On 28 September 2017, the Vanuatu Council of Ministers declared a state of emergency and ordered the mandatory evacuation of all 11,600 residents of Ambae Island amid the continuous eruption of the Monaro Volcano.
The evacuees were relocated across the neighbouring islands of Espiritu Santo, Maewo and Pentecost. Repatriations started on 21 October, and today around 71 per cent of the Ambae residents are back on home soil.
Following the Ambae evacuation and repatriation, concerns relating to the education, health and nutrition, protection and psychosocial support of children remain at the forefront of the emergency response efforts.
Supported by the UEFA Foundation for Children, the latest Just Play Emergency Programme – developed by the Oceania Football Confederation in partnership with UNICEF – was launched on 17 November on Ambae Island, after having been given the go-ahead by the Vanuatu government-led emergency committee, for a period of five weeks.
The Just Play programme uses football to support the psychosocial recovery of children after natural disasters. Just Play sessions are used to encourage children to draw pictures and to share their experiences and the effects on them and their families, which helps them to start their recovery process.
The programme also includes key messages from the government of Vanuatu that are relevant to the context of repatriation. The direct beneficiaries of the programme are children and adolescents aged between 6 and 16.
Speaking during the training session ahead of the launch of the programme, Vanuatu Football Federation President Lambert Maltock highlighted the power of football in a community.
He said football is about taking messages beyond the pitch to children and families.
The message was supported by UNICEF Pacific Child Protection Specialist Settasak Akanimart who said, “sport plays an important role in helping children recover during a disaster”.
The objectives of the Just Play Emergency Programme are to teach children how to keep themselves and their families safe during an emergency and to support their recovery after a natural disaster. The curriculum incorporates key recovery and response messages, which include:
- coping with an emergency;
- hand-washing and water safety;
- food security;
- general safety and security.
- Over 2,000 children will participate in Just Play emergency programme activities and receive psychosocial support.
- Children will achieve greater understanding and awareness of how to prepare for and cope with future emergencies.
- Two large-scale festivals will be organised, engaging a minimum of 300 children.
The Just Play programme has already demonstrated the positive impact it can have.
After Cyclone Pam, a category-five tropical storm, devastated Vanuatu in 2015, the Oceania Football Confederation worked with UNICEF to use the Just Play programme platform to provide vital information and support in the aftermath of what turned out to be one of the worst natural disasters in Pacific history, affecting more than 166,000 people, including 82,000 children,
across 22 islands.
Lessons learned from those emergency response activities were used to develop the Just Play Emergency Programme into what it is today.