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UNICEF demonstrates Riskland in Oro

© UNICEF PNG/Chambers/2012

By Noreen Chambers

July 2012, Popondetta, Papua New Guinea: Often described as a cowboy town, it was with much apprehension that my two UNICEF colleagues and I set off to the provincial capital of Northern Province, Popondetta, on July 10 this year.

Popondetta earned the name ‘cowboy town’ following a rise in criminal activity in recent years and so we were apprehensive about our safety, especially when counting for the 2012 national elections were being carried out at the same time.

My colleagues, (UNICEF Officers for Child Protection, Hennie Kama, and Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD), Cathy Patuvii) and I were in Popondetta to introduce the Riskland Game to teachers and students in primary schools.

On our way into town after arriving in Popondetta, we came across the first poignant reminder of Popondetta’s vulnerability to flooding disasters. Girua River, the gateway and only link to Popondetta town from the airport remains a wet-crossing, five years after flood waters completely destroyed and swept away its bridge in one of the Provinces worst flooding disaster.

In 2007, category 3 severe tropical Cyclone Guba ravaged parts of Oro Province. Up to 56 bridges and culverts and 2000 homes in the province were completely destroyed, 9,500 people displaced, 149 people died and 58,000 needed assistance. UNICEF participated in an initial needs assessment and provided emergency supplies to flood victims. Two years after Cyclone Guba wreaked havoc, the province was struck with another flooding disaster due to continuous rain and a couple more bridges washed away.

When we visit our first school - Sorovi Primary School - the next day, Head Teacher, Letercia Genau keenly organises all her teachers in the school library for an in-service training that UNICEF ECCD Officer, Cathy provides. The training is important because it helps teachers to understand how to integrate Riskland into the school curriculum and lessons to make it more meaningful.

Carson Erari, Head Teacher of Sangara Primary School, our second school, on the outskirts of Popondetta explains to us that the school with 453 students is in a red zone area. The schools proximity to Mt. Lamington, now a dormant volcano, but one that last erupted in 1951 and killed some four thousand people, makes it very important for his students to learn about disaster risk management and reduction. Locals feel tremors from time to time and are wary the volcano is a sitting time bomb.

Fourth grader, 13-year-old Annlyn Tigaripa, one of the first students to trial the game at Sangara Primary School is excited about the game. “I like the game and I think we will learn a lot of things about disasters. We have a lot of flooding so I want to play this game and know more about disasters,” Annlyn explains as she plays Riskland.

Our third school, Eroro Primary School received the brunt of Cyclone Gubas destruction. All the classrooms and most teachers’ houses were completely destroyed when flood waters inundated the plains where the school was located. The ruined remains of a teachers house stands as a testimony of Cyclone Gubas rage.

Fifteen-year-old sixth graders Gwenda and Jelilah Kasawa are cousins who have vivid memories of the destruction caused to family homes and gardens by the cyclone. “We were in Elementary 1 when the flood came. Our fathers told us to go up the mountain because the flood spoilt our houses and gardens. We live in the mountains now because we are scared to come back to the flat land. We stayed away from school for six months then,” Gwenda recalls.

“This game is interesting. It is fun and I think we will learn useful information about things we can do to help ourselves if a disaster happens,” Jelilah adds.

Acting Head Teacher, Robson Robinson is pleased his school is one of the first schools to trial the game. “We need this kind of information for ourselves and our communities and I’m happy Eroro Primary School was selected to trial this game.”

At St Andrews Ijika Primary School, our last school visit, the enthusiasm to play Riskland gains momentum as the students get the hang of the game.

Riskland, an educational board game focused on disaster prevention targets lower primary school students and is aimed at providing an understanding about disaster risks and preparedness. This game was first developed by the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction of the United Nations for children in Latin America and the Carribbean. UNICEF adapted the game to the Papua New Guinea context for Papua New Guinean students.

Children can play a very important role to help reduce the impact of disasters and Riskland is a great learning tool that encourages students to take preventive measures. Riskland can help establish a ‘culture of prevention’ both through action and new attitudes. This means that when students become adults, they will have a greater understanding of risks that increase hazards and natural disasters and the effects of human actions that have negative consequences on the environment and can take actions to reduce and prevent these.

Popondetta is prone to earthquake, volcano and flooding disasters so it was selected as the first
Deputy Provincial Administrator for the province, Tako Gwae says changed weather patterns are affecting the province in negative ways. “Climatic changes are having a lot of impact on our weather patterns and flooding is unfortunately becoming a norm these days,” Gwae explains.

As we head back to the airport, we realise our anxiety for our safety in the cowboy town was needless. Any apprehension we travelled with to Popondetta was allayed by the warm and friendly reception that we received from the Provincial Administration and at each school.

Sangara Primary School
© UNICEF PNG/Chambers/2012
Sangara Primary school teachers, Taiva Raepa and Dianne Samoak play Riskland with UNICEF Child Protection Officer, Hennie Kama.



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