We Came Here Last Year as Tourists

Anonymous_blog

 Karl Schembri, Middle East Regional Media Manager, Save the Children International

Iraq

June 26, 2014

 


I’m walking around Erbil’s city centre with our assessment team as they look around inside motels for displaced Iraqi families in need of help. One family after another, they all tell us how they’re running out of money, having to move out onto the streets with no clue where to go.

Iraq Blog 1

Sufian*, 12, and his sister, Fatima*, 14, in the family's hotel room in Erbil. The family fled the violence in their hometown Tikrit. Photo: Hedinn Halldorsson/Save the Children 

In a small motel tucked in the bazaar just a minute’s walk away from the historic citadel, I meet 12-year-old Sufian*. His parents and two siblings are crammed in a room. A little suitcase lies on the bed as they collect the few belongings they brought with them when they fled from the hellish explosions and gunfire in Tikrit a week ago. His father, clearly distraught, tells me their money has run out and they are now leaving. 

“We came here a year ago as tourists during Eid al Adha,” Sufian tells me. “We know the motel owner; we stayed here last year. He’s been very kind to us and gave us slashed prices, but my father has no more money left. Where will we go? Maybe in the streets, in the parks… there’s no place for us.”

Here is a middle income family who afforded to come as tourists last year, right in the same place where they are now seeking refuge. Sufian himself grasps the bitter irony and goes on to explain to me what it feels like.

“When we travelled as tourists we felt safe, there were policemen at the border and everything was orderly. We came to relax, we were comfortable. It’s not the case as displaced people. We had to flee from explosions, armed men, no security.

“When we came as tourists we got all the things we needed; our clothes and all the stuff you need when you’re travelling. When you’re fleeing you have to escape quickly. We couldn’t bring anything except the clothes we have on us.”

Iraq Blog 2

Sufian *, 12, Fatima *, 14, and their little brother, Kamal*, 6, in the family's hotel room. "Even if it's not safe to go there, I want to avoid ending up on the street", said the children's father. "I tell my little brother stories when he has nightmares during the night", Sufian says. Photo: Hedinn Halldorsson/Save the Children 

Having to flee like that is something Sufian and his family never expected to have to go through. He dreamt of becoming a doctor to help people in need, but now the future is bleak, he doesn’t even know where he will sleep tonight and the tragedy is still sinking in. He misses his friends, his neighborhood, playing football with his mates. He tells me his 6-year-old brother gets nightmares at night, so he consoles him by telling him stories until he sleeps again.

But it’s a nightmare for the entire family, really, as it is for thousands of others fleeing from the raging conflict in Iraq right now. One might say we are all tourists in this fleeting life of ours, but nobody should be forced to flee from home, leaving everything behind, with no idea where to spend the night.

*Names have have been changed to protect identities.

Stimulating Early Learners

Portrait 1

Hend Saad

Early Childhood Care and Development Coordinator, Save the Children Egypt

June 25, 2014

 

 

“I feel filled with happiness when I see a child smiling with that innocent look in their eyes,” said Hend Saad.

Hend joined Save the Children in Egypt in 2013 to support our Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Program which provides families with access to safe places for their young children to learn play and make friends. Hend works directly with children on a daily basis, and is one of the lucky people who adores her job.  At  ECCD class

“I remember one day when I arrived at an ECCD class to monitor the activities, and a five year old boy Ahmed ran towards me after he noticed that I was holding a camera .He excitedly asked me to take a picture of him which I did. I was struck by his eloquence and couldn’t help thinking of children who did not have a safe place like that to develop, be stimulated and grow.

At ECCD  classWhen I returned home I thought again of Ahmed, and that comparison remained in my mind: Ahmed the confident kid who participates in ECCD, and other children who spend most of their time playing on the streets with little care and almost no stimulation from anyone. I realized that our mission in Egypt is not easy, and there are many challenges, but I will work when all children can join ECCD classes. It’s not only good for their development, it’s their right!”

 

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South Sudan: Six Months of Fighting, a Generation of Children at Risk


Anonymous

Dan Stewart

Save the Children , South Sudan

June 15, 2014

 
 

Six months ago today, fighting of shocking brutality erupted in South Sudan.

The toll of those months of conflict makes grim reading: more than 500,000 children have been forced to flee their homes and are now scattered across the bush, staying in overstretched communities or bunched together in camps, their lives in limbo.

Three-quarters of those hit by the crisis are under 18

There are 95 schools that remain occupied by armed groups or displaced people;  a quarter of all schools in the country are closed.

Image001_SouthSudanCommunities are cut off from supplies with families surviving on leaves and grass. Famine looms. Unless swift action is taken, 2.5 million children face a hunger crisis and 50,000 are likely to die of malnutrition.

