Seven Years Since the Syrian Dream

Destruction caused by arial shelling in Eastern Ghouta, 25th February 2018.

Written by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children

After seven years of war in Syria, we hear more and more that the general public is becoming desensitized to the conflict. As horrible as the news reports are, the stories are no longer shocking. But we must never accept suffering and human rights violations as “the new normal.” The crisis in Syria is unacceptable—and it’s getting worse.

In the U.S., people work hard to achieve the American dream. Before the conflict, families throughout Syria were pursuing their Syrian dream—sending their children to school, buying what they wanted, working and running businesses. That was their normal.

When you listen to displaced Syrians describe life before the conflict, it sounds a lot like the lives my friends, family and neighbors live:

Just as we strive to raise our children in peaceful communities surrounded by neighbors, friends and relatives, a mom named Haya* reflected to us that: “Ours was a simple quiet village.” Seven-year-old Amer* recollected that: “My grandfather used to lift me and pick me up, play with me. My memories of Syria are we went for a walk at night, with my father and my mother. We bought something sweet.”

Sadly, seven years on, we know that many places in Syria are anything but quiet. Escalation in fighting forced more than a million people across Syria from their homes in the last three months of 2017.

Just as we dream of owning homes and giving our children more than we ever had, 7-year-old Lubna* told us: “I had a big, big home. My grandmother got me a toy, I remember that. I had a white room and it had a closet. The closet had a lot of clothes in it. I had a lot of toys in Syria.”

Today, homes in communities like Eastern Ghouta are being decimated by bombings. Satellite images show neighborhoods with the majority of their buildings destroyed. Basic services like sewage, electricity and water are gone.

Just as we are ambitious and work hard to provide for our families, one young boy we met named Mushen* told us: “We used to have chickens and sheep in Syria. My dad had a small shop. We also had two cars.”

Now, in besieged communities in Syria, 80 to 90 percent of people  are now unemployed and even staple foods are unaffordable for many families.

Just as we send our children to school and want them to be safe, 13-year-old Rasha* remembered that: “My school was really nice, it had two playgrounds. I really liked the school and had many friends.”

But in Syria, attacks often target schools and hospitals. In Eastern Ghouta alone, more than 60 schools have been hit by bombing in the first two months of 2018. Many schools operate in basements because of bombings. Children are years behind in basic reading and math skills.

We must actively resist the feeling that what we are seeing out of Syria is normal. It would not be for us and it is not for Syrian families who are desperate for peace. Seven years of conflict must end now. Millions of Syrians are dreaming of rebuilding their lives.

Since 2012, Save the Children has been supporting children and families both inside and outside of Syria. Our programs address physical and psychosocial health, return children to education, give them safe spaces to play, provide food and more. Save the Children will continue to raise its voice for those affected by the Syrian conflict. On March 15, join us by sharing your message of hope for Syrians on social media with the hashtag #7WordsForSyria.

Ending the War on Children

Basma* was in her elementary school classroom near Damascus, Syria when the building was hit. This curious 8-year-old is eager to learn, but violence has displaced her family multiple times. This has meant different schools, none as good as the one back home. When another school she attended was hit, 20 students died.

Basma*, 8, is from southern Syria but fled from her home when her school was attacked in an airstrike that injured many of her friends. Photo:  Khalil Ashawi/Save the Children
Basma*, 8, is from southern Syria but fled from her home when her school was attacked in an airstrike that injured many of her friends. Photo: Khalil Ashawi/Save the Children

Sadly Basma’s experiences and fear do not make her unique. In a new report just released by Save the Children and the Peace Research Institute Oslo, we found that 357 million children around the world live within conflict zones. That’s more children than the entire US population living within 31 miles of conflict. Many of these kids have never lived in peace.

In Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp last year, I met boys and girls who, like Basma, don’t get to attend the schools back home their parents dreamed of sending them to. Save the Children is running early education programs in the camp so that these children, forced from their schools, are able to build the crucial foundations of their educations.

If a kid’s childhood is impacted by conflict, what will her future be? Trends show that conflicts are lasting longer. For example, Afghanistan has had at least 17 years of conflict and conflict has afflicted Iraq for the better part of 15 years. In the most dangerous countries for children in conflict, fighting can take away entire childhoods.

