Refugee Baby Triumphs Against the Odds in Greece

sandySandy Maroun

Humanitarian Media and Communications Manager

Save the Children in Greece

August 11, 2016

As Khadji* welcomes me into her tent, she asks me to have a seat on the ground and she places her little sleeping baby Bikas* on a makeshift bed. The bed is constructed with a slab of iron, supported with iron stakes and covered with blankets.

I ask Khadji if this is the baby’s bed. She gives me a small nod and says he sleeps anywhere in the tent – they don’t have any other options.

As I look at Bikas, I reflect on the babies being born and raised in refugee camps in Greece – what impact will this have on their health and development? Will they still be in these camps when they turn one? Two? I can’t help but wish Bikas had a quiet room and a comfortable cradle to sleep in, just like millions of other babies around the world. RS122172_Bikas4

Once Bikas is settled, 25-yearold Khadji tells me her story. She speaks about the war and insecurity she and her husband and young children witnessed at home in Iraq, the shelling and the persecution by armed groups. She also tells me about the perilous journey from Turkey to Greece on a shaky, inflatable boat while she was pregnant with Bikas. Khadji reveals she was unsure that they would survive. She was terrified of losing her children in the sea, like so many mothers before her.

Khadji also tells me about her son’s birth. On a warm night in the middle of June in the refugee camp, Khadji started to feel contractions that got stronger and closer together. At first she thought they were passing contractions just like other ones she had before earlier in June. However, as they intensified, she knew she was going to deliver that night. As her husband was looking for a way to transport her to the hospital, Khadji said she felt lonely and fearful. She had no family around her: no mother to comfort her and assure her that everything will be fine, no sister to wipe her sweaty face or father to support her to get to the hospital.

When finally she arrived at the hospital, her husband at her side, they found out the delivery was complicated and Khadji had to undergo a painful and long caesarian section. Not only that, her new baby Bikas was suffering from tachycardia, an abnormally fast heart rate and was only 1.5 kilograms. He had to be hospitalized for ten days. Khadji told me how worried she was that Bikas wouldn’t survive.

Bikas did survive. But Khadji was not able to breastfeed him while he was in hospital and he wasn’t putting on weight quickly enough.

Breastfeeding is the best option to ensure babies receive the nutrients they need to survive, grow and develop. But, breastfeeding is challenging in a refugee camp as mothers live in a stressful environment and face social and economic hardship. They lack a private, quiet and relaxing space to breastfeed and spend quality time with their babies allowing them to create a bond with them.

Khadji tells me how determined she was to breastfeed Bikas following his recovery and discharge from hospital. She then explains how she visited Save the Children’s Mother and Baby Area in her camp in search of assistance. Save the Children’s team helped Khadji to start breastfeeding again.

“A container with milk was attached to a tube which was taped to my breast. So while Bikas was sucking my breast, he was getting milk from the tube. It helped me get my milk back,” Khadji explains.

RS122169_Bikas1She proudly tells me that it has been six weeks that she’s been breastfeeding Bikas several times a day and that she’s happy he now weighs 3.5 kilograms.

Save the Children’s nutrition programme in Greece supports mothers and their young children by providing a quiet, private and relaxing space to breastfeed babies, and advice and counselling on infant and young child feeding practices. Skilled counsellors also work with mothers having difficulties breastfeeding and help them continue to breastfeed.

I find Khadji’s awareness and determination remarkable. Despite the harshness of life in a refugee camp far from her home and family, Khadji is trying her hardest to breastfeed her baby and give him the best start in life.

I wonder about Khadji in a different setting. In a beautiful home raising her three young and healthy sons who go to school every day; living with her husband who has a stable job and who surrounds her and their children with care. Hopefully, one day soon, this will be Khadji’s reality.

To help us reach more mothers and babies like Khadji and Bikas, please donate to our Child Refugee Crisis Relief Fund. 

Save the Children’s nutrition program in Greece is funded by the United Nations Refugee Agency, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, Probitas and UBS.

*Name changed for protection

“We vaccinated children in sandstorms”: How Our Emergency Team Saves Lives

by Dr Nicholas Alusa

Save the children car in Kenya.

Our Emergency Health Unit in Kenya, working on cholera prevention.

Measles is a highly contagious, horrific disease. If left untreated, in a worst case scenario, it can lead to death.

There’s no specific treatment for measles: all that medics can do is isolate the sufferer, give them vitamin A, and hope for the best.

In high-income countries most people infected with the disease recover in a couple of weeks, very few die. But in developing countries it kills up to one in five.

A safe and cost-effective vaccine does exist.  But families in remote areas, in countries with weak health systems, struggle to access it.

