By Eva Gilliam
MOGADISHU, Somalia, 9 November 2011 – For hundreds of thousands of displaced Somali children, daily life is a mixture of fear and insecurity. Communities break apart, as one by one families leave their villages to flee ongoing conflict. If they survive the journey to Mogadishu, life is not much easier, as they are faced with the daily challenge of finding food and shelter.
For children, this experience can be traumatizing. Having fled their homes in search of safety, they find themselves in overcrowded camps, away from all they know.
“They have faced a lot of problems on the way while fleeing,” said Omar Ahmed, who works with UNICEF partner NGO Cesvi at what is called a Child Friendly Space in the Somali Capital. “So first we interview the children to see what problems they might have had, then we register them, and if it looks like they need it, we refer them to other health services.”
The Child Friendly Space where Mr. Ahmed works is located in a cluster of small white tents that are nestled between Mogadishu’s bullet ridden walls. Together, they provide a safe space for over 200 children.
Here the children receive basic food support through on-sight snacks and desperately needed water and sanitation services. Education is a big part of the daily programme as well, and essential literacy and numeracy classes are available to all children. But more than that, these children get to play.
Falling through the cracks
“It’s psychosocial support, because children can come together,” explained Brown Kanyangi, an Identification, Tracing and Reunification (IDTR) consultant for UNICEF. “Just the act of being together with other children can relieve stress.”
Each Child Friendly Space has facilitators from UNICEF’s NGO partners who work with the children. Several of the partners also have social workers to help identify and refer children in need of care and protection to the appropriate services.
While most children arrive in the displaced camps with their families, some are tragically separated from their parents and are either left to fend for themselves or forced to rely on already overburdened community members.
“Many children separated from their parents have been taken into the community,” said Bindu Abraham, Child Protection specialist with UNICEF Somalia, “With the movement of people, fleeing their homes in this emergency, the usual community structure that would otherwise support them is also displaced – so some children fall through the cracks.”
On a recent UNICEF training in Mogadishu, partners learned to identify and register separated and unaccompanied children, with the aim of reuniting them with their families, as well as provide psychosocial support.
Through a consultative process with approximately 20 individuals from 10 NGO partners, a culturally and contextually appropriate approach was developed for information collection, management, dissemination and ensuring security of data collected. The system set up during this training will now be used to document cases of separate and unaccompanied children, with an emphasis on protection of information and security – so that those children registered are not at risk.
“We learned a lot in this training,” said Mr. Ahmed who attended the UNCIEF training. “We learned how to register children who are lost from their parents, and also how to do outreach to find the parents to reunite the family.”
To date, nearly 32,000 children are enjoying the resources and activities in over 350 of UNICEF’s partner run Child Friendly Spaces throughout Somalia.
For these youngsters, access to a Child Friendly Space means they still get to be kids, even when surrounded by the ravages of hunger, conflict and chaos.