All aspects of a child’s life can be impacted when she lives in a conflict zone. More mothers are dying in labor at home because they cannot access health facilities, or are afraid to because hospitals are commonly targeted in modern fighting. Children who do survive birth in conflict zones may not have access to healthcare as they grow up for the same reasons. Diseases prevented by vaccinations in peace-time, like polio and diphtheria, take hold, compounding the threats children face. A child’s mental health can be impacted into adulthood due to the trauma of violence.

Conflict is more dangerous for children now than at any time in the last 20 years, and attacks on schools are the “new normal.” Today, 27 million kids worldwide are out of school due to conflict. Some have never been inside a classroom. The interruption of education has a long-term impact on children’s futures and the socio-economic recovery of a country.

All children deserve a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm, but conflict can rob all of this from a child. It is the responsibility of the international community to protect children from the horrors of war. We must commit to preventing children being put at risk, upholding international laws and standards, holding violators to account and rebuilding shattered lives.

Protecting children affected by conflict is Save the Children’s founding mission, and nearly 100 years later, it remains our top priority. Our founder Eglantyne Jebb said, “Humanity owes the child the best it has to give.” It is difficult to dream about the future when, like Basma, all you’ve known is war. We owe children childhoods free of conflict.

Helping Families in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma

Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children meets with families in a mega-shelter in Houston, Texas. Photo credit: Save the Children, 2017
Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children meets with families in a mega-shelter in Houston, Texas.
Ten-month-old Jonathan* sleeps on his cot in the shelter.
Save the Children is distributing baby cribs and other essential supplies to families in the mega-shelter and to shelters throughout Texas.
*name changed for child protection

Written by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children

When I went to Texas after Hurricane Harvey hit, I met families who had already been through the unimaginable—fleeing their homes in waist-deep water, carrying a few precious belongings over their heads, and trying to find a safe space for their children in huge shelters not designed for the littlest evacuees.  Now that the immediate danger is past, they are dealing with the uncertainty of what their homes and futures hold.

In the midst of the chaos, Save the Children is helping kids cope. We set up Child Friendly Spaces in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas—bright, welcoming places for children to play with volunteers trained in helping children through trauma. We distributed supplies like cribs, strollers and wash basins to families in shelters across Texas and in Louisiana, so that parents can care for their babies and toddlers. And now we’re supporting child care centers so they can get back up-and-running—helping parents get back to work and helping children get back to learning and playing.

As always when disaster strikes, the poorest communities are hit the hardest—and the effects of this storm will be felt for a long time. Save the Children’s Board Chair, Dr. Jill Biden, visited a mega shelter in Houston last week and met with families who have lost so much. Board Members and Artist Ambassador Jennifer Garner visited shelters and child care centers and showed families that Save the Children will be there for them in the long-term.

Even with recovery underway in Texas, Save the Children turned our attention to Hurricane Irma. In Florida alone, more than 4 million children were potentially impacted during Hurricane Irma and nearly 200,000 people were in shelters across the state. As families return to their homes and rebuild, we have supplies for babies, toddlers and children ready for distribution wherever they’re needed most.

The American public’s generosity to their neighbors has been wonderful to see. We were honored to be part of the Hand in Hand telethon last night to benefit the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and I’m so grateful for the ongoing support for families and children who have seen their world turned upside-down.

We know that children’s needs don’t end when the rain and flooding stops. Save the Children will be there for kids today, tomorrow and over the coming weeks and months to help them cope, rebuild and plan for the future.

 

Taking the Scary Out of Disaster for Kids

Erin Lauer
Erin Lauer

U.S. Preparedness Manager

Save the Children U.S

August 8, 2017

When it comes to the weather in northwest Arkansas, the forecast can be a bit like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. Extreme heat, nasty thunderstorms, flash flooding, ice storms, tornadoes and even earthquakes have all impacted families in this area in the foothills of the Ozarks.

The risks may seem overwhelming, but the second graders at Butterfield Elementary School in Fayetteville are now ready to weather whatever storm may come their way after participating in a recent Save the Children Prep Rally. A Prep Rally is an emergency preparedness program full of activities and games that help children learn the basics of getting ready for disasters.

