Nepal Earthquake: Aid Worker’s Firsthand Account from the Field

A firsthand account of the massive earthquake and Save the Children’s plans for how to help the children of Nepal.

Our voice in the field is Brad Kerner, part of Save the Children’s team on the ground responding to the deadly earthquake in Nepal. He was in Nepal when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck and is in Kathmandu assisting with our emergency relief efforts. Here he shares his firsthand account of the massive earthquake and Save the Children’s plans for how to help the children of Nepal. 

Brad Kerner_162443Nestled in the majestic Himalayan mountains, Nepal is near the top of the world and home to Mount Everest. I’ve always been in awe of the snowy peaks and fond of the gentle Nepalese children I’ve had the honor to work with over the years.

I was hiking with friends on the rim of a pristine lake. We were enjoying our day off, celebrating a colleague’s birthday. Then suddenly in the distance, we saw buildings start to shake. Then the rumbling sounds started. People ran out of buildings, but the shaking ground knocked them off their feet like game pieces on a chessboard that had been turned over. We felt the ground shake as the shockwave came crashing toward us. We huddled together, instinctively, for stability. I’ve never been more frightened in my life – I was paralyzed with fear and clung to my friends for dear life. We watched as buildings collapsed and houses came crashing down. The sounds of destruction and dogs barking filled our ears. The quake lasted little more than a minute – but it felt like an eternity.

15-NP-5_162433At first, we didn’t know the extent of the damage. Communications were down. My wife saw the news back in the states and was frantically trying to contact me. Thankfully, she reached me within a few hours.

We slept in a tent for the night and then headed back to Save the Children headquarters in Kathmandu, where our staff was readying our response to the disaster. What’s typically a 4-hour trip took more than 7 hours, but we were grateful that the roads were relatively intact. So many homes have been damaged and destroyed. The aftershocks make it unsafe to be inside. It is still cold here in the mountains, and it rained last night, but people are fearful to return to their homes and are sleeping outside in makeshift tents.   

Our teams have been working around the clock in response to the earthquake. The first phase includes the distribution of emergency supplies like tarps and other materials children and families need to survive. The next phase will also include protecting children who have been orphaned or separated from their families during this tragic disaster. As a public health professional, I have great concerns about the potential for the spread of disease in the coming days. With little or no access to clean water and proper sanitation, conditions are ripe for diarrheal diseases, such as cholera. These diseases are already the second leading cause of death for young children around the world. 

We are doing everything we can to keep children safe from harm and help families recover in the aftermath of the earthquake. We have more than 500 highly trained staff members in Nepal, many of whom have received intensive emergency response training. We are so grateful for the outpouring of support from our donors that will enable us to give children what they need to survive this horrific disaster and recover in the days, weeks and months to come. On behalf of Nepal’s children and families, thank you.

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More about Brad: Brad lives in Connecticut with his wife and children. They have two sons, ages 7 and 5, and a 10-month-old daughter. A veteran aid worker, Brad has been with Save the Children for a decade, and this is his 10th trip to Nepal. He had been working in Pokhara, Nepal on our health education programs – about 125 miles away from the capital city of Kathmandu – not far from the epicenter of the earthquake. Brad is highly regarded by his colleagues for his expertise and adored for his good humor. He is also one tough man – literally! When he’s not working or spending time with his family, he is an avid endurance athlete. He has competed in the Tough Mudder – a hardcore, 10-mile team obstacle challenge. 

How You Can Help 

Please give generously to the Nepal Earthquake Children’s Relief Fund to support Save the Children's responses to ongoing and urgent needs as a result of the earthquake. 

There’s No Easy Way Back for Vanuatu

EvanSchuurman

Evan Schuurman

Media Officer

Melbourne, Australia

March 18, 2015

 

The following blog first appeared on Herald Sun

Loads of packages covered with “Australian aid” stickers sit in front of me as the C17 hurtles down the runway at Amberley Air Base, just outside Brisbane.

We are bound for Vanuatu, which has just been torn apart by Cyclone Pam, the strongest storm ever to hit the Pacific nation.

