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Child-friendly spaces for Pakistan's flood children

2 February 2011: Plan is working with children affected by the Pakistan floods to overcome the emotional distress caused by the disaster.

Many children living in the camps for displaced people are experiencing nightmares and flashbacks. Trained Plan staff members are running psychosocial sessions, described as emotional first aid to help them cope.

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Zubaida was afraid of losing her entire family

Family reunions

Millions across Pakistan have struggled to piece their lives together and return to normalcy. For many children, reunions with friends and family were enough to mend the pain wrought by the floods, but in some communities like the Layyah district, children and their families still struggle to move on.

Just before the floods hit, families in Layyah were glued to the radio as a broadcast announced that the entire population of Layyah had to immediately leave because there would be huge floods. Panic set in.

“I was afraid my entire family would die,” said 8 year-old Zubaida.

Emotional first aid

Countless children around Pakistan are living with these memories and the associated fear. While children can be surprisingly resilient in disaster situations, it is essential that they receive the proper care and support to recover from their experiences. Child-friendly spaces are designed to do just this by providing a safe place where psychosocial support can be delivered through structured and supervised play and learning activities.

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Plan has helped create 162 child-friendly spaces

Child-friendly spaces

“Disaster situations often lead to neglect, discrimination or violation of rights and thus children’s rights need focused attention,” said Unni Krishnan, Plan’s disaster response policy coordinator. “Child-friendly space is one key initiative that helps to provide security and protection for children.”

Since the floods began, Plan has teamed up with the Indus Consortium which comprises the local organisations, Rural Development Policy Institute, Doaba Foundation, Help Foundation and Laar Humanitarian Development Programme to help set up 162 child-friendly spaces where children can play games, join sports teams, sing and simply recover. 53 more child-friendly spaces are being planned for flood-affected areas.

Ten year-old Sahid’s fear and anxiety melted away after he joined the child-friendly space activities. “I’m happy now and no longer scared.”

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Child-friendly spaces provide security and protection for children

Children laughing and playing

It is uplifting to see dozens of children laughing and playing. On their faces, there was no sign that a natural disaster of enormous proportions had just upended their lives.

“I’m very happy because they have activities that are beneficial, and most importantly, the children can play happily,” said one mother.

In nearby Muzaffargarh district, Rashida, the child-friendly space coordinator, initially found it difficult to restore a sense of confidence after the floods.

“They originally did not want to join the child-friendly space because they were afraid that it might flood again,” she said.

However, Rashida planned the games and activities, and the children eventually participated, putting the floods behind them.

“I was able to forget some of the bad memories by playing and drawing at the child-friendly space,” said 7 year-old Hasan.

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Child-friendly spaces are designed to provide a safe place where psychosocial support can be delivered through structured and supervised play and learning activities

Disaster recovery

The child-friendly spaces serve as a source of information for parents about the impact of crisis on children and how to help them heal. They also helps parents, and especially mothers, to reestablish their lives by giving them the time to take care of food, water and shelter.

While the space focuses primarily on the needs of children, they have also created closer ties between children and adults by building protective community networks, trust and security and helping in the long term recovery of families.

“Disasters devastate. Some impacts are not so visible like the shock and trauma,” Krishnan said. “Plan’s child-friendly spaces are not only ‘space that offers protection,’ but also a catalyst to strengthen children’s resilience, healing and psychosocial well being."

Learn more about Plan's work in education in Pakistan and visit the floods site.

Watch the children's joy at the opening of a child-friendly space - in Plan's Pakistan - 6 months on film.