Plan International asks girls: “How would you protect your community during a disaster?”

Disaster Risk Reduction drills at schools the students learn how to help others if they are injured La Libertad El Salvador“In my opinion, girls should have their own sense of responsibility. They should improve their knowledge through watching TV, reading newspapers or learning at school. When disaster strikes, I must keep calm; and together with my parents be ready to put preparedness plans into action.”  Hoa, 18, Vietnam

A disaster can manifest in many guises. It could be a natural disaster such as a flood, hurricane or tsunami, or it could be inflicted on a community by other people, such as a terrorist attack or a political conflict.

Would you know what to do if a disaster struck your community? How would you make sure that young people, especially girls, were safe during times when people are particularly vulnerable? Perhaps you’ve already lived through a disaster of sorts and have some teachings to share with readers of this website here?

We’d love to hear what you have to say by leaving us your comments below.  As you may know, this week sees the countdown to the International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October.  At Plan, we help many communities across the world during a time of disaster through our Plan emergencies work, from the recent floods in Pakistan to developing child-friendly spaces in emergencies. We recognise that during times of difficulty, people need shelter, food, clean water, education, medical attention and supplies, and even safe places to go to the bathroom. And not forgetting that young children need a safe place to play and learn to keep their bodies healthy and their brains developing.

This week, Plan International launches our annual State of the World’s Girls report and will be live for you to read on Day of the Girl this Friday. The report is all about girls in disasters and below you can see examples of interviews with girls from different countries on how they were affected by disasters in their communities.

Responding to disaster – ‘There is nobody to teach us’  It is clear from all our interviews that girls want to participate in activities in their communities to reduce the risk of, or respond to, disasters.

Our research suggests that while girls have the capabilities, knowledge and skills to contribute to disaster awareness programmes, they need to be empowered to put this into practice. Some girls identified both causes and effects of potential hazards, demonstrating that they had received some form of education regarding disaster risk reduction and response.

Sixteen-year-old Mary Jane from the Philippines told us that during disasters she knows how to “keep things safe, and then get food that is not easily spoiled, and then the clothes, prepare them, so that when there is a typhoon coming, it will be easy to pack up”.

Likewise, 17-year-old Evelyn from El Salvador told us that following an earthquake in 2011, “now I know more or less what to do, because we had simulations at school”. However, other girls had little or no knowledge of how to respond to a disaster. Many reported that they relied on their fathers during such times. Thirteen-year-old Ngan from Vietnam confirmed, “If disaster or emergency occurs, I don’t know what to do and I must ask my father.”

In contrast, 16-year-old Linda from El Salvador attributes her survival during flooding in her community to her mother: “Thank God my mother felt it coming; when the water was near she noticed a bad smell, a muddy smell, because the rushing water is all dirty. So my mother smelled the mud and she got up and saw that the river was coming close, so we all began to pack up clothes, shoes, our documents and our things to leave the house. By the time the water came into our home we were on higher ground.”

Girls talked of the importance of having a female representative or leader in their village committees, and having female representation and girls’ feedback on what they need during and after disasters is important “because she herself will be the one to say what she knows, about her experiences, and what should be done”.

Linda, 16, from El Salvador, went further: “Youth should be trained on sex education and sexuality, often young people need that… I think we need more training on leadership, lots of times young people don’t learn because there is nobody to teach us… and also we should learn about emergency plans and other topics.” She added: “There are many people who say that we shouldn’t have a say because we are too young, but I do think that we can add our own ideas too.”

On that note, we’d like to hear your ideas on this topic! Leave a comment below, and follow Plan on Facebook and Twitter using the #GirlsInDisasters hashtag from Friday to learn more about how Plan helps people in their communities during a disaster.

For more information about how Plan supports girls’ rights, visit our Because I am a Girl campaign website.

Thank you, Plan International, for this important 8th Day of Action! So, tell us, how would you deal with a disaster? Write your ideas here. You’ll be automatically entered into a drawing to win a pair of UGG Boots.