Adding colour to children’s lives
How UNICEF’s Safe Spaces for flood-affected children are giving them a reason to smile again
Naushero Feroz District, Sindh: “Until 2 months ago, I never had the chance to draw or paint. I didn’t have access to water paints, crayons or colour pencils at my school or home,” says 14-year-old Eman, who joined the newly opened Safe Space for children in her village – Janalo Khan.
Using art supplies is something that most children living in urban centres take for granted but for girls like Eman in this remote village, it’s a luxury. The densely populated village in Naushero Feroz District, Sindh is largely comprised of daily wage labourers who work in the fields or on construction projects in the nearby cities.
Located in a maze of narrow muddy roads, UNICEF’s Safe Space for Children funded by USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), is a beacon of joy and the only recreational place for girls and boys in this impoverished community.
“I come to the safe space daily with my sisters and we have a lot of fun. Sometimes, we use plasticine to make things and on other days we paint and draw. We are usually the first ones to come here and the last ones to leave,” shares Eman with a smile.
The adolescent girl’s exploration of art has brought colour back into her life, providing respite from the challenges she faced over the past year after devastating floods struck her village.
“It rained for a week and dozens of houses in the village collapsed. Cracks appeared in the walls of our house but thankfully they didn’t collapse. We continued living there because we had no place else to go. We prayed for the rain to stop,” recalls Eman.
Many families in Janalo Khan were displaced after the floods and spent months in nearby camps set up by the Government. While Eman’s family continued to live in their house, their village was inaccessible due to the flood water and there was a widespread shortage of essential commodities. Eating food once a day was the norm.
To make matters worse for children, the only school in the village was destroyed. It was closed for almost four months and reopened in January 2023. The children, especially girls, had few activities to occupy them.
“Some of my friends shifted to the camps while the rest of us in the village had nothing to do. I didn’t have any toys to play with and the difficulties brought by the flood often made me and my sisters cry,” shares Eman.
The situation eventually improved months later when the flood water receded. At the beginning of the year, the school reopened but when summer vacation approached, Eman anticipated getting bored at home again.
To her delight, the safe space was established in their community. Over the last two months, this centre has become a major attraction for all the children. Over 100 girls and boys attend each day to participate in arts and crafts activities and counselling sessions conducted by two facilitators. In a community where painful memories of the flood are still fresh, the vibrant artwork by the children is a testament to their strength and creativity, as they overcome this difficult chapter in their lives.
The safe space has been welcomed by parents in the community. Eman and her three younger sisters were the first ones to enroll. “I don’t like my girls loitering around in the streets in this scorching heat. The safe space has given them the opportunity to learn new skills without venturing out of the community,” said Naheed, Eman’s mother.
Over the past year, UNICEF has established nearly 520 safe spaces for children and adolescents in flood-affected areas with support from donors such as USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance. The aim is to help girls and boys of different ages, to cope with the stress they encountered by providing them with basic counselling and psychosocial support as well as structured recreational opportunities in the form of art activities to help them heal. Each centre has a recreational kit which includes art supplies as well as toys and jigsaw puzzles, according to age. The centres also sensitize the community including women, men, girls, boys, youths and key influencers about the perils of child marriage, child labour and other forms of abuse and exploitation. This helps raise awareness among children about crucial topics that often remain unaddressed in society.
“These children have been through a lot during the past year due to the floods. Some lost their homes while others lost their loved ones. The safe spaces give them an opportunity to forget about their painful memories and engage in creative activities which they enjoy. It’s important to let children be themselves, especially under challenging circumstances,’ says Nabia Farrah, UNICEF’s Child Protection Officer.