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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

UNICEF’s child-friendly spaces use movement and dance to help children heal

© UNICEF/HQ07-1851/Noorani
A boy dances to a popular song in front of a crowd of children at a UNICEF-supported child-friendly centre in Barguna District, Bangladesh. The centres were set up to help those affected by Cyclone Sidr.

By Quinn Lundberg

NEW YORK, USA, 21 July 2008 – The tragedies of war and natural disasters leave children struggling to cope with deep psychological wounds. One of the ways that UNICEF and other organizations have helped to alleviate children’s emotional scars is through dance and movement.

UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Amanda Melville views movement and dance as a way for children to reconnect to their normal lives after emergencies.

“It can be a way of getting people back in touch with what’s happening in their bodies, but also a way of releasing some of that stress,” she said. Dance and movement have been shown to alleviate symptoms of aggression, anxiety and depression.

Preserving cultural traditions

In addition to providing children with opportunities to draw, sing and perform in plays and skits, UNICEF-supported child-friendly spaces in post-emergency situations around the world make use of movement and dance. Such programmes emphasize the importance of helping communities retain and strengthen their cultural traditions.

© UNICEF/HQ05-1811/Pirozzi
Girls and boys dance outdoors at a UNICEF-supported summer camp for vulnerable children in the village of Vasyshchevo, in Ukraine. The children include orphans and second-generation victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

“We have to validate and base our work with movement and dance on the local traditions as a starting point, and that’s really important,” said Ms. Melville. “If we want to connect with something that is meaningful for the children in those situations, you have to start from where their traditions are coming from.

“Very often, what you see is that cultural traditions such as dance get disturbed or disrupted by the emergency,” she added.

Means of expression

At the same time, dance and movement can transcend cultural boundaries to offer a universal language for children to express their pain. Even children who are unable to communicate verbally can often express themselves through dance in a safe environment.

Through the use of dance and movement in child-friendly spaces – informed by more than 60 years of experience by psychiatrists and psychotherapists using movement as a therapeutic tool – UNICEF hopes to provide children in distress with an alternative to their isolation and a way to reclaim their childhood.




July 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Quinn Lundberg reports on the healing capabilities of integrating movement and dance into treatment for children affected by war or natural disasters.
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