I’m among a group of about 40 aid workers and journalists on the flight. We’re joining others to provide immediate relief to the thousands of people — indeed, almost half the population — affected by the crisis.

Australia has committed a package of assistance to the relief effort including $5 million and medical experts and, together with the Federal Government, is playing a key role in the response.

We know the situation is bad but it is only once we are on the tarmac that the complete and utter devastation becomes clear — the airport has no power and uprooted trees with branches ripped off them litter the edge of the airfield. Vanuatuchild

Driving through Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital, we are confronted with a scene of staggering devastation: collapsed roofs, fallen power poles, smashed billboards; concrete walls have come down and bricks are strewn along the roadside.

It seems nothing has been spared. Much of the city is without power and the water system has been badly damaged, increasing the risk of disease spreading. There are more than 25 evacuation centres scattered around the city and many, by necessity, are in schools, which will put pressure on the education system.

It’s clear immediately that the devastation of the storm will be felt for many months, probably years — long after the journalists have headed home. Yet amid the chaos, it’s extraordinary how the Vanuatu people are picking up the pieces of their lives and starting to go about their business.

Already some shops are reopening — although everything is being offered for quick sale because of the lack of refrigeration — and many of our Save the Children staff are back at work, with much to do. I wondered if I’d be so quick to get back to work if my home and much of what I owned had been destroyed by a storm.

Just days after the storm, there’s an urgent need for food, water, shelter and communications.

Large swathes of farmland were ripped up by Cyclone Pam and entire crops were lost, as well as the livelihoods that went with them.

In the outer islands, people have only a couple of days of food — and that’s if they’re lucky. Right now, getting food to people as quickly as possible is the absolute priority. Then in the months ahead, there’s a huge job to be done helping people buy and plant new crops and replacing damaged machinery.

Communications is another critical need. In Port Vila my phone signal flickered between “SOS” and a local carrier. As you head just outside the city the reception is even worse — beyond that it is nonexistent.

Aid agencies are yet to make contact with staff members in other parts of the country, meaning that the exact scale of damage and destruction still isn’t fully known.

Physical access is difficult. Roads are blocked by fallen trees, power poles and other debris. As more staff and machinery are flown and shipped in, that will improve, but for now we can only hope the storm was more forgiving in other parts of the country.

Before the storm, Save the Children worked with local communities to prepare for cyclones like this as well as preparing for flooding, earthquakes and landslides.

In Penama and Shefa provinces — where 90 per cent of homes were either badly damaged or destroyed by Pam — we provided education kits on disaster preparedness with session plans and activity guides to teach children how to keep themselves and their families safe.

We also identified community leaders to push the program through local schools, reaching more than 22,000 people.

There were evacuation drills, educational songs and lessons about keeping safe. Children were also encouraged to make sure their families were prepared, developing household plans and keeping important documents like birth certificates safe.

In the days leading up to Cyclone Pam, staff went door to door in many parts of the country ensuring disaster plans were being put in place and encouraging those in low-lying areas to evacuate.

We can only hope that when we finally make contact with those communities that are so far unreachable, the news will be better. Either way, the people of Vanuatu will need help for a long time.

The pallets of aid are an important part of the recovery process, but beyond that schools will need help to reopen and children, who are most vulnerable in disasters, will need special care and psychosocial support so they can recover and roads and infrastructure will need to be rebuilt.

There’s no easy recovery from a storm like Pam. Our Pacific neighbour needs our help and we must be there until the job is done.

Donate to Save the Children’s Cyclone Pam appeal here. 

Counting Down to “Ebola-Free”

GregDuly

Greg Duly

Country Director

Liberia

March 2, 2015

 

The fight against the Ebola epidemic in Liberia appears to be moving in the right direction. It’s been 20 days since the last case of Ebola has been recorded. Indeed, the last Ebola patient was released from an Emergency Treatment Unit on Thursday of last week. The countdown to declaring Liberia Ebola-free has begun!

