Haiti, Jeremie, 27 November 2016 – “l love being with children, and guiding them on their way,” says 21-year-old Shanam Riche. He is one of 60 community members who have come forward to volunteer in child friendly spaces. Volunteers receive specialised training on children’s rights, facilitation practices, and activities that will enable the participation of vulnerable children as well as relatively resilient children, in the child friendly spaces created in communities most affected by hurricane Matthew.
The purpose of child friendly spaces (CFS) is to support the resilience and well‐being of children and young people between 3 and 17 years old through community organized, structured activities conducted in a safe, child friendly, and stimulating environment. They provide a safe haven in challenging circumstances. “Following hurricane Matthew we found that many children in the CFS have had nightmares or panic attacks. Their trauma manifested in the children’s’ behavior, in their drawings,” says Laura Gabrici, protection manager with AVSI. “Often these children are very concerned about the fate of people dear to them, especially their parents, fearing that those people may disappear at any time in their lives. They are constantly afraid of being left alone.”
“I love to come here, to gather with my friends and make drawings. We laugh a lot.” says 6-year-old Rosmala Vincent, with a shy smile. All the members of her family were left unharmed by the hurricane, yet the family lost all its’ belongings when Matthew hit the city of Jeremie.
The child friendly spaces, and volunteers such as Shanam, are a result of the combined efforts of the Ministry of Youth and Sport, IBESR (Institute of Social Wellbeing and Research) the Government’s main institution for child protection, and UNICEF whose partners are national NGO IDETTE (Initiative Departementale Contre le Traffic et la Traite des Enfants) in Grand’Anse, and in the South department international NGOs Terre des Hommes, AVSI and Save the Children. While the framework is different, the ambition is the same – providing children between 3 and 17 years old, with a safe environment to play and be themselves, despite the challenging circumstances.
The volunteers are aged between 18 and 25 years. On average seven of them are deployed per child friendly space, tasked to ensure that each child gets individual attention during the session, which typically lasts two hours. Among the activities that are offered to the children are drawing, games, singing and dancing. The sessions also serve to reveal particularly traumatized children who can then be referred to one the organisations that provide psychosocial support, such as the national NGO, CISAME (Centre Intervention Santé Mentale de Jeremie). Furthermore the activities allow to identify children and families in need of specific social support; via IDETTE and IBESR they may be granted access to basic social services and commodities.
So far, child friendly spaces, offering bi-weekly sessions, have been launched in the cities of Jeremie in Grand’Anse, and Les Cayes in the South. Starting from next week mobile teams will bring the same initiative to remote areas. Equipped with early childhood development kits and their individual expertise, the volunteers will travel hours on muddy roads to reach children in difficult to reach communes, such as Dame Marie and Abricot.
“Child friendly spaces are critical entry points for child protection. They offer children a space to release the trauma that they experienced during and since the hurricane and that allows us to detect those who need special attention,” explains Geslet Bordes, UNICEF child protection officer.
Within 24 hours after Matthew hit Haiti, Geslet and his colleagues from health, nutrition, education, emergency and water/sanitation, began rotating between their usual duty station in Port-au-Prince, and the affected areas, bringing the assistance that inspires hope amidst chaos and destruction. Continuing its response to the cholera outbreak that began in Haiti in 2010, UNICEF’s emergency response takes an integrated approach, working to address the immediate basic needs of children and families, and ensuring that these interventions place the seeds for rehabilitation and eventually development.
“We have seen the members of the community respond actively and enthusiastically to the creation of the child friendly spaces. Indeed they could become a gateway for the development of coordinated community dynamics, to deal with difficulties within the affected population.” Explains Laura Gabrici. “In the long-term these spaces can be managed by community based organizations, in particular young people.”
Today, seven weeks after hurricane Matthew pummelled Haiti, over 90,000 children under five remain in need of humanitarian assistance, as underscored by UNICEF Representative Marc Vincent, “The emergency response is in full swing, and includes programming to safeguard children from the threat of water-borne disease and of malnutrition that is anticipated as a result of the near total crop losses experienced in the most-affected areas.”
By Cornelia Walther
This post is also available in: French