Westholme Junior School – ©BritishRedCross/ChrisBull

The world is reeling from a series of devastating natural disasters. From Hurricane Harvey and the flooding in South Asia, to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

We can’t avoid natural disasters, but through the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement we can help people prepare for them – such as by teaching people to have a grab bag ready.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the American Red Cross noticed children using their pillowcases to carry their possessions to the rest centres.

Cue the Pillowcase Project: now even UK children are getting ready to face the worst with their pillowcase ‘grab bags’.

Children and natural disasters

On average, natural disasters affect around 250 million people every year worldwide.

According to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) more than half of those affected have been children.


Westholme Junior School – ©BritishRedCross/ChrisBull

The Pillowcase Project helps children learn about weather emergencies in their local area, and how they can prepare and stay safe.

Initiated by the American Red Cross, the project is now run by six other National Societies, including the British Red Cross.

While the UK may be safer than most from earthquakes and hurricanes, it does get its fair share of extreme weather events.

Take Storm Desmond during the winter of 2015-2016, which flooded parts of Cumbria, Lancashire and the Scottish Borders. Or the heatwave in June which brought the hottest day for 40 years.

No one can predict what’s around the corner but when the unexpected happens it pays to be prepared.

The Pillowcase Project in action

The Pillowcase Project is delivered through schools by teachers who download our free online resource toolkit.

Three primary school children hold posters they created about the Pillowcase Project

Horfield CE Primary School – ©BritishRedCross/TimMossford

Horfield CE Primary School in Bristol, Ravensfield Primary School in Greater Manchester, and Westholme Junior School in Blackburn, have all recently taken part in the Pillowcase Project.

“I really liked the slogans, like ‘when thunder roars, go indoors’ as it gets the message through.” Year 5 pupil at Horfield CE Primary School.

There are all sorts of tools to teach pupils about the emergencies that might affect them – covering flooding, thunderstorms, severe winter weather and heatwaves – as well as key skills to help them cope and respond safely if an emergency happens.

“Now we know what to do we will probably be calmer and it will be easier for us to do what we need to do.” Year 5 pupil at Horfield CE Primary School.

Pupils also get to decorate an emergency ‘grab bag’ pillowcase with the items they would want to have with them in an emergency.

They can then take this home and share what they’ve learnt with their family and friends.

“My favourite part was going around the house and getting all the things I needed to pack in the pillowcase, and remembering that if there is a long power cut to eat the food from the fridge first.” Pupil at Westholme Junior School.

A group of primary shool children stand on a lawn holding pillowcases they have made through the Pillowcase Project

Horfield CE Primary School – ©BritishRedCross/TimMossford

Since launching in the UK in 2015, around 19,000 children aged 7-11 in over 250 schools across the country, have taken part in the Pillowcase Project.

The project is both a hit with pupils and teachers. One teacher at Horfield Primary School said:

“The interactive videos were amazing. They were absolutely great. It was like they were going on a journey with those children.

“It made it really memorable for them, because they are reflecting on an experience, rather than a whole lot of information being thrown at them.”

Teachers at Westholme Junior School also explained how some of their pupils had used the coping skills learnt through the project in other life situations such as preparing for a music exam.

Red Cross teaching resources

The Red Cross provides free online teaching resources for children and young people aged 5- 19 to help them prepare for, respond to and recover from a crisis. These are closely linked to the curriculum.

Our resources focus on five themes that are all related to our humanitarian work: humanitarianism and the Red Cross; disasters and emergencies; first aid and the bystander effect; refugees and migration; and conflict and its consequences. The Pillowcase Project covers disasters and emergencies.

If you’re a teacher or youth leader, check out our other online teaching resources today.