The children of Sint Maarten will remember September the 6th 2017 forever. That day, Hurricane Irma raged over Sint Maarten with a devastating force. After the disaster relief, reconstruction is now in full swing. UNICEF is working on education, child protection and psychosocial support for the children on the island.
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.
The children without legal status on Sint Maarten are extra vulnerable. Children from families who were already struggling before the disaster, also need extra help. 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 properly registered.
The reconstruction of Sint Maarten is in full swing. UNICEF focuses on the needs of the children during the early recovery period. We are working on education and child protection, including psychosocial support and life skills education through sports. In order to achieve as much as possible for the children of Sint Maarten, we cooperate with and receive support from the government of Sint Maarten, the Dutch government, the Red Cross, the KNVB and other partners.
sports is an effective way to process unpleasant experiences
In January, we started a special sports program with the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) for children and young people on the island. 25 local WorldCoaches are being trained for this life-skills program. We have chosen sports because it is an effective way to process unpleasant experiences. In addition to exercise, children and young people learn about dealing with alcohol, standing up for themselves, and dealing with loss and other emotions that often occur after a severe disaster.
The program is carried out in collaboration with the St. Maarten Soccer Association and in coordination with the the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the Government of Sint Maarten and the National Sport Institute.
Creative expression isn’t only fun, it can also contribute to the processing and understanding of unpleasant experiences.
Creative expression isn’t only fun, it can also contribute to the processing and understanding of unpleasant 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 from UNICEF. On St. Eustatius and Saba - also hit by hurricane Irma, but luckily to a lesser extent than Sint Maarten - and now on Sint Maarten, children and young people started working under professional supervision to produce a film themselves. They start with a drawing or a story about their experiences, then they make a script, they act and direct their own film.
By eventually showing the film on a large screen or a cinema, their parents, family, neighbors 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 have experienced hurricane Irma.
UNICEF has supported the government of Sint Maarten to foster child-friendly spaces where children are able to learn in a safe and stimulating learning environment. UNICEF provides psychosocial support to teachers and children to process the traumatic experiences during and after the storm, to recapture daily life, and to be better socio-emotionally prepared for future disasters. Teachers also receive special training to pay attention to the hurricane in the classroom and help children to express their feelings.
Together with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the Government of Sint Maarten, we are also ensuring that schools are now well prepared for possible future natural disasters. For instance by advising on hurricane proof building and on disaster response in the classroom. The schools themselves also participate in this, just like other partners, such as the Red Cross. For example, the Red Cross teaches children and teachers about evacuation exercises and first aid courses.
With a contribution from the Red Cross and the Dutch government, we will train 120 professionals working with children on the Return to Happiness method for psychosocial support. Among other things, teachers will be able to better support children in the difficult circumstances after Irma and also guide children after a possible disaster in the future.
In the coming months, we will remain fully committed to the children of Sint Maarten to achieve lasting improvements, in collaboration with our local partners.
Based on the 'building back better' principle, UNICEF works on improving the protection and education system.