Young children are usually the most vulnerable when disasters strike. In the wake of devastating natural disasters, like the earthquake in Haiti, children are at increased risk of separation from primary caregivers. The physical harm they suffer, along with increased exposure to all types of trafficking, sexual and other forms of violence, can leave long-term emotional and psychological scars. Experiencing what is referred to as ‘toxic stress’ in early childhood exposes children to greater risk of developing cognitive, behavioural and emotional difficulties.
In Haiti, where nearly half the population is under the age of 18, we are seeing firsthand the impact emergencies can have on children. Schools have been destroyed, there is a shortage of teachers, and children are taking shelter in camps for the displaced.
Education as a lifeline
Ensuring that young children receive adequate care and education during times of instability is a fundamental human right. The early years are among the most critical in a child’s life. Those who receive early childhood care and education are more likely to achieve better educational outcomes in the future. Until very recently, early childhood development interventions were fairly limited in emergency situations.
Although emergencies have devastating impacts on children’s lives, they can also present valuable opportunities to promote life-saving skills and education, greatly contributing to community building and human development in the long run. This can have multiple benefits for both children and their communities that extend far beyond crisis and post-crisis situations.
It is said that “play is the work of children,” but it is also an important means to compensate for the hardships of an uprooted life and facilitate the healing process after traumatic situations. Play can therefore be fundamental to building resilience. Resilient children can break out of a cycle of despair and envisage rebuilding their lives and those of their families and communities.
UNICEF is supplying thousands of school kits, including Early Childhood Development (ECD) kits, and hundreds of tents to re-establish learning and recreational activities, create safe spaces, and help restore a sense of normalcy for children in Haiti.
A life-cycle approach
The ECD Kit was created to strengthen assistance provided to young children in the event of such crises. The kit was officially launched in Geneva in July 2009 by UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman. The ECD Kit complements UNICEF’s School-in-a-Box and Recreation Kits, completing UNICEF’s life-cycle approach to programming.
Most of the materials in the ECD Kit can be used for several years. They are designed to help children continue their development both during an emergency and afterwards. And although the kit can’t replace a normal school environment, it can help with rapid-response interventions in emergency situations, as well as post-crisis transition environments.
The ECD Kit contains 37 different materials, along with an activity guide and training materials, to help caregivers create a safe learning environment for approximately 50 young children. Each item has been purposefully selected to help children develop their thinking, speaking and feeling skills through interaction with other children and caregivers. (Link will be provided to contents of kit)
ECD in Emergencies Advisor