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Enduring cyclones and COVID-19

20 August 2020, Voices from the Field

How do you teach kids about a pandemic in the aftermath of a cyclone?

2020 has presented parents across the globe with significant challenges. Here in Australia, juggling work and childcare, the pressures of homeschooling, and even trying to explain to young ones a largely invisible threat of a pandemic has left parents wondering, ‘When will this ever end?’.

However, parents in Vanuatu had even more to contend with. As they wondered how COVID-19 might impact their lives, attention was suddenly turned to the more immediate threat posed by Tropical Cyclone Harold, which wreaked havoc on many communities in April.

Maena’s terrifying story of survival  

14-year-old Maena lives with her single mum and two siblings on Malo – the island hardest-hit by the cyclone. Sadly, their house, which had been constructed with materials sourced from the bush, was not robust enough to withstand the cyclone’s force. They were inside when the strong winds lifted off the roof and walls and were forced to run through fierce wind and rain. 

Maena’s family met with her aunt and cousins and took shelter in a small shed, one of the few structures remaining. They were in the shed when the wind very quickly dropped off. They were too terrified to move. Before they could even think of what to do next, the wind picked up again, stronger than before. Maena described the terrifying moments that followed. 

Suddenly the wind picked up the shed and we felt it would also lift us off the ground, so we held hands and ran out to the pandanus tree.


They held each other’s hands tightly around the tree as the wind blew debris into the air, some hitting them while the wind and rain pelted against their bodies.

We cried from fear and from the pain. We were terrified but we couldn’t think of any more safe places to go. We just held each other’s hands and stood around the pandanus tree until the cyclone passed.


After the cyclone, Maena helped her mum gather what building materials they could find and built a small shelter for the family. 

Maena and her mum received a shelter kit, solar light and kitchen kit as well as fun educational
materials on COVID-19. This distribution was organised by Save the Children thanks to the in-kind
donation of our partner Care and its donor Shelter Box

“We haven’t built a proper house yet, so we use one side of the shelter to sleep and the other end as our kitchen,” Maena added.

From surviving a cyclone to preparing for a pandemic

Around the world, Save the Children is working with families to ensure that they have what they need to protect themselves against the threat of COVID-19.  

In Vanuatu, we were on the ground responding to the needs of children like Maena after cyclone Harold, providing essential support like shelter and hygiene kits. Yet we knew we would also have to maintain our focus on preparing communities for the pandemic.

One way of helping children understand how to protect themselves is to provide them with fun and engaging materials loaded with information about safe hygiene practices. Together with the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry on Education and Training, Save the Children within the Disaster READY partnership, created this fun game of Snakes and Ladders. 

Children play Snakes and Ladders, an educational game promoting health and safety messages about COVID-19. 


The game rewards good practices of safe hygiene, like hand washing and sneezing into your elbow with ladders, and dissuades unsafe behaviour, like forgetting to use soap, with snakes! 

Distributed with Hygiene and Shelter kits for families affected by Tropical Cyclone Harold, these games were coupled with a child-friendly information booklet about COVID-19, providing additional information on what Ni-Van kids could expect, if COVID-19 ever came to their shores. 

But, perhaps most importantly, the games provided parents with some space to organise themselves to start getting back on their feet after the cyclone, and gave kids the chance to just be kids once more. 


Disaster READY is supported by the Australian Government and implemented through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership.

Photos: Nancy Lagdom, Save the Children


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