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UNICEF-supported child friendly spaces

Psycho-social assistance to children and families affected by floods
By Nada Kovacevic for UNICEF Serbia


Belgrade, Serbia, 23 May 2014 - “We had a house in Obrenovac. In fact, we still have it, but I cannot go back to it. I often think of my toys and whether my computer and TV are going to work. I’m worried, but I’m not that sad anymore,” says Zoran Stankovic, aged 8, who was evacuated with another 718 residents, and placed in Hall 11 of the Belgrade Fair, one of the collective centres used for the temporary placement of people from Obrenovac, one of the municipalities worst-hit by the floods.

Zoran (8) drawing in the UNICEF-supported  child friendly space within a collective centre. Tijana, the  volunteer, provides him support and supervises his work
[©UNICEF Serbia / Emil Vas]

This collective centre is used for the placement of 147 children. It was for them that UNICEF, together with its partners, set up the child friendly spaces where volunteers, headed by psychologists, help in replacing worries and fears with play, creative activities and having a good time with peers. Zoran’s mother Vida highlights how important it is to organize work with children, since the parents are tired, nervous and apprehensive. “As if I’ve gone off my head, with all these troubles,” she says and praises the volunteers who have been trying to bring back smiles and carefree outlooks into the lives of children from Obrenovac.

s secretariats for social affairs, health and education, as well as the Serbian ministries in charge of health, education, social protection, and defence, and with university faculties and partners from the civil sector.

Volunteer Andjelija Brocic plays with Slavisa (8) and Djani (5) in the child safe space organised by UNICEF in Belgrade-based collective centres where UNICEF and its partners provide psycho-social assistance to children evacuated from the flooded areas
[©UNICEF Serbia / Emil Vas]

“The children in collective centres are among unfamiliar people, in a new setting, they have lost their daily routine, they have a lot of free time and are burdened with their own worries and fears, as well as with the atmosphere created by the adults. Using the programme of psycho-social assistance, we are making it possible for them to enjoy their playtime and games, to relate to each other and to get to know one another. Through creative workshops, we are shaping warm and accepting environment and are relieving them of stress and tension,” explains psychologist Stanislava Vuckovic, one of UNICEF’s volunteer supervisors. She emphasizes that it also brings a relief to the parents if somebody takes care of their children for part of the day. It enables them to go and get advice, to engage in difficult talks and finish other things that they have to. “Sometimes I just need to cry in peace,” says one of the mothers.

The Stojkovic-Dikic family is one of the rare ones whose laughter can be heard at Hall 11. Father Goran and mother Maja play with their son Aleksa, eight, and one-year old daughter Nikolina. Grandfather Slavko also helps them. They are happy that the family is finally together, as they were not evacuated at the same time. They talk about the oncoming water, how they saved themselves and were evacuated, how they do not know what they will eventually find when they go back to Obrenovac, and how they are thinking of their neighbour’s family, whose whereabouts are unknown. “Until yesterday, all I did was cry, but since this morning I’ve decided to look ahead, to joke and laugh,” says Maja Dikic. “Because of the children.” Aleksa runs to the child friendly space to get some new toys for Nikolina. He calls the volunteers his new friends and tells them in confidence that his parents bought him new sneakers just two days before the floods. He worries whether he will be able to dry them and wear them when he goes back home or whether his parents will be able to buy him a new pair. “If I had a magic wand, I would make us a new house now, since I was told that ours has been destroyed,” says Aleksa.

Smiles returned to Nikolina’s (18 months) and Aleksa’s (8 years old) faces. They have benefited from the UNICEF-supported psycho-social assistance organised in the Belgrade Fair collective centre
[©UNICEF Serbia / Emil Vas]

Each child exhibits stress and anxiety in a different manner. Some have nightmares, some have become reserved and closed off, some have lost their appetites or are irritable. “We get closer to them through playing, drawing and creative work. They mostly talk about their toys and pets that have perished in the floods. At the child friendly space they feel safe and reassured,” says UNICEF volunteer Tijana Bondzic, a pedagogy freshman. She talks about two boys who were not able to fall asleep. Then, after talking with a psychologist, they received stuffed lions to keep them safe at night. The insomnia disappeared.

“It is important to approach each child individually, respecting, both the dignity of the child and the dignity of the community and family. It is vital to pay attention to cultural specificities,” says Stanislava Vuckovic.

UNICEF volunteer Tijana Bondzic plays with children evacuated from the flooded areas, currently in a collective centre. UNICEF with its partners have organised psychosocial support to these children to help them cope with stress and trauma
[©UNICEF Serbia / Emil Vas]

“With the help of initial psycho-social assistance, children can overcome traumas and stress. Together with its partners, UNICEF will continue to provide this type of assistance in order for children to overcome this crisis situation with as few consequences as possible. We are working on providing sports equipment, so children can play outside,” says Michel Saint-Lot, the UNICEF Representative in Belgrade. “Once a detailed situation and needs assessment is made, UNICEF will, within the scope of the UN Country Team in Serbia, undertake all necessary activities in the spheres of education and child protection – it will assist the reconstruction and refurbishing of the damaged preschool and school institutions, as well as training teachers in resuming learning and recreational activities to help restore normalcy to the lives of affected children. We will also provide psycho-social assistance to affected children and teachers,” he concluded.

In the meantime, at the child friendly spaces of the Belgrade Fair, Bogdan, 8, is drawing a fox. He can barely get his attention off the drawing and only to tell us that it is good that the volunteers have arrived, since before them nobody wanted to play with children. His fox has nine tails. Bogdan’s drawing, with so many fox’s lives, has the power to heal, just like each and every smile at the child friendly spaces.



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