A Case for Gender Equality on this Day and Every Other

Written by Carolyn Miles

Today, on International Day of the Girl, the world celebrates the many things a girl can be – a doctor, an artist, a judge. Lean in. Dream big. Those are the empowering messages we all tell the girls in our lives.

But despite remarkable progress in some quarters, gender inequality and disempowerment still persist and are a root cause of many barriers to sustainable development around the world. Discrimination against girls critically impacts children’s ability to survive, learn, and live a life free from violence.

Without a strong start in life, a girl’s future is likely to be determined for her. Gender inequality leaves entire regions behind: according to the United Nations, Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses US $95 billion per year due to gender inequality. As a universal human right and a means to overcoming poverty and discrimination, gender equality must remain at the center of our U.S. foreign policy and development assistance.

The journey of nations to meet their own development needs depends on breaking down the barriers to enhance powerful contributions of women and girls. To improve development outcomes everywhere, the U.S. government must invest in gender analysis to look at the differences between progress for girls and boys. Only then can we identify and work to transform the root causes of gender inequality, including addressing discriminatory social norms and institutions, as well as advocating for and fostering legislation and policies that promote gender equality.

Child marriage is a good example of a harmful practice that affects not only girls but whole societies.  Around 1 in 5 women and girls in the world today were married as children – 1 in 3 of those were married before the age of 15. To a policymaker seeking to put an end to this, legal interventions may seem like the answer. But while they’re a key piece of the puzzle, new analysis by Save the Children shows that a startling 51 million child marriages could be averted by achieving universal secondary education for girls.1  This is what putting gender equality at the center of all areas of foreign policy and international assistance looks like: Reducing the harmful ways in which gender inequality combines with other factors to make it so much harder for girls to reach their potential.

The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) need robust funding and staffing to continue making critical investments in peace and security, economic development, education, nutrition, healthcare, and more. But if gender equality and women’s and girl’s empowerment aren’t at the center of all of these, the results just won’t be what we all want for children.

USAID has found that when 10 percent more girls go to school, a nation’s GDP increases, on average, by 3 percent. That’s something they wouldn’t have seen without a gender equality approach. Without sex- and age-disaggregated data, they wouldn’t even know that of the 25 million children currently out of primary school around the world, 15 million are girls.

Without gender analysis, they would overlook many of the reasons: boys’ education is often prioritized, girls face an increased risk of violence between home and school and from their teachers, and girls who marry before they reach adulthood almost always abandon their formal education.

Salam, pictured here with her young son Mesfin, was able to leave the abusive marriage she was forced to enter at age 13. Save the Children’s “Keep it Real Program” supported her return to school, where she rose to the top of her class.

But what about the other 134 million girls who will be married as children between 2018 and 2030 if the world doesn’t act? They too can become teachers, journalists, and entrepreneurs, but both research and experience tell us they’re more likely to become mothers, before their bodies are ready for it, or experience domestic violence. An investment in gender equality and girls’ empowerment yields tremendous results – not only in the individual lives of women and girls, but for the future we all share.

That’s why we at Save the Children have put gender equality at the top of our agenda.  On this International Day of the Girl, tell the U.S. government to do the same.

Share this post, check out our many others on Twitter under #SheCanBe, #EndChildMarriage, and #DayOfTheGirl, or join us in taking action!

 

1. Working Together to End Child Marriage 

help-for-indonesia-earthquake-tsunami-victims

Save the Children’s Emergency Response Efforts at Work in Indonesia

Photography by Karin Beate Nosterud 

On December 26, 2004, an underwater earthquake off the coast of Indonesia triggered a tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people. The 100-foot-tall wall of water devastated the coastline of nine countries on the Indian Ocean and thousands of communities were left in ruins.