An emergency unfolds

Mayom County, in rural northern South Sudan, is one such place. A remote population in a country whose infrastructure has been crippled by civil war, no children have received routine vaccinations here for over two years. In January a few suspected cases of measles appeared, scattered around the main town. By the end of February, the county was in the grip of a fully-blown outbreak.

Nearly three quarters of the cases were children. If someone didn’t act fast, a tragedy of enormous scale was on the horizon: tens of thousands of children were at risk.

Previously in situations like this, we would have to spend time pulling together teams of specialists and supplies – a delay that costs lives. But last year we revolutionized the way we get medical care to children in emergencies, when we launched the Emergency Health Unit.

The unit is made up of fully-formed, world-class teams of medics on standby all over the world, ready to deploy within hours – complete with equipment, supplies, and logistics experts like me with the skills to get everything where it’s needed quickly.

When you have pre-positioned supplies you don’t have to spend time initiating the supply chain process, raising a procurement form, searching for funds, finding suppliers who can take months…while children in emergencies wait. That’s why these kits are so important.

Transforming emergency care

As soon as we heard about the measles outbreak in South Sudan, my team was mobilized. Within two weeks of the outbreak being announced, we were on the ground vaccinating children in 18 clinics and 24 mobile outreach centers.

Tracking the population in South Sudan is difficult, especially since the outbreak of conflict and the huge movement of people it has caused. A rough estimate told us we could expect to vaccinate around 26,000 children. Three weeks later, we had vaccinated 44,447.

We linked up with local staff and infrastructure and worked with the community to raise awareness on our behalf and tell people we were here. Word spread quickly, and after receiving 60 children on the first day, numbers rapidly swelled to up to 400 daily. Reaching out to the community in this way is so important to our work in emergencies – we would never have reached as many children as we did without their help.

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The Emergency Health Unit team continued to treat children through sandstorms.

A medal of honor

The infrastructure in Mayom is poor – it’s difficult to reach this part of South Sudan, and many NGOs are reluctant to attempt healthcare here. We relied on an array of transport, including motorbikes and canoes, to reach the most remote communities. We travelled across rough, rugged terrain and collapsed bridges, and vaccinated children in the middle of sandstorms.

We hurried, carrying life-saving vaccines that melted at three times the normal speed in Mayom’s 40-degree heat in precious cool-boxes . All while wearing what my colleague Nathalie calls the ‘Mayom suit’: head-to-toe dust.

In one rural cattle ranch our team leader, Koki, was heavily spat on by an elderly man on our arrival. “Hey, what’s this?” Koki said at the time, wiping the slimy liquid from his forehead. It turned out this was a sign of appreciation from the old man, who in his lifetime had never seen any NGO reach his remote community. ‘’Being spat on by an old man signifies immense blessings bestowed upon Save the Children!’’ a local health official told us.

And this salivary medal of honor feels truly earned. It was an incredible achievement: in this most inhospitable of environments, we did whatever it took to protect the vulnerable children in this isolated part of the world. Our new system works: in just three weeks, 44,447 children were permanently saved from a potentially deadly fate. A catastrophe was averted.

Now – what’s next?

 

Nicholas Alusa Dr Nicholas Alusa is an experienced pharmacist and medical logistics expert working as part of our new Emergency Health Unit, a major change in our work. The Unit consists of immediately deployable teams containing the ideal combination of medical and operational specialists, strategically positioned in emergency hotspots around the world and fully equipped with the best tools for the job. We can deploy these teams in a matter of hours, putting them at a child’s side, giving them the treatment they need in those critical early stages of an emergency.

The Lost Days of Summer

Lost Days of Summer

Who doesn’t love summer? For millions of kids around the country, it’s a time to have fun and experience new adventures on family vacations, at camp or through locally-organized summer activities. But these experiences are often out of reach for the more than 15 million U.S. children growing up in poverty. Especially those in isolated rural communities such as the small town where Alayshia, 8, lives in Orangeburg County, South Carolina.

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As a result, children from low-income families typically fall two to three months behind in math and reading each summer. Meanwhile, more privileged children keep advancing during those same summer months. Summer learning loss is the biggest reason why children from disadvantaged backgrounds are often three years behind their peers by the time they reach fifth grade¹. Where Alayshia and her brother live, there are no summer programs for them to attend.

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There aren’t many places for them to go either. Sometimes, Alayshia, 8, walks to a nearby friend’s house or her uncle’s. The closest library is tiny and only opens for a few hours on certain days of the week. There is no swimming pool, rec center, or summer camp within reach. “We used to have a little pool,” Alayshia says. “It’s on the trash pile now because it got a hole in it.”

