When disaster brings people together UNFPA's Youth Friendly Spaces in indonesia

In September 2018 Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi Province in Indonesia, was the scene of multiple natural disasters. A series of earthquakes struck first, destroying houses and buildings across the city and in the mountains surrounding it.

The main bridge connecting the two sides of Palu City was destroyed in the tsunami.

The earthquakes triggered a massive tsunami that wiped out hundreds of metres of the beachfront. One earthquake caused a process called liquefaction, where the earth opened up and swallowed entire villages.

Houses that have sunk into the ground after the earthquake caused liquefaction of the earth.

The UN Population Fund, or UNFPA, had been working with both the Government of Indonesia and the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ensure that supplies and equipment were in warehouses and ready to be distributed in the case of a natural disaster. The Regional Prepositioning Initiative was developed to help countries across the Asia Pacific Region which are prone to natural disasters to be ready to respond as quickly as possible.

While the Government of Indonesia, along with the military and police, was able to provide shelter, food, water and basic medicine to people who were displaced by the crisis, they asked for UNFPA's assistance through the Protection of Women's Rights sub-cluster, to make sure that there were safe spaces for women and young people who had lost their homes. Through the Regional Prepositioning Initiative the Australian Government provided 25 tents so that UNFPA could set up these spaces. They also provided funding so that youth workers could be employed to help young people.

UNFPA's Youth Friendly Space in one of the tent camps where thousands of people still live.

Vivien is UNFPA's Youth in Emergencies Officer, and she travelled immediately to Palu to set up Youth Friendly Spaces and ensure they were all staffed by experienced youth workers. She developed programs that would ensure all young people could access the help they needed.

Young people from all backgrounds and different parts of the city and surrounding areas were affected, and found themselves living in temporary accommodation settlements called Huntaras, or in tents, often in places they didn't know and surrounded by people they didn't know. One of UNFPA's priorities is inclusion, and Vivien and the UNFPA team wanted to make sure that young people with disabilities were welcomed into the Youth Friendly Spaces.

Evra was born with an intellectual disability caused by a lack of iodine in her mother's diet. Her family is from a rural part of the province where it's not easy to access services. Since they've moved to the Huntara she has started going to a school for children with disabilities, and also to the UNFPA Youth Friendly Space where she's making a lot of friends.

UNFPA trains young people to become peer educators, leaders who can help other young people with information, advice and if necessary, referrals to medical or psychological professionals.

Evra would like to be a veterinarian one day, however she has also shown an interest in performing and making movies. During our visit she took the camera and decided to interview her best friend, Deva. "Tell a story about the earthquake," she said.

Vivien and the other youth workers were amazed. "Deva has not been able to talk about her experiences for six months," said Vivien. "Evra is so open, and has the ability to make people feel relaxed in a way that other people can’t."

Deva's story had everyone in tears, but she felt better after telling it. Evra brought her friends outside and got them to pose for photos together.

"Youth Friendly Spaces are not just about being inclusive for the sake of it," said Vivien. "It's about bringing together people from different backgrounds, with different abilities, so they can all help each other."

UNFPA is the UN's sexual and reproductive health agency, working towards a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled. UNFPA's work is guided by the 1994 ICPD Programme of Action, with rights and choices for all at the centre of sustainable development.

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