Tackling trauma, one game at a time
A city NGO is helping children from disadvantaged families develop deeper resilience with their activities
It's not just adults who are experiencing bouts of anxiety and helplessness during the lockdown, but children as well. Members of Mumbai non-profit Apni Shala sensed the distress when they began reaching out to members of lower income groups last month. The NGO has been actively working towards building life skills among municipal school students since 2013. With regular activities suspended, the initial intention was to help households with essentials. "We did that in the first two weeks, where we became a conduit between families and community kitchens because we were able to source contact numbers of families given our association with the BMC," says CEO Rohit Kumar.
The objective was soon broadened to include mental aid in line with the inputs they received while conversing with parents. "People shared that their children have become more aggressive since the lockdown was first announced. Some said the kids are feeling lonely as they do not get a chance to play with their friends. We may not notice it, but children are very sensitive to what is going on around them," says Kumar. Over the last two months, the team has helped 2,000 families in Kurla, Chembur and Ghatkopar through their interventions. This includes not just supporting them with ration, but also offering well researched content on emotional resilience in their language and devising games that families, which do not have access to resources, can indulge in. "Because our team is trained to handle mental health issues, we built a psycho-social first aid kit to assess the emotional assistance an individual needs. It's the mental equivalent of physical first aid. Injuries might be easy to see and fix, but that's not necessarily the case with trauma." He points out that children living in challenging home environments are especially vulnerable.
The activities are conducted by involving parents, who, Kumar says, are their critical partners in the lockdown period. Every day, volunteers phone families to check on their well being and suggest ways to keep their children engaged. Zoom calls are done with those who have access to smartphones, but that's a negligible number, says Kumar. One activity includes teaching a calming technique called Smell the flowers, blow the candle. "Telling children to simply calm down is likely to make them more frustrated. It is important to acknowledge their emotions and help them process it." This is done by telling the child to use their nose to take a big deep breath (as if they are smelling flowers), and blow the breath out (like they are blowing out a candle). "Now, it has become a part of our day-to-day conversations. There are days when the kids remind us, 'Bhaiya, don't forget to dekho ruko aur saans lo'," says programme facilitator Shahbaan Shah.
Another game devised by the team that has gained favour is an indoor treasure hunt, where parents are encouraged to determine the type of hunt that is right for the child. It is suitable to any home, however small. "Parents have tried this by asking their children to locate chai patti and masalas in the house. This leads to motor strengthening," explains teacher Pallavi Raikar. Kumar says they ensure parents are made active stakeholders. "We encourage them to share fun stories from their childhood with kids. This helps build a connection."
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