Taking on an Overwhelming Challenge: The Child #RefugeeCrisis

An Afghan family of three starts their long walk to Mytillini, the main port and capital of Lesvo Greece where the process of legal registration will begin. This is a walk that can take up to three days.
An Afghan family of three starts their long walk to Mytillini, the main port in Lesbos, Greece where the process of legal registration will begin. This is a walk that can take up to three days.

Overwhelming is the best word for it.

 

It has been more than a week since the photo of little Alan Kurdi, the three year-old Syrian refugee who drowned along with his mother and brother in an attempt to flee to Europe, captured the world’s attention. This image has put a human face on a growing crisis in which thousands of people risk everything, every day for the chance at a better life. The fact that it’s the face of a child, who deserves our protection and care, makes it exceptionally heartbreaking. 

 

Save the Children has been responding to the needs of Syrian child refugees since war broke out more than four years ago and our programs are already serving millions of displaced persons and refugees across the Middle East, including in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Yemen. We’re now launching responses in Greece and Serbia to address the particular needs of children (always the most vulnerable in a crisis) by providing emergency shelter, hygiene products and baby kits. 

 

It’s easy to be overwhelmed—to feel helpless when you think about the huge numbers of people, the sheer scale of the need, the horror of the image of a little boy alone and still on a beach. But any action you take on behalf of children can help make a difference.

 

If you want to get involved, there are a number of things you can do:

 

  • Learn more about Save the Children’s response on our website
  • Sign our petition and urge the United States to continue its tradition as a humanitarian leader and help Syrian refugees
  • Raise awareness and spread the word using #RefugeeCrisis or by following us on Twitter and Facebook
  • Donate to our Child Refugee Crisis Appeal aimed at helping support and protect homeless children and their families

 

Today, nearly half of all registered refugees worldwide are children and youth, and their numbers are growing dramatically. This is no way for a young person to spend his or her childhood. And we can change that. Over the last 4 and a half years, I have traveled many times to the region, meeting with families and children.  There is something each mom, dad and child wants – to have a life free from terror and just a chance to be normal again – to live in a community, go to work, go to school, to laugh and play.

 

No matter how overwhelmed we may feel by the challenges of helping these children, it’s even more overwhelming to be a child refugee—torn from home, family and everything familiar. We are the grown-ups, and it’s our responsibility to take on these overwhelming challenges and help guide children to safety. Please join us.

 

Changing the Way the Future Unfolds for Children in Poverty

I remember playing the fortune teller game as a kid. We would take a piece of paper, write cute messages and fortunes on it and then fold it origami-style to predict our future. Of course, our paper game couldn’t foretell my future or that of my childhood friends, but with the opportunities that came with growing up in a thriving community in the U.S., the outlook was bright. I had access to a quality education, which led to rewarding work experiences and, ultimately, to my dream job of leading a humanitarian organization helping make this world a better place for children.

 

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Students participate in a counting activity in preschool teacher Sung Thi Kim’s preschool class at a Save the Children supported school in northern rural Vietnam. Photo by Jeremy Soulliere/Save the Children.

But for too many kids in America and around the world, their future is all too predictable. Girls and boys who live in poverty, like William, whom I met in South Carolina when he was 18 months old, often miss out on the essential early learning every child needs to succeed – in school and life. This means they’re at a much higher risk of starting school behind their peers and never catching up, which can have a devastating effect on their future. Research has shown that when kids fall behind early on, they are more likely to drop out of school, become a teen parent or even end up in prison.

 

That’s why, as the summer is winding down and as kids go back to school, Save the Children is launching an annual campaign called Invest in Childhood: See the Future Unfold, which is focused on the importance of getting an early start on learning. The centerpiece of the campaign is—can you guess?—a digital version of the paper fortune teller!  We have dubbed it the Future Teller because it shows how we can transform the way the future unfolds for children when we invest in them early on. Our Future Teller reveals how investments big and small can make a lasting difference: Investing as little as $3 can provide a baby’s first book, $5 can send a child to school and $10 can stock a home library.