Having said that there is still so very much to do. The entire health system, which was weak prior to and now decimated by Ebola, needs to be rebuilt. One of the reasons for "building back better" the health system is so that Ebola cases & other high infectious diseases can be spotted quickly and mitigation protocols put in place immediately. This is a huge undertaking, but essential, and Save the Children will remain at the forefront of this collective effort. Some of the work Save the Children is engaged in is community-sensitisation designed to not only help communities understand and implement basic practices that will prevent the return of Ebola but also rebuild people’s trust in health services and the health workers themselves.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the entire school system was shut down for a 7 month period. This proved very disruptive to children’s learning. I am very proud of Save the Children’s leadership, in tandem with UNICEF, in the development of national protocols for ensuring that schools are places where children can learn and play without fear of contracting ebola. In addition, Save the Children delivered materials and training to 940 schools (more than 20% of the nation’s schools) over a three week period. However, many children are still out of school due to their inability to afford various costs because of the death of the breadwinner(s) in their families. Save the Children is helping these families so that children can get back to school. Ultimately, Save the Children will work on improving the quality of the learning experience of Liberian school children, many of whom finish school without the necessary knowledge and skills.

Many children lost one or both parents during the epidemic. Estimates are that up to 3,000 children may have been orphaned as a result. The nature of the epidemic was such that in many cases these children were abandoned by their relatives or neighbours due to fear. Save the Children has been at the forefront of training foster parents specifically for the purpose of providing them the skills needed to take care of these orphaned children. Given the stigma associated with Ebola-orphaned children, one must admire the altruism and courage of these foster parents.

Additionally, our team provides psychosocial support to children who have had to deal with the loss of family and friends, and have been through an extremely stressful time. During one single week in just one county, 126 cases of children needing psychosocial support were reported to Save the Children.

The epidemic has disrupted the livelihoods of many, many families. Due to the delay in planting the rice crop, rice yields were quite low resulting in a 20 to 30% increase of this staple crop. In response, Save the Children is developing a program which will reach 5,000 households.

So, whilst it is encouraging that Liberia is on track to get to zero, the effects of Ebola will be long lasting and affect children in many ways. There is much to do but thanks t0 the support of our donors, Save the Children is well positioned to make a huge contribution.

To learn more about our Ebola response, click here.

Ebola: Fighting While Surviving

GregDuly

Greg Duly

Country Director

Liberia

March 2, 2015

 

SavetheChildren_Ebola_Liberia_Blog_March_2015As I reflect on the three weeks of my assignment thus far in Liberia I continue to be impressed by the dedication and sacrifices made by the Liberian national staff. We’ve had tremendous support from expats who’ve come from all parts of the world but our team is nearly 90% Liberians. Demonstrative of the incredible sacrifice and effort that the country has made. 

Unlike international personnel, these staff have had to “live” the reality of the Ebola epidemic in ways the rest of the world cannot contemplate. Not only are our national staff expected to work each day – and for the first few months of the epidemic this meant working seven days a week and 14 or more hours a day – they have also had to keep their families safe or find treatment for them. Simultaneously fighting the epidemic while being victims of its brutality. 

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Locals like Kebeh, a midwife in our Community Care Center, make up 90% of our aid workers in Liberia

The entire team has done an incredible job across a number of sectors, addressing the direct causes and problems of Ebola Virus with initiatives such as Emergency Treatment Units, Community Care Centres and Active Case Finding/Contact Tracing] while also addressing the indirect issues such as getting schools in shape for children to safely learn in them and aiding those children who have been orphaned.

Ultimately it will be Liberians who rebuild the country but that doesn’t mean the international community can’t help. I am very proud of the dedication & commitment of our Save the Children colleagues who’ve courageously left their current postings and offered to serve in Liberia, but I am humbled by the wholehearted commitment by our Liberian colleagues who have really stepped up to tackle this dreaded scourge.

To learn more about our Ebola response, click here.

Amid Ebola Decline, Rebuilding Liberia’s Education System

GregDuly

Greg Duly

Country Director

Liberia

February 18, 2015

 

After more than six months of closure, Save the Children has been at the forefront of ensuring that schools across Liberia can safely open for attendance. Save the Children & Unicef led the development of what the Liberian Ministry of Education adopted as national school opening protocols. These protocols map out basic but essential criteria that ensure children and teachers can return to school without the fear of contracting Ebola.