Save the Children was there, providing assistance to some 276,000 survivors—the largest relief effort in our history.1 

“What could have been a follow-up catastrophe to the tsunami in terms of malaria, typhoid, cholera or pneumonia, never happened because people gave generously for medical supplies, shelters and care for children and that made all the difference. Did it really save those children? The answer is yes,” said Charles MacCormack, president and CEO of Save the Children at the time.

An 8-year-old boy is surrounded by debris and destruction following the 2004 tsunami that struck Indonesia on December 26.

Today, our commitment to the children of Indonesia remains as strong as ever, as we urgently work to help protect vulnerable children and provide desperately needed relief to families in the wake of a 7.5 earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia’s Sulawesi on September 28.

The magnitude quake triggered a tsunami with waves reportedly up to three meters high near the island’s capital Palu. Thousands are feared dead, with a confirmed death toll at 1,400 and rising. Widespread destruction is evident and hundreds of thousands of children remain at grave risk. 

Power outages and landslides have blocked key roads and rendered the most impacted areas, including Dongala, out of reach for now. Other vital infrastructure including the airport in Palu have been badly damaged. Many children and families are sleeping outside because their homes were damaged and aftershocks continue.

While we still don’t know the full scale of the crisis yet, we do know it is immense and have grave fears for the families in this area.

“Our team is responding by providing emergency supplies and hygiene kits to families affected by the quake,” said Save the Children’s Program Implementation Director, Tom Howells from Jakarta. “We are also planning to set up Child Friendly Spaces in shelters for those who have lost their homes, to ensure families and children are safe and have the supplies they need, like diapers and cribs.”2 

As Save the Children continues to respond with emergency assistance, we need your help now more than ever. Your generous gift can help protect vulnerable children and provide desperately needed relief to families.

To learn more about Save the Children’s response and how you can help, please visit our website.

YOUR SUPPORT CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES IN NEED. MAKE A DONATION TODAY!

 

1. Results for Children in 2005 

2. Concerns for Children After Powerful Magnitude 7.5 Earthquake and Tsunami Hits Indonesia’s Sulawesi 

A Father’s Impossible Decision: Run to Safety or Seek Out Medical Care

The situation for Yemen’s children is nothing short of dire. Some 11.3 million children in Yemen are facing a triple threat of bombs, hunger and disease.

The journey for those trying to flee, however, is often no safer: families have to brave minefields and airstrikes and are forced to cross areas of active fighting, all in a bid to escape the embattled governorate. There have been 18,000 airstrikes since March 2018, killing 2,398 children and injuring countless more.1  Civilian casualties in the most impacted districts more than doubled in the start of July as the fighting moved to more populated areas, according to the UN’s Refugee Agency.

 Children’s injuries incurred as a result of airstrikes are often complex and require a specialist treatment. Families on the run need to sometimes make the impossible decision of whether to continue to flee towards safety or stop and seek out medical care, if they can afford it. 

Eight-year-old Razan* was severely wounded in one eye after a bomb exploded nearby as she and her father tried to leave. She was in agony for days and her family feared she was permanently blinded.

“When Razan was injured, the airstrike was just yards away from us. The airstrike hit an armored vehicle nearby and flying shrapnel hit Razan in the eye. I tried to get us to a safe place to have a look at her eye, and then I bandaged her up with my shawl. Then we had to carry on moving,” said Samir,* Razan’s father.

“Razan had to go five days without treatment because I didn’t have enough money. After five days I asked Razan whether she could still see through her injured eye. She lied and said yes. We went upstairs, and I asked her to count the birds outside, while I covered her good eye. She said there were two, but there were four.”

Razan eventually reached a specialist hospital, where Save the Children referred her for emergency surgery that should restore her eyesight.

Thanks to support from Save the Children’s donors, Razan received the special medical care she needed. But there are many more children like her who are not getting the care they need.

*Names changed for protection

 

To learn more about the work Save the Children has done to help children in Yemen, visit our website.

YOUR SUPPORT CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE FOR CHILDREN IN NEED. MAKE A DONATION TODAY!

