MOROCCO EARTHQUAKE - 15 September 2023

"Emotional security is a necessity"

SOS Children’s Villages in Morocco is preparing, in collaboration with the local authorities, to provide children who have lost parental care due to the earthquake in Morocco with interim- alternative care in our programmes near Marrakech. For the on-site staff, this will be a major responsibility. We asked one of the psychologist on the ground, Meryem Abou Hafs, how she is preparing for the arrival of these children.

These children have lost a lot – their parents, their homes, everything. What can you say to them?

The children are experiencing the loss of their parents, the loss of a routine, the loss of a life they knew, and yet they are very resilient. Now everything will be new for them. For children who are grieving, it is essential and a need to express their feelings, but not directly. We can work with stories or drawings. For example, we can tell the story of a child who experienced the same earthquake. Through this medium, the child will try to process and understand the whole experience from a different perspective and will realize, "Oh, I can identify with this story and the hero or heroine of this story." It is important that the child does not feel, "I am a victim. I am passive." Instead, we should try to find a way that makes children feel that they can do something about this situation.


What emotions and behaviors can we expect from the children who will come to the programme?

Children who have experienced such a traumatic and stressful event, are likely to be very emotional: afraid, crying, excited, or show other symptoms. It may be difficult for them to express their feelings, or even feel emotions, because of the shock of this traumatic experience.  In these circumstances, some children become aggressive, some may be anxious or depressed, and others may prefer to remain silent, making it difficult to discern theirs feelings from the outside. Therefore, we expect a spectrum of emotions and a range of symptoms. The team of psychologists and volunteers will do all they can to support them and meet their needs.

In your opinion, what needs to happen to support the children who experience the loss of their families, especially in the first few days?

First, they need a sense of community, a sense that they are here in safety with other children. I think we will be able to help them greatly. Additionally, we will not just take in one child but a group of children who have had the same experience, namely, the loss of one or both parents. This way, they can see,  "I am not alone. There are other people with whom I share this traumatic experience." That may be a benefit for them. Moreover, as a team, we won’t try to fix or change them, but focus on validating their experience and making clear to them that it is normal to feel this way. It is normal to react like this. The earthquake was a very traumatic event. Therefore, we should initially welcome them to a place that provides them with security. Emotional security is a necessity. Once building on this security, it will be possible to assess the kind of intervention the children need the most and create a plan. It should not be a plan for one or two months but for years.

For the caregivers who will welcome and take care of these children, this will also be a very difficult situation. How will you prepare them?

We are planning a workshop to equip our staff with the tools and skills they need to handle this challenging situation. Additionally, we will closely accompany and support them while the children are in our care.

Will you also take care of the caregivers who listen to the children's distressing stories?

Yes, that is one of our responsibilities. We provide therapy sessions for the children, but we also support the caregivers through therapeutic sessions.

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