The children of Sint Maarten will remember September 6th 2017 forever. That day, hurricane Irma raged over Sint Maarten with devastating force. After the disaster relief, reconstruction is now ongoing.
Immediately after hurricane Irma struck, UNICEF supported the government of Sint Maarten to assess the situation of children on the island. UNICEF is helping the Government to be better prepared for future disasters by making schools safer. We strengthen the capacities in the education and child protection sectors to provide quality services for children by providing training, support and materials.
sports is an effective way to process unpleasant experiences
We started a special sports program with the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) for children and young people on the island. 25 local coaches were trained to become a WorldCoach and integrate life-skills in the training practice. In addition to having fun, physical exercise and interacting with peers, the children and young people learn about communicating with others, standing up for themselves, and dealing with loss and other emotions that occur on the field but also in real life.
The program is carried out in collaboration with the Sint Maarten Football Federation and in coordination with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the Government of Sint Maarten and the National Sport Institute. By July, 650 children participated in the program.
Creative expression isn’t only fun, it can also contribute to the processing and understanding of unpleasant experiences.
Creative expression is not only fun, it can also contribute to the processing and understanding of life experiences. One of the methods that UNICEF uses for this is to let children make films about topics that affect them. At the same time, they learn about children's rights. On St. Eustatius and Saba - also hit by hurricane Irma, but luckily to a lesser extent than Sint Maarten - and on Sint Maarten, children and young people worked under professional supervision to produce a film themselves. They started with a drawing or a story about their experiences, then they made a script, they acted and directed their own film.
By eventually showing the film on a large screen or a cinema, their parents, family, neighbours and other people in their community are also involved in the life of the young filmmakers. In this way, they get a better picture of how the children look at certain topics or what they find important in their lives.
We trained 100 professionals working with children on the Return to Happiness method for psychosocial support. Teachers are now able to better support children in the difficult circumstances after hurricane Irma and also guide children after a possible disaster in the future, or difficult events such as the illness or loss of a child or parent. 120 sturdy kits with creative arts and play materials have been distributed to schools and other strategic places to use when applying the Return to Happiness activities with children.
Sint Maarten is prone to hurricanes, excessive rains and possibly tsunamis. Together with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the Government of Sint Maarten, we are ensuring that schools are now well prepared for possible future natural disasters. For instance, by advising on hurricane resilient buildings, school safety plans and on disaster response lessons in the classroom. Immediately after the hurricane, children were evacuated from the island and taken to family or foster families elsewhere. Due to the chaos in the days after the 6th of September, the whereabouts and guardianship of many children were not properly registered. The children without legal status on Sint Maarten are even more vulnerable. UNICEF is supporting the government of Sint Maarten to improve protocols on the movement of children right before, during and after emergencies.
Immediately after the disaster, the situation was chaotic and unsafe on the island: there was no electricity, no telephone service, widespread looting, and there was a great shortage of water and food. Hurricane Irma was so intense that 90 percent of the buildings, including schools and daycare centers, were damaged or wiped out.
Children are very vulnerable in the event of natural disasters such as hurricane Irma: they have endured the terrible hurricane for hours, they have seen how houses and schools have been destroyed. There are limited places where they can play safely. Their parents or caretakers have lost their homes, belongings and jobs and are forced to make a living with reduced income. From similar contexts, we know that due to increased stress levels, verbal, physical and sexual violence against children often increases after a disaster. Therefore we want to invest in prevention by addressing the issue openly and stimulate behaviour change as well as invest in child protection system strengthening so that children in these situations have increased access to quality services.
Our work is funded by the Netherlands Red Cross and the Dutch Recovery Fund managed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Kingdom Relations.