Editor’s note: The following is a message that was shared with our staff around the world from Kevin Jenkins, president of World Vision International. As we share it here, we hope you find it as intriguing and worthwhile as we do.
What helps children to prepare for — and cope successfully with — disasters?
Why not ask them?
With that simple question in mind, five organizations who regularly deal with crisis situations — including World Vision — asked 600 children in 21 disaster-vulnerable countries around the world what they thought.
The answers were so powerful and informative that we turned them into a Children’s Charter for Disaster Risk Reduction, and presented them on May 12 to the third session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.
The first of five pillars identified by children themselves was the need to keep going to school. The others covered child protection, access to information, proper reconstruction of infrastructure, and the need to pay attention to people with special needs.
I’ve spoken to children in crisis — in drought-afflicted East Africa, urban India, and impoverished Haiti — and have heard many of these same concerns expressed.
Central to it all is the need to protect children from harm. When disaster strikes and families get separated, or when entire neighborhoods must move away from their homes, the isolation, fear, and insecurity can overwhelm children. They may feel they have no right to appeal for resources, no way to get help, and they sometimes become vulnerable to opportunist threats — during the disaster and long after it has passed.
The need to protect those who are weakest is a running theme throughout the Bible. It is the centerpiece of Psalm 82, for example:
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Encouraging communities to prepare for potential risks increases the likelihood that children will have their rights maintained and be protected. The best responses I encountered actively involve children in their own protection — making them less “weak,” in the psalmist’s terms.
When I met Sonam and the Children’s Parliament in Delhi (the story is here), the children had organized themselves to tackle sexual assault, physical abuse, and drug-taking by promoting education, hygiene, and new values. They said they no longer wanted to be lone victims of aggressive policemen or manipulative drug-pushers. Their strength came from being part of a community of peers.
Similar things are happening around the world, from the formation of youth clubs after crises to the intentional involvement of children in emergency committees. Adults don’t treat this as a burden or an add-on; they tell us the children’s perspective strengthens their own preparations for the unexpected.
World Vision has described its definition of “life in all its fullness” for all children in four child well-being aspirations. The fourth of these is “children are cared for, protected, and participating.” That sounds simple, but requires careful planning to get right. It is extremely challenging to implement once a major emergency is underway, so advance planning is crucial.
Our staff, embedded in local society and part of a global learning network of experts, will continue to make a dramatic difference in the lives of children when the population is confronted by disasters.
Increasingly, one of our most significant contributions will be to support children as they participate in preparations for crisis, responding and recovering together with their families and the people around them.