Syrian Children Have a Right to Go to School

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David Skinner

Director, Education Global Initiative, SCI

Lebanon

February 16, 2016

The statistics are difficult to fathom. There are 1.4 million children who are affected by the war in Syria who are of school age and who are living as refugees in the neighbouring countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. More than half of these children are out of school.

Over the last three years, Lebanon alone has taken into its public education system 150,000 children who are refugees from the conflict in Syria. Accommodating an additional 150,000 children in schools in the United Kingdom would be a challenge. But in Lebanon the proportions are different. In Lebanon there are only 150,000 Lebanese children in the public education system. So the influx of refugee children has meant that every state school in Lebanon has had to double in size in the last three years. Every school – double the size. 

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Syrian children attend classes at a Save the Children supported school for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon.

In addition, the children who are joining the schools have been subject to severe stress. They have been moved from what was once the security of their homes in Syria. They have seen things that no one – let alone a child – should ever see. And their families are under severe economic stress because of the great difficulty that refugees have finding work in Lebanon. All of these factors are significant barriers to accessing the educational system in Lebanon.

The Lebanese people deserve enormous credit for what they have already done to help Syrian children go to school: schools have introduced a two-shift system; teachers are working longer and longer hours to support the refugee children.

But it is not enough.

There are a further 150,000 children who should be in school, but are not. Although teachers have received some support to help them assist severely stressed children with learning, more needs to be done. Although there is an enormous need to provide support for the youngest children, the provision for pre-school support for refugees is pretty much non-existent.

I am writing this in Lebanon, where I came to look at the kind of support that Save the Children is providing already, as well as the support that we should be providing in the future. Education is a human right, and it is the means by which society equips children with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the world. It also saves lives, protects and builds peace.

The Bekaa Valley is – on a good day – a 60-minute drive from Beirut (the Syrian border is only 60 minutes away). It is beautiful: snow-covered mountains on both sides of fertile pasture.

In the gaps between the houses and on random fields in the agricultural areas, landlords have let out spaces to communities of refugees for informal settlements. These consist of flimsy shanty huts. It is the children in these settlements who we are supporting.

One of our projects involves providing early childhood support. We have helped communities find the space and the materials to run early childhood development activities for three to six year olds. The spaces are temporary. We use tents or unfinished buildings; buildings that the owner had started to build but are now unfinished shells. We rent the shell, put in polythene windows, carpets and partitions, and create a serviceable space.

We have also helped find Syrian refugees to act as facilitators (very often refugees who were fully qualified teachers in Syria) alongside facilitators from Lebanon. The centres are packed with young children. They are playing, they are singing. They are drawing and coloring.

But, above all, these children are developing their skills. They are learning how to socialize with children of their own age. They are understanding what a book is; how to hold a pencil. They are sorting objects and starting to understand basic numeracy. This is all done through fun activities and play. Activities that would be recognizable in pre-schools across the United Kingdom.

The centers are very popular with the children and with their parents. It is the sight of children engaged and happy and learning, despite the horrendous experiences they have suffered, that confirms that the work you do is having a genuine and positive impact on the lives of some of the most deprived children.

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Syrian children attend classes at a Save the Children supported school for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon.

The other activity I visited was a homework support session. I was quietly skeptical about this when I saw it on my itinerary. It sounded a little trivial. But witnessing the reality made it clear quite how wrong I was.

Children from Syria are taught in Arabic. In Lebanon they are taught – after the first few years – in either French or English. Children who have left Syria have very often had to miss significant parts of their education because of instability at home or because of the journeys that they have had to take. They find learning in the Lebanese system hard. So we are helping them.

Most Syrian children attend the afternoon shift of the schools. In the morning we run sessions for a couple of hours, where they can get additional support for their learning. Save the Children’s support goes well beyond simply making sure they do the exercises they have been assigned for homework. It’s effectively remedial help across all the subjects that they are learning. The sessions are wildly popular. The group I visited had forty children in a small – very small – room with four teachers who were providing fantastic assistance. Despite the cramped conditions, the children were taking extraordinary steps in their learning.

