Website will be unavailable from 9:30 PM Saturday to 1:30 AM Sunday Eastern time due to scheduled maintenance.  

Keeping Children Safe After Disasters

Home > Learn More > Stories & News > Keeping Children Safe After Disasters

Posted on 11/30/2015
Tusnami survivor in India

Amrith, of India, survived the 2004 tsunami.

We’ve all seen storm coverage on television, whether it’s local meteorologists reporting on a hurricane, an overnight tornado ripping through a neighborhood several hours away, or the outcome of a typhoon halfway around the world. Trees are down, water floods streets, and power is out.

But the aftermath of a disaster varies depending on where it occurs. ChildFund works in some of the poorest communities in the world, places where families are unable to provide children with enough food or clean water even under the best circumstances. It’s hard to recover from a disaster in rich nations, but it is even more difficult in developing countries, and there are added dangers for children who are often left alone or in the care of worried parents scrambling to find food, water and shelter. Also, rising stress levels increase the risk of child abuse both in the home and around the community.

ChildFund’s signature response in emergencies is to provide Child-Centered Spaces (CCS), safe, dry, supervised places where children can stay while their parents take care of important tasks around the community. While there, children also can get emotional support from trained volunteers who help them work through the trauma of losing their homes, schools and even family members. These volunteers also know how to watch for child protection concerns, such as signs of abuse, and how to help families connect with formal services when the need arises. Often, volunteers are young people who find in the CCS an opportunity to recover from their own experiences as they spend time with the younger children, leading them in activities and art projects.

The first seeds of what would become CCSs first sprouted in Guinea in the late 1990s, in the aftermath of Sierra Leone’s civil war, as ChildFund, then Christian Children’s Fund, worked with UNICEF to support Sierra Leonean children in refugee camps. Davidson Jonah, then CCF Sierra Leone’s country director and now our global field operations support director, remembers, “There were lots of teachers and nurses who were refugees, so we created a psychosocial trainers team — teachers and nurses and social workers."

Haiyan Philippines

A Child-Centered Space in the Philippines, following Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

Child-Centered Spaces were a centerpiece of CCF’s response in the months after 2004’s Boxing Day tsunami that devastated parts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other South Asian countries. More than 300 CCSs served 43,000 children in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, as well as in Sri Lanka and India.

In a Sri Lankan CCS, volunteers asked children to draw what had happened, which helped them begin to address the tragedy. Kunera Altes, a child protection specialist with CCF, remembered the silence of the camp. “The children were moping about. No one was playing or laughing.” But over time, with help from the volunteers and healing activities like art, dance and singing, the children began to laugh and play again.

For Amrith, who was 3 when the tsunami occurred, a CCS helped him recover from the trauma of being separated from his parents. When they found him in a shelter, he was unable or unwilling to speak. But he began to return to normal after receiving psychosocial help at a CCS. Now, as a 14-year-old, he is sponsored and attends school.

When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, a partnership with an organization already on the ground there made it possible for ChildFund supporters to contribute to a response in a country where we don’t have programs. Marie Marthe, a native Haitian teacher, helped us set up CCSs in the worst-hit communities.

Haiti Earthquake

A Haitian girl spends time in a CCS.

“I am so thankful to the world for bringing us help,” Marie said in the months after the quake. “I have no idea how we could have recovered without such attention, especially for the children.”

Last April, Nepal suffered a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that destroyed half a million houses and killed more than 8,000 people. In Sindhupalchowk, where ChildFund Alliance partner ChildFund Japan works, four isolated communities were devastated. ChildFund International asked our supporters for help, and many stepped up to assist the Japanese effort. With schools destroyed, the temporary learning shelters in Sindhupalchowk served as ad-hoc classrooms and also kept children safe while their parents stood in line for food and other necessities.

Haiyan Philippines

Children recovering from Super Typhoon Haiyan.

In some cases, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines, staff members at local partner organizations have made preparations for disasters in storm-prone regions, stocking food, water purifying equipment, tents and other necessities — including CCS kits. In November 2013, though, no one was prepared for the extent of the destruction that Super Typhoon Haiyan would cause in the Philippines. A million homes were either destroyed outright or were significantly damaged, and 6,300 people were killed by the storm, the worst to hit the Philippines in recent history.

ChildFund staff members arrived with basic resources four days later and, in the first weeks after the storm, set up 15 Child-Centered Spaces. Some of them were open a year later, staffed by young volunteers like Kenna, a 10th-grader from Tacloban, one of the worst-hit localities.

“Each day of the weekend, I get about 60 to 100 children attending CCS,” she said in November 2014. “Such numbers can get unruly sometimes, especially among the younger kids, but you just need lots of patience.”

Because Kenna herself found refuge at a Child-Centered Space soon after Haiyan, she felt the need to show her gratitude by helping others. “How much longer will I volunteer for ChildFund?” she asked. “As long as I’m needed.”