Amy Richmond, Child Protection Specialist, Save the Children
Monday, April 11, 2011
I arrived in Japan more than a week ago to work with our Child Protection Team in the northeast of Japan. The team is working tirelessly to reach children who have lost everything in the tsunami.
Our main concern is the physical safety of children and their well-being after experiencing such an event - with tens of thousands of children living in evacuation centers after the tsunami with no place to play our top priority is to give them a space to just be children.
One of our immediate response interventions was setting up Child Friendly Spaces within the evacuation centers – offering children a safe place to play in order to continue to learn and develop after the disaster.
I visited one of our Child Friendly Spaces right outside Ishinomaki this week where the children were making balloon animals.
Two young girls had twisted their balloons into little dogs and shared these with me with such delight as they giggled out the word ‘dog,’ in English. When I responded with a smile and nod signaling they had the word correct, we laughed as they repeated the word in song while their dogs did a little dance.
It was a happier moment than the day before, when a young boy in our Child Friendly Space had drawn a picture of his pet, one of our Child Friendly Space volunteers asked him who he was drawing and he replied it was his dog but he didn’t know where he was. It was a reminder of the huge loss children had faced - but now we see children are beginning to reflect and deal with what they have gone through.
It will be a long recovery.
We hope to continuously engage children within the Child Friendly Spaces with activities held by trained volunteers that allow children to express themselves freely to help with this process.
Child Friendly Space activities also offer a routine and structure to the daily lives of children living in evacuation centers which helps create some sense of normalcy while their environment is constantly changing.
This builds on the natural resilience of children at the same time helping them identify positive coping strategies through interacting with other children.