 

1. OCHA 

Strengthening Community through Vroom

Written by Sandra Anthony, Save the Children Ambassador, Marion County School District, Mississippi

Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much – Helen Keller

For me, “community” is rooted in fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals. One of the most important obligations of a community is to make sure that its children have a chance at a successful future. Protecting vulnerable young members of the community who do not have a voice – from neglect, poverty, abuse and violence – is essential. It is also the community’s responsibility to promote education.

When I became community and kindergarten readiness ambassador for Vroom, an initiative of the Bezos Family Foundation, my eyes were opened to the need for more educational development in our small, rural community of Foxworth, Mississippi. We did not have the resources for parents to support their children’s learning outside of school and the closest library is 30 miles away. Many families lack transportation. I knew there had to be a way to inform parents how important it is to educate young children at home before entering kindergarten. Yet, for families living in poverty, parents often wake up in survival mode and stressed about whether they can pay the electric bill or stretch the food supply. As a result, I found that many parents were forgetting to take an active part in the education of their children.

The arrival of Vroom transformed our community.

With the help of Vroom tips, I was able to connect with local businesses and churches in the community and demonstrate how they could support early child education. To reach a broader area, I set up a social media Vroom page highlighting how easy it is to incorporate Vroom into everyday activities. I literally saw the community begin to light up! I began to receive feedback from parents on how they incorporated Vroom into small daily tasks like cleaning, bathing and riding in a car. Understanding the need for these resources, stores allowed me to put up posters and flyers. I created Vroom placemats for restaurants to pass out to families waiting for their meals so they were able to have a literacy experience together. Three churches allowed me to come speak about Vroom. During these events, I would have Vroom pamphlets, posters, tip cards, shirts, keychains and books to distribute. At the community’s fall festival event, children were able to pick pumpkins with tips attached to them. As the word spread, people would actually stop me as I walked down the street or call and say that they had seen my posters and wanted to know more about the five basics of Vroom (Look, Chat, Follow, Stretch, and Take Turns).

It was during these conversations that I met Katheryn Lowery and her daughter, Abby Raye (at left). Mrs. Lowery stated that she was 36 when she found out she was expecting. She was not familiar with Vroom techniques and did not believe she had the skills to teach her daughter. What an opportunity, to share with her that she already had what it takes to be a brain builder. Now when I see her, Katheryn tells me how much she loves Vroom tips and how she is better equipped as a parent to support and identify appropriate development milestones for Abby Raye.

Enthusiasm for Vroom throughout the community has continued to grow, and local leaders, businesses and churches have become Vroom partners. At a local collaborative meeting, I gave community leaders the opportunity to try Vroom tips out themselves. Mark Rogers, a local journalist, and Chief Deputy Sheriff Jamie Singley couldn’t hold back their laughter as they practice the “Smile and Wink” activity. By taking part in actual Vroom activities, community leaders experienced the actual effect of the Vroom tips versus just listening to the benefits that they offer. After the meeting, these leaders went out and continued to spread the word about the importance of early learning for children.

Vroom has strengthened our community in many ways. Law enforcement personnel share Vroom tips and books with children during security checkpoints. Medical clinics display Vroom posters and books in waiting rooms and the local custard stand gives out information at their drive-through window. Child protective services has mandated that parents who have had their children taken away attend the Vroom Play & Learn groups to increase their knowledge of early literacy to help them regain custody of their children. The local newspaper publishes articles highlighting the importance of Vroom for early development and local radio station invited me on air to emphasize the benefits of Vroom.

Without the support of community and the Vroom initiative, it would have been impossible for me to reach out to the families in Marion County and share strategies to help children learn early. However, with community support, the children entering kindergarten this year in Marion County are much better prepared for success. Helen Keller was right; alone we can do so little, together we can do so much more.

 

To learn more about how Vroom is innovating Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program, visit our website.