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Florence*, 12, Joseph*, 13, and Aliyu*, 13, (L to R) practice writing and reading.

Additionally, Save the Children has taken on responsibility for the delivery of essential materials and training of teachers, principles, and PTA members in how to use the kits at 932 schools, which accounts for more than 20% of Liberian schools.

To date, we have completed training at 532 schools and 783 schools have received the essential materials which include a range of infection prevention and control items such as buckets, chlorine, soap, mops, brooms, thermometers and such.

This is an excellent start to getting children back to school, but we are very mindful of the fact that Ebola has still not been eradicated and that much needs to be done to “get to zero.” Even once Ebola has been eliminated there will be much work to do to help restore health, education and child protection systems that have been decimated by the epidemic.

I’m confident that with the help of organizations like Save the Children, Liberians will be able to eradicate their country from this vicious disease that has wreaked havoc on the country. It’s just a matter of time.

To learn more about our Ebola response, click here.

Haiti Earthquake Five Years On

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Sarah Tyler

Head of Communications, International Programmes

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

January 12, 2015

 

"If my mother and father were alive I would be protected. They wouldn't let me live like this."

These are the words of Lovely*, a shy 12 year old who is a child domestic worker. Myrlande, my counterpart in Haiti, is translating Lovely's words into English. She's visibly shaken by Lovely's story. But Lovely* is very matter of fact; it's obvious she doesn't think her situation is uncommon. It's what life has handed to her.

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I've returned to Haiti on behalf of Save the Children Italy, which, five years after the earthquake, commissioned an award-winning photographer to produce a series of portraits of children. I was here a few days after the destructive 2010 earthquake that killed over 230,000 people and left two million homeless. I feel strong ties to Haiti, so when I had the chance to come back I grabbed it.

We are sitting in a small school in Port-au-Prince. It's a location chosen because of its anonymity. The child protection officer sitting with us is pregnant. I wonder what she thinks of Lovely's situation? Myrlande and I are here to interview child domestic workers. Domestic child labour is a major problem in Haiti, with up to 225,000 children aged between 5 and 17, mainly girls, virtually living as slaves. They are trapped in this lifestyle because of a series of twisted events. Some of them are orphans, but often they have been given away by their own parents or extended family in the hope that other families will, in exchange for the child doing chores, provide them with the food and shelter and access to education that their own families cannot afford to give them. Sadly, these hoped-for benefits rarely materialize, as the children are often given to an equally poor family that lack the resources to provide for even their own children.

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Lovely* tells us that she's regularly beaten and there are frequently days when she isn't fed. She wakes up at 5 am, prepares the household meals, fetches water from the local well, and does all the cleaning and laundry. Did I mention that she is just 12 years old?

She continues. "I don't even go to school. I used to go to school, I got to the third grade but ever since my mom and dad died I never went back to school. I would like to go to school. I would like to become someone tomorrow, although I don't know what. I want to tell other children in the same situation, those children like me that don't have a mother, that don't have a father just like me, not to be discouraged because life is like a ball – it rolls and rolls and you never know where it's going to take you."

In Haiti, Save the Children is working at the national level to raise awareness about child abuse, and at the local level it is working with child protection organisations to eradicate this practice. But we leave Lovely* with a heavy heart, knowing that all NGOs working on this issue need to move so much faster if we want to give children like Lovely* the chance of a better life.

Back in the car we make our way through heavy traffic. The rubble that once lined the roads is mostly gone, the collapsed buildings have been rebuilt. Small businesses and markets alongside the road are teeming with produce, but the pigs are still here, wading through rubbish and polluted water in the gutter at the side of the road.

Our next stop is a primary school that Save the Children supported immediately after the earthquake – we helped to remove rubble and repair classrooms – and our support here continues today as we provide teacher training and school supplies. Education is a major focus of our work in Haiti. It needs to be: only 2 in 10 children in Haiti learn to read by the end of first grade, and 15% of children dropout before grade 6. Over 50% of Haitian adults are illiterate.

