Child-friendly spaces: Oases amid the chaos
Rescuing and protecting children is the top priority for all Kindernothilfe humanitarian assistance. Child-friendly spaces constitute the key tool for this work. They are oases amid the chaos where children receive protection, food, lessons and medical as well as psychological care – and can simply be children again.
Children are not small adults. They are simply children – and this is especially true when disaster strikes. In the wake of earthquakes, floods and droughts, girls and boys need special protection and have special needs.
Nutrition is one area of focus. Children who are already malnourished require high-energy foods to survive such emergency situations without causing long-term damage to their health. Special foods for infants are made available and mothers are helped to nurse their babies. What's more, special steps must be taken to shield children from violence and disease amidst the turmoil and squalor of emergency shelters.
It is also important for children's development that they continue to receive lessons and have a structured daily routine. If children have been deprived of everyday school life for a long time, many of them are incapable of returning to the education system. This has a long-term impact on the entire society. It exacerbates educational deficits and fuels the cycle of poverty.
Our assistance focuses on children
To give children the best possible assistance during and after disasters, we establish children’s centres, which are essentially special areas – often within emergency shelters – where children receive protection, food, lessons, opportunities to play, and medical and psychological care. The goal here is to provide the children with a structured daily routine and create a foundation of trust that allows them to feel safe in an unsafe situation.
Experience in running child-friendly spaces has shown that it is particularly important to register the girls and boys and regularly monitor their attendance. Working hand-in-hand with other organisations that also strive to protect children has made it possible to significantly reduce the risk of child abuse and child trafficking.
Child-friendly spaces vary depending on the specific needs that arise from each post-disaster situation. Depending on the situation, each space looks different and has diverse ranges of offers. Kindernothilfe plans all of this in close cooperation with local partners. Sometimes it merely takes a few basic materials to construct an effective child-friendly space. When there were no building materials in Haiti immediately after the earthquake in 2010, for example, Kindernothilfe hung plastic tarps between trees, designating this as a location with firm structures and creating a place to play. It was an enormous success. The children blossomed, laughed and could finally be children again. It was not until later, when building materials were available, that it was possible to build pavilions at this site.
The child-friendly spaces are always adapted to local needs
In the wake of the flooding in Pakistan in 2010, however, empty buildings stood at the edge of the disaster area and, following some renovation work, could be used as spaces for children.
Just as the settings can vary, programme offers are also adapted to local needs and range from open playing and learning activities, child-oriented nutrition and health check-ups, to trauma work such as behavioural observations, discussion groups and psychosocial counselling.
Work on establishing child-friendly spaces has to begin at an early stage, and it has to continue until the situation has returned to normal, such as when schools reopen. This can take as long as six months or even a year. Since the child-friendly spaces supported by Kindernothilfe are operated by local organisations, it is also possible to maintain this programme for longer periods of time.