 

Every Last Child Deserves the Opportunity to Learn to Read

Across the world, millions of children leave school without learning to properly read and write. Angelita, age 9, was at risk of becoming one such child. Although she was enrolled in a primary school in her rural Indonesian village, Angelita was a struggling student. 

If a young child gap struggles with reading, they risk falling behind and may never catch up. In fact, if children don’t get the help they need to learn to read, then the gaps between struggling and strong readers widens and worsen as they grow. 

As a young girl growing up in a place that grapples with widespread poverty and political instability, Angelita is one of 575 million girls who live in countries characterized by discrimination against girls.1  As reported in Save the Children’s 2018 End of Childhood Report, girls are more likely than boys to never set foot in a classroom. At last estimate, some 15 million girls of primary school age would never get the chance to learn to read or write in primary school. And for those girls who are enrolled in school, the opportunity to develop as a reader is not guaranteed. In fact, only 94% of girls 15 and older are literate.

Save the Children supports child literacy around the world.
Angelita attends a Save the Children ‘reading camp’, a program that aims to boost literacy rates, at a Save the Children-funded model primary school in West Sumba, Indonesia.

Save the Children has worked in Indonesia for more than three decades.  Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors, enrollment for girls in sponsorship schools rose by nearly 5% over 2015. 

With your support, we are working to give children in Indonesia and around the world early learning opportunities at home and in school. 

For just over a year now, 9-year-old Angelita has been taking part in a Save the Children ‘reading camp’ – a vital afterschool program that boosts the literacy of 7 through 9-year-olds and gives them the skills to succeed, even when learning in overburdened school systems.

“Personally, I think children here lacked many things before Save the Children came,” says Angelita’s mother Maria. “Now, we can see our children have had significant improvements in their education. They’re more keen on going to school.” 

To learn more about Save the Children’s work to support child literacy around the world, visit our website.

YOUR SUPPORT CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES IN NEED. MAKE A DONATION TODAY!

 
 

1. 2018 End of Childhood Report 

child literacy facts for parents

Child Literacy Facts for Parents

Literacy opens the door to a brighter future. A child’s early years are critical in shaping their development and lifelong learning potential. However, if a young child struggles with reading, they risk falling behind and may never catch up. In fact, if children don’t get the help they need to learn to read, then the gaps between struggling and strong readers widen and worsen as they grow.

Poet and author Emilie Buchwald wrote, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” But for children living in poverty, and those with few books or no one to read to them at home, the chance to become a lifelong reader may seem out of reach. In fact, children in poverty are less likely to attend preschool and often live in households where early learning activities are few and far between.

That’s why Save the Children’s education experts support children, parents, caregivers and schools to develop literacy skills from birth. There are many things you can do to support child literacy as well, and ways you can get the children in your life reading and succeeding, as a result.

child literacy facts for parents

Statistics about Reading and Success

According to the Department of Education, the more students read or are read to for fun on their own time and at home, the higher their reading scores, generally.1  However, in the United States, more than 60% of low-income families have no children’s books in their home.2 

In many rural communities where Save the Children works, the school library is the only place where children can access books. When children don’t have access to books or have family members regularly read aloud to them, their reading scores dive far below the national average. By the time they’re 3 years old, children from low-income families have been exposed to 30 million fewer words than their more affluent counterparts.3  Reading and being read aloud to has an impact that extends beyond just hearing stories.

When children are read to at home, they are able to count to 20 or higher, write their own names, and over 1 out of 4 of those children are able to recognize all members of the alphabet.4  Children who read at home also score higher in math.

What is the best way to teach a child to read?

The first step on the path to literacy is teaching children letters and the sounds they make. You can read along with a child to help them identify and sound-out the different noises in a word. As children take these precious first steps towards literacy, parents should gradually expand their selection of reading material to help children learn new words.

