Risk is inclusive: Young Armenians portray disaster risk reduction through film

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Risk is inclusive. Fourteen-year-old Margarita portrays a powerful message about disability in a video about disaster risk reduction.

By Chris Schuepp

GYUMRI, Armenia, 14 March 2013 – Margarita Sargsyan, 14, and her classmates at School #1 in Gyumri, the second biggest city of Armenia, are taking part in school lessons that might save their lives. They are learning about disaster risk reduction (DRR).

In Armenia, 14-year-old Margarita Sargsyan attends an inclusive school where she actively participates in a OneMinutesJr. workshop on disaster risk reduction.

There are no natural disasters

Following the premise that there are no ‘natural’ disasters, only natural hazards, DRR aims to reduce the damage caused by such natural hazards as earthquakes, floods, droughts and cyclones through an ethic of prevention.

DRR is a topic that resonates in the minds of the students, as Gyumri was hit by a massive earthquake in 1988. Twenty-five years later, one can still find remnants of the destruction. Older people talk about how almost 25,000 people lost their lives and tens of thousands of people were injured and lost their homes.

Last week, Margarita was one of 15 youths who took part in a UNICEF OneMinutesJr. video workshop on disaster risk education, supported by the European Union humanitarian aid department (ECHO). The children developed story ideas on how best to prepare when facing some of the natural hazards in the area. They then filmed their stories and produced 60-second videos.

Films produced during the five-day workshop were shown at an international meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, last month. Eight countries in the South Caucasus and Central Asia shared experiences on disaster risk reduction programming through the education sector, supported by the European Union and UNICEF.

‘Don’t leave me behind’

Child-led activities are central to helping school preparedness and community engagement. It is critical that all children, including girls and children with disabilities, who may be hidden at home or in institutions, be more involved in their communities.

The film Margarita prepared at the workshop, Don’t Leave Me Behind, takes place in the classroom. It is about an earthquake. In the film, Margarita starts crying when all the other children have run away, but then two boys come back into the classroom to get her out.

Margarita uses a wheelchair. Until a year ago, her only option to get a basic education was to go to a daycare centre for children with disabilities. Last year, she made a presentation at the TEDxKids conference in Yerevan and received support from UNICEF to enable her to attend the new inclusive school in Gyumri. She has attended School #1 since September.

According to her teacher Noyemzar Khachatryan, she has been welcomed by a “warm atmosphere” in the school and by her peers.

Disaster risk education is woven into geography and other subjects Margarita studies.

Serious about inclusive education

The Government of Armenia introduced inclusive education law in 2005 with support from UNICEF. Today, there are more than 100 inclusive schools in Armenia.

Margarita still likes to visit the daycare centre to see her friends. She recently went back to spread the word about her video workshop and about DRR.

The Armenian parliament is currently discussing amendments to the education law, whereby all schools in Armenia will become inclusive. All children, including children with disabilities, will be able to learn to prepare for the future and gain knowledge to save their lives.