Children like the ones I met in the Bekaa Valley have suffered enormously. They are facing an insecure and uncertain future. They don’t have – no one has – any idea when they will be able to go back to their homes in Syria. But they are determined that they are not going to be left behind. They are determined to do what they can to learn. Their parents are determined to help them. And we are determined to make sure that they have their right to learn fulfilled.

To learn more about our response to the Syria crisis, click here

The Warning Bell Has Rung: Will the World Hear It?

The tiny boy’s chest rose and fell fast as he lay on the thin mattress of the hospital bed, his grandmother by his side. As I watched him struggle, I asked the doctor looking over him what was wrong. His diagnosis was severe malnutrition complicated by a serious case of pneumonia. Pneumonia kills more children under 5 than any other single disease in Ethiopia and, layered on top of a case of severe malnutrition, Mohammed’s little life hung precariously in the balance on the day I met him. This was his second visit to the district hospital in the last few months and his mother and grandmother had traveled over 100 miles to get him there. He is one of 400,000 children in Ethiopia now suffering from severe malnutrition due to lack of food caused by the worst drought in 50 years.

 

In the United States, El Niño is causing warm spells in the Northeast, flooding in the Midwest and forest fires in California—but its severity and duration this year is wreaking havoc on Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa and threatening tremendous progress made over the last 25 years. Ethiopia is a country I often hold up as an example of what can be done, especially with strong government leadership and partners. Ethiopia has reduced child mortality by two thirds, meeting that element of the Millennium Development Goals several years even before the 2015 target; the vast majority of Ethiopian children are enrolled in primary school; and the country’s innovative health system serves families through clinics in even the poorest communities with more than 30,000 health workers supported by the government. Governments and partners invested in an early warning system that monitors rainfall and soil moisture, which rang the alarm in mid-2015 that a drought was imminent. But alarm bells don’t do much good—and won’t save children’s lives—if no one listens to them.

 

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I met several struggling families on my trip to the Amhara and Afar regions of Ethiopia this week. For many, their cattle had died or been sold off for half their value due to lack of food for the animals. Almost 80% of the population is dependent on rain-fed agriculture, so the failure of three successive rainy seasons has left families with no crops to sell or to eat. Now they are receiving monthly rations and children are slipping from moderately malnourished to severely so, every day. Children have started dropping out of school because they must instead walk for hours to collect the scarce water that is available.

 

The Government of Ethiopia has mounted a strong response to the drought, vowing that they won’t see the suffering of 1984 repeated. Governments like the US, Norway and the U.K. have also stepped up aid to Ethiopia to provide food, water, animal feed and health services like treatment for malnutrition through Save the Children and other organizations on the ground. But many others haven’t. The sheer scale of the drought means more resources—food and money—must be mobilized now, both from those who have already given and especially from those who have not. There’s no time for delay.

 

I left the Dubti Hospital that day with the very real worry that Mohammed might not make it through his tremendous struggle against pneumonia and malnutrition. But thankfully he was receiving the medical support he needed. At the same time hundreds of thousands of others were struggling just like him that day, and each day since, often without food or access to medical care.

 

The warning bell has sounded—we cannot be deaf to it. We cannot wait for more children to suffer before we are moved to act.

2015 Instagram Post 10-28-15:  On a recent visit to #Lesbos, Greece, our CEO Carolyn Miles met with child refugees who arrived via the Mediterranean Sea.   Hear from Carolyn about her response to the #refugeecrisis at facebook.com/savethechildren.

Providing a Future for Millions of Syrian Children

It takes only a few hours on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos to understand the enormity of the current refugee crisis sweeping Europe and the many dangers that refugees face, including so many mothers and children.

 

On one typically busy day, our Save the Children staff counted 22 small rubber dinghies arriving in just five hours — filled with babies as young as three months old and adults as old as 76. While no Greek official was on shore to meet the refugees, volunteer aid workers, including Save the Children staff, were there to assist and guide them toward registration. The numbers of people arriving in Greece this year is staggering — up from 40,000 last year to 580,000 so far this year. During one five-day period last month, 48,000 new arrivals — or nearly 5,000 a day — came to shore.