 

William is proof that investing time, effort and resources in kids while they are still babies and toddlers—and before their brain is 90 percent developed at age 5—can have a big impact on their future. When I visited him in South Carolina, William was thriving. Rather than falling behind his peers, he was right where he was supposed to be in his development.

 

All parents want what’s best for their child. But many parents, like William’s, either don’t have the means to pay for preschool or have access to it. That’s why William’s mom, Jessica, enrolled him in Save the Children’s early childhood education program. She and her son have benefitted from having caring experts regularly visit their home, providing parenting support, bringing books and engaging William in play and learning activities to ensure he develops the essential skills he needs to succeed in school, setting him up for a promising future.

 

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: Preschool teacher Sung Thi Kim reads to her class in a Save the Children supported school in northern rural Vietnam. Photo by Jeremy Soulliere/Save the Children.

Save the Children trains teachers and works with kids and parents from America to Vietnam to Mozambique to give them the tools they need to shape the futures of their children. In recognition of the world of difference these preschool teachers are making in their own communities, Save the Children this month is joining with Microsoft and Windows 10 in their #UpgradeYourWorld movement to tell their stories.

 

Stories of preschool teachers like Sung Thi Kim, who teaches in a remote Vietnamese farming village where most families live without electricity or running water. She goes out of her way—visiting her students at home to help with homework and turning rice and corn into teaching tools when school supplies are scarce—to ensure that children like Mai, 5, don’t miss out on early learning opportunities. You can read Ms. Kim’s story here.

 

With the support of amazing individuals like Ms. Kim doing great things in their communities to promote early learning, we can help all children reach their dreams. When we invest in children like William and Mai, we transform the way their future unfolds.

 

Adapted from a blog that originally ran in the Huffington Post.

The Government Is Leaving Children at Risk — Are You?

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This blog was first published on The Huffington Post.

 

It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina revealed how ill-prepared our nation was to protect children from disaster. New research shows that far too little has changed.

 

Most of the recommendations made by the National Commission on Children and Disasters after a deeply-flawed Katrina response remain unfulfilled, a new Save the Children report finds.

 

That’s unacceptable. It’s also extremely dangerous for our nation’s children. Their lives and futures are at stake. To this day, child survivors still carry deep emotional scars from their Katrina experience.

 

Take siblings John and Johnisha. They were 14 and 15 when Katrina barreled down on New Orleans. Their struggling family had no car to leave the city, so the pair joined an aunt taking refuge in the Superdome.

 

For five days, they witnessed death, heard accounts of rape and feared going into blood-streaked bathrooms. They were hungry and could find no milk, diapers or medical care for their ill baby cousin. They feared their parents had drowned and had to talk their desperate aunt out of committing suicide. John stood guard all night to make sure a leering man didn’t attack his sister.

 

When they finally evacuated, the siblings could not find their parents for weeks.

 

“I was lost for years, especially after losing my grandparents,” Johnisha says now. “It was a lot that I had to deal with mentally as a kid.”

 

The good news is, thanks to the work of the commission, the United States now has sheltering standards designed to protect children. Those simply didn’t exist before. But our experience from Hurricane Sandy and other recent disasters shows that much work remains to make sure those standards are applied consistently.

 

Unfortunately, the nation is much farther from ensuring many other protections children need in disasters. Our nation’s emergency pediatric transport and care capacity, access to mental health services for traumatized children, and federal preparedness and recovery support for schools and child care centers all remain inadequate.

 

Nearly four-fifths of the commission’s 81 final recommendations remain unfulfilled. Congress and the President need to finish the job before the next massive disaster strikes.

 

In the meantime, families must do everything they can to protect their children. That starts with ensuring they can stay connected if disaster strikes.

 

Hurricane Katrina separated families, leading to 5,000 missing children reports. John, Johnisha and many younger, extremely vulnerable children were not reunited with their parents for weeks.

