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Pictures for Life A Role for Children in Disaster Recovery

  • The tsunami affected more than 1,000 villages in India.

  • More than 100,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.

  • Plan trained children to conduct an audit on the effectiveness of our post-tsunami work in India.

  • Photos were used as proof that the children had conducted their surveys.

  • The children spent a week conducting the survey in 10 villages.

  • The audit included questions about relief items, temporary shelters, water and sanitation.

  • They interviewed more than 700 people and collected 4,650 responses.

  • Respondents talked about child care centres, which were a key part of Plan's assistance.

  • The project diverted children's minds from the mental trauma of the tsunami and got them involved in the community.

  • The children discovered the confidence to go to new places and meet new people.

How effective were our relief efforts?
Did we reach those most in need?
How can we do it better next time?

These are key questions for any organisation responding to disaster. After the tsunami, Plan and its partner organisation in India, REAL, decided to enlist children to help find the answers, giving them an active and meaningful role in the disaster recovery work in their communities.

"We learned how to give surveys and how to take photographs," said a boy from Chinnakottaimedu village. "We examined whether the relief coming from Plan and REAL after the tsunami went to all the people and reached them in a proper manner."

Through the "Pictures for Life" social equity audit, children surveyed more than 700 people from 10 villages, learning the importance of fair distribution of relief assistance, transparency and accountability.

Children the key to unbiased results

Despite the program's name, photography was not a central part of the program but was simply used as proof that the children had conducted their surveys, helping to ensure the accuracy of the audit.

Plan and REAL selected 38 children, aged 12 to 16, from 10 villages in Nagapattinam district. After a two-day orientation, the group was narrowed down to 25, who then spent 10 days learning how to carry out a survey, as well as the importance of sampling to get an accurate representation of the whole population and of faithfully recording all responses as provided by the interviewees.

"Adults asking these questions would change answers to be more favourable to agencies who work for them," said one of the participants. "With children doing it, we would only record answers from what we heard. Children won't be biased, so we can get better answers."

In one week, the participants surveyed more than 700 people, collecting 4,650 responses to questions about child care centres, relief items, medical camps, water, sanitation, temporary shelters and six other relief- and recovery-related issues.

One community pointed out the irregular placement of drinking water supplies, while others suggested the installation of common drainage systems or electric motors in irrigation systems.

Giving children a voice and courage

Perhaps most importantly, the Pictures for Life project diverted children's minds from the mental trauma of the tsunami, got them involved in the community and assessment of the relief work, empowered them and earned them respect from adults. They discovered the confidence to go to new places and meet new people.

"Now we have more power to rise up and be heard, and elders accept this," said a boy from Kallar village. "Before, we were not taken seriously. Even in our homes, our opinions weren't given much of a priority. After I attended the program, it gave me courage. Now we have much more authority, but we have to fight to protect our rights."

The survey results were shared with the community through a travelling photo exhibition. The children's photos and interviews with programme participants can be seen at www.picturesforlife.org.