Myrlande_320

 

Although signs of the earthquake are mostly gone, the memories of that day are still very fresh for the children we meet. They tell us their stories of that fateful day. There's Jeantal who couldn't save the baby he tried to protect when a wall fell on top of them. He says he now develops terrible headaches every 12th January, the anniversary of the earthquake. He is clearly still shaken by his memories.

Then there's Oswaldynyo, who is 9, who refers to himself as "petit homme" or "little man". On his forehead is a scar he got from a falling cement brick. He's been telling us about the evacuation drills he is doing at school so he can protect himself if there is another earthquake. He tells us he loves school, and he holds his schoolbook tight to himself during the interview, preferring to look through it than at us. He's worried that his parents won't have the money for schoolbooks or his uniform.

And then there's Betchina, a soft spoken and shy 13 year old. She shows us her knee, which still has a massive scar where a block of concrete fell on her during the earthquake. She wants to become a nurse to help injured people and to provide for her parents.

These children bear physical scars from the earthquake, but there are also signs of emotional scars. How do you reassure children whose lives have been turned upside down that this won't happen again? In our work there are often times when we meet children who leave a very strong impression on us. Bettchina is one of these children. I leave her hoping with all my heart that she gets what she wishes for.

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Camp life has become a permanent fixture for over 85,500 people displaced by the earthquake. Of these more than half are children. There are approximately 123 camps still in existence. Basic services like clean water and health care are very limited in these camps, and cases of abuse are prevalent. During my trip, we met five children living in one of the largest camps. They were all girls, and they all told us that they were worried about their own safety. They were afraid of armed gangs and afraid of going to the toilets at night because of the fear of being sexually abused. But despite all the fear and harsh conditions in the camp, these girls were such an inspiration. They are leaders of our child protection clubs and they were all so positive about continuing their education and making sure that their rights were respected. In fact something quite remarkable happened during these interviews. When we were interviewing Marie Darline, she turned the tables on us and began to quiz us about our mission and vision, and how we would continue to support her goal to become a diplomat. It was then Katiana's turn to test her Spanish on me, since she decided that she had spent long enough answering our questions!

I left this camp full of awe for our community workers working with these children and creating such resilient young leaders. And I'd like to share Katiana's words about them:
"I would like to congratulate you on the work that you're doing. Save the Children is helping us however they can so I ask you to continue. It would help me a lot and would help the community a lot if you kept doing the work that you do here."

I want to promise Marie Darline and Lovely* that we will be there for them, but the reality is that the cameras and reporters have gone, funding has dried up for Haiti, and I can't help remembering an overused line from NGOs five years ago. "Don't forget Haiti" we said in unison. Have we?

Interested in learning more about our programs in Haiti Click here to learn more.

In Honor of Josephine Gay, Safe and Sound Schools

MicheleGay

Michele Gay

Co-Founder, Safe and Sound Schools

Newtown, CT

December 11, 2014

 

Save the Children’s Get Ready Get Safe initiative is designed to help US communities prepare to protect and care for the most vulnerable among us in times of crisis – our children. We keep kids safe, securing the future we share. We’re pleased to work with Michele Gay and Safe and Sound Schools to help ensure that children can be safe in all types of emergency situations.

Almost two years have passed now since the morning I packed up my three daughters and sent them off for another day of school in Newtown, Connecticut. With my husband returning from a week of work in Massachusetts and our youngest daughter Josephine’s 7th birthday party set for Saturday, our family was excited for the weekend. But only two daughters were returned to me at the end of that day, December 14, 2012. Joey was killed in her first grade classroom only moments after I dropped her off at the front door and into the loving arms of one of her teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Josephine Gay

Josephine Gay was a victim of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012

Since the long, desperate hours we spent that day, waiting to receive the words that would forever change our lives, we’ve learned that she has never really left us. As a family of deep faith—and with the support of family, friends, and others near and far—we have discovered in many ways, how Josephine lives on in this world.

