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.

Stories of Courage From Lampedusa

Lampedusa

Giovanna Di Benedetto, Save the Children Italy

Media Officer

Sicily, Italy

August 19, 2015

 

I am a media officer for Save the Children Italy working in Sicily, a region that includes the island of Lampedusa. My role is to give a voice to child migrants who come to our shores. My amazing adventure with Save the Children began last July, at about the same time that there was a surge in the number of migrants making the trip by boat to Sicily. On some days there were two or three landings a day and my team was present for all of these, on hand to give assistance and support.

Over 170,000 migrants came to Italy by sea in 2014, 26,000 of them being underage. When you hear that figure, it’s easy to forget the human dimension to this crisis. But behind the number is a story of bravery and resilience and my job is to help the public understand what drives these children to risk their lives to come alone, to our shores. All children have their own personal slice of suffering but they also have hope and so much ambition for a better future.

I remember a story about two Palestinian brothers who had been living in a refugee camp in Syria. They were 19 and 9 years old. They travelled from Turkey to Sicily with their grandfather. The brothers held each other’s hands very tightly -they were so afraid of being separated. In Syria they had lived through continuous shelling and when the younger brother had been badly hurt he hadn’t been able to see a doctor for 20 days. It was so moving to see how much these brothers loved each other and how close they were. They and their grandfather had an ambition to go to Northern Europe.

One thing that is always shocking to hear is what children have endured in Libya. Libya is a transit point for migrants coming to Italy and almost everyone who has been held here has a horrific story to tell. I met a Gambian boy who was 16 years old. He showed me the scars on his arm. He told me that the scars were all over his body. The wounds were caused by beatings and cigarette burns he had received by Libyan traffickers.

It’s our goal to give children back their childhood, for them to be able to play, be serene, to live with their families and to give them a chance to have a future. Children have an incredible energy. Sometimes I see children who have been on a boat for hours and hours get off the boat and immediately start playing and running around. These children have a right to have a childhood like everyone else. And up to now they have missed out on this.

I love to tell the story of the little Syrian girl called Hayat. She landed in Sicily, last August and is a survivor in every sense of the word! Her parents and her brother who was 10, all died during the boat trip to Sicily. A Syrian man, who was on the same shipwrecked boat, saved Hayat. He found her in the water, hanging on to a piece of debris. She was one year and eight months old. We saw them disembark, the man was a size of a giant and he held little Hayat so protectively. This man, who turned out to be a Syrian doctor had saved this little girl’s life. He absolutely adored her and she him. He wanted to adopt her but this wasn’t possible.

Hayat was placed into the care of child welfare services and Save the Children representatives were able to contact her grandfather and aunt who were living in Sudan. After a lengthy process we were able to bring over the grandfather and uncle from Sudan and reunify them with Hayat. This was a very happy moment for us, that she was able to return home to her own family. She was 1 year 8 months when she arrived and she celebrated her 2nd birthday with us, her foster family and her aunt and grandfather!

We’ve also witnessed mothers who have given birth on the rescue ships of the Italian Coast Guard, almost immediately after they had been helped off the rubber dinghy they had attempted the trip on. There was a Nigerian woman who gave birth on Christmas day, with the assistance of the Italian Red Cross. She was one of 900 migrants who arrived that day.

I’ve learned that people leave their homes because they feel that they have no other alternative. Perhaps they are fleeing the conflicts in Syria or Iraq, from violence in Nigeria or from extreme poverty. Children tell us that their families are too poor to care for them, they have no future prospects, and some do not have the chance to go to school. Now in Italy they will have the chance to get an education. These children want to be doctors or lawyers so they can defend the rights of the most vulnerable. Many also want to become football players- they know the names of all Italian and European football players! One young migrant we assisted was a promising football player in his country and he came here to pursue his dream.

I remember when we received a landing of about 800 people, migrants who came ashore on a cargo boat. An old woman had disembarked, and all of her life was in a little plastic bag. She sat on the dock and started crying inconsolably. A few days later I saw her in the first reception centre. She had been given clothes, food and a place to sleep. She gave me a hug and started to caress my hair. Little gestures like this are small tokens of humanity that keep me going.

