Emotional scars for children affected by Fiji cyclone could take years to heal without right help, says Save the Children

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120,000 children were within 50km of Cyclone Winston’s direct path during storm

Save the Children is warning that unless children who experienced the wrath of Cyclone Winston receive the right psychosocial support in the coming weeks and months, they could carry emotional scars of Fiji’s worst storm with them for years.

More than 120,000 children were in communities that bore the brunt of the category 5 storm that barrelled through Fiji on Saturday night, ripping homes apart, destroying schools and flooding low lying communities.

“It is really important that children receive extra care and support right now, that they feel safe and loved so they can start to deal with what they have been through,” Save the Children Fiji CEO Iris Low-McKenzie said.

“We cannot underestimate the importance of this. Alongside lifesaving aid like food, water and healthcare, we need to ensure that children do not continue to be traumatised and distressed by what they have experienced.”

More than 34,000 people are still staying in evacuation centres across the country, including at least 30 schools. Save the Children will set up ‘child friendly spaces’ in many of the evacuation centres to provide children with a safe place to play, socialise with other children and take part in educational activities.

“This unique support in a time of heightened stress and anxiety helps them forget about what they have been through, while also giving parents a much-needed opportunity to return home, assess the damage, and start the rebuilding process,” Ms Low McKenzie said.

“In a situation like this, it’s quite amazing to see children having fun, singing songs and taking part in educational activities. There’s nothing like the sound of shrieking laughter to help lift spirits at a time like this.”

As well as implementing ‘child friendly spaces’, Save the Children will work with UNICEF to set up temporary classrooms to help get schools up and running, and will distribute school bag kits to students to ensure they are prepared to head back to school.

The aid agency is also planning to implement a cash for work program, and carry out vital water and sanitation activities at schools and evacuation centres.

Save the Children has been working in Fiji since 1974 providing education and children protection services, and now the agency is working with the Ministry of Education to lead the education response to Cyclone Winston.