 

I recently visited the north shore of Lesbos and talked with a number of refugee families arriving by boat. One woman I met from Syria was traveling with her little girl, little boy, and two brothers. Her husband was left behind in Syria and was hoping to meet them later. We helped guide their boat to the shore and pulled them out of the water, and she said she couldn’t believe they were alive. She was so cold and overcome by emotion, she shook violently. We wrapped her in a space blanket and one of our workers offered her his scarf. Slowly, as we gathered warm clothes for her children, she stopped shaking and even smiled weakly as her daughter showed off her warm jacket.

 

I also visited the two informal camps outside the island’s capital city of Mytilene, where refugees must register to continue their journey to Europe. One camp was originally for Syrians and the second camp for other nationalities, the majority of whom are from Afghanistan. Our staff met several teenagers making the trip by themselves. One boy from Afghanistan was traveling with a small group including four other teenage boys. They were trying to get to Germany, where one of the boys had a brother. No one knows precisely how many children are making this journey alone, but recent estimates put the number in the tens of thousands and is growing rapidly. Recent figures from the Serbian government, for example, show that nearly one in four refugee children arriving in Serbia in recent months have been unaccompanied.

 

While the international community continues to struggle to find a solution to the conflict in Syria, now approaching its fifth year with no end in sight, the sheer numbers of desperate Syrian citizens are staggering. Four million have fled the country and over 7 million have been forced from their homes but remain inside Syria.

 

Almost 3 million Syrian children are not in school, including half of those who have fled to neighboring countries. As Secretary of State John Kerry noted last week, “Imagine what it would mean for America’s future if the entire public school systems of our largest cities — New York, Chicago and Los Angeles — were suddenly to close and stay closed.” Schools, in fact, are among many public institutions that are in shambles. More than 4,000 attacks on schools have taken place in Syria since 2011, according to the U.N. Meanwhile, two of Syria’s neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan, are reaching their breaking point in assisting Syrian refugees.

 

What can we do? Save the Children has joined other major aid agencies in calling on national governments to adopt a bold new deal for refugees. In the short term, we need to provide much more support in the region in terms of food aid, employment, medical care and education so more refugees will not feel compelled to leave the region and reduce the current huge migration to Europe. In addition, we need to eliminate many restrictions that leave refugees living in limbo — in constant fear of arrest, detention and deportation.

 

We also need a special focus on children. Donors need to take additional steps to ensure that children are protected and educated. Otherwise, we face the prospect of helping create a lost generation of Syrian children. Investments now in education and protection for these children can pay enormous dividends once the war ends and rebuilding begins.

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In recent months, we have seen growing support from individuals and corporations to assist refugees. In early September, the worldwide dissemination of a photo of a little refugee boy drowned on a beach in Turkey helped people see this crisis as a human tragedy that is affecting tens of thousands of innocent children and their families. Our long-time corporate partners, such as Johnson & Johnson, stepped up their support for our humanitarian response for refugee children.

 

With the recent attacks in Paris, we are presented with very hard choices. Our sympathies, of course, are with the hundreds of families around the world who lost a loved one in the barbaric events of November 13.

 

But we can’t turn our backs on the Syrians who are also fleeing death and destruction in their country. By continuing to increase humanitarian support in Syria, in surrounding countries, and for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee families, we are not only doing the right thing but are also providing a future for millions of Syrian children.

 

This post originally appeared on the Global Motherhood section of The Huffington Post

Rewriting ‘Haiyan’ Two Years On

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April Sumaylo

Media Manager

Save the Children in the Philippines

November 10, 2015

I was expecting chaos when we landed in Tacloban the day before Typhoon Haiyan hit the Visayas, but clear skies prevail throughout the day. It was business as usual for the region’s capital city. There was no indication of an impending danger.

As the team traveled through the city to meet with the local disaster councils and officials, I saw people looking out on the quiet sea. “The calm before the storm,” my colleague whispered. It struck me. Are people really ready?

Photo 2 A child walks in the rubble after supertyphoon Yolanda ravaged central Philippines. Photo by April SumayloSave the Children.

A child walks in the rubble after Super-Typhoon Haiyan ravaged central Philippines

Then, dawn came. Until now, many would still ask me, how does an unprecedented category 5 super-typhoon look like?

At 4:30 am of 08 November 2013, the winds grew violent. We woke up early to film what was happening from our windows. Not long after, we finally came face-to-face with the deadliest storm I would probably ever witness in this lifetime. One by one, metal gates of the building opened and windows cracked in seconds. Our roof gave in to the deadly wind and water started gushing in. There was zero visibility everywhere.

