Flood-Affected Children Take Leadership, Show Resilience in Korea-Funded Distribution

Monday 14 July 2014


One month ago, landslides caused by torrential monsoon rains woke 16-year-old Roshika in the night. Along with her sister Srimali, 15, she fled her home and sought refuge with her family in a temporary shelter.  Life as she knew it was disrupted. The school materials she needed to prepare for important examinations were destroyed.

A couple weeks later, Roshika and Srimali found themselves at the center of Save the Children’s efforts to replace students’ missing school materials in the affected areas. Through a generous donation from the People of Korea, 2,500 students in Sri Lanka’s Western and Southern Provinces would receive a bookbag containing notebooks, pens, a water bottle, a lunch box, and other items that would enable them to continue their educations with dignity. This distribution had an important distinction from others that have happened before in Sri Lanka – the children were in charge.

Secondary school girls form a chain to efficiently move and pack notebooks for flood-affected Sri Lankan students.

Along with others from children’s clubs in the affected areas who formed committees with Save the Children’s guidance, Roshika and Srimali volunteered to set criteria for who would receive the items, verify the beneficiaries, organize and pack the bags, and distribute them to their peers.  Government officials were also present at meetings in case the committee missed a name, and to corroborate the children’s information about those affected.

At a distribution on June 10 in the airy Agalawatta District Secretariat recreation room, Roshika and Srimali and two other young women took over the microphone. With big smiles on their faces, their 100 peers – Tamils, Sinhalese, and Muslims  - rose as their names were called and strode up to receive their bags to applause.

“We do not always get a chance to be leaders,” Roshika explained. “I feel proud and happy.”

Srimali echoed her sister’s sentiments: “When children become helpless due to flooding, being in an opportunity to help them is a privilege. This is especially true for us because we were also affected by the flood.”

Sri Lankan students make the steep climb down from their primary school, which served as a school kit distribution site. Children in this community were affected by landslides after flooding monsoon rains.

Throughout the afternoon, other children – some very small – came to the stage to sing folk songs and participate in calling their peer’s names. Many recipients spoke of their gratitude in having the replacement materials. Gayan, 16, explained that his family’s home saw four feet of water in the flooding. He needs the school materials to prepare for his Ordinary Level Examinations in December. Chamodi, 14, spoke of the two children in her village who tragically died in a landslide.  She is excited to use the contents of the bag and to continue to have the opportunity to receive an education.

Not too far away, in the hilly village of Kithulgoda, 18-year-old Sandun was an active leader in his community’s distribution. Save the Children staff first met Sandun in the village temple in early June, where he was sheltering after landslides killed five of his neighbors.  When Save the Children returned for the distribution Sandun was surprised and happy – he never expected that anyone would actually come back to help them. 

Sandun said he is now growing his leadership abilities through his role in speaking for children in his village and being involved in decisions. And he sees children’s participation in the distribution as a catalyst for the strengthening of their community.  The children were feeling helpless after the landslides, he explained. Now they are engaged and involved in decisions that affect their lives.

Madhubhashini Rathnayake, a 26-year-old Save the Children staff member responsible for organizing the distribution, explained why this innovative way of involving children has been so positive for the flood-affected communities.

“It is a very new experience for all the children,” she said.  “They have supported their parents in this flood by cooking food and doing other small things. But this is their first experience having prominence, leadership, and participation that is valued.”

For the parents and officials, child-led distribution has led to less complaints and stronger community understanding and support of decisions.

“Parents expressed that they first didn’t understand and how the children would select beneficiaries, but in later stages they had trust in the process,” she said.

Madhubhashini explained that the child-centered distribution has had other positive ripple effects – communities without existing children’s clubs have used this as the platform to start one, or to re-engage inactive clubs. In one location a children’s club is now interested in organizing a disaster risk reduction procedure.