By Kathy Mueller, Canadian Red Cross​
 
Creating child-friendly spacesColourful mats line the floor, dolls sit in anticipation of being played with, building blocks stand at the ready, and puzzles lay piled waiting to be put together.
 
These are rooms any child would want to play in – brightly painted Child Friendly Spaces, created by the Nepal Red Cross Society following the 2015 earthquake, with funding support from the Canadian Red Cross.
 
A component of the Violence Prevention and Response Project, there are 12 Child Friendly Spaces in total, located in rural health posts which were rebuilt by the Red Cross in Kavre District after the deadly quake. The spaces were established in the hopes of encouraging more regular visits to rural health posts by parents and their children and were constructed following consultation and coordination with the Ministry of Health at the district level, managers of the health posts, and communities themselves – including children, to ensure they would meet local needs.  
 
“Before, the children were scared of us. They saw us only as an immunization centre where they would get needles,” said Yadunath Chapagain, a Senior Auxiliary Health Worker at the health post in Jyamdi. “But now, with so many toys to play with, they are happy to see us.”
 
Children playing in the child-friendly spacesThe spaces are a hit. An average of 2 to 3 children use the inside facilities daily where there are more than 30 toys and learning materials for them to use. During times of immunization, that can jump up to 15 children a day. There is also complementary outdoor equipment that includes a swing and slide which are used by children in the area, whether they are patients or not. The Child Friendly Spaces also provide a venue for mothers to come together and chat about their little ones.
 
“Mothers now find it much easier to manage their children when they’re visiting a health post because there are activities to keep them occupied and engaged. This also helps to improve the health care service provided and results in people coming in more often,” said health care workers, who also received training on child rights, child protection, and how to maintain a child friendly environment at the clinics.
 
With visits to the health facilities now occurring more frequently, health workers are also able to more regularly assess the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of the children, and offer advice to parents.
 
One challenge facing the Red Cross is identifying permanent locations for the Child Friendly Spaces. Currently, toys and learning materials are spread out in delivery rooms, but new areas will need to be identified once those delivery rooms become operational.
 
The Red Cross isn’t worried. “We have already succeeded in that we have more people coming more regularly to the health posts. This is improving access to maternal and child health care,” said Pitambar Aryal, Programme Manager for the Canadian Red Cross in Nepal. “Our goal is to ensure these Child Friendly Spaces continue to provide their valuable service. The people of rural Nepal are counting on it.”
 
Another challenge they welcome. “The children often don’t want to return the toys, dolls, or colouring books once they’ve played with them,” said Ramesh Neupane, Programme Coordinator with the Canadian Red Cross. “We can live with that challenge if it means more children are coming to health posts.”