Sharlini Rodrigo, Zoe Pellatt


Task: Designing activities for children who have faced an emergency. For the purpose of this assignment we would like to basis our program design on a natural disaster, severe flooding. Our target community has been evacuated to higher grounds and has been temporarily housed in a school.

Target Population:
New Born infants
Separated and unaccompanied children
Orphaned children before the emergency happened
Under-nourished children
Pre-school children
Non-school going children

Choosing the venue:
The working team has argued that the community should be involved in identifying and securing places for children’s activities. This is a good idea in principle. The community would most likely suggest that the schools they are currently housed in or a religious place of worship. Both suggestions are viable, but raise some issues with regards to psychosocial impact and development.

· Religious worship places provide an adequate space for such a program, but not all children or their guardians will feel comfortable in this environment. While those who believe and follow that particular faith may feel at happy and content, those from other religions may not feel equally secure. In Sri Lankan given the backdrop of religious mistrust, this could prevent some parents from enrolling their children into the programs. There is also an assumed code of conduct that may delay or stop development and psychosocial programs as children feel obligated to retain a level of maturity.

· Ongoing rivalry between schools that goes beyond healthy rivalry during sports events, tournaments and competitions could cause some children to feel insecure when entering the premises of a rival school.

· Taking these situations into consideration, it would be much better to choose a neutral venue such as the hospital premises or community centre in order to set up a safe non bias environment for the children.

The programs
Children’s Treatment centre: A clinic to treat any water-born diseases among children can be set up in the hospital.
Maternity Clinic: A clinic to examine and treat pregnant and nursing mothers can be set up as well. Here the usual practice of distribution of Health and nutritional supplements such as Thriposha will be continued with the involvement of the Maternal Health Department of the Hospital.
Crèche: A new born baby and toddler crèche can be set up where the mothers can leave their babies in a safe place while they attend to washing of clothes and cooking for the family (when this task is in place). A few members of the hospital nursing staff can be deployed to the crèche.

Pre-school Play Area:
The hospital ground can be divided into several sections where pre-school age children will have activities such as colouring and playing with play dough, singing, and playing with one another with whatever toys and child safe equipment that has been provided for this purpose. These particular activities have been chosen to aid social development and allow children to choose from a variety of mediums to help express themselves- painting is an effective tool for children to visually portray their emotions.

Older children will be first assessed to find out who has lost school books and uniforms etc but these will not be worn whilst attending a temporary schooling facility in order to reduce the risk of marginalization. Replacing these items will bring about comfort and a sense of normality. Familiar school teachers who are available among the affected community as well other volunteers will reinstate school classes in order to provide a sense of routine and normalization.

Organizing gender specific social activities is important especially in cultures where gender issues are still extremely prevalent. For example organizing cricket matches for the boys and hop-scotch and other activities for the girls.

In the aftermath of an emergency it is important to address psychosocial issues. However those who are engaged in providing psychosocial support have to be careful not to harm children by being insensitive to cultural issues. In the past some humanitarian workers who aspired to provide psychosocial support have caused much harm due to issues of security, lack of coordination, inappropriate use of various methods, focusing excessively on deficits and victimhood that can undermine resilience and using poorly trained psychosocial workers to name just a few.

One of the most important things to consider is the local and culturally applicable coping mechanisms that are present in any given context. Although psychosocial support workers come armed with a plethora of great theories on how to help people in an emergency situation, local people may have different ways of coping with them that are alien to the rest of the world, but familiar and works for the people. To ignore such practices (as long as these practices are not harmful) is to ignore one of the most effective ways of helping people.

An example of inappropriate ways of providing psychosocial support can be stated in this true story from the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka. A group of Western well wishers arrived in the Tsunami devastated island just weeks after the emergency. They travelled along the coastline, taking pictures of the devastation and the people in temporary shelters. In one such shelter an old man was telling his story with tears streaming down his face. One of the good-hearted women in the group reached out and hugged this man. The man recoiled from that embrace and looked around him in embarrassment to see if anyone was watching. To his horror he saw that most of his village people were watching and they were laughing. Then to make matters worse, the leading lady of the group insisted that he posed for a photograph with her, so she can explain to her people back home how she was able to comfort this old man. This man soon disappeared trying to get as far from the people he knew because he felt so embarrassed by the embrace of a strange white woman, when he has just seen his wife die a tragic death. In our culture women do not hug or embrace men to comfort them. It was even more inappropriate because he has just been widowed.
This same group went to another camp and distributed bags of dry rations. The locals who travelled with them, were feeling really embarrassed with the photo shoot and the fiasco that was being staged. They hid from their local people who saw the entire proceeding as inappropriate and unnecessary. The grieving people were not keen on posing for photographs because usually photographs are associated with happy events and not losses and death. The leader of the group forced the locals to come and pose for the photo shoot. It jeopardized the opportunity that we would have had among those people, to talk to them and ask important questions and offer appropriate psychosocial support. This was a personal encounter which I thought was appropriate to share.