More than 9,000 children have been recruited into armed groups since the fighting began, while at least 22,300 have been affected by grave violations including attacks on schools, sexual violence and abductions.

South Sudan’s children have suffered for six months. The question is, what kind of future will they have?

Building lasting peace and security

I have seen children responding with courage, hope and determination. All parties involved in the fighting should follow their example.

These brave children are at serious risk, not just from the violence but from the psychological impact of what they have already been through. Without psychosocial support now to help them recover from their traumatic experiences, the events of these past few months could scar their entire futures.

Dwindling food stocks, rising prices and empty stomachs

Many communities are trapped: completely cut off from possible help. To travel along roads that cross the front line? “That is the end of your life,” I have been told.

Other, less dangerous, roads have become impassable as the rains turn rough roads into muddy quagmires.

In remote areas, families already eating grass and leaves have told me their food supplies will run out completely by the end of June. The rains will also become too heavy then to plant crops.

These children want to learn

These people desperately need seeds and tools now so they’ll have a harvest in the autumn. Otherwise, the hunger crisis will only deepen. And they need food to see them through until then.

Yet with all the hardship, hunger and uncertainty, children tell me they want education above all. They are right to want this: the longer a child is out of school, the further they fall behind and the more likely they are never to return. South Sudan’s future depends on giving its children their right to learn.

Six months on from the start of the crisis the need to act could not be more urgent. Save the Children is doing whatever it takes to bring children protection, education, and treatment for malnourishment. We need your help to reach more children. Their future hangs in the balance.

 Donate to help the children of South Sudan.

South Sudan: “Since we arrived here, no-one will kill my family, but hunger could.”


Anonymous

Dan Stewart

Save the Children , South Sudan

June 16, 2014

 
 

Nyandong and Sunday“Nyandong* looks straight at me. She is unflinching. Small, thin limbs occasionally wrap around her or clamber up, looking for purchase, as her children mill around us. She has her malnourished one year old boy quiet and still in her arms and her face is intent as she tells me what has happened to her family since brutal fighting engulfed many parts of Jonglei, South Sudan, in December.

“Innocent people were killed in those days. There were a lot of us running together then some of the people we were with got caught. They were surrounded and killed. It was just by luck that we survived. We crouched and hid behind a fence, just hoping no-one would find us. I could see the scared faces of my children, and armed men walking the streets looking for people to kill.

 “When the sun set we left. We took nothing and it took us thirty days to walk here. We ate the leaves off the trees and I thought we would die of thirst. When we saw birds circling in the sky we followed them because we hoped they would be flying above water. I don’t know how we survived.

 “My children kept asking me for food and water but I didn’t have any. The children were constantly crying. They got rashes on their skin and became thin. They wanted to stop. They fell down on their knees and cut themselves. I had to pull them along – if we stopped we would have died there. My daughter had to bring her little brother, but he was too tired. I had to tell her to drag him along even though he cried.

 We are talking in remote Nyirol county, in an area set back from the frontline where tens of thousands of people have fled for safety. But Nyandong explains that for her family and many others, one threat has been replaced by another. Severe hunger is the price they have paid to escape the bullets.

 “Since we arrived here, no-one will kill my family. But hunger could. Hunger could kill everyone here. Nyandong and family

 “We depend on others. When people in the community give us some food, then we can eat. We eat one small meal a day. We mix grass and leaves in with sorghum to make it last longer. The leaves are very bad for children – it gives them diarrhoea.

 There is just one chink of light. Save the Children screened Nyandong’s 1 year old daughter Sunday* and found she was severely malnourished. We have been providing therapeutic feeding to begin nursing her back to health. “Sunday was about to die” Nyandong says. “She was very thin. A baby should walk one year after she is born but Sunday is more than a year old and still she can’t because of the malnourishment. If she has food I know she will walk soon. And my other children are suffering so much. They have nothing.”

 In South Sudan 50,000 children are likely to die from malnourishment unless treatment is scaled up immediately. Save the Children is helping catch children like Sunday before it is too late, but we need your help to reach more.

 Donate to help the children of South Sudan.

*Names changed to protect identities

South Sudan: A Family Torn Apart by Violence


Anonymous

Dan Stewart

Save the Children UK

June 4, 2014

 
 

“We could see and hear the fighting outside,” Majak*, a 77-year-old grandfather in South Sudan tells me. “Men were firing machine guns in the street. Bullets flew through the windows into our building. We lay under the beds to hide.” He was celebrating a family wedding when the violence erupted in Juba (the capital of South Sudan).

