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International Women’s Day 2020

21 February 2020, Voices from the Field

We’re celebrating women making a difference for children

Staff at Save the Children are dedicated to making sure every child is safe, healthy and educated. None more so than our female staff, who play an integral role in making sure every child, here and overseas, get the best start in life. In recognition of International Women’s Day, we spoke with three women about their work with Save the Children and what it means to them.  Each of them played an important role recently, going above and beyond their normal duties to support our Child Friendly Spaces in evacuation centres over the summer period as part of our bushfire response. 

Julia Mavros, Acting Team Leader, Youth and Middle Years, Australian Services

“I deployed to a Child Friendly Space in Albury for five days. I worked closely with one family of eight, who had been evacuated from their home, and were moving through transit accommodation every three or four days, until they could return home. 

The first day I saw the children, they were hesitant; you could see that in their body language. Their shoulders were down, and they had their guard up. By the fifth day, they would walk in and light up. You could feel their joy and safety. It cemented everything that a Child Friendly Space can offer a young person; to be safe, to be free in a moment of chaos and disruption.

We set up activities for them like the Albury Mini-Olympics! They were able to toss bean bags, do hula-hooping, and it gave children the ability to let go of things with their bodies. 

“We also made masks and pretended that we were all superheroes for the day. That gives children a sense of power, and that they are masters of their own destiny, at a hectic and disrupted time. 

Child Friendly Spaces are so important in a disaster because it gives children an opportunity to find their feet a bit and feel as though they belong. It’s what I love about my role; I am so grateful I can give children a sense that they matter.” 

Carly Clarke, Team Leader, Port Stephens, Australian Services

“I deployed to Taree in the mid-north Coast in November 2019 and to Wagga Wagga and Albury over the Christmas period. 

When we first walked into the evacuation space at Taree it was evident that children were an afterthought. Everyone was in the same space; families, animals, with three big TV’s blaring away with bushfire coverage. That’s confronting for children at the best of times.

Establishing a Child Friendly Space in that centre was so important, because it gave children a safe place to be children. And have that time away from the harsh reality of what was going on.

We brought with us virtual reality headsets. One set of those played different movies, so you might be underwater swimming with animals or hiking on a glacier. There was another where you could do virtual reality artwork in a room. 

“The virtual reality was a great tool for children to escape their reality for a little bit.”

Our space caters well to everyone’s different needs. Even in the early childhood space, there’s busy areas, there’s quiet areas. We have things like pens and journals for youth who just wanted to sit and write and process their thoughts; there’s never any pressure for anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. It’s a very free space for children to just be children.

The thing that has been highlighted for me is how much children can be overlooked in an emergency. 

But we can change how people view children in an emergency. I’m heartened by the fact we’re making good headway into changing people’s attitudes around what we can provide for children in emergency situations.”

Nitharshini Anandarajah, Family Support Worker, Doveton, Australian Services

I started at Save the Children in April last year. I work from Doveton as a Family Support Worker. Most of my work is done through the Play2Learn playgroups where I work alongside an Early Childhood Educator and Bicultural Assistant. They support the children to get school-ready, while I work with families on some of their other needs, like identifying educational or employment pathways for the mums. 

I also do home visits, providing support and referrals for families attending the playgroups with children experiencing autism, developmental delays, or family violence.  

In early January, I was in the same boat as a lot of Australians all over the country, watching the bushfire coverage, and thinking we need to do something to help these people. 

So I was grateful to be able to offer my support at the Child Friendly Spaces set up at Bairnsdale and Batemans Bay.   

I first went to the Bairnsdale evacuation centre, in early January. Here, the disaster was still ongoing, and things were in flux, with a lot of people arriving every day, having to sleep at the centre, and having very intense emotions and reactions. 

At the end of January I went to the Batemans Bay recovery centre. Although the locals there were still in the thick of the disaster, the recovery centre served a different purpose. Centrelink, The Salvation Army, Australian Red Cross, Anglicare, and government housing services were all there for people to talk to. And while they got organised, people could leave their children with us in a Child Friendly Space.   

I remember in Batemans Bay, I played with two sisters, aged 8 and 12. They spent a lot of time in our space while their parents and grandparents were getting help. When their parents came to get them, they didn’t want to leave. They said to me, “This is one of the best days I’ve had in recent times.” 

It’s not something you expect to hear from an 8-year-old. I was glad I was able to go and be of service, and see the wonderful impact it’s had on the children. 

Greta Holmberg, ToyWell Project Coordinator, Australian Services

“I work in program management but had the opportunity to be deployed to Albury and Batemans Bay as part of Save the Children’s bushfire response
When I was in Batemans Bay, the emergency was still very real. They had just gone through another heatwave with increased fire risk, and there was a lot of unease and uncertainty from families about how the rest of the bushfire season would evolve. 

“It was a timely reminder to me that while the media moves on, for the families who are displaced, it’s still an emergency situation.” 

What was reassuring to see in Batemans Bay was that we were delivering the Child Friendly Space in a Recovery Centre that was really organised. It looked like a mini Careers Fair, with different service providers at each stand with seats and refreshments. Families would come through and go to the services they needed. The Recovery Centre was seeing about 100 new families signing up each day who were seeking support. 

I found it such a valuable and rewarding experience. It was amazing to work with families, children and team members from across Australia. I have a two-year-old boy, and that’s led me to engage with and understand the needs of children in a way I probably didn’t know how to before I was a parent. It all feels a bit more meaningful now.”

Just four of many stories worth celebrating

These are just four of the amazing women at Save the Children. On this International Women’s Day, we recognise them, and say thank you to the wonderful women that are part of the Save the Children family – all our staff, volunteers and supporters. Thank you for being there for children. 

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