Young intern proves that child engagement is key to disaster risk reduction
When a tsunami alert was declared in her town of Santa Elena, Ecuador, 23-year-old Jazmin used training from Plan to assist in the safe evacuation of hundreds of people.
It was early morning and panic had prevailed over chaos. A tsunami alert had been declared along the Ecuadorian pacific coast and people were asked to evacuate. Hundreds were out on the streets in the south-western coastal town of Santa Elena, scrambling to get as far away as possible from the shore.
Those with cars fled first, others scampered to escape in any mode of transport they could afford or find. "A bus turned up but it was already over-packed. People were trying to evacuate but they had no way of getting out," says 23-year-old Jazmin Castillo who lives with her family just meters away from the oceanfront. Like many, Jazmin was worried and desperate to know what exactly was going on. "Every radio station had a different tsunami alert story and this added to general fear and panic," she says.
After her initial reaction of shock and disbelief, Jazmin soon realized she had no time to waste. She says, "I couldn't bear the panic and confusion caused by conflicting communication coming from various sources. I had to do something about it." On a graduate internship at the province Governor's office, she decided to persuade the communications department of the local government to get its message right.
Jazmin's confidence stemmed from years of communications training and experience she received as a volunteer with Plan. Plan’s programs in Ecuador actively engage with children and young people to increase their participation in community development. Jazmin got involved with Plan in 1999 as one in a group of 40 children invited to attend a workshop on child rights and has since graduated into an ardent activist and supporter.
"Through my participation in various Plan programs over the years, I received advanced training in communications such as radio production to promote and create awareness about child rights," says Jazmin who followed her interest in media to graduate in social communications. Drawing on her knowledge of disaster communications, she succeeded in convincing the local government in Santa Elena that the situation warranted targeted emergency communication.
On the streets of Santa Elena panic had become widespread and time was ticking. Jazmin immediately got into the shoes of an emergency communications officer handling a potential crisis. She took charge of coordinating information flowing out of the local government's office.
"The first thing I ordered was that only one radio station in the area should disseminate official information about the tsunami alert and how the evacuation process will be carried out," she says. "I picked up the phone and spoke to journalists in various radio stations explaining to them the need for consistent and clear information during an emergency."
The impact of clear information was immediate. People and government machinery began to work in coordination and evacuation was carried out swiftly and in an orderly manner. "We had to work fast because it was an emergency and we all know in such situations time is critical. I learned during my training with Plan that every second is important, every second can save lives", she adds.
Closely following the movement of tsunami on news, Jazmin, just like everyone else hoped and prayed that it would dissipate. "Thankfully, that's what happened," she says.
As the tsunami alert was called off, the tense calm in Santa Elena gave way to jubilations. "Everyone thanked me and hugged me, even the Governor called me on the phone to thank me," says Jazmin as she relives the moment with a glint in her eyes.
But she had another important task at hand, to facilitate smooth flow of communication for safe and organized return of evacuees to their homes. "It was a re-run of the reverse process. Everything worked to perfection and it was a happy ending to a very long day full of fear and anxiety", she says.
Rossana Viteri Country Director of Plan Ecuador says, "Jazmin is a bright example why engagement with children and young people is center to Plan's development work. It proves that young people can play a significant role in disaster response and risk reduction."
Jazmin currently coordinates Plan's "Bridging Networks" project in 12 communities in the province of Santa Elena. The project is aimed at engaging youth in development work and building capacities among young people to increase in their participation at local and national levels.
"The recent tsunami incident has served a lesson for us all to be better prepared for future emergencies and disasters, and young people can lead the way," she says.
Learn more about Plan's disaster management programs.
Read more about Plan's work in Ecuador.