When Cyclone Giri struck the far western coastal state of Rakhine, Save the Children staff in Myanmar (Burma) carried out assessments that revealed many children were in an acute state of distress. They were scared of another cyclone and didn’t want to go near the coast. The overwhelming majority of homes, schools and other facilities had been destroyed or were severely damaged.
Even before Cyclone Giri, children in Rakhine state were only completing primary education, if going to school at all. Large numbers of children were working in paddy cultivation, fisheries and other labour. Within the first few weeks of the cyclone, parents and adults were also showing signs of distress, meaning children were more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Amid the destruction, children had no space or opportunities for play, learning and recovery.
Places to play
To create a protective environment for children to play with their friends, our child protection programme established 20 safe spaces in Myebon and Pauktaw townships — two of the most severely affected areas. These spaces run activities six days a week, over four sessions a day, helping around 3,000 children. Local volunteers were recruited and trained to lead and monitor activities, and a local committee was established to oversee them and build support for and understanding of the importance of child protection within the local community.
Save the Children has also established a support fund that has so far helped 500 of the most vulnerable children and families, including children who have shown more severe signs of distress and need more specialised care and counselling. This fund has also helped small local businesses with things like fishing nets to help economic recovery.
Together with water and sanitation, health, livelihoods and nutrition and education activities, the emotional help this protection work is proving is really improving the lives of children and communities in Rakhine state.
Helping the healing
Giving children back a sense of normal daily life is an important part of helping them recover from the distress of the cyclone. These children’s spaces can provide a more conducive and inclusive learning environment than some schools before the cyclone and they help parents too because they can rebuild their homes, communities and livelihoods knowing their children are being looked after.
“Our children now have a place to play and to be with other children, which helps them recover,” says one mother from Kyun Tharyar village. “The children seem even more well behaved than before and after returning from the play space they’re quite happy and have a very positive attitude.”
A nine-year-old boy who attended the space regularly said, “I’m really happy to come this place because I can play together with my friends and I can use the toys and can learn lots of new things.”