"It was a horrifying moment for me. I was so scared and holding my mother tightly,” says 6-year-old Sajita, as she remembers the earthquake.
Even for adults, it’s tough to comprehend the sheer terror of the powerful tremors that rocked Nepal on 25 April – and again on 12 May. But it’s even tougher for children caught up in the twin earthquakes and their aftermath. Children, particularly young children, can find it difficult to understand what is going on when the ground shakes and their parents grab their hands and run.
And even though older children understand what “earthquake” means, kids of all ages experience great fear.
Says 11-year-old Ajay: “I was on the way home when the earthquake happened. I was so terrified and scared, and I had no idea what was going on. People were screaming and shouting.”
Living with fear
It’s not just the fear of aftershocks, or even another earthquake, that children must live with. They have to live with the stress and anxiety felt by their parents as they must – all too often in Nepal right now – look for a new home. The end of the stability and security that their lost homes and schools represented are also felt deeply, as they are thrust into the unfamiliar environment of a makeshift tent city.
Life is not easy for children in Nepal right now. Nearly half a million homes have been destroyed.
Another quarter of million have been damaged – many beyond any prospect of repair. That has left children living with their families under tarpaulins, sometimes in the ruins of their homes and sometimes in the thousands of makeshift tent cities that have sprung up across Nepal.
Children suffer at times like these. But that doesn’t make them victims. Far from it. Children are frequently the most resilient people in times of disaster and none more so than during the aftermath of Nepal’s twin earthquakes.
Safe child-friendly spaces
A great place to witness the resilience of children is one of Plan’s child-friendly spaces, where children can go to be children again, and work through their experiences in a safe environment through song, dance and games.
Already, Plan has set up 6 child-friendly spaces. Twenty-nine more are already being prepared, and we are aiming to establish 100 around Nepal. Visit any one of them to see a happy crowd of children playing and chatting. They have not forgotten their experience of the earthquakes – they probably never will – but they are quick to start coping thanks to a simple chat and play with their friends.
“I love to come here and play”
“It’s wonderful, I love to come here and play with my friends. Drawing is my hobby and I get a chance to learn about drawing and time to draw the things I like,” says 8-year-old Mabish.
Today, in the safety and security of one of Plan’s child-friendly spaces, Mabish is more interested in simply drawing than in worrying about an earthquake.
And now Plan is joining with other humanitarian agencies in Nepal to consult with children, to ask them what they see as the big challenges as Nepal recovers from the earthquakes and to find out their ideas and solutions to the challenges the country now faces.
Children will bear the burden of the recovery just as much as adults, so why not ask them how best to tackle it? Children have ideas and solutions. And children have a right to participate in a recovery effort that will have such a huge impact on their lives.
“It will take years for Nepal to recover from this earthquake, but we can surely be better prepared for the next one,” says 14-year-old Ganesh, full of optimism.
Setting up learning spaces
A big feature of these consultations is likely to be education. Thousands of schools have been destroyed and damaged beyond repair in Nepal, and that means many children may face an uncertain future without an all-important education.
Here, too, Plan is supporting children: we are aiming to establish temporary learning spaces – structures with 2 classrooms which can accommodate as many as 200 children each day. Plan will also be putting notebooks, pens and paper into the hands of students and teachers.
The needs of children and their families are urgent and great. Plan has distributed tens of thousands of temporary shelters, and continues to deliver more to vulnerable families and their children.
Protection of children is also paramount. In any disaster, children become separated from their families, or families become desperate. The risks of child labour or even trafficking rise. That’s why Plan’s child-friendly spaces are not just a place to play, but also a place to raise community awareness of the need to protect children.
Help desks are also being set up at aid distribution points, where girls, boys, parents and other members of local communities can come to report concerns and see them followed up.