely-affected communities to establish child-friendly spaces. These spaces offer a safe, inclusive and stimulating environment where children can play, learn and receive psychosocial first aid from dedicated counsellors.
“These children have seen family members die, their houses being destroyed… it is a very traumatizing experience for a child,” says Dan Rono, Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF Nepal. “At the child-friendly spaces, we have deployed a team of social workers and counsellors to work directly with the children, using different methods such as group healing and play therapy.”
One such child-friendly space was set up in Nalgad itself, near Sapana’s home. On 8 November, UNICEF staff, together with representatives of partner organizations, worked to erect the tent where the child-friendly space would be based, bringing in the recreational kits – including toys and learning materials –for the children.
Sapana says that since the first time she took her boys to the space, they have been asking to go back again and again – and she feels relieved to see them so excited about something. “They say there are toys there, we want to go,” she says. “So, I’ve been sending them for the past few days.”
Here, Sandesh and Sanjog have been enjoying doing crafts and playing ball, meeting other children from the community and engaging in group activities.
Sapana hopes that being at the space more often, and around people who can support and counsel them, will bring her children out of the trauma they have experienced.
“I hope it will help them forget all this,” she says.
As of 13 November, with support from UNICEF and partners, 428 children (195 boys, 233 girls) are benefitting from seven child-friendly spaces set up in Jajarkot and Rukum West, with additional spaces in the process of being established. Learn more about the unfolding situation on the ground and updates on UNICEF’s efforts here: https://www.unicef.org/nepal/reports/nepal-earthquake-humanitarian-situation-reports