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Child Friendly Spaces in the camps offer quake-affected children creative play and a chance to leave trauma behind

© UNICEF/0001/Chawdury
Abda, 8, is one of the more than a million Pakistani children affected by the earthquake in Pakistan

By Julia Spry-Leverton with field research by Zafrion Chowdhury, Shamsuddin Ahmed, Javier Marroquin and A.Sami Malik

Abda, 8, is one of the more than a million Pakistani children affected by the earthquake which shook and devastated a swathe of the country’s northern areas on October 8, 2005. Her story - her mother and sister killed in the disaster, the aunt who now takes care of her and her own four children widowed and injured – is a typical one, indicative of the degree of suffering being experienced by many, many children as the weeks of aftermath turn into months.

“Abda talks very little since the earthquake – she doesn’t seem interested in going to the camp school or to play. She often cries for her mother and little sister,” says Akbarbi, her grandmother. Peering out from the smoke-filled interior of their tent in Hasnabad camp in Bagh town in Pakistan administered Kashmir she says, “I have seen a lot in my long life, but never such devastation. I have no idea how we are going to live our life.”   

All over the quake-hit areas UNICEF Protection Officers and partners are on the look out for children like Abda, alert to the symptoms of distress and disturbance that are revealed in situations like hers, when the adult carers too, are experiencing despair at the desperately difficult situations they find themselves in.

At Hassa camp a Protection worker from one partner agency, Hamida Bibi says, “Children are scared; even after these months they remember what happened.” While over in Bagh, talking about the adults, UNICEF Protection Officer Mannan Rana  joins in to say, “There is critical need for psychosocial support: people are reeling from the trauma the quake’s left behind. They did not get a chance to grieve – they were rushed to pick up the pieces of their lives and have had to struggle to survive.”

Orphans, unaccompanied children, children who lost family members and those sustaining physical injury are assessed as those most in need, as psychosocial interventions are set in place by UNICEF and partners across the affected region. Setting up Child Protection Centres, working with the Government’s Social Welfare department and NGO partners such as Save the Children UK (SCF UK) and Basic Education and Employable Skills Training (BEST), has been a key UNICEF activity. Across the earthquake-affected areas soon there will be more than 100 such Centres operational.

© UNICEF/PAKA01225D/Sami
Children between 3 to 5 years of age in a Child Friendly Space at the Banda Sahib Khan camp

At the Banda Sahib Khan camp in NWFP there are two new Centres recently opened, functioning out of white tents which have bright yellow cotton interior linings, festooned with colourful drawings and charts. The 3-5 year olds come in the morning and, such is the demand from the adolescent group, that two shifts are needed in the afternoon. Almost 650 children are benefiting from the sessions. Saadia, 3, is an example of the impact the Centre can make in a traumatised child’s life. Just over two weeks after she started coming to the Centre she has changed from a withdrawn, silent child to a little girl taking a keen interest in sharing all the varied play activities, with occasionally, even a shy smile breaking through to demonstrate her appreciation.

“We need to help partner agencies by training them to provide the emotional support needed by affected children, as well as to their parents. It’s important that protection workers can identify and work with mothers in particular, since children’s mental health depends very largely on their parents’ ,” notes Cris Ratiner of UNICEF.

To ensure high quality care and a trained cadre of personnel to maintain the work in the months to come Ratiner has collaborated with partner NGOs such as Save the Children UK, Terre des Hommes and International Rescue Committee (IRC) to set guidelines, train their officers and community volunteers in the Centres to identify symptoms in affected children, and to ensure professional help from psychologists is made available to those who need it.  Collaborating with WHO, two trainings have been given in the earthquake areas, at which 150 partner organization and Social Welfare department personnel discussed child development and the importance of play and recreation.

At Kashkra camp in NWFP  another Protection worker, Noor-ul-Ain Pervez has started her group of thirty children by seating them in circles on the colourful woven mats to colour in cartoons with crayons. She says, “If these children are free 24 hours a day they start thinking again about the earthquake.” Meanwhile Hamida Bibi is taking her group through the morning religious chants and follows this with some games and then storytelling - which she describes as the most sucessful moment of the day, noting, “I read from the books that come from the UNICEF School in a box kit.” “I like the teacher” reports Nazish, 7, pointing at Hamida “I like coming here because I have lots of friends now.”





Photo Essay

A photo essay about the Child Friendly Spaces established with UNICEF support in the Banda Sahib Khan camp can be seen by clicking the link below.
[View photo essay]

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