Separated from his children in the chaos

“After three days it was safe to leave. When we came out there were dead bodies in the streets, and I heard that there had also been fighting in my home town. It had been overrun and the road back was blocked.”

SSD-cf2-13_BlogDanStewartMajak had no choice. There was only one safe way out of Juba, and it was in the opposite direction to his home. In the chaos his children became separated from him.

“I was so scared thinking of my children. I had no phone and no way to contact them. I was losing my senses in this time. I can barely remember it. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I was not thinking about me, just my children.”

 “I didn’t know what to do”

When he eventually reached safety, he tells me, “I didn’t know what to do. Then I heard Save the Children were looking for children who were alone, and asking people if they had lost their children. So I told them and they said they would try to help.”

Save the Children is working across South Sudan to identify children who have been separated from their parents, give them protection and support, and ultimately reunite them with their families.

It was ten long days before our team brought Majak the news he was desperately hoping for, but feared would never come.

Save the Children reunites another family

His children were safe and well more than 185 miles away in Awerial, where around 100,000 people had fled across the River Nile.

Today, I am talking to Majak and his family on the edge of this tented city. Save the Children brought Majak here to be with his children, and have provided essential aid items to the whole family.

“When I heard my children were okay I was totally, extremely happy. When we saw each other again we all cried with happiness. I thought I was calm but when it happened I couldn’t control my happiness.

“Thank God and Save the Children for finding my children.”

Majak’s youngest, Abiei*, is just 5 years old. When she’s not pulling faces or inviting us for a sleepover she makes one thing clear: “The best thing in this place is being with my father.”

 

To help the children of South Sudan click here.

Prepare Your Family for Hurricanes

Children at Play

Hurricane Sandy devastated the northeastern seaboard in 2012. Make sure your family is ready to respond to hurricanes.

Hurricane season has officially started, so what better time to observe Hurricane Preparedness Week and ensure your family is ready to weather any storm?   Every year, an average of 10 tropical storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico—and six of them are likely to become hurricanes.  These destructive storms can batter homes and whole communities with high winds, heavy rains, large waves, flooding and hail. Children are particularly vulnerable when disaster strikes, but the simple steps below can help protect your family.

 

10 Tips to Keep Children Safe in Hurricanes

PREPARE:

1. Talk about hurricanes. Spend time with your family discussing why hurricanes occur. Explain that a hurricane is a natural event and not anyone’s fault. Use simple words that even young children can understand.

2. Know your risk. Find out if you live in a hurricane evacuation area. Assess your risks from a storm surge, flooding or wind damage that may accompany a hurricane.

3. Practice evacuation drills. Practice your family evacuation plan so that, during an emergency, you can evacuate quickly and safely.

4. Learn your caregivers’ disaster plans. Ask about evacuation plans and if you would be required to pick up your children from the site or from another location.

5. Stay informed. Use a NOAA weather radio or listen to a local station on a portable, battery-powered radio or television.

 

DURING A HURRICANE:

6. Evacuate if instructed to do so. Evacuate if told to do so by local authorities or if you feel unsafe. If advised to evacuate, avoid flooded roads and watch for washed-out bridges. Local officials may close certain roads, especially near the coast, when effects of the hurricane reach the coast.

7. Stay indoors, if not evacuated. If you are not advised to evacuate, or are unable to do so safely, stay indoors, away from windows, skylights and doors. Continue to monitor weather reports and do not go outside until the storm has passed.

 

AFTER A HURRICANE:

8. Limit media exposure. Protect children from seeing too many sights and images of the hurricane, including those on the internet, television or newspapers.

9. Ensure utilities are available. Before children return to areas impacted by a hurricane, make sure utilities, such as electricity and plumbing, are restored and living and learning spaces (e.g., homes, schools, child care facilities) are free from physical and environmental hazards.

10. Involve children in recovery. After a hurricane, let children help in clean-up and recovery efforts in age-appropriate ways as this participation may increase their sense of control over the situation.

 

Additional Resources: The tips above are just the start of knowing how to prepare for and respond to hurricanes. Use the following resources to help ensure your family is ready for the next hurricane:

 

American Red Cross: Hurricane Preparedness. http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/hurricane

National Hurricane Center: Hurricane Preparedness—Be Ready http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare/ready.php

 

From the Philippines, With Love

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post.

_______________________

 

I met with amazing students at an elementary school in Tacloban, which suffered extensive damage during Typhoon Haiyan. Classes are now conducted in tents adorned with the children’s artwork. Photo credit: David Wardell for Save the Children
I met with amazing students at an elementary school in Tacloban, which suffered extensive damage during Typhoon Haiyan. Classes are now conducted in tents adorned with the children’s artwork. Photo credit: David Wardell for Save the Children

Love. If there is a single word that best describes what I witnessed during my visit to the Philippines last week, then that’s it. Love of family. Love of community. Love of people. Love of life.