Children need to learn to read accurately and with understanding. The best way to teach a child to do that is to ask them questions and encourage them to think carefully about the words. As anyone who has learned a second language can tell you, learning these skills once is not enough. Children need to develop fluency, which only comes from practice.

child literacy facts for parents

How can I improve my child’s reading skills?

Nearly every parent has asked themselves, “How do I help my child read at home?” Let’s reframe that question. Instead, think of how you can make reading more enjoyable for your child.

It can be a big mistake to turn reading into a power struggle, or to unintentionally train children to see reading as something done just for a reward instead of for enjoyment. Kids like to read when it’s fun and when it’s relevant to their interests.

Parents will notice their children are full of questions. If your child shows curiosity about a specific topic, visit the library or bookstore and get them a book on the subject. If they have a favorite TV or movie character, see if there are a line of books that continue that character’s adventures on the printed page. In addition to wanting to read more, your child will also expand his or her imagination.

At what age should a child be able to read?

Although every child is different, most children are able to read between the ages of 4 and 7. Some children start learning to read and write their letters, or recognize signs and symbols as early as 3 years old. Gradually, their reading proficiency grows and they start to ask questions about words they can’t sound out or do not understand. While some children are slower to develop reading skills, most should be able to read with fluency by the time they’re 7 years old.

However, children who do not develop literacy skills early-on can face serious disadvantages in the classroom. When a child’s reading skills are not in-step with the timetable for their school, those children fall behind. Poor reading skills may not only affect their grades, but also take a toll on their confidence or create educational problems in other areas.

How can I help my Dyslexic child learn to read?

Dyslexia is a disorder that affects children of all ages and learning levels — even children with above average intelligence. Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects the way the brain processes information. For children with dyslexia, certain parts of their brains process words on a page differently than most people, which makes reading much harder for them. Dyslexia is typically diagnosed during pre-school or elementary school years.

Dyslexia can be overcome. Kids with dyslexia can work with a teacher, tutor, specialist, or their parents to improve their reading. In particular, dyslexic children need extra help memorizing sight words. Parents can help by trying to engage all of their child’s senses when learning something new. For example, if a child is struggling to remember a letter, encourage them to use their finger to trace-out the shape of the letter.

Repetition is also important to helping dyslexic children overcome their challenges. Similarly, talking about what they read and/or heard can help them better understand what they’ve read and increase comprehension skills.

Helping Children in Need

“Here’s the good news,” stated Save the Children Trustee Jennifer Garner when testifying on Capitol Hill about the importance of early childhood education in March 2017. “It takes so little – a ball, a book, a parent who is given the encouragement to read or talk or sing to a child – to make a life-changing difference.”

Supporting Save the Children’s literacy programs ensures that children in the U.S. and around the world will be introduced to reading and writing at a young age, and that they will be given the opportunity to reach their full potential.

To learn more about the work Save the Children has done to support child literacy and help set children up for success, visit our website.

YOUR SUPPORT CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES IN NEED. MAKE A DONATION TODAY!

 

1. Facts About Children’s Literacy 

2. Beyond School Walls: A Boost for Readers 

3. Hart, Betty and Todd R. Risley. “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3.” American Educator, Spring 2003. 6 Isaacs, Julia B. and Katherine Magnuson.  

4. Facts About Children’s Literacy 

The Children of Baidoa

By Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children

When I met him, Isaac was hungrily drinking the milk his mother gently brought to his lips in a little plastic cup. At thirteen months old, he was stick thin but already so much better than when he arrived a week ago. The doctor told me he was so weak from pneumonia on top of severe malnutrition that he had to be fed by an intravenous tube in his tiny arm – now he was sitting up to eat. In about a week, he’ll go home with a two-week supply of peanut-based food and come back to the out-patient facility to ensure he’s putting on weight. Once the health workers are assured of his progress, he’ll hopefully transition to a regular diet of breast milk and porridge – the perfect meal for a growing baby boy.