As we hid under the sturdy tables, our team feared for small children who must have been so terrified with the growling winds. We were fortunate to be housed in a very strong structure. We were all safe and uninjured, but what about children living in flimsy homes and those who live in unsafe areas by the sea?

Then after 6 long hours, there was silence.

We immediately walked outside to talk to the people. Our worst fears were confirmed: we saw hundreds of bodies piled up by the shore, and children scavenging for food. Everywhere we go, we see miles of destruction. Nothing was spared.

At the famous astrodome in Tacloban City, I met 11-year-old Rafael who was trying to open a can with a rusted knife. Just two days after the typhoon, he built a makeshift home out of scrap to protect his mother and seven siblings. Rafael had just lost his father when he was hit by a collapsed wall in the middle of the typhoon. His voice was trembling when he said he “tasted” the blood of his father whilst trying to save him. He told me it was a miracle that he was alive as he swam his way through to reach the next village. His mother told me that they don’t know where to start.

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11-year-old Rafael lost his father to Typhoon Haiyan

When I finally returned back home in Manila, people saw me as a survivor. However, from my perspective as a mere outsider in a community that was ravaged by the strongest typhoon to hit land, I saw it quite differently. Truth be told, Rafael and million others are the real survivors, as they are the ones who had to suffer with the devastation that I could barely put into words. They remind us of the massive needs on the ground and they drive Save the Children to deliver lifesaving aid quickly to the worst-affected areas.

Two years into the response, serious work has been done, and a lot has changed. Save the Children has reached close to 900,000 people, including half a million children with lifesaving aid and rehabilitation assistance. We have distributed families food and clean water; provided primary health care; repaired schools and health centers; and provided families and children with the much needed shelter and livelihood assistance. Behind the numbers, we see children whose lives have been changed.

But does it all end here?

“Haiyan” was the most powerful typhoon the world has ever seen and we knew that rehabilitation will take time. Save the Children will continue to support some of the most vulnerable children and their families as they get back on the feet. When asked why I started writing my story just now, I tell them that it is difficult to write something that remains unfinished. Needs are still enormous on the ground and we should continue working together write a better version of the aftermath.

“We’ve Had Children Dying When Their Boat Capsizes, Now We Are Potentially Faced With Deaths Inside the Camps”

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Kate O'Sullivan

Communications Manager, Save the Children Greece

Lesvos, Greece

October 28, 2015

Here on the Greek island of Lesvos we’ve been hit by winter. A three-day storm brought chaos and desperation during a week that saw the highest numbers of arrivals onto the island for the whole year. 48,000 people had arrived by dinghy across the Greek islands over just five days, which is more than all of last year combined. The island of Lesvos saw over 27,000 alone, and all at the worst possible time.

In normal circumstances, a storm shouldn’t be a problem on a Greek island. But on Lesvos, and across all the travel routes from here to north Europe, the lack of shelter and basic services means people fleeing war and extreme poverty are facing unthinkable conditions. On Lesvos, there have been two transits camps. Moria was for non-Syrians, predominantly those from Afghanistan. Syrians stay in Kara Tepe, and have a quicker registration process. The services in Kara Tepe have always been better; the majority of people coming here are Syrians so the majority of the response has been there, but it’s not acceptable and the consequences are now more apparent than ever.

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Save the Children aid workers distribute hot meals at Moria camp. We are maknig sure no child or family goes hungry.

Save the Children works in both camps, as do other agencies, and we provide a cooked meal once every day for between 2,000–8,000 people, depending on how many people are there. We also run a safe space for children, and for mothers who need to feed their children, as well as identifying the most vulnerable families who need extra support. We work to improve systems to protect children, especially the most vulnerable like those who are separated from their family or who arrive here alone. But there have never been enough services in Moria and every day our team works with children and families who need extra help whenever we come across them, finding doctors, getting information, referring people to other support. Recently, the camps were thrown into disarray again as registration processes were changed and Syrians were brought to register in Moria as well. People were moved back and forth between the camps, causing delays and a backlog of people stuck on the island. A direct consequence of this was the chaos that we saw during the storm, and so much unnecessary suffering.