She has called us—all of us—to do better by our children. We cannot take back the choices of the man who attacked and killed Joey, and 25 of her beloved friends and teachers at school that day. Nor can we take back the mistakes and blatant inactions of so many that allowed his profound mental illness to fester to the point of such unprecedented tragedy. But we can, at least, do better, by our surviving children and our school communities.

To do better, I work in my Josephine’s name, for safer schools in America. I founded Safe and Sound with Alissa Parker, in honor of Joey and her dear friend Emilie Parker, also killed on December 14, 2012. Our nonprofit foundation is dedicated to educating and empowering school communities, parents, students, teachers, administrators, emergency responders, and mental health professionals to make our schools safer—together.

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Josephine Gay at age 2

Safe and Sound is a hub of free school safety resources designed to help guide communities across the country as they too look to “do better” for the precious people who come to grow, learn, and teach in school every day. With a panel of national school safety professionals, we develop and collect best practice materials and resources. We travel the country visiting, speaking, and teaching in school communities and for professional organizations about school safety and looking for partners in advocacy, education, and community support, partners like Save the Children.

In this work, we’ve learned a great deal. From Save the Children, we learned that more than 21 states lack basic safety standards for schools and child care. From the U.S. Department of Justice, we learned that the national average response time to an emergency is about six minutes. Most tragedies like ours are over before help even arrives. And from the National Fire Academy, we learned that our nation has not seen a single fire related death in a K-12 school in over 56 years, since the inception of fire safety education and protocols. Sadly, we cannot say the same for other school safety issues like suicide, bullying, severe weather, natural disaster, physical assault, or armed attack in our schools.

In all that we’ve learned, perhaps nothing is more important than this fact: We—parents, educators, leaders and community members—are not powerless in keeping our children safe in school.

Today (December 11), on Joey’s birthday, we invite you to join us, not only in her memory but also in honor of the precious children in your life.

Visit us at www.safeandsoundschools.org, where you will find a wealth of information and experience to help you work for safer schools in your community. Check out our free, printable toolkits at http://www.safeandsoundschools.org/straight-a-security/. Support our mission for safer schools. It’s time to get to work together for safer schools today.

Liberia Ebola Response

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Robbie McIntyre

Humanitarian Information and Communications Officer

Liberia

October 9, 2014 2014

 

As the Ebola death toll in West Africa continues to rise, we are rapidly scaling up our response in order to match its reach. But, along with most of the humanitarian and international community, we are playing catch up. The initial response to this crisis was too slow, and too small.

The self-flagellation and recriminations must come later. What must come now, with not one iota of a caveat, qualification or delay, is an unprecedented global effort to prevent Ebola from shattering the futures of a whole generation of children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

I write this from Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. This country accounts for more than 2,000 of the 3,400 estimated deaths from Ebola across the region, but with cases going unreported, some choosing to die without seeking help, and others succumbing in communities which are barely accessible, that is almost certainly a gross underestimate. UNICEF calculates that around 2,000 children in Liberia have lost both parents to the virus.

And what faces a child in this position? The chances are, they will be a ‘contact’, meaning they were in very close proximity to someone who had Ebola. For those who are identified, this means 21 days under quarantine being monitored every day for symptoms. For some children here, it means being pushed to the margins of society, and rejected by a community whose instinct to help is paralysed by their sheer terror of this horrific disease.

RS85579_4 of 5 kids who lost their parents to Ebola in MonroviaAll this means that Jennifer*, is comparatively fortunate. She is living under quarantine with her aunt, her two brothers Robin*, 6 and Luke*, 12, and her 13-year-old big sister Sarah* (* indicates all names have been changed to protect identity). Their mother became sick a little over a month ago, and passed away on September 7 at MSF’s ELWA treatment centre in Monrovia. Just two weeks later, their father died in the same facility. It was only at this point that the children were placed under quarantine with their aunt.

We provided them with a 21-day Survival Pack. It includes food, water, and hygiene items to help sustain them whilst under quarantine. We will give psychosocial support to try and help them cope. But like all children here now, they face a precariously uncertain future. Not everyone will accept that they are safe to be around and to play with, even when they emerge from isolation.

