Helping children cope with natural disasters and loss, a UNICEF guide to teachers

This manual is designed as a resource guide for teachers and volunteers working with children who have been exposed to natural disasters or traumatic experiences. It includes some simple activities to enhance children’s participation in helping themselves and reaching out to other children who have been affected. This manual was developed with the help of teachers and volunteers in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and its underlying philosophy is to help adults as well as children realize that it is within their control to rebuild their lives.

Natural and human made disasters are part of our lives today. These events affect adults as well as children and may have deep impact on their feelings and behaviour. If detected early and helped, children can come to accept that while their lives have been disrupted, they can still find some hope for the future. Even when they have lost family members, they can be helped to be resilient.

Children should be exposed to information that they can handle. Adults can respond to children’s fears without over alarming them, by listening to and answering their questions and by using language which is appropriate to their age. Children need to be given enough information to answer their questions, but not too much which would be difficult to understand. Sometimes to protect children from further pain, parents may not want to be fully truthful. They need to be honest while talking to children in order to help them heal. Teachers or volunteers working with affected people should explain this matter to the parents. In many cases encouraging children to draw (if they are able to) about their experiences has helped them express their feelings and fears.

This manual has been designed to be used by formal or nonformal school teachers, community and NGO workers and volunteers at times of disaster. Some guidelines have been provided here to help the facilitators but they will have to adapt these to the local situation. There may be many effective local approaches that should also be included, based on need.

About the Story

Meena’s village and some other places are struck by an earthquake. Though the impact of the quake is not so great where Meena lives, in other villages houses collapse, trees are uprooted and there is widespread destruction. As a result, many people become homeless and come to Meena’s village for temporary shelter. They are housed in a government building near the health clinic. Meena goes to visit these people with her parents and grandmother, her brother Raju and her pet parrot, Mithu. Meena is very sad to see their suffering. The health worker and Meena’s teacher are also there to help the people. Meena meets a young girl at the camp named Neela, who looks totally lost and confused. She was separated from her parents when the earthquake happened.

After a few days, the children from the camp are admitted to Meena’s school. Among them is Neela, who barely talks or plays with anyone but is busy drawing in her note book. Meena learns from the teacher that Neela is still suffering from the shock of being separated from her parents and needs friends to help her. She also says that Neela does not know her address, so her parents cannot be traced. Meena promises to help Neela and become her friend.

With the help of Meena and her family, Neela slowly begins to share her story and her drawings with them. Finally, one day they find out from the newspaper that her parents are looking for her and, with the help of the village headman and Meena’s father, Neela is reunited with her family.

Objectives of the Story

The story has an entertainment-education approach. In an appealing way, the story unfolds the key educational messages to help adults and children in coping with a disaster situation.

Research has shown that this story can be used effectively to:

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