In Moria camp, I was stopped in my tracks by a child shivering uncontrollably. She was unable to walk or make eye contact, her hands and lips were literally blue. Her mother was nearby, also unable to walk. One of our team members picked up the little girl and the rest of us carried the mother to Medecins Sans Frontieres, a medical aid agency. A crowd was gathered outside; there are just too many people in need of doctors. Minutes later, we found three young men unconscious with hypothermia, whose friends had dragged them through a hole in a fence into the camp. Working with UN staff and volunteers, we did everything we could for them while we waited for the one of two ambulances on the island to take them

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People desperately trying to find shelter at Moria camp, Greece

to hospital. One of the men regained consciousness, and tears of pain and complete anguish began to run down his face as we desperately rubbed his hands and feet to try and get any warmth into them. Like thousands of others, including children, they had been forced to sleep for three days in the field next to the transit camps because the queue for non-Syrians to be registered had been moved outside to make way for the new system. Right now, there are no toilets for those waiting in the queues outside the camp, so feces mix into the flowing streams of water. Save the Children is working with other agencies provide basic sanitation facilities but with systems and the context always changing, we need to constantly change plans to make sure we can support children wherever the needs are greatest.

Only families who had been registered were allowed to sleep inside the transit camp but that is not much better. Moria is on a hill, and most of it isn’t graveled so the rainwater turned nearly the entire area into a mud bath. The skin on every last child’s hands and feet was completely shriveled from being in water and mud for three days. People had resorted to lighting fires in the tents and porta cabins to try and get warm, and smoke billowed throughout the camp. People who’ve fled Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, who’ve faced unbelievable violence and poverty, were breaking down in tears at what was happening. A woman from Afghanistan who was waiting in our food distribution line with her children reached out and clung to me, sobbing into my shoulder, clearly having reached her limit and needing some kind of comfort, even from a complete stranger. All day long, people were pleading for help from anybody. Mothers wrapped their babies in rubbish bags trying to keep them dry, and fathers held plastic bags over the heads of their children. We gave out all our stocks of blankets and dry clothes but there just wasn’t enough. The lack of dignity these people were facing was shocking to see, even for aid workers like us at Save the Children who’ve worked in camps, conflict areas and natural disasters for years.

To date, we’ve had children dying when their boat capsizes as they try to reach Greece by sea. But now we know for sure that we are potentially faced with deaths inside the camps.

At the border between Greece and the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia (FYROM), where people move onwards after the islands, the first snows are expected next month. Though there are more systems in place there, when they cross over the border, they have nothing but the clothes they wear to protect them from the elements. Save the Children is running a safe space for children there, as well as supporting the most vulnerable children who need extra help, and will be distributing warm clothes, boots and blankets for children. But we already are seeing people wearing plastic bags inside their shoes or sandals, or using litter bags as makeshift raincoats. With border crossing taking place through the night, it’s harrowing for children and adults to be making the 1.5km walk between the Greece and FYROM border, in the dark, marshalled by armed border guards and corralled through as part of a stressed and tired group of people.

Along the journey refugees and migrants take, Save the Children, UN agencies and other international agencies, along with tireless volunteer groups, are doing everything they can. But it is just not enough. The past week has been just a glimpse of what lies ahead in the coming months and it’s terrifying to think that a child could die here after they have arrived in Greece. More must be done for the thousands of child refugees and migrants who arrive here and move onwards in the hopes of safety and a better life.

To learn more about our response to the refugee crisis, click here.

Preparing for Winter as Refugees Arrive in Lesbos

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Mark Buttle

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Program Emergency Response Personnel

Lesbos, Greece

October 20, 2015

 Arriving at the airport on Lesbos for my flight home I realized that, for a change, I was early and it being 4:45 a.m., that the airport was closed! I walked across the road to the beach, wondering how many refugees were crossing the dark sea before me at that very moment, some of whom head directly for the bright lights of the coastal airport. All was quiet, so I sat down on the wall of a tiny chapel, where I could keep an eye out, and allowed myself to doze.  
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A boat full with refugees arrives on the Greek island of Lesvos

Yesterday it had been all hands on deck as all available staff scrambled to assist with the distribution of a daily meal at Moria transit camp, completely over capacity yet again with a new influx of refugees. With thousands of people crammed into a space far too small, every available Save the Children person was wearing our red t-shirt, as over 2,000 hot dinners were served. Luckily they didn’t run out and everyone got their share.

