‘We want children to play again’

Alyson Eynon was posted to Jaffna, north east Sri Lanka, for her first placement in August. Soon she was struck by the differences between the area affected by conflict, which carried the scars of years of poverty, and that devastated by the tsunami, where support and resources were available.

Eynon was involved in training for local staff and partners – such as the district child protection committee, government organisations and local non-governmental organisations – on issues including policies on disability, diversity and inclusion and improving child-focused community development projects.

But Eynon could not finish what she started. Her six-month placement ended abruptly when she was chosen as one of the two trainees to join the relief effort in Pakistan two weeks after the earthquake. She went to Bagh in Kashmir where early reports indicated that 98 per cent of buildings had been destroyed.

She says: “Because it’s so remote you fly in by helicopter and you don’t think it looks that bad. But when you reach the ground you realise that all the tin roofs are 2ft off the ground instead of 10ft.”

Tent villages were set up and Eynon’s first task was to find out how many families there were, the number of children and their needs. They also needed to know how many children had disabilities, had been separated from one or both of their parents or knew their parents had been killed.

Eynon says: “It is a mountainous area which is difficult to live in. The people are strong and resourceful and are getting on with it, but people are still living in tents despite the cold. This is a worry for children.”

The biggest task has been setting up safe space areas for children to play in. No schools were open so there were many children on the streets, adding to their vulnerability. There are now 13 safe space areas in camps and villages. Eynon says: “We want to get children active and playing in peace, where they can have some sort of routine and normality to forget what has happened.”

But the camps themselves carry their own risks for children. Eynon says: “They are close to many different people they haven’t met before and they have no space as a family.”

Eynon has learned quickly in the past few months. She has had to: in February she heads off to the Congo for her next placement.

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