More than half of American families don’t have an emergency plan, but kids can play a key role in helping their families get ready for disasters. In fact, families of school-age children who bring home preparedness resources are 75 percent more likely to have an emergency plan. That’s why Butterfield Elementary invested in preparing their kids.

Students from Fayetteville’s Butterfield Elementary School participate in a Prep Rally. Photo by Bob Coleman.
Students from Fayetteville’s Butterfield Elementary School participate in a Prep Rally. Photo by Bob Coleman.

The Butterfield Elementary Prep Rally helped 100 second graders learn how to recognize risks in their area, how to make a family emergency plan, and what supplies to have ready in a disaster. The program uses fun activities, games, and dance to help kids learn about disasters, empowering them with safety and resilience skills. The Un-Telephone game reminded the kids how it can be difficult to communicate during a crisis, and how important it is to know what to do before a disaster. The Family Plan countdown had everyone up and motioning for their 3 ICE (in case of emergency) contacts, 2 evacuation routes and 1 safe place.  Students also played the Disaster Supplies Relay race, learning about what items they should bring with them in case of a disaster.

“The Prep Rally was really fun — now I keep my go bag on the table in case something happens,” said Katherine, age 8.

After closing with the Prep Step song and dance, the children went outside for a special treat — a visit from their local first responders who keep them safe every day. Fayetteville Fire, Police, Central EMS and the Washington County Sheriff taught the children about the different roles they play in an emergency, and brought fire trucks, ambulances and police cars for the kids to explore. The highlight of the event was a visit by the medical transport helicopter from Mercy Hospital, which landed on the soccer field and gave kids a first-hand look at the vehicle that can help bring sick children to the hospital nearly 200 miles away.

Jennifer Condron, one of Butterfield Elementary’s second grade teachers said, “What a memorable and exciting event! I just sent pictures to parents and encouraged them to talk with their children about their emergency plans for home.”

Local first responders from Mercy Hospital showed students how the helicopter and its crew can help someone who is hurt or sick. Photo by Bob Coleman.
Local first responders from Mercy Hospital showed students how the helicopter and its crew can help someone who is hurt or sick. Photo by Bob Coleman.

Debbie Malone, the Community Preparedness Champion for Washington County added, “The Prep Rally was a great way to teach kids about disasters in a way that wasn’t scary, and help them build relationships with local first responders. It was really nice to see the community coming together to promote safety and preparedness to our children.”

The Prep Rally was presented as part of the Resilient Children/Resilient Communities Initiative, led by Save the Children’s partnership with the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and funded by a grant from GSK. This three-year initiative, through two pilot programs in Arkansas and New York, will develop child-focused community resilience planning that can be brought to national scale. For more information, please visit ncdp.columbia.edu/rcrc.

You too can help your community get ready with a Prep Rally. Download Save the Children’s free Prep Rally guide books and lead preparedness activities with your local school, child care, camp or Girl Scout troop. Learn more at www.SavetheChildren.org/GetReady

A Letter from the Front Lines of the Refugee Crisis

Saving lives at sea

How did they get here? It’s a question I can’t help asking myself, every time I see a child rescued from the sea. This time it’s a boy of perhaps 17. Ali* (*name changed for security) is in our on-board clinic, just a few hours after we picked him up following his life-threatening ordeal at sea. His body is cramping due to malnutrition. He can barely speak. As I help him to eat he slowly regains some strength and manages a whisper. He gestures to his injured foot. I realize he is describing how it happened. His wounds are the result of torture in Libya. How he got here becomes a little clearer, a small part of the puzzle solved.

Search and Rescue's Team Leader, Gillian, assists in the rescue of over 300 refugees and migrants from an overloaded boat in distress.
Search and Rescue’s Team Leader, Gillian, assists in the rescue of over 300 refugees and migrants from an overloaded boat in distress.

“I think I can see something”, said a member of my team earlier that morning, binoculars raised. On the horizon, a microscopic black dot. It appears then disappears. It is 7:15 a.m. and we have been scouring the horizon since first light. A second opinion from our captain is equally inconclusive. As we move closer to investigate the outline of a tightly packed rubber boat soon becomes clear. The dinghy would not have lasted long. It was beginning to deflate and no one was wearing a life jacket.