 

Yet, a recent survey of American parents shows that most families don’t have agreed-upon meeting places or out-of-town emergency contacts.

 

If an emergency separated your family today, would you be able to quickly reach your children? What if local communications were down?

 

Take a minute to create emergency contact cards for your children. Keep one copy and put the other in your child’s bag or wallet. It can give you piece of mind and serve as a lifeline to your child during emergencies.

 

As we remember the devastating toll of Hurricane Katrina this summer, we all have a role to play in keeping children safe. Disasters can strike anywhere at any time, and — unlike with Hurricane Katrina — we may not always get advanced notice.

 

Download the report and take action to Stay Connected at www.SavetheChildren.org/Katrina10, and watch real stories here:

 

Five Ways I Think Like A Millennial (Sort Of)

This blog was first published on the InterAction website. Carolyn will be speaking at the InterAction Forum on June 24 on the panel: ‘Meh’ to ‘Yes!’-Simple Moves to Win Support for Our Sector.

 

CAROLYN-MILES-BIO-IMAGE-2011-SMALL2My 22 year-old son is a member of the Millennial Generation and is, at first glance, a completely different creature than I was at his age: I wore shoulder pads; he wears ear buds. I tuned the radio; he streams songs online. I searched for a phone booth to call a friend; he reaches into his pocket and sends a text.

 

But as it turns out, we’re not so different. I am – basically – a Millennial myself. Bill Gates told me so.

 

Well, sort of. Through new research from The Narrative Project, an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we’ve learned that communications tailored to members of the public who are engaged in global aid (like those of us attending the InterAction Forum June 22-24) also resonates with the Millennial Generation. Millennials grew up in a world where people are increasingly connected through technology – and they share common interests with people from different societies and backgrounds. These young people are comfortable talking about global issues, and are compelled to take action when something is important to them.

 

This latest research shows that we respond to the same kinds of messaging…which makes me more like a Millennial than I ever thought possible.

5 Ways I Think Like A Millennial:

 

  1. I don’t believe birthplace = destiny

Millennials know that people don’t choose where they’re born, but in too many cases the simple fact of geography determines much of their future including their economic prospects, educational opportunity, and access to healthcare. This imbalance of opportunity simply isn’t fair – and it’s why equality is a major focus of Save the Children’s future strategy.

 

  1. I care about individuality

Statistics showing progress year-over-year, or even decade-over-decade, are great…but Millennials know that’s not the whole story. In fact, narratives that focus on progress score below those that stress partnership, morality, and autonomy among most Millennials and members of the engaged public. I agree: I want to meet the people behind these statistics and hear their stories so that I can relate to them on a more personal level. So I travel as much as possible, hearing directly from the children and families we’re working to serve.

 

  1. I think globally and act locally

I don’t think the only people who need help are “over there.” I know it’s important to make a difference in my own backyard – for example, though Save the Children’s programs reaching kids in the United States – while still taking action for others around the world.

 

  1. I know we can change the world

Like most Millennials, I think my own actions can make meaningful change – and that I can have a personal impact on reducing poverty.  But we also believe that our government can make “a great deal of difference” (in the US, 59% of Millennials and 50% of the Engaged Public), so partnerships like those highlighted at the InterAction Forum are crucial.

 

  1. I think Taylor Swift is awesome

Okay, this one’s a little off topic, but it’s just one more way I’m an honorary Millennial…her songs are catchy!

 

This new research from The Narrative Project will help those of us working in global aid better understand how the Millennial Generation is becoming the next generation of engaged, active and inspired leaders. I look forward to talking more about this new narrative with you all at the Forum!

Getting to Zero — and Staying at Zero

This blog was first published on The Huffington Post.

 

I was recently able to congratulate Liberia and its leaders for being declared “Ebola Free” by the World Health Organization. That was a big deal for me, because when I visited that country at the peak of the epidemic last year, I didn’t know how long it would take for us to get to this point. I knew we had to do it, not just for the 2.5 million children living in areas affected by Ebola, but for all children around the world vulnerable to epidemics and outbreaks. In our interconnected world, a highly contagious health threat to children in one section of the globe, is a threat to all children. And even though Liberia made it to this milestone, its neighbors, Guinea and Sierra Leone, are still seeing new cases.

