Providing support for students coping with COVID-19 related stress

UNICEF works to manage stress and anxiety for students and parents through the provision of psychosocial support for students in Sudan’s White Nile State

Hagir Osman and Hadeel Agab
Girls wearing masks in their school uniform
26 July 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in mental health issues and an economic crisis that affected many families and children around the world. In Sudan, children are spending most of their time inside their homes and are unable to practice their regular activities such as going to school and playing due to closure of schools, physical distancing measures, curfew restrictions and state lockdowns.

In White Nile State schools were closed in March. White Nile State is located in the southern part of Sudan and is an area that is home to a vulnerable population. There an unstable political environment was further aggravated by the rapid movement of the internally displaced people (IDPs)s and refugees. The conflicts in South Sudan resulted in the movement of 103,703 refugees to White Nile State, around 60 per cent of whom were children, many of whom had been out of school. Furthermore, it is an area prone to disasters such as disease outbreaks, heavy rains and flash floods. 

Creating awareness around psychosocial support

Since the lockdown started, UNICEF White Nile field office organized Psychosocial Support Sessions  (PSS) and awareness-raising campaigns, through local radio broadcasts and WhatsApp messages, to give families tips and guidance on how to support  children during these difficult times. The visual and audio materials were produced by the Child Protection Studio in White Nile State. Members of the community-based child protection networks (CBCPNs) were also trained to provide PSS and counseling to families and children.

PSS training
The PSS core team prepares for a training.

Anxious parents and students prepare for grade eight examinations

When the reschedule date for exams were announced parents were anxious and concerned about the ability of their children to do well due to the long period of being out of school. With the right support, families were better able to prepare and cope.  UNICEF’s field office in White Nile, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, the State Council of Child Welfare (SCCW) and the MOHSD supported students during the exams for grade eight. 

PSS providers with Students before and after exam
A PSS provider with students after their exams.

With the support of psychological and mental health specialist Enas Fathi, who developed the training content of the PSS, children were able to receive tips and advice on how to manage stress. Other topics were also addressed such as reducing pressure, stimulating positive thinking and relaxation in order to help the students continue with their exams. 

A cohort of 205 social workers, including 117 female social workers, teachers and trained members from community-based child protection networks were selected to attend a two-day PSS refresher training, to equip them with the necessary and timely tools for addressing students’ issues during the examination. The White Nile University offered the university hall to be used for the training, in order to ensure safe physical distancing measures could be implemented and also ensured the provision of hand washing facilities, sanitizers, and masks.

Social works, teachers and Community based child protection networks, trained by the core team
Social workers, teachers and community-based child protection workers were trained by the core team during a two-day training at White Nile University.

The PSS support was successful and helped 35,567 students, including 18,607 girls and 2,713 South Sudanese refugees, in grade eight attend exams. 

With thanks to our partners the Government of Japan, UNICEF Sudan will continue to work tirelessly to support children and families during crisis, through the provision of psychosocial support and basic needs.