 

So what better day than Valentine’s Day to celebrate the dedication, perseverance and, of course, love between the communities, families and children in the parts of the country that were devastated by Typhoon Haiyan? I would also like to mention a specific passion that came up over

Guatemala: Heroes against Hunger

It’s hard to reconcile the beautiful highlands of Guatemala, where I was in mid-January, with this stark fact: the child malnutrition rate here is the highest in the Western hemisphere. Roughly 5 out of every 10 Guatemalan children suffer from chronic malnutrition. All

Syrian Kids, Lebanese Schools: A New “Normal”

 

IMG_4852

When we came inside the tent, the Syrian family of eight welcomed us warmly and urged us to sit close to the small stove in the center for warmth.

 

While the weather had improved from the previous weeks when a winter storm dropped several inches of snow and temperatures dropped below freezing, it was still very chilly.  It looked like the children were wearing many of the clothes they owned, layer upon layer, though the smallest little girl still had bare feet.  With our Lebanon team translating, we talked and learned how this family fled Syria under fire on their farm near Homs and had been living in this makeshift camp of about 100 families for close to a year.  None of the children, from high school age down to four years old, had been able to go to school since they left home—but their father talked proudly about how they had excelled back in Syria, when all had a house to live in and a school to go to. Now, he said, he feared they would fall so far behind they could never catch up.  And we learned later that several of the children were working as laborers to support the family, something the father was too ashamed to tell the strangers who came to visit.

 

Child refugees from Syria now number over one million across the region, with an estimated 400,000 in Lebanon alone.  For most of these children, their childhood has been put on hold and for many it will never be revisited.  Many teenagers will most likely never go back to school.  What will this mean for the future of Syria when families are finally able to return?

 

My first trip to Lebanon since the crisis in Syria was a sobering one.  It is a country of about four million people and is now home to close to one million refugees from Syria—25% of its population.  That’s like if 75 million people suddenly arrived on our borders in Texas or California.  We would certainly be reeling if such a thing happened and the Lebanese are struggling too.  Given the infrastructure challenges of such a huge influx of people, it’s not a surprise that many children have not been able to get into school even two or three years after they left Syria.

 

Luckily, small efforts are making a big difference for these children. We visited a government school in Bekaa Valley that has agreed to run “second shift” programs for Syrian children.  Here, with support from Save the Children, kids are able to come to school in the afternoons for about three hours, after the regular classes have left, and have basic instruction in math, reading and science in their native languages of Arabic and English.  Some instruction in regular Lebanese classrooms is in French, a language very few Syrian children speak, making it tough for Syrian children to attend regular classes in Lebanon. Though “second shift” does not provide a full day of instruction, dedicated teachers are able to at least keep kids leaning and engaged.  

 

IMG_5436But probably the biggest benefit of this effort is what being back in the classroom means for these children emotionally.  In stark contrast to the quiet, withdrawn children we met in tents in the makeshift camps, kids at the school were smiling, jumping up eagerly to answer the teacher’s questions, joking and playing with us and just so obviously happy to be in school, a place that seemed to finally make them feel like normal kids again.

 

It’s heartbreaking to think that millions of kids inside and outside Syria aren’t benefiting from being in a classroom. Save the Children is working hard to make sure that more Syrian children have the chance to get back to school, get back to a (new) “normal” and get back to experiencing the childhood they need and deserve.

 

You can help the Children of Syria by joining my fundraising team at SavetheChildren.org/refugee

New Boots Bring Hope in Jordan

The kindergarten inside the Za’atari camp in Jordan is a little island of happiness inside a place that is full of tragedy. Here, 3-5 year-old Syrian children living in the huge camp are able to come three times per week in the morning or afternoon to have fun, build social skills and start learning. The brightly colored space, the simple toys, the dedicated young teachers all serve as a respite from the tough, grinding life these children have been living for months or even years in the camp. On my recent visit to Za’atari, the kids got something else too. New winter boots, specially made and provided to Save the Children by TOMS Shoes, were distributed to 9,000 children. As you can see from this video, the reactions were truly wonderful to see.

 

TOMS is pretty unique among our partners. Many have not supported our efforts for Syria due to fears of political issues within the conflict or lack of focus on the Middle East. But TOMS entire business model is built on the idea that for each pair of shoes purchased, a pair of appropriate shoes will be given to someone who needs them—the company has now given away more than 10 million pairs of shoes worldwide. You won’t find the rubber boots we gave out in Za’atari camp at any shoe store in the U.S.