Providing safe spaces for children in crises

Fanna playing with her doll in the Child Friendly Space of Sayam Forage in Diffa, Niger
Monday, October 22, 2018

Gunshots, pandemonium and being scooped up in flight. This was what a Monday morning in 2014 turned into for 8 year old Fanna Moustapha. Fanna and her family fled their hometown of Damasak, Nigeria when Boko Haram attacked the city. Having no choice, they fled by car to Gagamari in neighboring Niger. Even at that young age, all Fanna thought about was those who were captured.

In Gagamari, she felt no freedom. She longed for the days back home. “Before Boko Haram came, I was in school and always playing with my friends. I really miss Salah[1]. It was fun,” the now 12 year old girl said with a hint of sadness. “At Gagamari we couldn’t even get enough food to eat. We had to queue for food and water and even then, sometimes we didn’t get some,” she continued.

In 2015, Fanna and her family moved to Sayam Forage, a refugee camp set up by UNCHR in response to the growing refugee crisis in the region. There, Fanna could finally come to grips with the trauma that had dogged her since that fateful Monday morning. “I couldn’t properly sleep for over a year. I had nightmares and my heart was always racing at night,” she confessed. “When we arrived in Sayam, there was a space where children could come and sleep but they were closing down, so I was very sad.”

In 2016, World Vision opened a child friendly space (CFS) at Sayam Forage, a space when children could play, learn and get psychosocial counseling. “I started going to the new space when they opened and a man from World Vision came to talk to us and that made me feel much better,” she said, smiling.

Fanna finally had a permanent place where she felt safe and free. “I can sleep now. The games and singing have allowed me to forget about what happened in Damasak. I feel free, I learn and I get to see my friends,” she said with a radiant grin.

Child friendly spaces give children in conflict and crisis a haven where they can just be children again.


[1] Salah is the celebration marking the end of the Ramadan fast.