Save the Children has been running a mass public campaign to educate people about Ebola. Messages are broadcast three times a day, every day, on 14 different radio stations in 8 of Liberia’s 15 counties. They are estimated to have reached 260,000 people. We created tens of thousands of Ebola awareness posters and factsheets for the Ministry of Health to distribute, and we are now running training sessions with healthcare workers on infection prevention and control to allow them to reopen clinics that have been forced to shut.

Although the challenge is unprecedented, and the prognosis for the spread of this virus wildly unpredictable, there are some certainties – a co-ordinated global effort on the scale required will save thousands of lives, and there are going to be many, many children who require the world’s compassion, care and attention for some time to come.

Save the Children is scaling up its operations. The Ebola Treatment Center we built in Bong is being run by International Medical Corps and already saving lives. We are building another in Margibi, where our teams are also hard at work constructing 10 Community Care Centres and mobilising communities to use them so that people are not left to die with no access to health care.

But it’s not enough. We know it’s not enough. The families here know it’s not enough. The international and humanitarian community must pour money, technical expertise and equipment into Liberia and across the region. We must not reflect on this crisis in years to come and realise we did not do enough, and that thousands of people lost their lives as a result. Please support our Ebola Children's Relief Fund.

Prep Rally Brings Community Together to Keep Kids Safe

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Elizabeth Pulliam, Program Specialist

Kentucky

October 7, 2014

 

Lightning strikes as an instantaneous thunderclap bursts around your house. You begin to wonder if the batteries in your flashlight are working or if yesterday’s grocery purchases will spoil before the power is restored. You see, your child is calm and knows exactly where to find the flashlight. These are behaviors she learned from Save the Children’s Prep Rally program– new emergency program that teaches kids basic preparedness skills through interactive activities and games.

Tucked into the heart of Appalachia, Owsley County, Kentucky is a very rural area with disaster risks covering everything from flooding and tornadoes to wildfires and earthquakes. Children are the most vulnerable during disaster, and as a nation, we are underprepared to protect them during emergencies. Twenty-one states lack basic regulations for protecting children in schools and child care and 74 percent of parents don’t feel very prepared to protect their kids. The Prep Rally Program was created with the understanding – that we can’t prevent disasters from happening, but it’s how we prepare for them that will make the difference.

Owsley County community leaders, including school staff, emergency services, first responders and government officials, banded together to plan a Prep Rally that would help children in Owsley Elementary School’s Afterschool program be ready to weather any storm. Photo Aug 28, 3 18 38 PM

The Prep Rally covers four basic Prep Steps that help build children’s resilience: 

  1. Recognizing Risks
  2. Planning Ahead
  3. Gathering Wise Supplies
  4. During Disaster

During after-school programming in the week leading up to their Prep Rally, Owsley students read books about preparedness and survival as part of their literacy lessons. They discussed the risks for natural disasters in their community and learned how to design a safety plan at home and how to reunite with their families should disaster strike.

On the day of the community Prep Rally event, the children kicked things off with a Get Ready Get Safe cheers and the Mayor of Booneville declared it Get Ready Get Safe Emergency Preparedness Day! The mayor also led the Preparedness Pledge, encouraging the children to talk with and make a plan with their families. Then children rotated through five themed stations including the Pillowcase Project, Red Cross coping skills, fire safety, tornado safety and water safety. Children were able to talk with local firefighters and police as well as climb aboard and explore fire truck and emergency medical helicopter.

“The students became more familiar with the types of disasters and how to be better prepared to cope with them,” said Phyllis Bowman, Owsley’s afterschool program coordinator. “Even though we are a small community with limited resources, the response from our emergency people was great. This is indicative of their support of our children."

1055In addition to getting kids pumped to prep, the community Prep Rally created a dialogue between schools to work with emergency services agencies, and government officials about how to best prepare and protect Owsley County.

“The Prep Rally provided the children of Owsley County a valuable educational experience with the emergency services and preparedness personnel in our area,” said Bart Patton, Chief of the Booneville-Owsley County Volunteer Fire Department. “It encouraged the children to go home and prepare, along with their parents and guardians, plans to help them through disasters safely. We were all proud to be part of the program.”