At Moria transit camp, Save the Children has coordinated with MSF and the local government to improve hygiene conditions. As winter approaches, I know that we will need to provide hot water in the showers: in fact we will need to winterise the camp as a whole, providing better drainage as well. The existing shower block doesn’t have a roof, has no windows, and puddles form on the cracked and missing tiles of the floor: there is only cold water. Kids lose heat more quickly than adults, so they will try to avoid washing if that entails using freezing cold water. At the moment, comic shrieks can be heard as reluctant children jump under chilly jets of water. Warm water could be considered a luxury, but it is not funny to see a four-year-old crying and shivering uncontrollably, especially as many of these children are already sick and exhausted.

On Kos there are no public toilets that are really suitable for women, and new toilets have insufficient water available and are in terrible states as they are used by far more people than they are designed to. Meanwhile refugees camping on the seafront are on the promenade, literally a few feet above the sea. During the next storm they will be soaked by crashing waves.

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A mother and her young son wait to be registered at an informal camp in Lesvos so they can be transferred to Athens

As I sat on my wall, I was brought back to reality by the faint but distinct sound of a young child’s voice. They were coming. But instead of a boat landing in front of me, a bedraggled line of people appeared on the coastal road: they had arrived south of the airport, with quite a walk ahead of them to get to the transit camps, where they need to go to register before they can move onwards with their journey. “Baba…” a two-year old said to his dad, who was carrying him on his shoulders. “How far?” a man asked me simply. I could have said, “A ferry ride to the Greek mainland, then another bus or train ride to the border, then walking or catching buses through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia and Austria, crossing borders with no idea how to, or where to go; no idea what will happen when you arrive, or if you will be welcome, and no idea what will happen to your children over the coming years as they try to fit into a new society.” Instead I said, “About 6 miles to the registration point. Good luck.”

To learn more about our response to the refugee crisis, click here.

After Fleeing Danger, Children Deserve a Warm Welcome

carolyn lesvosI am just back from the island of Lesvos in the southeastern part of Greece, where I was visiting our programs for refugees who have made the perilous crossing from Turkey. It is a surreal experience: on the one hand a beautiful island with lovely small towns where vacationers from Europe flock in the summer months; on the other hand, a beach strewn with deflated rafts, substandard lifejackets and water bottles, with soaked families huddled together after a rough journey across the strait from Turkey. This far-flung island off of Greece is now the first landing point for thousands of refugees fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

The trip can be deadly for children. The night I arrived in Lesvos, a one-year-old died in the chaos when he fell into the middle of an overcrowded raft packed with more than 30 people. In the dark, the baby drowned in a few feet of water before his mother could find him in the jumble of people.

 
As I sat and talked to families waiting in line for a bus which would take them down the coast to the registration camp, I was struck by the enormous hardships these families had endured along the way – and the fact that this is only their first stop in a long journey through Europe’s many borders. Many had been first displaced in their own countries by conflict, often living for years under fire, experiencing danger and violence on a regular basis. Finally they felt unable to endure another day of fear, lack food or medical services and no school for their children. They had all made the difficult decision to use all their remaining resources to try to start new lives in Europe.

 

Their journeys through Iran, Turkey, Lebanon and other routes were often marred by tragedy. One mother and grandmother cried as they described to me leaving behind a 9-year-old boy who was separated at the Lebanon/Turkey border and was denied a visa to cross with them. Another young mother told me about the birth of her 14-day-old baby while they were in Iran – on the way to Turkey from Iraq – with no hospital or help available. Despite her advanced pregnancy, she and her husband were forced to flee from ISIS and a life of constant danger. And parent after parent told me that their children had now been out of school for years and they needed to give them their future back.
In the face of this massive wave of people (more than 160,000 reached Lesvos in the month of September alone), Save the Children has been working to make lives easier. Rather than enduring the 40-mile walk, often in brutal temperatures, from where the boats land to the registration camp, Save the Children and other partners have rented buses to take families down the mountainous road. Once at the camp, we distribute hygiene kits and blankets for mothers and children who come with almost nothing but will be facing Europe’s cold winter temperatures. We have our signature child-friendly space set up so that kids can spend even a few hours playing games, getting colorful drawings painted on to their faces. These spaces bring a smile to a child that has often not smiled for many months. We also look for those children having the hardest time coping and refer them for more help. And each afternoon, we supply a cooked meal to over 3,000 people – often the only meal they may get that day.

