In post-flood Pakistan, Children's Fairs entertain and educate
Alice Clements and Atif Butt, UNICEF
BADIN DISTRICT, Pakistan (May 2, 2012) — Thousands of flood-affected children and families have learned new life skills and enjoyed a much-needed reprieve from the stresses of post-flood life at a series of UNICEF-supported Children’s Fairs taking place in some of the worst flood-affected districts of Sindh province.
The Sindh has suffered from two years of consecutive natural disasters that disrupted the lives of millions. The displacement and the loss of homes, educations and household livelihoods have placed children under extreme physical and psychosocial stress. According to recent government figures, the monsoon floods of August and September 2011 affected 9.2 million people; some affected districts were still struggling to recover from the devastating floods of 2010.
The disasters have strained resources and hampered efforts to help flood-affected children and women rebuild their lives.
Innovation for children
UNICEF has been reaching out to communities in new ways, providing recreation, support and education through ‘Children’s Fairs’, day-long events run in partnership with local NGOs that are designed to attract, engage, entertain and educate children and their caregivers.
Children’s Fairs mix traditional fairground rides, games, puppet shows, music and entertainment with community information, educational activities and awareness-raising about topics including sanitation, hand-washing and the importance of education for girls. The fairs also offer a non-threatening way to address traditionally sensitive issues such as abuse and gender-based violence.
In total, 20 Children’s Fairs have been held, reaching more than 70,000 flood-affected people, mainly children and women. A recent Children’s Fair held in Badin district attracted nearly 2,000 people.
“We came here and have enjoyed ourselves,” said Allah Bachai, a woman attending the Badin fair. “Even the children are very happy and have had a lot of fun. We are grateful to UNICEF for organizing this event today that has brought joy to our children.”
The Children’s Fairs are part of a holistic approach linked to UNICEF’s innovative new integrated emergency facility, Protective Learning and Community Emergency Services (PLaCES).
PLaCES offer a variety of coordinated services, such as those offered at temporary learning centers, child-friendly spaces and women-friendly centers, as well as integration with other emergency service providers in health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene. All of these services are mutually reinforcing.
UNICEF established more than 550 PLaCES to provide these integrated protective services. The centers build on lessons learned from the 2010 floods and the need to provide integrated protection, psychosocial support, education, recreation, referrals and assistance to flood-displaced children and women. PLaCES have reached almost 200,000 children and more than 75,000 women since September 2011. The Children’s Fairs reach out to communities being served by PLaCES.
“Emergencies place huge stress on families and children, in particular,” said UNICEF Pakistan, Chief of Child Protection Smaranda Popa. “The normal systems that protect children from harm are weakened or disappear altogether, increasing risk and compromising the ability of communities to recover and plan for a stronger, healthier future. With the PLaCES and Children’s Fair initiatives, we are reaching out to communities in ways that are safe, engaging, meaningful and even fun.”
Reaching the most vulnerable
Badin District, situated near the end of the Indus River in Sindh, was one of the districts worst-affected by the 2011 floods. More than a million people were affected in this district alone as a result of the floods, and countless more lost possessions and livelihoods, worsening their already entrenched poverty.
UNICEF worked with partners to meet immediate needs, including food, water, sanitation, health and education. At the same time, UNICEF was acutely aware that children in general, and adolescent girls in particular, are the most vulnerable during emergencies. Among other threats, the children of Badin were at risk of being separated from their families during displacement, they were threatened by mental health stresses, and they were at risk of sexual violence, abuse and exploitation.
In response, UNICEF designed and rolled out the PLaCES concept. The Children’s Fairs have proven especially popular with communities, with up to 5,000 girls, boys, men and women attending a single fair.
Today, efforts to assist flood-affected districts continue, with the Children’s Fairs playing a central role in engaging and supporting communities.
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