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Child-friendly centres help young victims of floods and conflict in north-western Pakistan

By Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani

KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA PROVINCE, Pakistan, 29 November 2010 – The floodwaters may have receded in Dera Ishmail Khan district’s Band Koray village, but the troubles of families returning home have multiplied. Here in north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the situation remains dire for millions who have lost what little they had.

VIDEO: 15 November 2010 - UNICEF correspondent Priyanka Pruthi reports on UNICEF-supported child-friendly centres that are helping young victims of floods and conflict to cope in north-western Pakistan.  Watch in RealPlayer


The family of Salma, 5, and Misbah Uddin, 11 – like so many other families in the village – have come back to find that their house was completely razed in the recent monsoon floods here.

“Nothing is left. All our belongings are buried under the rubble,” says Misbah Uddin. “My cricket bat, my sister’s dolls – everything is destroyed. Our books and bags are badly damaged and unusable.”

Victims of conflict and floods

Sadly, losing everything is nothing new for the children and their family. Just a year and a half ago, they fled from their ancestral village in neighbouring, conflict-stricken South Waziristan. A relative who is a well-to-do farmer in Dera Ismail Khan gave them refuge.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Shandana
The mud house where Salma (right) and Misbah Uddin lived with their family in Band Koray village, located in north-western Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, was destroyed by flash floods.

“My husband was killed during the conflict last year. We had to flee our home to save the children,” says Ruqiya Bibi, mother of Salma and Misbah Uddin. “Now the floods have devastated us. The suffering which we have experienced during the last two years, no one should go through it,” she adds tearfully.

“I want to build back my house so that my mother and sister can live safely again”, says Misbah Uddin, “I also want to resume my studies.” But at the moment, both these wishes stay unfulfilled.

A protective environment

Misbah Uddin and Salma have not been to school since fleeing their home village, as the nearest school in almost an hour’s walk from their relative’s land. The only opportunity to get basic education and play in a safe and protective environment has been provided by the UNICEF-supported child-friendly centre established in the area last year for displaced children from South Waziristan.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Shandana
Child psychologist Sajjid Gul plays with Salma and her friends , at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly centre in Band Koray, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan.

Although the centre was badly damaged by the floods, “as soon as the water receded the community built one room on a self-help basis and wanted us to resume our services as soon as possible,” says Sanobar Gul, Child Protection Monitor for Khwendo Kor, a non-governmental organization and UNICEF partner in the area.

The NGO has been providing services to nearly 500 families who arrived here from South Waziristan. “Child-protection services and community-monitoring networks were already well established in the area before the floods. This helped in preventing separation of children … as families had to rush out to escape from gushing floodwaters,” says Ms. Gul. “We are helping them, especially children and women, to rebuild their lives.”

Relief from ‘double trauma’

Sajjid Gul, a child psychologist with Khwendo Kor, works at the child-friendly centre and sees the terrible impact of conflict and floods on vulnerable boys and girls.

“These children have suffered double trauma and need our support,” he says. “Children like Salma, who has lost her father in armed conflict, and now the family has been severally affected by the floods, are in dire need of psychosocial support and a safe environment for learning and recreational activities to overcome these traumatic experiences.”

UNICEF and its partners are working hard to address key child protection issues in both conflict- and flood-affected areas of north-western Pakistan. A critical part of this effort has involved setting up hundreds of child-friendly centres, like the one in Band Koray village, that help restore some measure of normalcy to young lives once again.

“As school is far away from here, my sister and I love coming to the centre,” says Misbah Uddin. “We forget our miseries and learn and play with our friends.”



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