Reaching Out to Children During Emergencies

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By Himangi Jayasundere, ChildFund Sri Lanka
Posted on 10/10/2016
children watching mobile library video

Children play at a Child-Centered Space in Puttalam, Sri Lanka. Voice, ChildFund's local partner in the area, is conducting activities for children affected by the floods following Cyclone Roanu, which displaced more than 300,000 people in the country.

The impact of the floods on children and how ChildFund is helping

“It was a happy place,” says 16-year-old Sandya, smiling as she talks about the child-centered space (CCS) at a primary school in Puttalam, on Sri Lanka’s western coast. “We had to leave our homes suddenly when the floods began to rise. Although we had tried to keep important belongings in places the water couldn’t get them, we realized later that water must have reached most of our things. Our parents were quite worried. But at the CCS, children were able to forget these troubles. There were many things to do, like carom games, ball games, toys for little children and children’s films. There were books to read and games to play. Older children like myself helped the younger ones with games. I also met new friends from other parts of the village. What the children enjoyed the most was making vesak lanterns.” The Vesak festival, a Buddhist holiday, takes place in May each year.

But Cyclone Roanu disrupted plans for this year’s celebrations, bringing the worst rain Sri Lanka had seen in decades and displacing hundreds of thousands from their homes. ChildFund set up two CCS in Puttalam, where it has an active presence. These centers provide protection and psychosocial support to children during emergencies and enable parents to focus on cleaning up and working on recovery with peace of mind, knowing that their children are in a safe place.

The floods displaced many families like Sandya’s. It was around midnight that Sandya and her parents left their house and waded through the flood waters in search of drier land. “It was a strange and scary experience,” says Sandya. Although heavy rains had caused floods in the area surrounding their house three times before, “it had never risen so high,” she says, placing her hand at a point on the wall of her house about three feet above the ground. “Although the river had risen by that evening due to the rain, we didn’t expect it to overflow so much,” she says. Making their way to a community hall took the family some time as they navigated through in the dark over uneven ground that was submerged in about three feet of water. As the water continued to rise, Sandya, her parents and the other families who had sought shelter at the community hall had to move to a camp set up at the primary school. It was here that Sandya was able to join the Child-Centered Space set up by ChildFund with its partner organization in Puttalam, VOICE.

boy reading book in mobile library

Samanthi, 6, plays with her four-year-old brother Malin at a Child-Centered Space in Puttalam, Sri Lanka..

Like many of the affected children, Sandya lost her school uniforms to the floods. “They were all muddy and unusable when we got back,” she says. She also lost some of her schoolbooks. “I left them on a high place, but the water reached them and my written notes have got erased by the water.” Sandya’s shoes were also drenched with muddy water, but she has washed and dried them out.

Most of the children in this area lost school materials in the floods. Sandya herself will be sitting for the Ordinary Level exam at the end of this year, and losing her books is a big challenge for her, she says.