Building resilience to natural and men made disasters in schools: CHILD SAFETY FIRST

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Smoke in the corridor, the long school bell sounding fire alarm, the sounds of a fire engine and ambulance, thick smoke spouting from a car in fire parked at the edge of the school yard - none of it frightened 350 pupils, who quickly and orderly left the school, one by one, without any panic, escorted by their teachers and other school staff, and gathered at designated places of assembly. We visited the Elementary School Ivan Goran Kovačić in Gradačac where there was a fire and rescue drill in place.

"We were not scared at all, we knew what to do and where to go. We learnt that we should not panic. The drill was interesting, what I liked most was the fire fighters extinguishing the burning car, we heard the sirens, saw the fire fighters in the corridor; in case of a fire, now we'd know what to do", told us Lara and Sara who we found at the place of assembly after the simulation.

Thousands of children from kindergartens and schools in Gradačac, Šamac and Brčko District participated in the project "Resilience-building in Education and Local Communities", which Save the Children implemented in these municipalities; they had an opportunity to learn new things through workshops, quizzes and rescue drills, and thus demonstrate strengthened resilience to disasters. Kindergarten and school children and staff now know how to behave in case of natural or other disasters; also, they know how to cooperate with partners in the local community - the civil protection service, fire brigade, police and other stakeholders - and do their best to avoid dire consequences in a potential disaster situation. 

All relevant stakeholders, supported by Save the Children, developed guidelines and evacuation plans with clearly mapped routes and places of assembly for every school and kindergarten that participated in the project.

The children had an opportunity to demonstrate what they had learnt during practical exercises and knowledge quizzes; over 1500 children, teachers and school staff from the school in the municipalities participated and demonstrated their strengthened resilience to disasters.

The drills were organised at school and municipal levels, and involved the pupils from the following elementary schools: "Musa Ćazim Ćatić" in Zelina Donja, "Gornja Slatina" in Šamac, "Safvet-beg Bašagić" and "Ivan Goran Kovačić" in Gradačac, and the 10th Elementary School in Bijela and the 8th Elementary School in Brka. The wrap-up activities were carried out as part of one of the project components; these included campaigns organised by pupil councils of the schools involved, the purpose of which was to raise awareness of the threats of natural disasters. The project donated equipment to the kindergarten and schools, which would help improve fire safety and safety from other natural disasters. 

The local communities supported the drills by way of deploying teams from their Red Cross organisations, health centres, fire brigades, police and civil protection units.

"First of all, the children expressed great interest, they were eager to learn more and share what they learnt with their friends. The girls and boys who acted injured took their roles seriously. During the lifesaving simulation, everyone gathered to see how first aid should be given; they also saw our medical teams in action, they saw what an ambulance looked like. In case of an actual situation, they'll certainly know who to turn to and how to behave", said Kenan Mešanović, a volunteer - the chairman of the Red Cross organisation in Gradačac.

"You see how happy he is, his smile says it all. I think that these drills are useful; now I'm more confident when I bring Bekir to school because I know everyone is prepared and know how to react in case of a disaster", said Fakiza, Bekir' mother. Senada, whos one Edin is a fourth-grader, agreed. "The safety of children is most important; ask any parent and they'll tell you the same thing - we fully support these activities", said Senada.

Ivana Kovačević, third-grade teacher from the 10th Elementary School in Bijela said that it took slightly more than a minute for the school children to leave the school without any panic and safely get to the place of assembly. She said she was happy with what had been achieved and noted that it was the first time she had ever tried to use a fire extinguisher.

"Fire can happen any time and it is good that all of us in the school are prepared and know what to do in a fire situation. I'm glad that I had an opportunity, during the drill, try to use a fire extinguisher, now I can show other how to use it; also, we have been trained how to behave in the event of a disaster or emergency; in any case, we are better prepared to respond in case a disaster occurs", said teacher Ivana.

The little ones from the kindergartens "Hummingbird" in Gradačac and "Our Children" in Brčko, the staff and managers demonstrated how seriously they took the drills. Before the rescue drill, workshops were organised for the children to show them how to behave in case of a hazard and prepare them for the drill itself.