A quarter of those rescued are children

After notifying the Italian coastguard and getting their approval to proceed we approach and find more than 100 people crammed on the flimsy dinghy. We deploy our fast rescue boats and soon they are aboard our search & rescue ship, the Vos Hestia. Around a quarter are children. Later that day we took on board 100 more from another rescue ship. Ali was among them.

By now, this is a story that is sadly all too familiar. But it’s worth retelling, because in recent days doubts have been cast on the way NGOs in the Mediterranean save lives. Specifically, people are seeing photos of refugees and migrants on rescue ships and asking, “How did they get here?”

We’ve been told we’re part of the problem, and even that we are colluding with the same smugglers who callously cast people off from the shores of north Africa in the dark, early hours of the morning knowing full well the coming sunrise might be the last their ‘clients’ ever see. This is categorically untrue. Those making these allegations are making assumptions that just aren’t factual.

The deadliest crossing on record

We never communicate with traffickers or people smugglers and only operate in international waters. We find refugees and migrants in distress through collaboration with other NGO vessels and the Italian coastguard and frankly, a huge dose of luck – luck that is still sadly absent for too many. Last year was the deadliest on record for people crossing the Mediterranean. Altogether around 5,000 refugees and migrants lost their lives. Close to 1,000 people have already died trying to cross this year.

Save the Children’s crew on board the Vos Hestia are fighting against the odds every day to limit the needless loss of life in the Mediterranean. We never know when the call will come. My team go to bed in their cabins each night knowing they could be roused at any moment. Just last weekend search and rescue capacity was pushed to breaking point.

Our sole mission is to save the lives of people, particularly children, who are escaping violence, persecution and extreme poverty. We save people from the very real threat of drowning and protect the children we bring aboard. If the search and rescue efforts of NGOs like ours stopped, the death toll would only increase further.

We have also seen little evidence that the reduction of search and rescue missions leads to a decrease in attempts to cross the Mediterranean. The presence of search and rescue does not imply more people will cross, it simply means those who do are more likely to survive.

We shouldn’t be all that’s stopping the desperate search for safety from becoming a death sentence. But that is the situation we are in. Smugglers are knowingly endangering the lives of people seeking better futures at extortionate costs and extreme conditions.

Thousands of children are still at risk

There are thousands of children among those making the crossing and no child should drown in search of a better future. Until the EU provides safe and legal routes to Europe, both for those in need of international protection and for other migrants, people will continue to risk their lives to reach Europe. Questioning the impact of what we do as humanitarians is in our DNA. Everything we do starts from the principle that we must ‘do no harm.’

‘How did they get here?’ We ask it every day. The answer is violence, poverty and exploitation. The evidence shows that we make it more likely Ali and others like him will survive.

Gillian Moyes is the Team Leader for Save the Children’s Search and Rescue response

To learn more about our Search and Rescue Response, click here. 

Born On The Run: Young Iraqi Mothers Fleeing ISIS Give Birth Anywhere They Can

With the battle for West Mosul still raging, and ISIS increasingly using civilians as human shields as coalition airstrikes continue, many expectant mothers are fleeing for their lives – in some cases even giving birth on the run.

Layla* is just three days old and was born in the ruins of an abandoned house, with shelling and shooting all around. Her 17-year-old mother Rehab* was just days away from her due date when the fighting in her neighborhood got unbearable and forced her and her family to flee in the middle of the night.

Rehab fell repeatedly as they tried to escape and went into labor hours into the journey.

“I went into labor on the road. I was very scared for me and my baby but my mother and another older woman helped me,” said Rehab. “It was very quick, maybe just 15 minutes. We rested for about another 30 minutes and then we started running again.”

The family is now in Hamam Al Alil reception center, the main focal point for those fleeing Mosul, where more than 242,000 have been registered since the offensive began.

Most people are relocated quickly, but with thousands arriving every day and more than 320,000 people displaced since the Mosul offensive began six months ago, families, many with young children, are falling through the gaps.

