Art Refuge UK and Nepal Children’s Art Museum have been supporting one of UNICEF’s child friendly spaces (CFS) at Tundhikel, a large camp for displaced communities in the heart of Kathmandu.
After the earthquake on 25th April, Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) started to be set up as quickly as possible. Many CFS found their new homes to be a simple bamboo and tarpaulin tent within a camp, others are being established in closed schools or community spaces such as a football ground. The CFS aims to offer children:
a physically safe space: which is free of rubble and debris, has clean running water and is accessible to all children and young people’s learning and access needs
a psychologically safe space: which can support all children to feel safe and supported, work alongside children to explore and openly talk about and process what has happened at the pace that suits them, offer an opportunity to support / identify/ refer those who are particularly traumatized
a socially safe space: which offers children a place to play, learn and be with their peers, especially when schools are closed. Children can take part in ‘psycho-educational’ activities which teach them more about their experiences and how to remain safe, including how to stay clean and healthy. Parents can also have a communal space to gather, just belong and learn about local support and opportunities (social)
Tundikhel camp is one of the larger camps offering shelter within Kathmandu. It was established immediately after the first earthquake on Saturday 25th April to support displaced communities from the surrounding area. A number of humanitarian aid organisations are supporting the Nepal army to run this site, offering: sheltered homes, water, basic sanitation facilities, hot meals, medical support. Two CFS were quickly established, providing a place for children of all ages to supported Monday-Sunday. We have been supporting UNICEF’s CFS for children under 10 years old and are liaising with other international aid and local organisations as more CFS are established to see where we can best support.
Hundreds of thousands of children in Nepal have lost their homes. In the camps they are forced to join daily queues just to be able to support their basic needs such as obtaining clean water, food, washing their hands. They have found themselves in a strange new space with strange new systems and structures in place. Aside from home, school usually offers a regular routine and support structure for children. Schools were due to re-open on 15th May but we are hearing that many will just not be able to. The Department of Education are in the process of mapping out a large-scale surveying operation to ensure the safety of school buildings. A large number have been destroyed or know that they need to be pulled down and reconstructed. CFS have been devised to support the need to see children back in to some sense of routine and supportive structure. Many of the CFS aim to transform in to Temporary Learning Spaces (TLS) in a second phase starting as early as next week attempting to bring children back in to education. In the immediate the CFS are clearly offering a vital space for children to normalize after experiencing such extreme devastation.
“Children have the right to play. They learn through playing. Play is part of their psycho-social development which helps them in later life”
~ Save The Children & Child Protection Cluster, Nepal 2015
Local organisations are invited to manage the CFS and other organisations, such as CAM and Art Refuge UK, are brought in to work with specific CFS to offer a range of activities, such as: creative learning and art-making, play, education and psycho-social support. Within these activities children are very much invited to make the space their own and use the materials, staff, their peers, to explore, play, learn. In this immediate time after the earthquake it is vital that children are given a space to normalize, get back in to some kind of supportive structure and routine, feel safe and comfortable in a space that allows them to just be. A playful, creative space is supporting them to continue in their natural development at their own pace, pick up parts of their education if they feel an urge to, or try to begin to understand what they have experienced over the past fortnight, if they feel ready to.
We are witnessing the importance of providing this space to play and process in the activities that the children initiate themselves. Almost immediately the children sought out the wooden building blocks to rebuild their homes and construct other tall buildings. They decided to bring in their own tremors and create earthquakes which knock these buildings to the ground.
This has become a repetitive activity and own which feels extremely important for a number of reasons. The children seem to feel a real need to take back the control by creating this ‘man-made disaster'. They are able to take risks in a creative playful space that doesn’t have life threatening consequences. They start to manage their anxieties and find ways of coping with the sudden cascading of bricks and the loud noises they create.
Children have a huge hunger for the art-making. Sheets and sheets of paper are handed out amongst the group in any given hour. Some images become hugely valued by the children: a young boy frantically pasting glue on the back of their paper and sticking it firmly to the tent sides whilst another tugs at my top and asks me to clip the work up on a line we have installed in the tent. Other pieces of work are thrown to one side barely reaching the ground before their enthusiastic creator, coloured pencils in hand, starts at their next piece. We have taken care to look after each and every piece of work. As with the play activities the art-making also shows us the importance of a child-led space which supports them to normalize, explore, process.