These stories teach us so much and they give the Save the Children team and me the motivation to make a difference. These people are so courageous. The cases we see are emotionally very difficult but what keeps us going is the sense of humanity, the strength of human spirit. This might seem like rhetoric but it isn’t – I witness it every day.

August Floods in Siraha

Sam

Samjhana K.C.

Junior Sponsorship Officer

Siraha District, Nepal

June 29, 2015

 

Over 250 people live in a temporary shelter after floods moved through Siraha District in eastern Nepal. Resulting from the geographical setting and high socioeconomic vulnerabilities, this region in Nepal makes headlines every year because of the recurring floods. For me, the unpleasant truth is that this is a bitter experience that these people have come to expect.

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Flood-affected area in Siraha.

Save the Children was one of the few organizations providing humanitarian support when floods swept through 10 communities of Siraha from August 10th to 13th. The turbulence caused by flooding not only disrupts everyday routines, but could be combined with the lifelong effects of losing homes, livelihoods, and mostly tragically loved ones. The August flood in Siraha alone resulted in 3 casualties. In addition to being potentially life threatening, these floods create waterlogging which disturb basic facilities like transportation and electricity.

We supported the District Disaster Relief Committee in their emergency response efforts. Teams were mobilized first to assess the impact of the flood and then to distribute support to the affected communities. The sponsorship fund was mobilized for emergency relief activities to help children and their families. Two types of immediate relief materials were distributed, non-food relief items such as blankets, utensils, and shelter kits, and ready-to-eat food items. The rescue team facilitated stockpiles of non-food relief items for 197 households in Siraha, touching the lives of 521 children. Save the Children also provided school kits to 127 school-going children affected by the flood. To prevent and contain potential epidemics, a health camp was also organized by the District Health Office in the shelter. The active participation of locals in relief and recovery activities boosted the spirit of our team.

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Flood-displaced families being distributed basic necessities.

Save the Children had initiated its development activities in Siraha as a response to an earthquake in 1988. Since then, our projects have focused on communities in Siraha where locals struggle with very low incomes. Our main focus has been child survival intervention, as a high percentage of women and children were considered to be at risk. In a country where natural disaster induced hazards are a regular phenomenon, Save the Children and our sponsorship team in the field are prepared to support humanitarian crises so that the distressed don’t have to endure their problems alone.

Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.

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.

Back to School Progress in #Nepal

MichelRooijackers (1)Michel Rooijackers

Save the Children Response Team Leader in Nepal

 

 

When most people hear that it's “Back to School” time, they probably remember ever-exciting first day when children return to their studies, ready to learn and see their friends. 

But for earthquake-ravaged villages throughout Nepal, getting children back into school isn’t as simple as packing their bags and giving them a hug goodbye.

Back to school copyMore than 32,000 classrooms have been completely destroyed, and an additional 15,000 have been badly damaged and considered unsafe for students and teachers. 

Buried inside those classrooms are books, desks, chalkboards and pencils; all of the necessary materials to make a quality learning environment for children.

Being overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges isn’t an option. Providing children with an education and safe-environment is as vital as providing them with food and water.

Our teams are working with communities across Nepal to build Temporary Learning Centers, simple structures made from tarps and local materials like bamboo. Located in open-spaces on the school grounds, they are a refreshing return to normalcy for children, parents and teachers.

Given the ongoing earthquakes and aftershocks, some parents have been understandably worried about sending their children back to school. What parent wouldn’t want their child close to them during such strenuous times? 

Thankfully, the design and materials of the Temporary Learning Spaces means that even if they are damaged by another earthquake, they’re very unlikely to cause any significant harm to children or teachers who may be inside. 

Teachers are also conducting drills with the students to ensure they know how to stay safe wherever they are when the next aftershock occurs.