There were about 40 other children at the Save the Children stabilization center in Baidoa, Somalia when I visited – some so malnourished they couldn’t hold their heads up or eat on their own and others on the way to recovery.  The children in the stabilization center are not only suffering from severe malnutrition but other complications like diarrhea, pneumonia, or malaria – illnesses that prey on immune systems weakened by hunger. Conflict in Somalia between the government and Al Shabab has displaced millions of families, and the center’s two doctors and their staff are busy every day taking care of children whose families are struggling to provide food in the middle of the conflict. The conflict keeps families from their farms and pastures and makes the country one of the most food insecure in the world – more than one million of Somalia’s children are acutely malnourished. While the stabilization center is making a big difference, the staff is worried about new funding and when it might come to keep the center operating.

Isaac at Save the Children’s stabilization center in Baidoa, Somalia.

During my recent trip to Baidoa, I also visited a camp for internally displaced persons – people who have had no choice but to leave their homes. I met with Issa, who arrived at the camp six months earlier with her four children when the fighting reached her village 60 km away. As a divorced woman, she was left with no resources after her small livestock herd died and she was concerned about getting her infant daughter, Laila, the medicine she needs to combat an upper respiratory infection that makes her wheeze. The conditions inside the camp are grim, and mothers and children pick their way around the huts covered in plastic, clothes and cardboard to keep out the rain that turns the ground to mud.

Issa’s own challenges are made more difficult by the many layers of problems most people in Somalia face. In addition to the threat from Al Shabab and the persistent drought that jeopardizes the livelihoods of millions of people like Issa who depend on livestock and grazing land to survive, 60% of the population lives in persistent poverty with less than $1 a day. All of these factors conspire to make Somalia one of the most difficult places on earth to be Isaac, Laila, or any child – as shown in this year’s End of Childhood report.

But my visit also showed me there is hope here. My Save the Children colleagues, the under-resourced but remarkably determined Baidoa government, and the many partners working together are making a difference for these children and so many others. There’s no denying that life here is extremely hard, but progress can be seen little by little as children recover and heal and mothers find the strength to keep going and look to the future.

Humanitarians Are #NotATarget

By Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children

Today is World Humanitarian Day 2018 and far too many children and families, from Syria to Bangladesh, El Salvador to East Africa, are trying their best to survive dire conflicts and crises.  Right at this moment, Save the Children is responding to more than 65 humanitarian emergencies. Today, like every day, I am immensely grateful to my colleagues who are responding to these crises. They refuse to believe that the health, protection and education of children are impossible goals.

Just yesterday I returned from South Sudan and Somalia where I was witnessing the work Save the Children’s humanitarians are doing to save children’s lives.

The humanitarian crisis in South Sudan is severe—armed conflict, economic hardship and food insecurity are feeding into each other, affecting millions.  An estimated 5.3 million people are lacking enough food and water this year—a full 40 percent more than last year.

And every day, the aid workers combating this crisis go to work in the world’s most dangerous place to deliver humanitarian assistance. The need for humanitarian assistance in South Sudan is only growing, but attacks on aid workers are increasing, too.

I learned that violent attacks on aid workers and their supplies is such a problem that they are preventing humanitarian services from reaching the people who need it. Recent attacks have forced us to curtail service and stop programs until we can ensure safety.  When we say that humanitarians are #NotATarget, we speak up for them and the millions more who rely on their work.

Many families rely on the nutrition stabilization center Save the Children supports in Kapoeta, where I meta brave male nurse named Bosco. When a child is admitted to the center, Bosco measures her arm, checking for indicators of life-threatening malnutrition. While he records the child’s height, weight and medical history, he tells her parents that he will do everything he can to stop her diarrhea and add weight to her small frame. Bosco works seven days a week at the small center and brings healthcare to hundreds of families in the area who have no other services.

