Child-friendly spaces

Child-friendly spaces are a central pillar of our emergency response provision for children and families who have been impacted by conflict and disaster. They offer respite from crisis - a safe place where children can relax and play, receive nutritious meals, safe drinking water, health services, education, and trauma counselling.

They also serve as safe childcare for parents, who can then focus on pressing matters such as finding food, locating relatives, re-establishing their livelihoods and assisting the community’s recovery, comforted by the knowledge their children are being cared for by childcare professionals.
In our child-friendly spaces, our psychologists enable children to communicate their trauma and express their feelings through a range of child-counselling techniques, including arts and crafts, singing and dancing, and storytelling therapies. They also provide psychological support to parents – a crucial aspect to ensuring that children recover from their ordeal. When a parent has been traumatised, they can find it difficult to provide their children with the emotional support they need and may inadvertently cause them further mental strain. Our child-friendly spaces reduce the levels of stress, trauma and fear among both children and parents, and empower them to recover together, as a family.

Our child-friendly spaces have been used for immediate and short-term relief in a range of humanitarian emergencies such as the 2017 Sierra Leone landslide, the Nepal earthquakes, Typhoon Haiyan, the 2011 East Africa drought, and the ongoing Syrian conflict.

Our child-friendly space in Damascus is helping Syrian children cope

Rami’s* life changed forever when the violence of the Syrian civil war forced him and his family to flee their home in Aleppo. 

The family took up residence in an abandoned house in Damascus, but it soon became apparent that their father would not be able to earn enough to support Rami and his five younger siblings. His parents made the heart-breaking decision to take Rami out of school and send him to work as a delivery boy for a local supermarket. It was a dangerous occupation, requiring Rami to walk the streets of the war-torn city alone from morning until nightfall.

Rami told us: “I feel overloaded with responsibility. I see children going to school and I sometimes envy them.  I long to be one of those children and get an education.”

Things have improved for Rami and his family since he started attending our child-friendly centre in Jaramana. His health is better now that he is receiving nutritional food and medical care, and he is making friends and beginning to enjoy his life again.

The SOS team found that Rami had an untapped passion for singing and they are helping him develop his talent.

Rami said: “I like the food here in the centre, and I like the clothes they gave me. The lessons are also fun and the activities make me forget about the exhausting work I have to do.”

Rami is eager to continue his studies, and he and his siblings will soon be able to return to school. The children have been enrolled in SOS Children’s Villages anti-child labour project, that will provide the family with the financial support they need so that Rami no longer has to work, and can complete his education.

*Rami's name has been changed to protect his privacy

Children need security and predictability. In a disaster there is no security; nothing is predictable, and children go through a mental, social, familial and internal disconnect. A child-friendly space provides the expertise and resources to support children to deal with their trauma, to process it, and to help bring normality, as much as is possible in a disaster environment.

Teresa Ngigi
SOS psychologist