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Alayshia’s mother Novella recently got laid off from the factory where she’s worked on and off for 13 years. After Alayshia eats breakfast and plays video games in the morning, her mom has her and her brother sit down to do some math worksheets and practice reading for half an hour. “I wish there was a summer program for them to go to,” Novella says.

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In neighboring Barnwell County, South Carolina, Ja’Faith wakes up every morning at 5 when her father, a food service manager, returns from letting the milkman into her school. They often read together over breakfast, then Ja’Faith and her brothers play while waiting for the bus to take them to Save the Children’s SummerBoost Camp at their school.

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Ja’Faith, 8, had a tough start in life that her adoptive parents haven’t yet fully explained to her. But they say her early experiences made concentrating in a typical classroom setting challenging. The way SummerBoost Camp mixes games and physical activity with academics has been a big hit with Ja’Faith.

“She loves the program. She hasn’t missed a day,” says her dad, Jack.

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Ja’Faith looks forward to attending SummerBoost each day. “It’s fun,” she says. “I like to learn.”

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At SummerBoost Camp, the day gets started with a call and response game that get the kids excited for a day of learning and fun. Children rotate through blocks of academically-focused activities and games, as well as community service, physical activity and team building.

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The summer program also includes two healthy meals – breakfast and lunch. During the school year, some local kids show up for school hungry on Mondays. For many, the summer months would be especially tough if they couldn’t eat at camp. “They get fed and they stay off the streets,” says Jack. Together with the learning, it’s a winning combination, he says. “Now when school opens up, it’s just a refresher course and they’re ready to go. They didn’t sit around and just watch TV all day or eat popcorn and chips.”

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During the school year, Ja’Faith participates in Save the Children’s after school program, which focuses on helping struggling readers catch up. She has made steady progress through the school year, and her SummerBoost coaches – and her friends – keep her motivated and learning all summer long. That helped Ja’Faith start first grade strong last year and even make the honor role. Her dad says, “I asked Faye a few times ‘What do you want to be? What do you want to do?’ She would always say ‘I want to work for Save the Children, or save a child in some kind of way.’”

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Since SummerBoost runs for six hours, Save the Children can expand its after school focus on literacy and health to cover the “STEAM” subjects – science, technology, engineering, art and math. Here, Ja’Faith and her brother have fun playing a game that helps them practice math equations.

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Back in Orangeburg County, Alayshia and her brother make up their own games in their backyard. When she started second grade at the end of last summer, Alayshia tested as reading at a low first-grade level. Over the course of the school year, Save the Children’s after school program helped her catch up and even reach a third-grade reading level. “She made a whole lot of progress, and I’m proud of her for making that progress,” her mom says. “Now, I’m afraid she might fall off back off and then have to work her way back up to that same progress.”

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With no funding to provide SummerBoost at Alayshia’s school, all that her Save the Children literacy tutors could do at the end of the school year was send home some books with Alayshia and encourage her to keep up her reading. But with no summer program, she also won’t get the extra help she needs in math, which was a big struggle for her this past year. When she returns to school next month, Alayshia will be repeating the second grade.

To learn more about Save the Children’s US Programs, please visit our website

Photo Essay by Susan Warner
Story by Tanya Weinberg

¹Cooper, H., Borman G., & Fairchild, R. (2010). “School Calendars and Academic Achievement.” In J. Meece & J. Eccles (eds.) Handbook on Research on Schools, Schooling, and Human Development (pp. 342-355). 

 

 

Progress for Children in the Fight against HIV/AIDS

kechiKechi Achebe, MD, MPH

Senior Director, HIV/AIDS, International Programs

Save the Children US

June 27, 2016

UNAIDS and the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) released their “AIDS-Free Generation” report at the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS June 8-10th in New York, which indicated a 60% decline in HIV incidence among children since 2009 in the 21 sub-Saharan Africa nations most affected by the HIV epidemic. As a distinctive partner of UNAIDS, Save the Children contributed to these achievements through implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment programs throughout Africa and Asia, helping 11.7 million children in 2015.