Save the Children is distributing water, toiletries and newborn kits in the camps and have built and continue to clean latrines in the reception center.

Twenty-day old Lubna* has been in the center for almost two weeks. Her 15-year-old mother Reem* was in labor for more than two days but could not get medical care due to the fighting raging outside. The second she was strong enough, her and her mother Masa* fled with several other members of their family.

“Her delivery was very hard, very hard indeed, but there was nothing we could do because of the fighting. We wanted to leave Mosul,” says Masa.

“My brother has been killed and we wanted to go but Reem was too weak, so we stayed for five days and then we left and walked to safety. Thank God Lubna is healthy but we are very worried about her and that she will get sick in a place like this.”

Marwa*, 5 months, at Hamam al-Alil IDP camp in Iraq. Marwa*s mother Ashna* and her father Salar* fled fighting in Mosul with their six young children, including Marwa*. Marwa* said: "The journey was hard and me and the children were very scared. But all I could think about was how we needed to get to safety and how I needed to keep my children safe – so that drove me and kept me going even though the children were very hungry and they were crying a lot. My older children were able to walk but we had to carry the younger ones in our arms – I carried Marwa*, while my husband carried my son and my uncle my other daughter. Marwa* is sick. Ten days ago she got a high fever and bad diarrhea. We were given medicine but it is not working and then, about two days ago, she got a bad cough that is getting worse. Luckily she sleeps at night, but her diarrhea never stops. It is very difficult to deal with this here. There is no privacy at all. Neither me, nor the baby, have had a shower since we arrived 20 days ago and I have five other young children to look after. We all have to sleep on the floor in the tent with many other families. It is noisy and dirty."
Marwa*, 5 months, at an IDP camp in Iraq. Marwa*s mother Ashna* and her father Salar* fled fighting in Mosul with their six young children.

Save the Children’s Deputy County Director Aram Shakaram says:

“The situation inside the reception center is extremely poor and there is a widespread shortage of food, water and blankets. Whole families sleep on nothing but cardboard, huddling together for warmth at night.

“Very young babies, many just days or weeks old are living in these conditions and their mothers, some who are as young as 15, are not getting the support they need.

“With 325,000 people still displaced since the Mosul offensive began and thousands still fleeing every day, it is imperative that we get more funding to support new mothers and their extremely vulnerable children who are starting their lives off in camps.”

Save the Children provides education and psychosocial support to children displaced from Mosul and our child protection teams work in the reception centers to identify cases needing urgent assistance, like unaccompanied minors.

Since the offensive began, we have distributed 3,740 newborn care packages, which have reached almost 11,500 infants. We have also distributed 7,000 rapid response kits that have reached almost 33,000 people and contain essentials like food, water and toiletries for the newly displaced. In addition we are also working to provide clean drinking water and basic sanitation to tens of thousands of people who have fled from Mosul.

To learn more about our response to the refugee crisis and how you can help, click here.

*Names changed for protection

The Day the Syrian War Becomes Longer than World War II

Written by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children | Originally published on Devex.com  

After six years of war, people were weary and on edge. Neighborhoods were hardly recognizable. Fresh food was a luxury that no one had. Schools were closed or moved elsewhere. Children’s bodies displayed pealing burns that only a bomb could cause. Nearly everyone knew someone who had been killed.

It’s hard to know whether I’m describing the end of World War II, or Syria today. Both wars battered entire generations of people, but one notable date separates these two horrific events. Today inexcusably begins the seventh year of the war in Syria, and on Friday, the war in Syria will become longer than World War II.

Sadly, the psychological toll of war is one of the greatest similarities between the two and will have the longest lasting impact in Syria, just as it did after WWII. We need to invest more in psychosocial support and make another concerted effort to convince all sides to end the violence.

Daily exposure to the kind of traumatic events that Syrian children face will likely lead to a rise in long-term mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and social anxiety. Living in a constant state of fear can create a condition known as “toxic stress,” which, if left untreated, can have a life-long impact on children’s mental and physical health. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child reports that toxic stress can disrupt the development of the brain and other organs and increase the risk of stress-related diseases, heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, depression and deep-rooted emotional scars.

