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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — Flood-ravaged St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are getting UNICEF assistance to ensure that scores of children can return to the classroom — and to happiness — as school resumes from the Christmas break.

With the educational sector in both countries being hard hit by widespread damage from the Dec. 24 floods, the UNICEF Office for the Eastern Caribbean Area has dispatched educational and health supplies to the governments to minimise disruption in the students’ education.

Through its psycho-social programme, “Return to Happiness”, UNICEF is supporting the governments as they move quickly to help girls and boys deal with any trauma they might have experienced during or after the weather event.

“Return to Happiness”, which was last employed in the same two countries in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Tomas in 2010, has already been used with great success in many other countries including Grenada, after Hurricane Ivan in 2004, as well as in Jamaica, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, El Salvador, East Timor and Mozambique.

Recognising that children respond differently to trauma than adults, the programme gives them an important opportunity to tell their stories, express their fears, concerns, hopes and dreams.

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During the sessions, the children use a variety of dolls, puppets, songs and other cultural expressions to help them through the process of psychological recovery. Another important aspect of the programme is the “Wall of Dreams” where children write their dreams for the future.

With 50 per cent of the population (approximately 50,000 persons) without pipe borne water in St. Vincent and the Grenadines immediately after the storm and many communities on the South and East of St. Lucia with their drinking water being compromised, immediate response was provided by UNICEF with the urgent supply of water purification tablets and adult hygiene kits to affected communities through collaboration with fellow United Nations agencies and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).

UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Area, Khin-Sandi Lwin, said the immediate response to the situation of children was necessary because of the impact disasters have on children.

“Children must always be first in the minds of even the worst affected communities because they are often the most vulnerable. They are in greatest need of sound nutrition, adequate supplies of clean drinking water, good sanitation, safe and secure conditions and good mental health, if they are to rebound from such a tragedy and get back on the path to healthy development,” Lwin said.

She also thanked CDEMA and the Barbados Coast Guard for their role in facilitating the transport of the supplies to the islands.