Happiness is returning to boys and girls in the community of La Barquita
© UNICEF RD/L.Gonzalez/2008
A visit to La Barquita, North Santo Domingo
Some time has passed since tropical storm Noel flooded a significant part of this poor and very vulnerable barrio, affecting about 200 families that within a few hours, were left without a home and with a lot of their belongings damaged or taken away by floodwaters.
Today we go back to this neighborhood, following a group of adolescents who, as if they were some sort of “Pied Piper of Hamelin” call out through their megaphones so that the children follow them to an empty field. Here they make the most of the shade offered by some trees, and meet to continue applying play therapy of the “Return of Happiness” project.
In an open space next to the Isabela river that has been cleaned and prepared with the support of the local Mayor, we find five groups of children between 5 and 12 years of age doing different kind of activities: some are making masks, others are painting a flag, others are making puppets, and the older ones are competing in a race.
There is a lot of noise and, if somebody just passes by without knowing what is happening there, they might think that children are just playing. But if you look closer, you can see that each group has about 20 boys and girls, two play therapists that are cheering them up, and one more that observes and takes notes of everything that is happening in order to identify and register possible symptoms of psycho-emotional trauma.
George Arias, 18, lives in the neighborhood and was affected by the storm himself, but he and other teenagers have joined in the voluntary work of “Return of Happiness”. “Actually, one feels good, in comparison to the children that need help”, he says. He is one of the play therapists who are animating the group of 8-11 year old children. “It is important to be there when someone needs some orientation and guidance so that they do not waste their lives”, he adds with enthusiasm.
Around him, his companions are trying to have some order and one of the therapists shouts “Yes, yes, yes”, trying to get some attention from everyone to form a line, but the restless boys and girls answer “No, no, no”…and we can see that it is not that easy to control the children’s energy, in a slum area with no space to play, and of course with no playground.
There is a lot of enthusiasm. Alvaro and Jan Carlos, both aged 9, come to us running and Alexis, who is 10, catches up with them. They tell me that they go to school in the afternoon, to third grade, and they come here “to play, to play a lot”. Alvaro tells me that here “You learn how to play, I learned to draw”, and he happily shows me the mask that he has made for himself.
In other groups, there are younger boys and girls. There, they prepare themselves to watch “Good Night”, a puppet presentation. This puppet show is about the moon having a conversation with a little monkey, and encourages them to fall asleep without being afraid. All the children, seated on a big plastic sheet listen to the story and clap following the rhythm of the songs that are played.
Some mothers are in the surrounding area, watching the games and activities of the groups. They are waiting until their children finish the session of play therapy to go back home.
All in all, the experience is motivating and gratifying. The group of visitors from the Sub-Secretariat of Mental Health, World Vision, Plan International and UNICEF go back to their offices where they actually say that happiness has returned to the boys and girls living in La Barquita.