Among the 3.5 million Jewish people who survived World War II in Europe, and the 183,000 people who survived the atomic bomb blasts in Japan, many are known to have suffered from physical and psychological problems decades after the fighting ended. Research done by the Never Ever Again organization in Scotland even shows that the grandchildren of Holocaust and bomb survivors have experienced secondary and transgenerational trauma.

A new study conducted by Save the Children inside Syria shows that people are feeling the psychological effects of war: 84% of adults and almost all children said that ongoing bombing and shelling is the number one cause of psychological stress in children’s daily lives. And 48% of adults have seen children who have lost their ability to speak or suffer from speech impediments as a result of living in such a dangerous and uncertain environment.

A teacher we work with in the besieged town of Madaya told us that children are psychologically crushed and tired. “When we do activities like singing with them, they don’t react at all, they don’t laugh like they would normally. They draw images of children being butchered in the war, or tanks, or the siege and lack of food.”

Another teacher told us that children have been so traumatized they express wishing they were dead because at least heaven would be warm and would offer food and a place to be safe and play.

While the world has clearly not learned the lessons of past wars in many respects, as the war in Syria continues, one lesson we can learn from World War II is the importance of addressing psychosocial issues among children early and often.

U.N. Security Council members, and other countries that have been unable to bring warring sides to the negotiation table, need to increase investments in mental health care inside the country and insist that all sides agree to a minimum set of measures to ensure the protection and safety of children in Syria.

Programs that support children’s resilience and well-being must also be given special attention and additional funding. Children are incredibly resilient but only if they are given the proper outlets and tools to recover and thrive. Programs to support parents could also help children feel more supported.

Finally, relatively small investments to train teachers and school personnel in conflict sensitive approaches to education, such as art therapy, would yield positive results now and into the future.

In the U.S., Congress should take such critical investments into consideration as it determines the 2017 international affairs budget. Cuts now will hurt Syria’s children in the short and long term.

Children who survived World War II in Europe and Asia went on to become Nobel laureates, actors, scientists, fashion designers, teachers and more. Syrian children hold the same potential, but as the war drags into its seventh year, individuals and leaders must summon the will and the means to support children during this horrible time.

Save the Children Statement on U.S. Executive Order on Suspension of Refugee Resettlement

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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (January 26, 2017)

In response to executive action by the United States Government regarding refugee resettlement, Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children, released the following statement:

“The United States has long been a beacon of hope for the millions of children and families trying to escape war and persecution. The world is facing its largest crisis of displaced people since World War II, with more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes. More than half of all refugees are children, whose only chance for survival and a better future relies on access to safety. We all have a moral obligation to help. Refugee children have been terrorized; they are not terrorists.

“I have met with hundreds of refugee families—in the U.S., Germany, and throughout the Middle East and Africa. I have heard firsthand their stories of unrelenting war, and triumph over incredible hardship that no one should have to endure. Nearly every family I’ve met has told me that their main reason for fleeing was so their children could have a childhood, an education, and a chance at a future. Now is not the time to turn our back on these families, or our core American values, by banning refugees. We can protect our citizens without putting even more barriers in front of those who have lost everything and want to build a better future in America.

“The reality is that the U.S. refugee resettlement program saves lives—namely of women and children under 12, who make up 77 percent of the Syrian refugees in the U.S.—while helping to ensure the safety of our country. Refugees already go through extensive vetting: a refugee’s identity is checked against law enforcement and intelligence databases of at least five federal agencies, a process that takes nearly two years. If there is any doubt about who a refugee is, he or she is not admitted to the United States. Save the Children takes no issue with proposals to further perfect the vetting process to protect our nation’s safety, but we must remember that resettling refugees reinforces our security by supporting key allies that are disproportionately affected by forced displacement.

“The United States should continue to show leadership and share in our global responsibility to provide refuge to the most vulnerable, regardless of religion or nationality. Welcoming refugees sends a strong message to groups that want to do us harm: the United States remains a leading pillar for stability and liberty in the world.

“Since its founding in 1919, Save the Children has worked tirelessly to help millions of refugee children and families—providing lifesaving assistance, improving access to education and quality healthcare, and protecting children from exploitation. We are committed to continuing this vital work, regardless of ethnicity, religion or any other factor.”

