Millions of children throughout the world are dealing with the loss of their childhood due to wars, famines and diseases that take away parents, siblings and normalcy. Child advocates and psychologists worry about the long-term impact on the world with so many children growing up with stigmas due to diseases and depression from loss of family. UNICEF, the child advocacy arm of the United Nations has joined with NGO’s around the world to develop and implement life-saving programs that help children find joy again.
In Guinea, the chief robber of childhood joy is the Ebola virus. Surviving the virus can stigmatize and make the child an outcast, excluding them from play groups and other normal childhood activities. This is not restricted to actual survivors of Ebola, but also relatives, as an uneducated community fears that by interacting with family members they might be exposed to the disease. If the child has lost parents to Ebola, the situation is even darker.
Working with local NGOs, UNICEF identified almost 6,000 children in Guinea who had lost one or both parents to Ebola. Agencies are now using play groups and familiar childhood games to regain the spark of joy that has been stripped away from these children. Jumping rope, “Simon says” and dodgeball have become tools to help children deal with the impact of Ebola so they can rejoin their communities. By mixing with non-Ebola affected children, both groups learn to overcome the fears and stigmas attached to the disease. Instead of being sidelined, children are now part of the group and learning to smile and giggle again. At the same time, specialized counselors are on hand to help the children identify and deal with their emotions. Social workers are also training local educators and practitioners how to be more compassionate in the way they interact with these children.
The programs have proven to be very successful, with lots of children signing up to participate. The children are challenging the counselors too, as they must offer engaging and creative games to keep the children interested. At the end of the day, everyone is happy.