Bosco will use medications, therapeutic foods and other resources in an attempt to stop the vicious cycle of malnutrition and illness. He smiled telling me about why he does this work – because he knew he could “save the children!” And when a child leaves the center, his Save the Children colleagues will continue to monitor the child’s health weekly through our Outpatient Therapeutic Program.

In Somalia I saw similar Save the Children programs. There the combination of conflict and a stubborn drought adds even more misery for families, especially those who earn their livelihoods through herding animals.  When the rain stops, the animals run out of food and families are forced to live in camps for the displaced and are dependent on food rations and trucked water.  It is a difficult way to live for anyone, but especially for the youngest children. Child mortality rates among these displaced people are high and children are dying from diarrhea and pneumonia in far too large numbers. We know that children are among the most vulnerable in any crisis, which is why our aid workers are active in these communities, addressing their unique needs.

Children in South Sudan and Somalia  – and in too many places – are facing many threats, but humanitarians are committed to changing that reality. They will continue making sacrifices to make that change possible and I am so proud to work with these selfless individuals.

Compassion and Collaboration – Ideas to Advance Humanity

Written by Dr. Unni Krishnan, Director, Emergency Health Unit

Everyone has dreams. Some dreams are fabulous, some ambitious. When I met Tom last November, his dreams seemed almost impossible.

Tom was trying to build a health clinic in three days in the middle of nowhere. To be precise, Tom was in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh; home to the largest and perhaps the most overcrowded refugee camp in the world. He was working with Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit, deployed to Bangladesh to provide life-saving support for Rohingya refugees who had fled Myanmar.

Families were arriving at the camp sick, malnourished, dehydrated and often traumatized. Disease outbreaks threatened further human suffering. This was the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.

Humanitarian workers like Tom were working against the clock.

“Are you serious,” I challenged Tom. “How do you build a health clinic in three days?”

Tom is not a structural engineer and not a soldier in a military platoon with unlimited resources. He is, as he calls himself, “an ordinary water and sanitation engineer.”

But as a humanitarian worker he is equipped with three things – a clear mission, infectious optimism and deep compassion. These are powerful ingredients to make things happen on the frontlines of sheer devastation.

Tom, wash manager for Save the Children, removes ice blocks from a freezer in Kinshasa.

Why Be a Humanitarian Worker?
Humanitarian work is about extending the spirit of humanity to people. If you look at the suffering in the world, is there an option not to be a humanitarian worker?

Today we are witnessing the highest levels of human displacement on record. More than 68 million people have been uprooted from their homes. Twenty-five million are refugees who have fled their countries to escape conflict and persecution – in actual numbers, this is more than the population of Australia.

In 2016, more than 560 million people’s lives were critically impacted by natural disasters. And approximately 815 million people will go hungry tonight. If you put all the hungry people in the world in one country, it would be the third most populous nation in the world after China and India.

It’s in these settings – in oceans of human suffering – that the efforts of Tom and his fellow humanitarian workers make the difference between life and death.

Besides the need for food, water, health care, emotional assistance and shelter in these circumstances, there is also a need to contend with fear. The fear of houses and hospitals being bombed, schools being burnt, children being orphaned, storms, floods, disease – it’s a long list, but frighteningly real in an increasing number of places.

Despite the odds, Tom and his team from the Emergency Health Unit went on to build the clinic, as well as eight other clinics and a primary health center that works around the clock in Cox’s Bazar. The big idea behind their work is to ensure that no child is left behind in the process of delivering life-saving health care and medical assistance within the turmoil of an emergency.

World Humanitarian Day
On August 19, 2003, the then Special Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and 21 of his colleagues were killed in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.

World Humanitarian Day is marked each year on 19 August. It’s a day we pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in humanitarian service, and to celebrate the selfless service of humanitarian workers.

Humanitarian workers are agents of compassion when the world turns upside down. Most of the real humanitarian heroes are often invisible; ordinary local volunteers who do extraordinary work to pull people from bombed war zones or from earthquake rubble long before international aid arrives on the scene.

