Recovering childhood in a safe space

By Jay Mark Mijares, World Vision Thailand

When Teerasak's home in Aranyaprathet flooded, his world was turned upside-down. 

At a World Vision Foundation of Thailand (WVFT) Child-Friendly Space, he and 40 other children found a place where they could learn, play, talk about their experiences and simply be kids again.

Teerasak transformed a blank piece of paper into a colorful canvas. The second-grade student created an unusual masterpiece -- drawing an upside-down boat that has three wheels, multi-colored clouds, and a smattering of raindrops. The drawing also shows his house, flipped upside-down, too, standing on its roof.

The drawing reflects exactly the situation Teerasak found himself in.

This boy was one of the millions of Thais whose life was flipped upside-down because of the mass flooding that affected 3.7 million people across Thailand in September and October 2013.

He described his drawing and pointed to the boat. “It has three wheels because I want to get away from flood waters as fast as I can when it comes,” he explained.

The flooding affected Teerasak’s spirit, “Flood waters have gone into my home. Plants and flowers flowed into my house as the water became strong.”

World Vision Foundation of Thailand was also worried about the psychological impact of the flooding on children. Many lost their homes and countless families faced new pressure after the flooding destroyed their crops just a month before it was ready to be harvested.

To help restore a sense of normalcy to children, WVFT set up Child-Friendly Spaces, where children learn songs, dance, draw pictures, and play games.

“Children have a place to play in the Child-Friendly Space,” says WVFT’s Nannapat Sinwanaram, a Child-Friendly Spaces facilitator for the flooding response. “It provides a recreational place during the day, away from the flooded streets where they used to play. It reduces the risk of harm during the day and is a place where children can learn life skills.”

The center has been a relief for Teerasak and 40 other children attending this center in Sa kaew province.

“My father heard from our village official that there will be a gathering for children here, so he sent me in,” Teerasak says. “I went with the other children to see what the fuss is all about. There were no classes in school after the flood so I am free for many days.”

Teerasak says that the center was a place where he could have fun again. 

“We were able to play games and sing songs. I like Gai Yang Thook Pao (grilled chicken song) particularly, as we enjoyed the actions as we sing.”

Nannapat adds that he was particularly encouraged to see children establish relationships with each another and with the staff.

“They were able to wake up from a bad nightmare and retain a sense of normal,” Nannapat says.

*     *     *

Child-Friendly Spaces are an integral part of many of World Vision's disaster relief responses around the world, providing emotional first aid for children through counseling and activities like art and music. When children's normal lives are shattered, feeling safe again is an important step in their recovery: to be in a secure place that they can trust will not be turned upside-down.