UNICEF backs emotional recovery plan for child survivors of Paraguayan fire

16 August 2004

In an effort to help grieving Paraguayan children cope with their emotions and begin resuming a normal life after the disastrous supermarket fire earlier this month that killed some 400 people, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is supporting a programme of psychosocial assistance called 'Return to Happiness.'

The programme, involving play-related activities in which youngsters aged between 6 and 14 share their stories, games and music, is intended to benefit 1,500 children under the direct supervision of professional psychologists, with 150 young volunteers helping to carry it out.

UNICEF said by expressing how they feel, children can start to heal. When a volunteer asked seven-year old Sergio was in his picture, he replied: "They are the people who died today." At least 46 children were killed in the fire in a suburb of Asuncion, the capital.

"I hope these children will go back little by little to their normal lives, without forgetting what happened, but without experiencing ongoing pain," said 19-year-old Alicia, a volunteer. The programme takes place at local radio station 'FM Trinidad', which is broadcasting information about it for anyone interested.

The 'Return to Happiness' concept was first developed in Mozambique during the 1992 civil war. Adaptable for various situations, it has been used in Ecuador with children of soldiers, in Colombia after the 1998 earthquake and in Nicaragua following Hurricane Mitch.