Save the Children has been hard at work over the last year in order to help bring the world to this point. In Liberia, we’ve reached over 165,000 people, built two Ebola Treatment Centers, provided psychosocial support to more than 5000 children, reunified 65 children with their families and much, much more. But we didn’t do all of this alone.

Government leaders around the world, realizing the serious nature of this crisis, quickly pledged financial support and donated expertise, talent and time. In the U.S., an emergency appropriations measure allowed for a significant and effective emergency response by the Center for Disease Control, USAID and others.

 

The private sector was also with us. Companies increasingly have global workforces and their leaders understand better than anyone how important identifying and containing global health risks and epidemics has become. This is one of the reasons that major tech firms (like Google and Facebook) and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation stepped into this fight with us.

The people of Liberia and their leaders deserve the lion’s share of the credit. Without their determination, perseverance and willingness to partner, none of this would have been possible.

 

All of this goes to show that problems of this magnitude cannot be solved by just one group — or by multiple groups working in isolation from each other. Everyone has a role to play and partnerships will remain critical as we go forward in this fight. Important pieces of work remain for us to accomplish together including:

 

• Continuing to support response efforts. No country will be safe at zero until all countries are at zero.

• Investments in global efforts to strengthen our collective response to future health emergencies. In addition to reforming international emergency health systems, we will need bold new initiatives to help other countries strengthen their own preparedness, disease detection and response capabilities.

 

I know the world is up for this challenge and one of the things that gives me hope is the commitment and creativity we have seen, and are seeing, on so many fronts and from so many partners.

Red Nose Day: Giving Kids More to Smile About

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post

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Save the Children staff members Sara Bernabeo, Jeremy Soulliere and Ellen Gerstein with NBC “TODAY” show host Matt Lauer along his 230-mile bike trek to promote Red Nose Day. Photo by Susan Warner / Save the Children.

 

It’s rare we can all have the chance to come together and share a laugh, while, at the same time, fight poverty and its detrimental impact on children in the United States and around the world.

 

For 30 years, Red Nose Day has been doing just that in the United Kingdom, bringing together comedians, stars from television and the silver screen, musicians and entertainers for a televised event to benefit poverty-fighting nonprofits. And this Thursday, May 21, at 8 p.m., Red Nose Day is taking a leap across the Atlantic, making its debut in the U.S.

 

Save the Children is excited and honored it has been chosen as one of the 12 nonprofits to benefit from this first-ever U.S. television special on NBC, which will support our efforts to ensure all kids have a healthy start in life, a quality education and protection from harm.

 

Red Nose Day is the only time A-list actors, comedians and musicians like Julia Roberts, Will Ferrell, Julianne Moore, John Legend, Save the Children Trustee Jennifer Garner and many more will take part in stand-up acts, sketch comedy, parodies and music performances – all to help meet the immediate needs of the poorest children living in the U.S. and throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America.

 

The energy of Red Nose Day has also spread beyond the televised event itself. NBC “TODAY” show host Matt Lauer embarked on a 230-mile bike ride this past Sunday to raise money and awareness for the fundraiser. His trek kicked off from Boston’s Fenway Park, and ends this Thursday – Red Nose Day – at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. Save the Children staff, family and friends cheered Matt on along his route through Connecticut on Monday, all proudly wearing red noses.

 

Red Nose Day is certainly putting the “fun” in fundraising, and if there’s one thing that connects kids all around the globe, it’s laughter. From my visits to classrooms in Haiti to playgrounds in Appalachia, it’s evident that laughter is the universal language of all children.

 

Through Red Nose Day, and the belly laughs it’s sure to generate, we can all give children living in poverty more to smile about.

