Amid Ebola Decline, Rebuilding Liberia’s Education System

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

And register your Community Prep Rally for the chance for Save the Children ambassador Lassie to visit your event!

For more information, email GetReady@savechildren.org

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.

I’m an Ebola Child Protection Advisor

My name is Amy, and I’m in Liberia responding to the Ebola crisis – the deadliest outbreak in history. It’s perhaps the most challenging assignment of my Save the Children career.

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Amy Richmond, Child Protection Advisor

Liberia

October 1, 2014

 

My name is Amy, and I’m in Liberia responding to the Ebola crisis – the deadliest outbreak in history. It’s perhaps the most challenging assignment of my Save the Children career.

Waking up to Ebola
Waking up in my room, this Ebola assignment feels almost routine – like any of the dozens of emergency assignments I’ve been on for Save the Children. My surroundings are strangely familiar. A simple bed, the glowing red alarm clock circa 1982 and heavily screened windows through which stifling hot air wafts, even in the early morning. But once I step outside, I realize this is an assignment like no other. First, I’m overwhelmed by the sharp smell of the chlorine-solution used as a disinfectant here, then by the otherworldly sight of workers fully outfitted in infection control suits, as well as the often graphic Ebola prevention signs. I take a deep breath. Now, the real work begins. 

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In addition to helping kids stay healthy and safe, Save the Children is also proving emergency supplies and nutritious food in the hardest hit areas.

The tragic discovery of little David
The children we’re helping here are facing overwhelming tragedy. Perhaps the most tragic is the story of an 8-year-old boy. I’ll call him David – a common name in Liberia.

On a routine area survey, where relief workers go house-to-house searching for people who may have had contact with the Ebola virus, aid workers came across David. He was in his home – about the size of a garden shed, though not as well built – surrounded by the dead bodies of his family.

I shudder to think what David went through being there when his family died from the painful sickness caused by the Ebola virus. No child should go through that horror. Miraculously, he survived. It’s our job to ensure he can overcome this tragedy and find a safe place for him to grow up.

Why I do what I do
I've been a Child Protection Advisor for over a decade now. I've seen the worst of what the world has wrought on our children – deadly conflict in Syria and Iraq, famine-like conditions in East Africa, devastating hurricanes on America’s coastline, terrible typhoons in the Philippines. And through it all, – children have paid the heaviest toll. And that’s why I do what I do.

 

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Little children think the health workers look like aliens from outer space in their protective gear. The suits might look scary, but they help protect the dedicated workers from the outbreak.

Little ones are always the most vulnerable in crisis – and Ebola is no exception. It’s our job to protect them. My colleagues and I keep kids safe from harm, trafficking and unspeakable abuse. We help children overcome horrific, traumatic experiences. We also reunite children with family members if they get lost or become orphaned. Children need all of this help, and more, here in the midst of the Ebola crisis.

Taking necessary precautions
I know I can’t take care of children, if I don’t take care of myself. And Save the Children has very strict protocols to ensure my good health and safety. Everywhere I go, I use hand-sanitizer, wash with chlorine solution and step through a bleach bath or am hosed with a foot shower. I take medicines, wear infection control gloves and have protective nets to keep other diseases at bay, knowing there’s little access to health care here. And I’m exceedingly careful about what I eat and drink. Although my pants are all bleach-stained, and my hands are raw from the chlorine, I know I’m doing everything I can to stay well, so I can do my job – protecting children.

Making a difference for kids
We work long, grueling days, but at the same time, we’re energized by knowing we’re making a difference for vulnerable children in this crisis. The days are full and varied. In the morning, I read the latest briefings and meet with our Child Protection team on our response work for the day, which may include caring for orphaned or unaccompanied children like David. In the evenings, we work on documents to secure much needed funds this essential Ebola crisis response.

Finally, I collapse on my bed in the oddly comforting red glow of the alarm clock. Ready to sleep for a few hours – and do it all again tomorrow.

To learn more about our response to the Ebola outbreak, click here

I Am Determined to Stay Strong for the Children of Gaza

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Osama Damo

Senior Communications Manager for Save the Children's Emergency Response Team in Gaza

July 22, 2014

 

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world, wherever there is need. The below piece reflects the opinions of the staff member quoted, reflecting his perceptions from living and working on the ground in Gaza. Save the Children is currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. As a global organization, Save the Children is equally concerned about the well-being of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza, and supports an end to the violence against both peoples.,

My heart sank when the 72 hour ceasefire ended after just 90 minutes last Friday. It plumbed new depths when a missile struck outside another school on Sunday killing at least ten people.

I am determined to stay strong for the children of Gaza, however I admit that hope for the future fades with every bomb and rocket strike.

The long sleepless nights I’ve spent listening to buildings destroyed by missiles and shells have been terrifying, but I am equally worried about the future of Gaza when the fighting stops.