To help us support refugee children and families, click here.

Save the Children gives children in the United States and around the world a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We invest in childhood — every day, in times of crisis and for our future. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

How to Save the Children of Mosul

November 20, 2016. Qayyarah, Iraq. Children stand in the back of a truck as their family prepares to return home from Qayyarah Jad’ah camp.
Children stand in the back of a truck as their family prepares to return home from Qayyarah Jad’ah camp in Qayyarah, Iraq on Nov. 20, 2016.

                                 Written by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children | Originally published on time.com

The Mosul offensive continues—both militarily and in terms of help for civilians—but it is not too soon to help the region’s children start to recover from years of suffering. As Iraqi forces enter Mosul, they are not only faced with ISIS militants but also up to 1.5 million civilians still trapped, including about 600,000 children, who are growing increasingly desperate. In the short term, safe routes must be established so these families can escape the violence. We risk another Aleppo, where civilians are trapped inside a warzone, if safe passage is not possible.

As thousands of families flee and others are caught in the crossfire or by snipers and landmines, children must urgently be protected. However, in the long run, we will fail Mosul if we are unable to help a whole generation of children recover from the violence, uncertainty and lack of schooling that they have faced in recent years.

Thousands of babies were born in Mosul in 2003 and 2004 as the war in Iraq was taking place and fighting raged in the city. Now in their early teens, these children have lived the vast majority of their lives in a state of uncertainty.

By 2008, when these children should have been starting kindergarten, armed militants were using the city as their strategic center of gravity—a hub for funding and violence. UNICEF reported at least one-third of children in Mosul were out of school. Even as active conflict subsided, it remained a dangerous place to be a child. In December of that year, a bomb detonated outside a primary school as students were leaving for the day, killing three children and injuring 18.

The situation grew even direr in 2014 when ISIS invaded the city—just as children born in 2003 should have been finishing primary school. The group took control of schools, burned textbooks and instituted a new extreme curriculum. Children were to be drilled in lessons on ISIS doctrine. The curriculum was also militarized and encouraged children to fight and learn how to use weapons.

More than one million children who have been living under ISIS in Iraq have either been out of school or forced to learn from an ISIS curriculum. Many parents refused to send their children to school out of fear for their safety and well-being. Other families had to make the difficult decision to flee their homes to escape violence and intimidation and are now living in camps or non-camp settings that don’t always have educational opportunities for young people.

Now, with the offensive to retake Mosul underway, Save the Children staff positioned in nearby camps report meeting families with children who have escaped the fighting and who say their children are getting sick from breathing air filled with smoke from oil wells that ISIS set on fire. Many have already lost loved ones and they are dehydrated and hungry from long journeys made on foot as they flee ISIS-held areas.

Mahmoud, a father we met, recently escaped Shura, south of Mosul. As fighting approached the village, he and his family were taken deeper into ISIS territory, where they were reportedly forcing people to act as human shields. The family escaped and is now in a temporary camp.

“I have four daughters. Before IS the older ones were going to school and loved it,” he said. “When IS took over, the content of the curriculum changed, so we stopped sending them. Every lesson became militarized. Even math lessons—they would teach the children ‘one bullet plus one bullet equals two bullets.’ They’ve now been out of school for two years.”

We know from our work in Iraq and other conflict zones that getting children back into school is absolutely critical. Being in a classroom setting provides a child with a sense of normalcy that they miss during times of conflict or displacement. Trained teachers can help students process the trauma they have experienced, and a quality education can help young people acquire the knowledge, tolerance, and critical thinking skills necessary to help rebuild their country and make a constructive contribution to society.

The government of Iraq and international partners can show their commitment to education in Iraq in four ways:

For those families who have already fled or who are desperately trying to, children need to be provided with quality education and psycho-social support inside camps established for internally displaced people and refugees. Save the Children is establishing temporary learning places in tents in one of the camps where people have fled, but much more is needed.

The Iraqi government should also work with international partners to reopen schools in retaken areas as soon as it is safe to do so. Repairs to schools should be prioritized, and school buildings should only be used for classes, not by the military.