They can’t stop the storms, the wars or the outbreaks of diseases. But they can provide healing. They can’t stop the next disaster. But they can reduce the severity of human suffering.

Their work reminds us of a simple truth – compassion is an index of humanity. Imagine the state of the world without it.

Collaboration – A Catalyst
What we do today depends a lot on what we do with others. Challenging a storm’s fury or the ruthless perpetrators of a genocide is not something humanitarian workers can do alone. It requires the combined efforts of various players – governments, media, civil society and UN systems.

World Humanitarian Day reminds us that collaboration and compassion are two powerful forces that can make the world less brutal and a more beautiful place where we all can live and where children can thrive.

 

To learn more about the work Save the Children has done to deliver lifesaving emergency response, visit our website.

Recognizing World Humanitarian Day as a Team Sport

Written by Michael Klosson, Vice President Policy & Humanitarian Response 

There are days when visiting my Save the Children colleagues on the front lines of our humanitarian response work in Rakhine State in Myanmar, refugee communities in Jordan, drought stricken communities in Kenya or insecure villages in South Sudan I believe that every day should be World Humanitarian Day.

Such recognition 365 days a year would provide us all fitting opportunities to stand in solidarity with the massive number of people whose lives have been turned upside down whether by conflict or disaster. We are seeing, for example, an unprecedented number of people, climbing past 68 million this year, who have been forced out of their homes. It is estimated that 134 million people in 40 countries need assistance and only one third of the necessary funds to meet such needs have been provided half way through the year. Such year-long recognition would also pay tribute to extraordinary efforts of local, national and international aid workers who themselves face hardship, sometimes even death, to help others at their most vulnerable stage.

These thoughts ran through my mind when I visited recently with mothers and village elders in a community in Wajir County, Kenya. We sat in the shade of a spreading banyan tree and discussed Save the Children’s work last year to help them overcome malnutrition stemming from the severe drought in East Africa.

One mother, wrapped in green with a blue head scarf, pointed to her child cradled in her arms. She told us that her child was alive today only because of the cash transfer program we initiated last year enabling families to support themselves when their livestock had all perished.

The community said that things had been better last year than in the big drought of 2011 because the county had built a dispensary nearby, and we had supported it with provision of water. But the village elder and mothers had no clear answer to the question of how they would rebuild and be better able to face the next drought. They “would just do what they always do” was the response.

A Save the Children Community Health Worker visit with nine-month-old Amoni at her home in Kenya.

We all can take satisfaction in the fact that world and national leaders, together with many others, rallied in 2017 and helped stave off the specter of widespread famine in East Africa. Thanks to our collective efforts, one hears stories such as this one across the entire region. But I came away from my visit troubled: parents and children in Wajir County were getting back on their feet, but their legs were no stronger to withstand the next challenge. Should we not use this period of respite to help such communities take actions that will better prepare them to face such hardship?

Clearly the answer is a strong “yes.”

That leads me back to World Humanitarian Day, but with a new reflection. This day is a moment to acknowledge the importance of helping others in dire need and to recognize the great lengths that humanitarian workers go to provide such help. In today’s world, however, it should also be a moment to recognize that humanitarian work writ large is not just for humanitarians. It’s a moment to reaffirm that helping the more than hundred million people around the world deal in a sustainable fashion with the dire need they face must be a shared responsibility.

At a moment when crises are large-scale and protracted, this work has to involve a team effort of humanitarian aid workers, development workers as well as those involved in conflict resolution and diplomacy. It has to involve a blend of financing and approaches.

We all have a role to play in helping communities persevere, get back on their feet and face the next challenge with greater resilience. World Humanitarian Day is a day to recognize the role we must all play with humanitarians in this team effort.

 

To learn more about the work Save the Children has done to deliver lifesaving emergency response, visit our website.