Gaza – where before this conflict 80 percent of the population relied on foreign aid – is in ruin. Every attack pushes its people deeper into a life of poverty and loss.

Israel has been attacked too, but its missile defense system has thwarted nearly every rocket sent its way.

This week marks one month since the first missiles were launched, and more than two weeks since the ground offensive began. The death toll stands at more than 1,800, including over 1,000 civilians and 350 children.

How many more days the fighting will last, nobody knows.

Before the conflict Gaza was stymied by the blockade – its fishing zone had been progressively reduced from 20 miles to three miles over the past 20 years, borders were closed meaning building materials could not enter making construction impossible, and imports and exports have been severely restricted.

Recent air strikes on Gaza’s sole power plant and the water network mean families are facing a complete collapse of essential services, as electricity and water supplies run out.

Health facilities are also badly affected, with some hospitals warning they only have enough fuel to run electricity generators for another four to five days.

This could leave nearly one million children trapped in a war zone without access to electricity, water or medical services.  Gaza_1

Residents are receiving electricity for a maximum of two hours a day, if at all. I haven’t had electricity for five days now. No water supplies are being delivered and sewage pumps are not working, meaning raw sewage is being pumped onto the streets, raising serious concerns about outbreaks of disease in overcrowded shelters.

When the fighting stops work will begin rebuilding a shattered city. But where do you start?

There are still badly damaged buildings awaiting repair from the 2012 military offensive, and homes destroyed during the 2009 conflict that are yet to be rebuilt.

Gaza was still in recovery mode when this round of fighting erupted.

The job for aid agencies will be massive, arguably without compare. For Save the Children it will range from rehabilitating damaged kindergartens and training teachers in psychosocial support for students to helping patch up hospitals, repairing key infrastructure and child protection services.

And all this before attempting to address the poverty that plagued Gaza before the conflict. Creating employment, livelihoods and civil society. Making Gaza sustainable.

None of this will be possible while the blockade stands – ending it must be part of the solution.

For many, however, life in Gaza will never return to normal. Their homes have been destroyed, livelihoods expunged and their friends and family members killed. How do you come back from that?

What I do know is that the international community must strenuously push for a new ceasefire and find a way to get all parties to uphold it.

At the very least the living must have the chance to bury the dead and see what’s left of their homes. Meanwhile aid agencies must be able to safely help the sick and injured as well as get essential services up and running.

After that, we need a lasting peace agreement including an end to the blockade so Gaza can begin to rebuild.

This is the third conflict between Gaza and Israel I have lived through, as I wrote in the Herald Sun last week, and it’s by far the worst. In Gaza there has been too much loss of life, and also on the Israeli side. It must end, it has to end now.

In the past 30 days I have left my apartment five times – twice during the two failed ceasefires to help with aid distributions with Save the Children and three times to get food for my family.

I live in an apartment with my wife and mother, but some nights we had up to 18 people taking shelter including five children.

We sleep in the corridors where the building is strongest and jump at the slightest of sounds. The other day my wife put a bottle of water down loudly and I ducked for cover, thinking it was another air strike.

Another time we heard a loud whistling noise and ran to the corridor, only to realize it was a car with a high-pitched engine going past.

I have feared for my life too many times.

Let the bloodshed and fighting stop on both sides so we can at least begin the task of rebuilding Gaza.

Learn more about Save the Children's life-saving work on the Gaza/Israel conflict. 

Gaza/Israel: Where Evacuation is No Game

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Osama Damo

Senior Communications Manager for Save the Children’s Emergency Response Team in Gaza

July 22, 2014

 

At the bottom of my apartment building in Gaza two girls about six years old sit on the ground, laughing as they hurriedly pack items into their backpacks.

Intrigued, I ask them what game they are playing.

They tell me it’s called ‘evacuation’.

My heart sinks. These girls should not know the terror of an evacuation, yet now they are living through their third military conflict. These girls were taught the basics of surviving conflict before they were even taught the alphabet.

I too am living through the third major escalation of violence in Gaza since 2008, however, this time is completely different. It is more terrifying, the outlook even more grim and the mounting casualty list – especially children – growing at a far greater rate.

I write this at 2am from the confines of my apartment with my family. We are all awake and have been since 7am. It is impossible to sleep.

Though the streets below are eerily quiet, the noises we can’t block out are the constant bee-like hum of drones flying around and the terrifying thump of bombs as they smash into and explode on nearby buildings, as well as occasional screams mixed with windows and glass smashing. The air outside is thick with acrid smoke and the taint of explosives. 

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The buildings rattle and shake with every bomb.

I have not left our apartment in days apart from hurried trips to get more food, I feel like I am a prisoner here.

Each day the situation gets more desperate.

Gaza is a city full of apartment buildings, we have power for only three hours a day and without electricity there is no way to pump water up to homes. Half of Gaza’s water services have been disrupted because of infrastructure damage caused by bombings, and households are running out of drinking water reserves.

