Child friendly spaces: providing child protection and education in conflict settings. A case study from Timbuktu, Mali.
Plan International has been providing humanitarian assistance to girls and boys affected by the complex emergency in Northern Mali since 2012. In Timbuktu, Plan International established 3 Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) to provide holistic child protection, education and early childhood care and development (ECCD) for 4,400 at-risk children.
When schools closed during the conflict, the CFS offered children a safe space to continue to play, learn and receive psychosocial support to overcome their experiences of violence and conflict. After relocation of the CFS from school premises to the community, the CFS started functioning as multi-functional centres to prevent and respond to protection concerns and link children and families to humanitarian services.
Achievements include the strong community engagement in providing learning and protection services to children in times of crisis, and the successful targeting of the most vulnerable children, including adolescent girls, and the youngest children (3-5 years) and their caregivers.
The main challenge was the insecurity situation; the frequent uprising of violence impacted on the continuity of the activities and it made it difficult for Plan International to reach the locations.
The key learning is the importance of establishing safe spaces at trusted, central places in the community to be able to reach out to the most vulnerable children including those out-of-school, and to maximize community engagement, ownership and sustainability of the activities. The main advantage of school-based CFS was the rehabilitation of existing education infrastructure as well as effective mobilisation of children to return to school.