Educational Games to Help Keep Children Safe during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Years of violence and conflict in Iraq have made the country extremely vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic: diminished healthcare infrastructure, as well as socioeconomic challenges making it difficult to enforce public health safety measures, have led to a steady rise in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. Although the country imposed several movement restrictions and lockdowns to reduce the impact of the pandemic, the caseloads are still increasing — with 449,153 cases recorded as of 24 October 2020.
Since the start of the pandemic, IOM Iraq has collaborated with the Government of Iraq (GoI) and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to address these issues and provide humanitarian assistance, particularly to the 1.3 million IDPs still living in informal settlements or camps.
IDPs living in camp or communal settings often have different vulnerabilities compared to the general public; in situations where families live in close quarters, for example in tents, it is very complicated for individuals to stay in quarantine if they suspect that they have caught the virus. These vulnerabilities are further heightened by the lack of adequate health, water, and sanitation facilities.
This October, IOM Iraq’s Communications with Communities (CwC) team distributed 1,000 COVID-19 awareness-raising games to the children living in Sharia Camp for IDPs in Dohuk Governorate.
“The games we’ve designed are easy to play. It’s a good way for children to have fun while increasing their knowledge of the precautions [to take so they can] stay protected,” said Nashwan, IOM Iraq CwC project assistant.
The games all feature illustrations that teach children how to stay safe during the pandemic. The games also help them understand the importance of social distancing and washing their hands.
Snakes and ladders, the classic board game, has been redesigned to fit the context — players can climb up the ladder and advance to victory if they manage to avoid the squares with the virus. IOM Iraq’s CwC team has also developed a twist on the memory game; players are tasked with pairing 12 cards showing the correct protective measures with 12 cards showing the opposite, incorrect steps to take. Each deck also included informational cards with instructions for playing and a list of COVID-19 safety precautions, so that children can learn to play at home safely.
In addition to the games, coloring books with illustrations of children following the correct protective measures — washing hands, wearing masks, maintaining appropriate social distances when possible — were also distributed to 1,000 children in the camp.
“It’s harder for children to stay protected as compared to adult; it takes time to fully imprint the precautions in their minds. That’s why I think these games are good; the illustration would jog their memory every time they played,” said Kherya, who has lived in Sharia Camp for more than five years. Kherya is one of several community mobilizers who work with IOM and other NGOs to implement activities in the camps; they have strong relationships within their communities, and receive occasional trainings to carry out their work.
Sharya Camp covers an area of 750,000 square meters. It was constructed in November 2014 for 4,000 families displaced from Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate, during the ISIL crisis. Currently the camp is home to 2,947 families, including 6,886 young people aged 0-17.
“Children can most easily transfer the virus inside the camp; it is huge and crowded, and the children always play in groups of 5 or 6,” said one of the camp residents, during an IOM-led community session focused on teaching children tips to stay safe.
In addition to the games, IOM has conducted many awareness raising sessions in the community, and hung up informational posters in key locations throughout the camp. However, due to the nature of the pandemic, the groups attending these sessions has to be quite small and the number of participants doesn’t exceed 10.
“I think we need more raising-awareness sessions, particularly for mothers and their children,” said another community mobilizer who helped distribute the games around the camp. “Children don’t always show signs of infection and can easily transfer the virus to their families.”
Reliable information about COVID-19 and preventive measures is an essential part of slowing the spread of this unpredictable disease, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. IOM Iraq has been providing IDP families with hygiene kits and other supplies to help keep them safe since the start of the pandemic; providing essential items for families who have lost their primary source of income as a result of the pandemic; and working with GoI and KRG authorities to strengthen the national response to the pandemic. This programme is implemented with funding from the German Government.