Stories of Motherhood from Central Africa to South East Asia

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post

 

Every year Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers report ranks the best and worst places in the world to be a mom, giving us a window into the shared strengths and burdens that mothers face.

 

All mothers carry the brightest hopes for their children’s health and wellbeing, whether their homeland is at the top, middle or bottom of the ranking. To show you how motherhood unites women from all corners of the world and walks of life, we have invited two moms from two different continents to talk about the trials and tribulations of motherhood in their countries.

 

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Metro Manila, Philippines: Rizelle, 17, pictured holding her three-week-old baby, lives in a makeshift home under a bridge in the slums of Metro Manila. But she was fortunate to receive post-natal check-ups and immunizations for her newborn.

 

Maria Christina H. Oñate is from Metro Manila, Philippines. Holding the 105th spot out of 179 nations, the Philippines is a middle-of-the-road country for moms that has made great progress in recent years, especially in reducing the child mortality rate for the poorest children in cities. Rosalie Djouma is from the Central African Republic, which at the 177th spot is the third worst place in the world to be a mom.

 

Together, these two women represent two countries with very different realities for mothers and babies. Both women have dedicated their lives to helping some of the most vulnerable moms and children in their communities as part of their work with the international organization Save the Children. Here, they share their stories of motherhood, as well as their hopes and aspirations for all moms around the world — whether they live in bustling Metro Manila or the rural countryside of the Central African Republic.

 

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Kaga-Bandoro, Central African Republic: Giselle and her son Ronny fled their home because of violence. “I am a woman,” said Gilselle, “and during war, it is always the innocent, it is women and children like us, those who do not fight, who suffer most.”

 

Oñate: The Central African Republic is third from the bottom in the annual ranking of the best and worst places for moms. What was it like for you to raise children in a country that ranks so low for moms?

 

Djouma: As a nursing medical supervisor with Save the Children working in the Central African Republic, my experience as a mother is rather unique compared to many women in the country. My job allows me to provide for the health and education of my children and support my family. The sad reality for many mothers in the Central African Republic is that the social safety nets and reliable health services are not available, leaving them and their children vulnerable to extreme poverty.

 

Djouma: You’re fortunate to live in a country that does much better in the ranking than my homeland. What’s it like to be a mom in the Philippines?

 

Oñate: My son Diego is now a healthy, bright and curious three-year-old. I remember the wonderful time I was pregnant. As a working professional in Manila with health insurance, I had access to quality health services, which allowed me to take advantage of family planning counseling and newborn care. My son benefits from preventive care, immunizations and the luxury of doctors’ visits whenever he feels unwell, which is a far cry from the situation for many mothers.

 

Oñate: What are some specific challenges moms in the Central African Republic face?

 

Djouma: The current situation for mothers and children in the Central African Republic is critical. During the political and military crisis there are some mothers who have lost their husbands, their property and who do not have a source of income. Some children who have lost their fathers and mothers become easily exploited by certain groups of people. Many children are unable to continue their studies.

 

Rural mothers have similar struggles to those living in slums. The differences are that rural mothers have farm work, while those from slums have small businesses.

 

Djouma: What’s some of the progress the Philippines has made for moms and children?

 

Oñate: The Philippines is making strides towards progress in the care of moms and children with the introduction of programs through a new national social protection initiative, the implementation of health care innovations and by increasing the number of health professionals serving urban and rural communities.

 

In my work I get to listen to the people behind inspiring stories who unceasingly help vulnerable mothers and children access basic health care. They are committed community health workers who do home visits and counseling to pregnant and lactating women to ensure healthy pregnancy and safe delivery and care for newborns, including the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.

 

Djouma: The new report commends the Philippines for the progress it has made in reducing child mortality and narrowing the survival gap between the richest and poorest children in urban areas. What challenges still remain for the poorest moms and children in cities?

 

Oñate: My work on maternal and child health in marginalized communities in Manila brings me up close and personal to the everyday struggle of poor, unemployed mothers with usually four or more young children. The struggle to find ways of putting a meal on their table is constant and, more often than not, their health and that of their children takes the back seat.

