Child-friendly spaces offer a place for children to find a sense of normalcy when their world has been turned upside down.
When disaster strikes, children may be hit the hardest.
Children like 10 year old Selsi, who lost her house, her school and her best friend when the earthquake and tsunami devastated her village in Indonesia one year ago.
Although everybody who is affected by a humanitarian crisis has a critical need for water, food and shelter, children are dependent on the adults in their lives to provide for them. Children, especially those who may be separated from their families or lose their caregivers in a disaster, face a serious risk of abuse and neglect.
And even those children who remain with family members have often been forced from their homes, they are separated from their friends, their schooling is interrupted, and they are dealing with the trauma of a nightmarish event, including the loss of loved ones.
Their parents may be preoccupied with locating family members, finding the essentials for survival, and securing some kind of shelter. Any member of their close circle may be injured.
After the earthquake disaster in Indonesia, as in many humanitarian crisis situations, the Humanitarian Coalition supported the operation of child-friendly spaces (CFS) to respond to some of the special needs of children.
Child-friendly spaces offer a place for children to find a sense of normalcy when their world has been turned upside down. They provide the opportunity to play and learn, and to deal with the trauma of what they are going through. A CFS offers safety and protection for the children who are involved, freeing their parents to take care of family business.
They can be set up quickly, and are adaptable to a wide variety of contexts.
At the CFS where Selsi goes, children learn about the best way to wash their hands, and why it’s so important. They also play a game of snakes and ladders that helps them recognize the signs of disaster and shows them what they should do in an emergency situation.
According to Richard Morgan, executive director of the Humanitarian Coalition, “Child-friendly spaces are a great way to bring children together, keep them safe, and provide what they need for their physical and mental health through a very traumatic experience. Children may be vulnerable, but CFSs help them build strength and resilience.”