Additionally, special attention needs to be given to children who have been forced to serve as child soldiers. They need extra help to make up for time lost in the classroom, tools to regain their self-confidence, and assistance reducing stigmas that might exist in their communities.

Finally, make sure that all Iraqi children can go to school. Iraq was once a country where more than 90% of children were in education, but it now has about 3.5 million children out of school. Donors must ensure that the UN’s 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan is fully funded—at the moment education has only 40% of the funding it requires.

Securing Mosul is crucial, but unless we include education in the immediate recovery plan, it will be almost impossible to build a prosperous city and region. Children of Mosul have suffered for many years and have missed out on enough of their childhoods. Getting them back into a safe positive school environment is critical to starting the recovery process, giving them hope for the future and breaking the cycle of suffering in Mosul.

Haiti Is Facing a Humanitarian Crisis We Can Solve — So Why Aren’t We?

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By Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children | Originally published on huffingtonpost.com

Of the many humanitarian crises challenging the world today, none is as solvable as the human disaster that Hurricane Matthew has wrought in southwestern Haiti. The threats to human life in Haiti’s Sud and Grand Anse departments are entirely within our grasp to address immediately: starvation, exposure and disease—cholera, from contaminated water. And we have the solution at hand: food, shelter, clean water, medicine and sanitation supplies.

The only barrier is the collective will and resolve to act. Not doing so now — as we approach the one-month mark — means certain death for thousands of people, perhaps tens of thousands.

Hurricane Matthew hit the United States with wind, rain and floods that have tragically killed more than 40 people, but gave its hardest punch to southwestern Haiti. The category 4 storm made a direct hit on the remote peninsula, killing hundreds and pummeling the landscape with brutal 145 mph winds and as much as 40 inches of rain. The wind stripped trees, ripped off roofs and toppled block walls. Overflowing rivers tore out bridges and spread cholera bacteria. Crops not killed by wind were drowned by a surge of seawater; ocean water also flooded wells, contaminating precious sources of fresh water.

As a result, an estimated 1.4 million people are in need of assistance, many without food, safe water, shelter or basic health services, and children are often the most vulnerable.

Because the few roads that serve this region are badly damaged, towns along the southwestern coast were without help for days. In Port-à-Piment and Port Salut, some health clinics and cholera treatment centers are damaged, but functioning with limited supplies and an increasing patient load. Food is scarce and the vast majority of homes are damaged or destroyed.

Cholera, a deadly diarrheal disease, is a serious concern with more than 3,400 suspected cases in the three weeks following the storm. Patients are arriving at cholera centers, but without additional, ongoing deliveries of large quantities of IV fluids, water purification supplies — tablets or even bleach — and basic sanitation items such as soap and gloves, the disease will most certainly expand its deadly reach, making the hurricane’s death toll a footnote. In some damaged health facilities cholera patients are treated alongside children and pregnant women, increasing the risk of infection.

In the hardest hit communities, 100 percent of homes are destroyed, there is no food, little water and no aid deliveries. Understandably, people in the region are becoming increasingly desperate. With their livestock dead and crops stripped, survivors can’t subsist without outside help. Without shelter, they are at risk of exposure. When all water sources are most likely contaminated with cholera bacteria, they can’t safely take a drink. And with roads blocked and no aid trucks in sight, all hope is gone.

The Haitian government and local communities are doing their best under tough circumstances. Our organizations with decades of experience working in Haiti are also mounting significant relief responses. Like partners and peers, we have qualified teams on the ground with many Haitian staff members leading the charge and are rushing aid to as many communities as we can. But our experience tells us that these collective efforts are not enough. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “A massive response is required.” The need for food, shelter, medicine and cholera prevention and treatment supplies is too urgent. The United Nations is seeking $119 million for Haiti’s recovery but so far only 28 percent of that has been raised. Will the commitment be met by member nations? If so, when? There is no time to find out.

This disaster requires mobilization at a huge scale and fast. The U.S. government has deployed resources but if it does more, it will signal the urgency to others. Individuals, corporations and foundations need to support the work of qualified relief agencies that can save lives.

Amid the spin and noise of the news cycle, let’s not tune out the voices expressing human needs. There are a lot of complicated things in the world. This crisis is not one of them.