UNICEF is the United Nations (UN) agency that aims to realize the rights of children across the world. It operates at all levels, to influence decision-makers, and the variety of partners at grassroots level to turn the most innovative ideas into reality. Natascha Paddison works with the organization in the conflict-torn country of Sri Lanka.
UNICEF is supporting a range of activities to alleviate the psychosocial impact of conflict on children. Natascha’s role is to coordinate and direct activities within the country, overseeing seven field offices, six of which are deep in the conflict-affected areas. “We’ve got animators and young people working together with these children and teaching them about mine awareness, but also doing theater and just play activities,” said Natascha. She was formerly Head of the UNICEF Sub-office in Serbia and Montenegro.
The impact violence has on children and families is huge. It affects levels of malnutrition, reduces access to education and adequate water and sanitation facilities, and raises recruitment of child soldiers. The ongoing conflict comes on top of family disruption caused by the tsunami of December 2005. Natascha said, “Some of these were first displaced by the tsunami and then managed to go back to their homes – had hopes as homes and schools and health centers were being rebuilt again. And then as the conflict escalated, they had to flee again.”
Natascha will continue her efforts in Sri Lanka in the future, but says that the factor that would make a real difference to them is out of the hands of UNICEF. “We asked the children: What is your hope for the future? In other parts of the country, they said they wanted to be a train driver or a doctor. But in the conflict-affected areas, they never talked about what they wanted to be but only said they wanted peace. They all said they wanted the shelling to stop,” she asserted.