 

The young staff here from all over the world are tremendously hard working, living together and working all hours seven days a week – they seem to never stop thinking about ways they can make our work better and respond to ever-changing demands. As those fleeing war and persecution continue to arrive, we must all remain committed to meeting their needs to the best of our ability – so that these children don’t have to spend more of their young lives in fear.

 

I am struck by one little boy I met on Lesvos named Hassan, who told me that what he wanted more than anything was to have a home again, and to not be scared. Surely this most basic request is not too much for a little boy, only 8, to ask of us.

 

MSH, Save the Children & International Medical Corps Announce Commitment at #CGI2015: #NoMoreEpidemics Campaign

Frank-smith

Frank Smith, MA, PhD

Campaign Director, No More Epidemics, Management Sciences for Health

September 29, 2015

On Sunday, September 27, 2015, Management Sciences for Health (MSH), and its partners Save the Children US and International Medical Corps (IMC), along with African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET), committed to bringing together key partners from the global public health, private, public, and civil society sectors to build the No More Epidemics™ campaign that will advocate for stronger health systems with better disease surveillance and epidemic preparedness capabilities to ensure local disease outbreaks do not become major epidemics.

Launching later this year, the No More Epidemics campaign will build a broad and inclusive partnership that will engage multiple sectors to share knowledge and expertise and provide the public information and political support for the right policies and the increased funding to ensure people everywhere are better protected from infectious diseases.

Through this Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) commitment, No More Epidemics will create global and local advocacy campaigns, develop case studies and reports to allow people to better understand different countries' preparedness, and how to address any gaps. The campaign will launch a website and social media platform for information sharing and continue ongoing recruitment of coalition members.

READ THE CLINTON GLOBAL INITIATIVE (CGI) COMMITMENT

Chelsea Clinton announced the No More Epidemics campaign commitment during the Ebola Call to Action that came at the end of a plenary session (“Investing in Prevention and Resilient Health Systems and the Ebola Call to Action”) featuring: Bill Gates, Gates Foundation; Michael Gerson, ONE Campaign; Charlize Theron, Charlize Theron Africa  Outreach Project; Ngozi Okongo-Iweala, former Finance Minister of Nigeria; Michel Lies, Group CEO, Swiss Reinsurance Company; and Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever; moderated by Betsy McKay, global health reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

MSH President and CEO Dr. Jonathan Quick; Save the Children US President and CEO Carolyn Miles and IMC CEO Nancy Aossey represented the No More Epidemics campaign on the CGI stage. 

Watch the video recording of the complete plenary session:

LEARN MORE ABOUT NO MORE EPIDEMICS CAMPAIGN AND HOW TO GET INVOLVED

 

 This Storify story summarizes the CGI2015 No More Epidemics commitment discussed and captured in social media:

 

Frank Smith is campaign director, No More Epidemics, and part of MSH's Global Partnerships, Marketing and Communications (GPMC) team. Frank has over fifteen years professional experience leading campaigns in the international development, humanitarian, and human rights sectors. Based in the United Kingdom, Smith was Director of Global Campaigns for World Vision, and led campaigns and policy work for Oxfam, Plan International, Amnesty International and the International Displacement Monitoring Center. At Amnesty International, he led 3 global crisis campaigns in Sudan, DRC, and Zimbabwe, and piloted the Campaign Against Violence on Women. Frank is fluent in French and Spanish, and has an MA and PHD in Sociology from the University of Essex.

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.

 

El Salvador Migration Crisis: “What I Would Tell a Coyote”

Lampedusa

Lucia Isabel Rodiguez, Save the Children El Salvador

August 19, 2015

 

What would I tell a ‘coyote?’ I would tell them to remember that they are dealing with human beings, not with merchandise.”

