By David Bloomer, Save the Children’s Child Protection Advisor, Asia
On my recent trip to the quake-affected areas of Sichuan Province, China, many children spoke about how Save the Children’s child-friendly spaces (CFS) have been instrumental in helping them deal with the distress and chaos in the aftermath of the earthquake. “When we attend the CFS we can see our friends and talk and take our mind off things and the teachers [facilitators] are very nice and help us a lot,” a 10-year-old girl said to me.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Sichuan province on 20 April 2013 killed at least 190 people and left thousands of others injured. Many homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed in the disaster, affecting a total of 1.5 million people living in the area. Save the Children, along with partners from One Foundation and 45 civil society organisations (CSOs), helped to set up child friendly spaces and implement programmes for children there.
The children of Longmen Township
When I visited Longmen Township to monitor the progress of our CFS there, I was struck by how much damage was done by the earthquake. Virtually every building had been damaged, many reduced to nothing more than a pile of rubble. In one school alone, 60-70 children were experiencing psychosocial distress due to the earthquake. This may account for the higher number of children attending the CFS on a regular basis as compared to other areas and villages.
A kindergarten teacher and CFS told me that the space had really helped to give structure and a level of normality to the children’s lives, which had really helped the recovery process. “The CFS has implemented a good balance of creative, expressive and arts activities, learning activities and even time for just fun, relaxing activities.”
Helping children now and preparing them for the future
The CFS can also be used to prepare children for future disasters. “We thought that since the earthquake damage is much greater in this area, a programme focused on disaster risk reduction and safety would be a beneficial way to help children recover,” said one CSO manager. “We have even had some role play, which the children found very helpful in building their confidence and being prepared should another disaster strike.”
CSO volunteers in the community also check regularly on the progress of the children and their caregivers at home. “The home visits are incredibly helpful,” one woman remarked. “Many of the caregivers of children in this community are grandparents like myself, and with so many parents migrating to the towns for work, we have many things to do and cannot play and look after the children at all hours of the day.”
It’s clear that our programmes have been extremely beneficial in helping children recover from their traumatic experiences, but our CSO partners are also continually learning and growing. A more intensive Psychosocial First Aid training programme for CSOs and volunteers is planned in the near future. This will not only improve our work in this response, but will leave us in a stronger position to provide much-needed psychological support to children when they need it most in any future emergencies.