Rewriting ‘Haiyan’ Two Years On

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April Sumaylo

Media Manager

Save the Children in the Philippines

November 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then after 6 long hours, there was silence.

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

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

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

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

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

But does it all end here?

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

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

Kate

Kate O'Sullivan

Communications Manager, Save the Children Greece

Lesvos, Greece

October 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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People desperately trying to find shelter at Moria camp, Greece

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for Winter as Refugees Arrive in Lesbos

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Mark Buttle

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Program Emergency Response Personnel

Lesbos, Greece

October 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Fleeing Danger, Children Deserve a Warm Welcome

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Frank-smith

Frank Smith, MA, PhD

Campaign Director, No More Epidemics, Management Sciences for Health

September 29, 2015

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

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

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

READ THE CLINTON GLOBAL INITIATIVE (CGI) COMMITMENT

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

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

Watch the video recording of the complete plenary session:

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

 

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

 

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

Taking on an Overwhelming Challenge: The Child #RefugeeCrisis

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

Overwhelming is the best word for it.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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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.

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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.