Also, at least 85 schools and 23 medical facilities have sustained damage because of their proximity to targeted sites, and many other schools are being used to house those who have fled their homes.

And this all in a city where 80 percent of the population depended on humanitarian aid before the conflict started.

Sometimes the only thing we can do is joke about the situation, as morbid as this sounds. The last offensive in 2012 took place in the winter, and back then we told our children the bombs were actually lightning strikes and thunder.

But now, what can we tell them? It is summer. And so we laugh without humour, and tell each other that perhaps it is time to tell our children the truth.

Each day the fear within me is building, mostly for the impact this will have on children.

What will they grow up to be? When bombs seem to fall as regularly as rain, how will they ever view peace? Many children on both sides see this life as normal now, and that is a great tragedy.

For Save the Children – operating in Gaza since 1973 – the challenge is enormous and our staff often put themselves in danger to help.

Yesterday two staff risked their lives going to our warehouse to get medical supplies, then moved them to a hospital that was running out of supplies.

It is heroic acts like this that help public services like hospitals to keep running. Hospitals must have access to the equipment and medicine they need to treat the growing number of sick and wounded.

Save the Children is aiming to distribute 2500 hygiene kits and 2500 baby kits in the coming days, and will also open child friendly spaces once it is safe to do so. These provide children vital psychosocial support, and a place to forget about what they have been through.

No matter what, we will continue to provide vital services for children and families on both sides of the conflict, but ultimately the violence needs to stop.

Save the Children is calling for an immediate cease-fire and an end to the violence that has caused immense suffering to children and their families on both sides.

Beyond a ceasefire, we know that only a negotiated agreement between all parties to the conflict will bring about a lasting difference, including an end to the blockade in Gaza.

No child – Palestinian or Israeli – should have to live through rocket attacks, evacuations and military conflict, let alone three before their seventh birthday like the girls downstairs. For our children’s sake, let the violence end. Donate to Save the Children’s Gaza Children in Crisis Fund.

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world – wherever there is need. We are currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. Save the Children, as a global organisation, is equally concerned about the wellbeing of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza.

Where bombs fall as regularly as rain

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Osama Damo

Emergency Response Team

Gaza

July 2014

 

It starts in earnest after the sun sets. I’m not sure why. It is Ramadan at the moment, and here in Gaza we are fasting 16 hours a day. Our only moment of joy is breaking our fast together at sunset. But not now. With darkness comes death these days.

 

Gaza_skaddhusFrom my home I can hear the sounds of bombs falling in Gaza from Israel and sometimes rockets being launched here in Gaza toward Israel. Gaza is so tiny, the buildings rattle and shake with every bomb.

 

We joke darkly amongst ourselves. The last offensive (in 2012) took place in the winter, and we told our children that it was lightning strikes, thunder. Those noises are not to be feared. But now, what can we tell them? It is summer. And so we laugh without humour, and tell each other that perhaps it is time to tell our children the truth.

 

When we realised how serious the situation was becoming, we became glued to the TV for news. We performed our routine check – are our friends ok? Our family? You do this check so regularly. We check our fridge – how much food do we have? How much water?

 

We have a phrase in Arabic, literally translated it means ‘we have not even had the chance to breathe yet’ – since the last conflict in 2012. It seems we have not even had the chance to adjust ourselves, to convince our children they are safe, before they are not safe anymore.

 

The silliest things go round in my mind. I am an avid football fan, and was so enjoying the World Cup. Now I hate it. Only when it is over will the rest of the world perhaps be interested in what is unfolding in our little corner of the world.

 

And the darker, more morbid thoughts. What will our children grow up to be, these young children, of six years old, who have now known three of these offensives/military operations conflicts? When bombs seem to fall as regularly as rain. How will they ever view peace? On both sides… for some children this is normal now, they barely flinch. I honestly don’t know what is worse.

 

The streets are eerily quiet, the honking of horns has subsided. The only noise now is the explosions around us, and the occasional scream mixed with windows glass smashing. The air itself is like war – thick with acrid smoke and the taint of explosive.

 

We have enough food here for a few days, maybe a week if we are careful. Once the fuel runs out, there will be no water either. I worry about this. Hospitals are reportedly running out of equipment and some supplies.

 

The last time this happened, Save the Children launched a response in Gaza. We delivered urgently-needed medical supplies to hospitals and clinics, distributed food and plastic sheeting to families whose homes had been severely damaged, and set up a network of special centres with expert staff to counsel children and help them recover from their experiences.

This time…I worry that we may need to do same again. The same children will need the same kind of care. The same hospitals, the same homes. And in another two years, and another? When does it end?

 

Save the Children works independently and impartially around the world– wherever there is need. We are currently working in Gaza and the West Bank. Save the Children as a global organization is equally concerned about the wellbeing of children in Israel as those in the West Bank and Gaza.  

 

Osama Damo is part of the Save the Children team on the ground in Gaza, and this blog represents his perceptions from living and working there.