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Helping children to smile again and recover from trauma

Helping children to smile again and recover from trauma

Tomorrow is World Health Day, and this year’s theme is depression. Depression can arrive out of the blue, for seemingly no reason, but it can also be caused by stress, uncertainty, and trauma. Children’s mental wellbeing is especially vulnerable during a disaster. They are more at risk of becoming separated from their families and exposed to unsafe conditions, in some cases even violence and trafficking.

Too often, there is a stigma surrounding depression that causes misunderstanding and can prevent people from seeking help. But we’re working to help the world’s most vulnerable children and their families face the problem and help them to recover.

One way we’re helping put a smile back on children’s faces is through our child-friendly spaces. During emergencies, we set up spaces so children have a safe place to learn, play, and interact with their friends. Our child-friendly spaces not only help children to smile again, but they also protect them from abuse and exploitation and provide psychological support to help them feel safe to return back to school.

Mothers play games with children at a child-friendly space in Ecuador

Returning to school after disaster in Ecuador

We are currently working to provide child-friendly spaces to families affected by flooding. Supported by Start Fund, we’re helping 1,000 families have access to somewhere safe for their children to learn, play, and receive emotional support.

In 2016, our child-friendly spaces gave a sense of normality to children after the earthquake. We provided psychosocial support, helped them continue their education, and ensured that they were protected from violence.

“When I’m here I have no fear of bricks falling on me.”

- Jose, 7, who was scared to go back to school in case the building collapsed.

Children smiling at a child-friendly space in Nepal

Smiling again after the Nepal Earthquake

After the devastating earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, we provided safe spaces for children alongside a number of other protection services for women and girls. Women and girls are more vulnerable during a crisis, and our child-friendly spaces provide somewhere safe for families to recover together. We know that play and recreational activities are important for children’s happiness and mental health, so we deployed clowns from Clowns Without Borders to give more children the chance to laugh and relax.

“I almost forgot how to smile, but now I realise that my life – and my story – is filled with smiles.”

- Sunil, who attended a Community Child Protection Centre supported by Plan International and returned to school after two years of living with depression.

Children laugh and play after the violence
Children laugh and play after the violence

Moving on from the trauma of Boko Haram

As Boko Haram tried to force its influence on the region of Northern Nigeria, seizing farms and razing villages, they also abducted children. Stories of Boko Haram’s child soldiers and child brides were sadly too common. We’re providing child-protection programmes and working to combat sexual and violent abuses against girls in the region, supporting their recovery and reintegration into their communities. One of our programmes focused on reuniting mothers with their children who had been stolen by Boko Haram.

“I do not currently attend school. But luckily I come to the child-friendly space created by Plan International. It distracts me from my situation and takes care of time during the day.”

- Mahamadou, 14, is among those who had to flee from Nigeria to save his life.

Two girls with backpacks from Plan after Typhoon Haiyan

Recovering from the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan

We set up child-friendly spaces in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan struck in November 2013. Six million people were displaced by the storm. Our efforts focused on rebuilding homes, schools, and key community facilities such as health centres and child protection facilities. Because of our work, 21,000 children had a safe place to play and recover from the trauma of the typhoon.

“During that night, we left most of our things behind. We grabbed the clothes we saw, but left most behind. I also had to leave most of my toys, my school bag and books. I brought with me a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, and my yo-yo.”

- Twelve-year-old Regino lost his house to Typhoon Haiyan.

Wherever children are vulnerable, we’re there

While trauma is one of our biggest concerns for children’s mental health around the world, it isn’t the only one. We work wherever we’re needed to help protect children’s rights and their wellbeing. Our work to end child marriage includes creating safe spaces and support networks for girls at risk.

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