The Owsley Elementary event is just one example of a successful Prep Rally- which has been implemented in 10 states serving thousands of children and families. The best part of the Prep Rally curriculum is that it can be shaped to fit the specific needs of your community—whether it’s a scout troop, afterschool, summer camp, or the beginning of tornado season.

Is Your Community Prepared to Protect Kids in Emergencies?

Get the FREE downloadable Prep Rally Kit: www.savethechildren.org/PrepRally

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Inside the Heart of an Epidemic

I am not sure that in my 16 years with Save the Children that I have seen—and felt myself—such  palpable fear in a place as I did last week in Liberia.  But it is a fear that comes at you in waves, an undercurrent that runs under what looks on the surface to be the normal daily life of a very poor country in West Africa.

 

In the market, people are going about their business, buying and selling wares, going to work, cooking in small sidewalk stalls. But right away you start to notice the billboards, the signs, all calling out that Ebola is real and what to do to keep safe. You see the washing stations at every store, every stopping point—and after just a few hours, the fear starts to seep in. My colleagues point out the sirens, signaling another Ebola case has been picked up, and images of the victims flash through my head.

 

The fear comes as I wash my hands in chlorinated water from a small bucket with a spout everywhere I go, as my shoes are sprayed with the same chlorine solution each time I get in and out of a vehicle or go into a building, as I try to remember to shake hands with no one, to touch no one, to not get too close, even to my own colleagues. Fear comes with the constant message on the radio inside the car as we drive—”Ebola kills”—over and over again.

 

But the real face of fear in this epidemic is in the faces of the families and children I met – children and families that have lost mothers, fathers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters.  Those who have survived quarantines, but who are now shunned by their communities and cut off from basic services.  I see the fear in the children I met who have been orphaned by the virus and are living in makeshift shelters, under houses, inside storerooms.  Whole families of children living day-to-day as best they can without their parents. Their fear, and the fear of those around them, shows starkly in their eyes. WP_20141003_13_34_02_Pro

 

There are an estimated 3,700 orphans across the three hardest hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.  In Liberia alone, the number is estimated at 2,000, with new children becoming orphans each day as the virus ravages mothers and fathers. One little girl I met, seven year-old Elizabeth, was living under a house with her older brother just steps away from where their mothers body had been taken over a month ago.  They had come and burned all their belongings and sprayed down the room but the children would not go back inside.  While they survived the 21 day incubation period, they now faced the prospect of starvation and stigma as people in their town are too scared to even look at them.

 

One of the key pieces of our response is to work with the Department of Social Welfare in Liberia to ensure we know where these children are and get them basic survival kits which include food, household items, soap and hygiene supplies and clothing. Then we begin to try to reunite them with extended family whenever and wherever possible, a painstaking process to trace family members that may be hundreds of miles away.

 

But the bigger issue in this crisis is breaking the back of transmission of the disease, reducing the reproductive rate of cases to below 1—and bringing down the fear.  The messages, chlorinated water, and radio programs have done part of their job but people must leave their houses and get into care and stop infecting others at the first sign of symptoms. Tragically, there is just not enough care and beds available.

 

Save the Children is building 10 Community Care Centers in Margibi county—smaller centers where people can go and get tested, where those testing positive are isolated from others before being transferred to a more sophisticated Ebola Treatment Unit, getting basic care while waiting for a bed and receiving visits from a mobile team of doctors and nurses. We are also building an additional Ebola Treatment Unit to serve Margibi, one of the epicenters of the epidemic, modeled after a center we already built in Bong County.

 

While the fear of this visit was very real, there was also hope.  In my last hours in Liberia, I visited a transition center for orphaned children in Montserrado, with 10 children who still could not yet be reunited with their families.  While you could still see traces of fear and certainly sadness in their eyes, they lit up when asked to sing a song and proudly told me about their dreams.  One little boy, Edward, told me with a confident smile, that he wanted to be President.  Right at that moment, I believed it could come true, if we could just end the fear and death all around us that have no place in a child’s life.

 

Please help us do more to halt the outbreak and provide lifesaving outreach and protection for children.