It’s crushing to meet children that are mistreated and neglected by the same people in their families who are responsible for caring and protecting them.

One of the cases that has affected me the most is meeting a twelve-year-old girl, let’s call her “Miriam”. By the age of 12 Miriam* had already attempted two dangerous migration trips. She was returned each time, back to El Salvador. She is the eldest of three girls all living with their mother. It was clear to me that this family was not equipped to provide a safe environment for the girls, and Miriam* showed signs of having suffered abuse. I fear that the mother will try to make this dangerous journey again with her daughters, therefore putting them at extreme risk.

Some children arriving at the centre for returned children here in El Salvador do not want to call their families and have nowhere to go. They feel utterly alone.

I have spent the last six months working at this centre for children who have been repatriated. It’s where hundreds of children return every week from their failed attempts to migrate to the US. They have travelled hundreds of miles by bus, train, truck and when I see them they are hungry and exhausted. We listen to their stories and try to give them as much psycho social support as we can during their short stay at the centre. These children know that their family spent a fortune, many times selling everything they had, to pay the “coyote” to take them to the U.S. When they are detained and deported back to El Salvador, many feel that they have failed and are back at “square one.” On top of feeling hopeless and ashamed, many children have suffered abuse by smugglers along the way and have been treated without respect by authorities at both the U.S. and Mexican borders.

In 2014, 68,000 unaccompanied children made it across the Mexican border into the US and more than 18,000 children were detained and then repatriated to their countries of origin. Most of the returning unaccompanied children we meet are boys between 15 and 17 years old, traveling alone, but we have also met young mothers with children of various ages, as well as unaccompanied children as young as 12. We received a mother with her 3-year-old son; he could hardly speak. From what we could understand, both mother and son had experienced horrific events along the way, including sexual abuse. The boy was traumatized.

Another mother with her two girls had sold everything they owned to pay the coyote – even their house. They returned to El Salvador with nothing.

I am very worried about these children and feel it is critical and urgent that we do more to help them recover from these experiences and to help them reintegrate into their communities to continue their lives.

There are two main reasons why children want to migrate to the US. The most common reason is due to the violence that exists in El Salvador. Violence creates insecurity, and children I meet tell me again and again about their fear, because in El Salvador they live in constant fear of being killed or hurt, especially by gangs. It’s lamentable that our authorities haven’t focused on stemming gang violence and its growth, and stopping the drug trade. Children need a break from this insecurity, a chance to know what it’s like to just be a child without the fear of violence hovering around them. Children here don’t know what it is like to live in peace.

When I meet these children who have tried unsuccessfully to migrate and who have gone through traumatic experiences along the way, well, I feel helpless. But I understand what they say and do not say, and why they want to leave. I feel helpless because I recognize that as a society we are not providing them with the environment they need and we can’t guarantee their safety. Children and adolescents are harassed and threatened by violent gangs and there are many cases where families have practically imprisoned their children in their own homes to protect them. They tell me that they can’t leave their homes because it’s dangerous and their lives are at risk.

The other reason is the low quality of education that exists for us in El Salvador. This leads to a lack of opportunity and motivates children to look for opportunities to leave their own country in hope for of a better life elsewhere.

I wish Save the Children could do more – I think we should work more to help returning children by following up on cases, to visit children and visit them in their homes. Such distressful experiences have a huge potential to damage children and adolescents in the long term and to damage their self esteem. It’s important to be able to speak to them and their parents about the experiences they have been through so they can move forward in a positive way. Many children who are returned are stigmatised and we need to protect them from harm. We need to work with families, as some of them put in place and develop a coping mechanism that makes things worse.

Working with families is key: For example, we need to work with parents and convince them of the need to provide children with safe and functional places where children they can learn and grow. Parents might think that there isn’t a problem if a child stays at home with them all day but children in such cases can lose out on interpersonal awareness, and the confidence that comes with playing with other children, with learning new ideas, etc.

I often feel very proud of the work that we do and that’s because of Save the Children’s vision. It’s not about temporary solutions or short-term interventions, but rather an integrated, holistic approach that begins at the start of a child’s life and continues through childhood and adolescence. I am proud of the work we do around primary education, and with mothers to make sure that children have the best possible upbringing. Save the Children is about putting in place a system that has long-term benefits for children.