 

These poor urban mothers are at risk of dying due to pregnancy and childbirth because of a lack of access to health services. These are mothers, including teenagers as young as thirteen, who experience unplanned pregnancies, lack adequate prenatal care, give birth at home with no skilled birth professional, have no access to emergency obstetric and neonatal care, and receive no postpartum care.

 

Oñate: What would it take to improve the conditions for mothers and their children in the Central African Republic?

 

Djouma: Many women are responsible for financially providing for their families and need additional support to generate incomes — whether through entrepreneurship or agricultural opportunities.

 

Families also need expanded access to education and health care facilities to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of children, in both rural and urban areas.

 

Save the Children’s annual State of the World’s Mothers report, which was released this month with support from Johnson & Johnson, has become a reliable international tool to show where mothers and children fare best, and where they face the greatest hardships. It is based on the latest data on health, education, economics and female political participation. The full report is available at:www.savethechildren.org/mothers.

 

Editor’s Note: Save The Children is a partner of Johnson & Johnson, which is a sponsor of The Huffington Post’s Global Motherhood section.

For Babies In Big Cities, It’s Survival Of The Richest

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post

I will never forget the moment when I looked out the car window at a bustling, steamy intersection in the heart of Manila, and locked eyes with a young woman. She was holding a tiny baby while begging in the street.

 

I glanced down at my six-month-old son, sleeping contentedly in my arms inside our air-conditioned car. The enormous inequalities between my world and hers struck me as never before. The child in my arms was about the same age and no smarter, cuter, or better than hers. Yet due to mere circumstance of birth, I knew my son would have many more opportunities in life, while this mother and her child would struggle to survive each day to the next.

 

It’s been 20 years since that fleeting moment, but the vision of the mother and her child has stuck with me. It drove me to change careers and join Save the Children, where we work tirelessly to ensure that every mother and child has a fair chance in life.

 

These days, more and more mothers in urban areas are seeking better opportunities for their children. That’s why Save the Children’s new report, State of the World’s Mothers 2015: The Urban Disadvantage — released with support from Johnson & Johnson — focuses on the health and survival of moms and babies in cities. The findings reveal a harrowing reality: for babies in the big city, their survival comes down to their family’s wealth.

 

I have been back to Manila many times. I am happy to report that, along with other urban centers in the Philippines, it is an example of how cities can narrow survival gaps between the rich and the poor by increasing access to basic maternal, newborn and child services, and making care more affordable and accessible to the poorest urban families.

 

A child’s chance of dying before his fifth birthday has been steadily declining over the years among the poorest 20 percent of urban families in the Philippines. From when I first visited that country in the mid ‘90s until today, child mortality rates among the urban poor have been cut by more than half and the urban child survival gap has narrowed by 50 percent between wealthy and poor kids.

 

Sadly, the Philippines is one of just a few countries with such dramatic improvements for poor urban children. In too many countries, urban child survival inequality is worsening, even as those nations have been successful in reducing overall child mortality rates.

 

In my travels throughout the developing world, I’ve never had to look very far to see evidence of these differences. For example, in New Delhi, India – a city with one of the largest health care coverage gaps between rich and poor – it is not unusual to see a gleaming hospital steps away from a sprawling slum, and to have babies literally dying on the doorstep.

 

But it’s not just in the developing world where our report found stark disparities between the haves and have nots. In our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., a baby born in the lowest-income district, where half of all children live in poverty, is at least10 times as likely as a baby born in the richest part of the city to die before his first birthday. And while Washington, D.C. has cut its infant mortality rate by more than half over the past 15 years, the rate at which babies are dying in the District of Columbia is the highest among the 25 wealthiest capital cities surveyed around the world.

 

We all have a lot more work to do to ensure that every mother has the same opportunities for her baby, whether she lives in Manila, Washington, D.C. or anywhere else in the world.

 

Find out more about Save the Children’s new report atwww.savethechildren.org/mothers.