"A slide is when a lot of earth gets going and that earth is so mighty that it can push forward everything in front of it; it can even reach the kindergarten! That's why, it is necessary to build a brick wall so that the earth cannot move", said Mensur, a boy from the kindergarten "Hummingbird" in Gradačac.

The children participated in the workshop eagerly and were agog to raise their hands to answer the questions Meliha, their kindergarten teacher, was asking. "The earth drinks a lot of water and when it's had enough it starts moving!" "You can blame snow for slide, but you can blame man, because man cuts trees!"

The drills in the two kindergartens showed that hard work paid.  It took only a couple of minutes for 100 little ones from the kindergarten "Our Children" in Brčko to gather at two places of assembly in the kindergarten yard after the bell had sounded fire alarm.

"We were not afraid, we obeyed our teachers and fire fighters who were telling us what to do.  We walked in a line so that we do not get stuck at the exit and we were out fast because we are smart and because we prepared with out teachers for this exercise", said Toni, Behram, Ivana and Aleksa.

"The children got along really well, there were no problems or delays at all, they were fast and obeyed. The drill is useful for their safety, the children have learnt a lot, and, more importantly, they had a lot of fun", said Stjepka Simikić, kindergarten teacher.

Siniša Baković of the Fire Brigade in Gradačac was only too happy with what he had seen during the drills: "The children responded superbly, they cooperated and, most importantly, everything went without any mess, panic or delay. They reacted well seeing us at school, they listened to the instructions we gave and carefully watched the demonstration of the equipment and participated in it eagerly.  In case of a fire, it is necessary to respond quickly and appropriately. We are glad that we have three schools now in our area of responsibility that are prepared to respond to a fire or any other disaster appropriately, which will greatly help us respond in case anything happens. I'm particularly thrilled how the youngest one in kindergartens reacted; they did not get scared at all!"

The staff of the Civil Protection Unit noted the multiple benefits of the project.  "All stakeholders were connected through different activities. It is now clear who does what, the activities are synchronised, and the drills demonstrated how things should evolve in an actual situation. An analysis will show what segments we need to smooth out to master the preventive measures and avoid, in a future disaster or emergency situation, avoid casualties or destruction of the material resources and equipment. The children have learnt a lot, and they demonstrated it during the drills, both the schoolchildren, who are a bit older, and the little ones in the kindergartens", said Islam Sendić, the head of the Civil Protection Service of Gradačac Municipality.

The school and kindergarten principals and staff participated in the project, preparations, drills and quizzes actively. "During the drills, we could identify weaknesses and understand what should be improved. I'm glad that the parents were acquainted with the activities. Their attitude was quite positive and they could learn a lot from their children during the project. It is important that we have disaster action guidelines now in place; we have a plan. We'll continue to work on the details, and the idea is to have one drill in every term", said Petar Mendeš, the principal of the 10th Elementary School in Bijela, Brčko.

Dragan Ličanin, an officer for the Disaster Risk Reduction Program from Save the Children. "The aim is to build the resilience of schools, kindergartens, children and staff to be prepared to respond to natural and other disasters. During the drills, the children could see and feel what they had been taught during the project looks like in a real-life situation, they have demonstrated how dexterous they are; the teachers and staff of the schools, kindergarten and local communities helped them greatly, and our organisation was available to all of them to help make everything smooth".

Ahmed Pjano, Save the Children Program Director, was happy with the results.  In addition to the importance of the drills for children, but also other participants, such as firefighters, police and health facilities, he underscored the need for such work with children on an ongoing basis.

"In particular, it is necessary to raise awareness of decision makers and relevant authorities, which are required to pay special attention to children, not only in emergency situations but at the design and planning stages; for this, the action plans that have been developed are essential. What we have seen from what has been done so far is the commitment of all stakeholders to continue working to this end so that the process continues after the completion of the project activities", said Ahmed Pjano.

Author: Almir Panjeta/Save the Children