Building children’s resilience in disasters through education
Last Thursday was International Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Day. That might sound like a far too technical term to merit a celebration, but in fact it’s central to everything we (and by we NGOs and governments) do to mitigate the impact of emergencies on children’s lives.
Children will be more resilient to the effects of disasters when their education prepares them to deal with disasters.
DRR and conflict mitigation through education is one of the most effective ways to mitigate the impact of any crisis because children and teachers learn how to deal with changing environments, what to do –and not to do— and how to be safe in the event of an earthquake or a typhoon, etc.
Education is the key
Children, clever as they are, will always be aware; moreover, they will communicate key messages back to their communities.
This is why, in emergencies, DRR and education responses go hand in hand.
Do you remember the girl who alerted an entire hotel resort that the receding wave she had noticed was in fact very similar to the tsunami wave her teacher had talked about in her geography class?
While that girl may have been sitting in a long lesson about water changes and tectonic plates; it demonstrates the actual impact of ensuring children know what is happening around them and the huge impact children can have in educating their own communities.
DRR education needed: should children be bathing or swimming in flood waters? The Philippines is currently feeling the effects of typhoons Nesat and Nalgae, which have affected many communities and destroyed basic infrastructure.
Importance of schools
In most places, the only standing infrastructure are schools; and the bad news is that they are used as evacuation centres, therefore delaying the resumption of classes.
Teachers have expressed the need for support to repair and clean damaged classrooms and provide teaching materials. They are also worried about the school records that have been submerged.
However, I was particularly struck by a note in the same report that pointed out that many unattended young children have been observed bathing or swimming in flood waters.
Exposed to danger
We know that children who are left unattended are exposed to dangerous and risky activities.
Often this is because they are not aware of the emerging risks and because parents and older siblings cannot keep an eye out for them while they have to focus on getting things up and running.
This is one of the reasons why we advocate for children’s education to be restored immediately after an emergency.
These children are playing in dangerous waters because that’s one of the only things they can do now (in the absence of their education and play).
School in this case would take the form of learning activities in child-friendly spaces or in temporary learning spaces.
When education programmes are in place immediately after a crisis, these children will probably be taught how to swim, how to ensure safety while crossing waters, and how to avert any further tides, how to go to highland areas, as well as issues around hygiene and waterborne diseases.
More importantly, they will keep on being children, and carry on learning – all in a safer environment.