UNICEF - Chizzilala - Adam Watkins


Teen Times, November 2020

The Child Resilience and Protection Project is a Trust Fund project, financed by the Government of The Netherlands, to help Sint Maarten’s children and teens become stronger and build skills to cope with shocks, such as hurricanes. It also helps educators and parents to give their children the kind of support they need and supports schools to be prepared for natural or other kinds of disasters. UNICEF-NL will receive the funds to carry out all project activities and programs together with the Government of Sint Maarten.



Why is it so important to protect children during and after natural disasters?

During natural disasters children tend to be more vulnerable. We know from the Government of Sint Maarten and the Police Department that there have been more incidents involving violence to children since Irma. Also, there have been cases of children being taken off-island without their legal guardian.

We also know from the experience of other countries in the Caribbean that trauma and stress among the entire population have risen after hurricanes Irma and Maria, and this also affects children. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic could cause further stress on families.

That is why we are very pleased that the Child Resilience and Protection Project, implemented by UNICEF, is starting. It will support the work of MECYS, the Court of Guardianship, and VSA to help children and families cope and keep children safer.

You mention strengthening the systems that keep children safe. Please elaborate on which systems you referred to and how they will be strengthened?

The project will build on Government plans that are already in place and support MECYS, VSA and the Court of Guardianship in their work. It will help in several ways. First of all, it will ‘help children’s helpers’. Persons around a vulnerable child, such as teachers, social workers, or family members do not always know how to support the child. That is why the project will help upgrade Sint Maarten's child protection referral and case management system and train professionals and communities to take the right steps when they suspect that a child may need help due to their situation. This way, kids can get the right professional help as quickly as possible. Each ministry will have a system to collect, analyze, and share the information they need so they can work together more easily. Of course, all of this information will remain confidential.

The project will also train social workers, health care providers, including mental health care providers, teachers, police officers, and case workers according to the latest methods to better understand children’s rights and to deal with and prevent difficult situations according. Also, the project will sponsor awareness campaigns aimed at the Sint Maarten public and at children in particular. These campaigns will raise awareness about children’s rights and point to actions that children and families can take to seek support and better cope in these difficult times.

Finally, the project will help to set up agreements with other Dutch Caribbean islands and Sint Maarten about the evacuation of minors to make sure that children have the legal permission to leave and are protected when leaving the island. This way, there is less risk of children being kidnapped or trafficked.

How will you assist in the disaster preparedness of schools? Do you mean structural (Physical) or via programs?

MECYS has already done a lot in terms of disaster preparedness for schools. The project will further support the Safety and Emergency Teams in schools to update their safety plans. Also, school professionals will receive new training to implement safety plans and practice safety drills. This way, pupils, teachers, and the entire school community know what to do in case of an emergency.

How will the capacity of St. Maarten's education system be strengthened?

Programs consist mostly of mostly group-oriented activities in schools. For, example, the renowned Return to Happiness program which helps children age 5-12 to cope with traumatic events through play, creativity, or singing, will receive support. The Return to Happiness Program helps children age 5-12 to cope with traumatic events trough play, creativity, or singing and was already used successfully by MECYS in 2018 and 2019. Teachers were then trained to use this method and master trainers were educated so they can continue teaching the method to even more teachers. Now it will restart with the support of UNICEF-NL.

Also, educators will be trained to better detect distress symptoms. Additionally, a program will be developed to support teachers to deal with their own stress and help them to interact more effectively with students who may show signs of psychosocial distress and refer them to the right services.

How will you approach communities with regards to their psychological well-being? What can the communities of St. Maarten expect?

UNICEF will implement programs that focus on children and parents who need various types of support. For instance, one program will enable children and parents to better cope with shocks and recover from traumatic events through recreational and/or social interactions. Additional topics could also be covered, including security, self-esteem, and resilience. Involved parents will get support in a wide range of themes, such as financial hardship, positive parenting, and child protection. 

Adolescents will also be supported. Strengthening the Youth Help Desk will allow adolescents to access information on issues related to health, sexual and reproductive health and rights, anxiety and stress management, gender-based violence, bullying, and domestic violence. The Youth Help Desk can also help to refer adolescents to adequate services. Also, members of the Sint Maarten Youth Council and Youth Parliament, as well as youth who have participated in events, such as regional conferences on youth rights, will be able to learn and share their knowledge by participating in the operation of the Youth Help Desk. Adolescents will also receive support to enhance their life skills. For example, they will be trained in problem-solving, communication, managing emotions, and teamwork, which will help them seize future (job) opportunities.

How will you measure the success of this project?

We will measure and report on the number of professionals trained in violence prevention and post-disaster psychosocial support skills. The number and quality of safety exercises executed will be reviewed, and also we wish to know how many children suffering from distress symptoms will be referred to adequate services.