By Naomi Kalemba, UNICEF Malawi
Christina Stafford, 17, stands with a group of friends outside a warehouse at Bangula camp in Nsanje. She holds a netball ball in one hand and picks out who will go in which team. She is one of the best netball players in the camp and everyone wants to be in her team.
Christina has been living at Bangula camp for over a month now. Before that, she lived at Makhanga village with her mom and sister. Unfortunately, the village was flooded with water when Cyclone Idai hit Malawi in early March. “We left home in a haste. A boat rescued us from our flooded house to higher ground. From there we came to Bangula camp,” says Christina.
Life at Bangula Camp
Life at the camp is not easy. The camp is not the best place for a child. It is a small settlement where more than 5000 people, have been squeezed into a small place that used to be a government agriculture market. There is no proper shelter, except for a few tents to cater for women, children and the old. There is firewood, pots, plastic pales, plates and crying babies everywhere. Rubbish litters the ground and children run over it with bare feet. A make shift market is one side while different government supported services providers are in different corners providing services and holding meetings.
Christina shares a tent with 14 people including her mom and younger sister. To pass time, she chats with friends or goes out to fetch for firewood.Food is a very big issue for her family of three. On a good day they eat twice otherwise she has one meal a day.
“I miss home. I miss the privacy there. Here everything is out in the open. We cook and eat in the open. Toilets are also in the open. I only go to the toilet in the evenings when it is dark to avoid being seen by people,” she says.
“I miss home, school and my friends. I feel sad when I remember home,” she adds with a sad voice looking away holding back tears.
Children’s corner, a place to rewind and be a child
During the afternoon, Christina spends her time at Bangula Children’s Corner (CC). Facilitators at Bangula camp were trained with UNICEF funding. The trained CC facilitators give talks on the importance of education, career aspirations, protection, sexual and reproductive health, sanitation and hygiene and play games with the children.
Through activities such as healing through art, children are able to share their experiences on the issues affecting their lives. “I love spending time at the children’s corner, I play with my friends and talk about issues that I cannot discuss with my mother,” says Christina.
“The Facilitators teach us a lot of things. They teach us how to keep the camp clean and ourselves clean and safe; also talk about how we can prevent pregnancy, how to ask for help when we need it and from who, she adds. I also come to this place to play. It is a good place to come and forget about the floods and just relax for a few hours,” she concludes.
“About half the children in the camp come regularly to the children’s corner,” Stalla Davis, a Facilitator at the children’s corner says. “When they come here, we get to know them first, build their trust and find out about their situations. We address any issues of concern, refer to appropriate service providers those that we cannot address and have fun with the children.”
UNICEF Malawi is working to ensure that all children in the camps are protected from violence, abuse and exploitation by providing recreation kits to children between the ages of 6-18 years. A Children’s Corner (CC) is a safe space created to allow children experiencing trauma and other violence-related issues to report and get the necessary support.
In addition, CCs also serve as a protective environment for children as it does not only draw children affected by violence but also all other children. In these spaces the children receive psychosocial support, life skills education and rights empowerment.
“Children have the right to protection even in situations like these where they are away from home due to disasters,” UNICEF child protection officer Alexander Mwale explains.
Together with the government and local partners, UNICEF is working with trained volunteers to keep children safe from harm. The organization works with the community volunteers to run activities that provide education, life skills and a place to play. Younger children sing, dance and draw while older children hold discussions before breaking out into groups to play.
“Children’s corners are a place for children to forget their worries and enjoy being children. It is also a place where children can relax and talk about their fears and concerns without feeling like someone will judge then for it and report any abuse they experience, says Alexander.
With support from UNICEF, the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare has established 34 children’s corners in 34out of the 173 camps where children who were displaced by the recent floods are currently residing.