In post-quake Chile, supporting the emotional recovery of children

The following is UNICEF’s effort to support the emotional recovery of children. While the caravan seems haphazard, the information distribution across radio and television stations may be an effective means of providing psychological aid after a disaster, or at least to invite those in need to get free help provided by the 3,000 child care professionals being trained.

SANTIAGO, Chile, 21 May 2010 – Nearly three months after Chile’s devastating 8.8-magnitude earthquake, a UNICEF-commissioned study has found that 93 per cent of children in the quake-affected region show signs of emotional stress. Most remember the quake in detail and many still fear another earthquake or tsunami. As Chile continues its reconstruction process, UNICEF is working to restore normalcy – and a bit of laughter – to these children’s lives.

Camilo Vega, 11, who lives in the city of Curanipe in the earthquake-affected Maule region, is among the many Chilean children showing signs of stress. “I’m worried about another tsunami so that I can save myself, my mom and my brothers and cousins,” he said. After the devastating earthquake of February 2010, UNICEF helped produce public service announcements focusing on the emotional recovery of children in Chile.

He is not alone. The recent study – entitled ‘La voz de los niños, niñas y adolescentes,’ or ‘The voice of children’ – illustrated the perceptions and experiences of children 12 to 15 years of age in the two regions most affected by the earthquake. Like Camilo, the vast majority of children who were surveyed demonstrated concerns related to the earthquake. Death and destruction had the biggest impact on children. But according to the study, some 40 per cent of children worried most about people who had lost their homes or all their belongings in the quake. Another 10 per cent worried most about future natural disasters. The study also showed that the majority of children are concerned with the impact of the disaster on neighbouring cities, not just their own hometowns.

In response to the needs of the many children affected psychologically by the quake, UNICEF is providing some unique support services. One such effort, a public communication campaign known as the ‘Caravan of Happiness’, aims to bring fun back into the lives of children under stress. The traveling caravan features a series of activities, including cinema, musical numbers and ‘laugh-therapy’ sessions. The project’s mobile support team will travel to about 50 affected cities, targeting some 30,000 girls and boys.

In Nihue, a town in Chile’s Biobío region, the caravan has made headway in re-building smiles. For José Hernández and Pablo Contreras, both eight years old, the clowns were the best part. “The clown decided to play soccer, while he rode his unicycle!” the boys recalled, laughing. “This type of activity is of great help to raise the spirits of the children,” said Eduardo Valenzuela, a local community leader. He added that it also helps parents, “who see their children having a good time.”

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, UNICEF and its partners worked with the Chilean Government to help meet the basic needs of children and families. UNICEF was a focal-point agency for water and sanitation, as well as child protection; it also helped to coordinate the delivery of essential items such as food and hygiene supplies. Now, as those needs evolve into longer-term issues, UNICEF is launching a public education campaign that has reached millions of Chileans. Across the affected region, UNICEF radio and television public-service announcements are encouraging families to help “rebuild children’s lives.” Many of the announcements use characters from popular children’s programmes. The campaign, which calls for support for children under stress, is being broadcast on 39 television channels and 26 local and national radio stations. UNICEF will also help train 3,000 child-care professionals and educators to work with children experiencing post-disaster stress.

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