New Consensus Challenging Us to ‘Embrace Previously Unimaginable Possibilities’

DevexBlogA consensus is emerging within the global development community about the rapidly shifting landscape: It is no longer about government or institutional donors, international nongovernmental organizations and projects.

 

Complex global challenges, evolving science and technology, and new resources — including private investments, are challenging us to think in new ways and embrace previously unimaginable possibilities. Poverty, illiteracy and hunger are seen as some of the great economic and business challenges of our time, worthy of the best minds and plans from both the business and philanthropy sectors. We are at a time in history where we can actually imagine solving these thorny problems. Read more at Devex.

Into India’s Cities

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A slum in the Ohkla area of New Delhi, India.

India is always a fascinating place for a visit to see Save the Children’s programs, but the one I made earlier this month was even more so than usual. I was meeting with Save the Children staff from all over the world to discuss key learnings from our urban programs. Since our founding almost 100 years ago, Save the Children’s focus has been on serving children and families in rural areas who have traditionally been the most marginalized, with the worst outcomes for kids in terms of health, education and abuse. But as populations shift, more and more disadvantaged families are moving to cities to try to lift their standard of living. In 2007 for the first time in recorded history, the number of people living in urban settings equaled those living in rural areas. As of 2014, 54 percent of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. By 2050, it is expected that this percentage will grow to 66 percent. And now many of the worst statistics for children are found in urban slums. This data is often masked by the better averages in cities and, as the gap between rich and poor widens, the poorest children are suffering in terms of surviving and thriving.

 

For example, in India, more than 8 million children under the age of 6 live in slums and 71 percent of deprived urban children under 5 suffer from anemia. More than 54 percent of households in urban slums do not have toilets and public facilities are unusable due to lack of maintenance, leading to poor sanitary conditions, increasing children’s chances of getting sick and decreasing their chances for a healthy start. In areas of rapid and unplanned urban expansion, informal settlements often lack many of the basic services that city dwellers typically enjoy, such as electricity, clean water and sanitation, transportation, education and healthcare. In addition, the urban poor face higher food costs and a constant threat of eviction, removal and confiscation of goods.

 

Save the Children is working hard to shift our work to focus on both rural and urban settings – wherever the most deprived children find themselves.  As part of my recent trip, I witnessed a wide variety of urban programs operating in Delhi. This included a heartbreaking program that focuses on female sex workers. While the government does not want NGOs distributing condoms and educating sex workers on HIV/AIDS, they also don’t want to disclose the ages of these women. Sadly, however, many I met were clearly teenagers.  In fact, several looked no older than my own 13 year old daughter. They spoke freely to us about the challenges of making a living by selling their bodies to men, some living on the streets and some with their families while hiding their real jobs from them. We visited a bridge under which men frequent to seek sex from many of these women, in clear view of a police check point. It was a terrifying place, full of dark spaces and garbage and, based on the men watching us from the bank of the filthy stream that ran through it, clearly this was a well-known location for sex. Not only is being forced to sell themselves horribly demeaning for these young girls, but it’s extremely dangerous as well.

 

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Colleagues and I on our way to visit young sex workers under a Delhi bridge

The girls we met made tiny sums of money, most of which had to go for food or were given to their families for rent and other expenses.  They dreamed of going back to school some day and a few were able to stay in school at least part-time. When we asked them what they wanted to do when they grow up, like any teenage girl, they had dreams of being teachers, dancers and even doctors. Of course for many it is unlikely these dreams will ever come true.  But my prayers went out to them that hopefully a few would make it.

 

The teeming city of Delhi has literally hundreds of thousands of children living in extreme poverty, in some of the worst circumstances you can imagine.  There are complicated issues of land ownership, municipal laws and political corruption to overcome, but there is also the promise of better infrastructure, more services and more partners with which to create change for these children and their families.  As Save the Children looks to the future, our efforts for and with urban children will be key in delivering a better world for kids, no matter where they live.