With the help of community volunteers, we have already established 32 Temporary Learning Centers and will build a further 670 in the coming months. We’re also providing the schools and children with kits to ensure they have all the supplies they need to have a productive year.

Looking at the lively Temporary Learning Centers, juxtaposed next to the razed schools reveals a clear symbol of the progress Nepal has already made after this disaster, and a reminder of the challenges ahead.          

#Nepal: Trying to Make Sense of it All

KyleDegraw

Kyle Degraw

Humanitarian Communications Manager, Save the Children International

London

May 13, 2015

 

This post originally appeared at the Thomas Reuters Foundation.

It’s 8am and I’ve just landed in London from an overnight flight from Kathmandu. Only minutes ago another massive earthquake has hit Nepal.

And only hours ago, as I sat in the departures lounge of the Kathmandu airport, with rainwater from a thunderstorm streaming through the ceiling and ever watchful for news of yet another closure due to cracks in the runway, I struggle to find the words to describe the effects of the first earthquake.

It’s a tangle of paradoxes. Just yesterday I was observing Tibetan monks circle the beautiful (and intact) Boudanath Stupa, turning its hundreds of prayer wheels as they pass by, and suddenly the morning silence broken by US military helicopters heading towards the mountains in Gorkha and Sindhupalchowk, the worst affected areas. WFP helicopters quickly follow suit. The few tourists left in the square seemed not to notice.

This earthquake did not strike in the usual manor. Instead of destruction rippling out from the epicentre in concentric circles, it stretched straight out in a line to some of the most remote villages in the country, from Gorkha to Sindhupalchowk. This has spared Kathmandu the worst, though the effects are nonetheless devastating. Cultural heritage destroyed, critical supply routes bottlenecked, and much loss of life and livelihoods. And yet, while some buildings are reduced to heaps of rubble and many are damaged, most others are entirely untouched. A roll of the dice; a game of chance indeed.

I listen to news about this new 7.4 earthquake striking Sindupalchok, where I visited a temporary learning centre and household kit distribution only two days ago.  604

Frenzied emailing and tweeting followed suit. At the immigration counter, I broke the news to the border agent, a man of Indian origin who was taken aback at the news. Just on Sunday, I spoke with one community elder, Bharat, who said his biggest fear 'is another earthquake, undoing the progress we’re making and hurting our community even more'. It seems that his worst fears have come true. Bharat-ji is in my thoughts today, and all those already reeling from the April 25 quake.

The scene in his and other remote villages is not nuanced, as it is in Kathmandu. Entire villages, flattened, punctuate the serenity and beauty of the Himalayan foothills.

I struggle to comprehend exactly how anyone survived this earthquake in these regions, let alone entire communities. Most families that I spoke to were thankful for the earthquake’s timing, as if it were a friendly gesture: at mid day on the weekend, most were outdoors and away from danger. And yet the physical destruction is total: entire villages razed, livestock lost, and road access blocked by landslides. Today’s earthquake provided a similar friendly gesture of timing by Mother Nature.

Accessing the hardest to reach has been and will continue to be the major challenge in this response. Last week, in dry and clear conditions, it took me no less than 8 hours by road to reach Arupokhari, in Gorkha. The final 4 hours of that journey covered maybe 20 kilometres. Add the coming monsoon rains and seasonal landslides into the mix, and we’re facing a race against time to reach the hardest to reach.

Plans are afoot to share helicopter space with other agencies and load up donkeys with essential supplies for survival in areas without road access. To date, the team has been phenomenal – over 79,000 people reached in the first two weeks, with numbers continuing to rise. Literally, we are doing whatever it takes.

Because of the challenges presented by the odd pattern of destruction, the terrain, the coming weather troubles and resulting upswing in disease, it is clear the Nepal is a different kind of earthquake from those in recent memory.

It is no Haiti, China, or Pakistan. A damaged Kathmandu grinds on, restaurants and shops are open, and a handful of curious tourists linger. The team on the ground is adapting well, and I have full confidence in Nepal building back better.

To learn more about our Nepal Earthquake Relief Efforts, click here.