After the tsunami, education and recreation for Solomon Islands children
WESTERN PROVINCE, Solomon Islands, 10 July 2007 - Young children living in the western part of the Solomon Islands have faced tough living conditions and a sense of insecurity since a devastating tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake hit the area in April.
Many children lost their schools as well as their homes. Particularly hard-hit were Western and Choiseul Provinces, where more than 35,000 people were displaced, half of them children.
Catastrophic events such as the disaster here can leave children with a significant gap in their education unless something is done to bring both students and teachers back to school as soon as possible. So UNICEF - in partnership with the Provincial Education Department, Save the Children and World Vision - is working to reach the affected areas with education and recreation assistance.
School-in-a-Box and recreation kits
Since April, UNICEF and its partners have planned for distribution of 60 School-in-a-Box kits and over 100 recreation kits, and have set up temporary shelters for learning and safe play spaces.
Each School-in-a-Box kit contains supplies for a teacher and up to 80 students. Among other materials, the kits provide pens, pencils, chalk, exercise books, markers, flip charts, a blackboard, paint brushes, posters of the alphabet and numbers, and a world map.
Each recreation kit, which benefits up to 180 children, contains handballs, volleyballs, a basketball, skipping ropes and many other items.
"There are a lot of dedicated, hard-working teachers who are going out to assist UNICEF in providing the affected children with some form of education and structured play through the use of resources in the School-in-a-Box and recreation kits," says UNICEF Child Protection Adviser Natalie McCauley. "After a disaster like this, children need to get back to everyday routines and begin to play and socialize with peers. This programme is starting the healing process for the whole community."
Safe spaces to learn and play
Inside a makeshift white tent constructed with the help of villagers and aid workers in Kuzi, a village on Kolombangara Island in Western Province, 150 children gather each day to learn and play. Giggles and smiles abound as the enthusiastic children gather to see what is inside a recreation kit, which comes in a big metal storage box.
Ruth Garry, 7, grasps a ball from the kit and has tears in her eyes. Her mother says that if it was hers to keep, she would sleep with it.
"There are so many children here who love these kits," says Ms. McCauley. "You can see the excitement in their faces when we open them up."
The Kuzi village school has been totally washed away. There are no buildings in which to set up classrooms, so children gather under the tent, which serves as a temporary school and play area.
100 guitars for young people
Recreational activities, followed by the opportunity to return to school, are "a critical component of restoring a sense of normalcy," says the Chief of UNICEF's Child Protection Programme in the Pacific Region, Johanna Eriksson Takyo.
"The Government of the Solomon Islands, Save the Children Australia and UNICEF are therefore supporting the creation of safe spaces within camps and affected communities, where children can gather and be given opportunities for play, recreation and learning," she adds.
In another enhancement of these child-friendly spaces, UNICEF has sent 100 guitars for music-loving young people between the ages of 13 and 18.
As more children are able to express themselves freely through song and dance, and a regular school routine, tsunami-affected communities will realize their own strength and resilience as a way of overcoming stress. And in time, normal life will resume for those who lost so much in this disaster.
Amy Bennett contributed to this story from New York.