UN General Assembly, June 8-10, 2016
UN General Assembly, June 8-10, 2016

The On the Fast-Track to an AIDS-Free Generation report highlights the many recent accomplishments made towards achieving an AIDS-free generation:

  • New HIV infections among children in the 21 sub-Saharan Africa countries dropped from 270,000 in 2009 to 110,000 in 2015.
  • New HIV infections among children have declined globally by 50% since 2010—down from 290,000 in 2010 to 150,000 in 2015.
  • 49% of children living with HIV around the world now have access to life-saving treatment, compared to 32% who received treatment in 2014.
  • Seven countries have reduced new HIV infections among children by more than 70% since 2009 (the baseline for the Global Plan).
  • In India, the only Global Plan country outside of sub-Saharan Africa, new HIV infections in children dropped by 44% and coverage of services to pregnant women increased from less than 4% in 2010 to 31% in 2015.
  • More than 80% of pregnant women living with HIV in the 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa had access to medicines to prevent transmission of the virus to their child—up from just 36% in 2009.
  • Six countries—Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Uganda—met the Global Plan goal of ensuring that 90% or more of pregnant women living with HIV had access to life-saving ARVs. Six additional countries provided antiretroviral medicines to more than 80% of pregnant women living with HIV.
  • Access to treatment for children living with HIV has increased more than threefold since 2009—from 15% in 2009 to 51% in 2015.

Despite this groundbreaking progress, the report also highlights prospective areas of improvement:

  • Nigeria reduced new HIV infections among children by only 21%.
  • Still only half of all children in need of treatment have access to ART.
  • Early infant diagnosis coverage remains low. In the majority of the 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, less than half of childrenborn to women living with HIV received HIV testing within the first two months of age in 2015.
  • New HIV infections among women of reproductive age declined by 5% below the target of 50%. Between 2009 and 2015, around 5 million women became newly infected with HIV in the 21 priority countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and AIDS-related illnesses remain the leading cause of death among adolescents on the continent.

To continue to address these areas, at the meeting, UNAIDS and PEPFAR—in collaboration with other partners—

Vice President of SC US Global Health, Robert Clay, meets with Myanmar's Minister of Health, Dr. Myint Htwe on June 10, 2016 during the High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS.
Vice President of SC US Global Health,
Robert Clay, meets with Myanmar’s Minister of Health, Dr. Myint Htwe on June 10, 2016 during the High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS.

launched their Super Fast-Track framework for ending AIDS among children, adolescents, and young women. Titled “Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS-Free,” the initiative will build upon current progress made towards the previous Fast-Track framework to end the global AIDS epidemic. The new Super Fast-Track framework sets ambitious targets to:

  • eliminate new HIV infections among children;
  • find and ensure access to treatment for all children living with HIV; and
  • prevent new HIV infections among adolescents and young women.

The link to several press releases at the event can be found here.

Children’s Education is Simply too Important to be a Casualty of War

A blog post by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International and former Prime Minister of Denmark, and Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Prime Minister of Australia

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When Ali* and his family fled their home in Syria shortly after the war broke out, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs and hope for a better future. Five years on, that hope has turned to despair. Now in Lebanon, none of the family’s six children attend formal schooling, and 15-year-old Ali and his younger brother must work to support their family, digging potatoes for just $4 USD per day.

With wars and persecution driving more than 20 million people worldwide – half of them children – to seek protection in other countries, many are struggling to access basic services. This includes healthcare and education, and the important day-to-day needs of food and shelter.

While education is the single most important tool we can equip children with, it is often one of the first casualties of conflicts and emergencies. Less than 2 percent of global humanitarian funding is currently provided to pay for learning during crises – thereby wasting the potential of millions of children worldwide. Formal learning provides children with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed, while giving them hope for the future. It also gives children who have experienced the trauma and horrors of war and disaster the stability and sense of familiarity they need to be children, while protecting them from the risks of exploitation. Despite the generosity of many countries hosting large refugee populations – the vast majority of which are developing countries – most are struggling to provide refugees with the most basic services, including education. The situation is especially bleak in countries where a third generation of children has now been born into displacement.

Enrollment in primary school among these vulnerable children is well below the national average in places like Lebanon, Uganda, Kenya and Malaysia – a gap which is even more startling among secondary school-aged refugees. In fact, refugee children globally are five times less likely to attend school than other children, with 50 percent of primary school-aged refugee children and 75 percent of secondary school-aged children completely left out of the education system.

A poll commissioned by Save the Children in April found that 77 percent of respondents in 18 countries think children fleeing conflict have as much right to an education as any other child. Yet, for 3.2 million refugee children around the world like Ali and his siblings – who want nothing more than to learn and go to school – education is often an unattainable dream. We simply cannot allow this to continue.

Nearly one month ago at the World Humanitarian Summit, several organizations, including the Global Partnership for Education and Save the Children, joined forces with governments and donors to stop education from falling through the cracks during emergencies. Save the Children also committed to campaigning to get all refugee children back in school within a month of being displaced. Being a refugee cannot be synonymous with missing out on a quality education or being denied a better future – especially when vulnerable children have been forced to flee their homes and countries through no fault of their own. In short, refugee children deserve the right to a quality education as much as any other child.

We know that host countries need support from the international community and understand that no single country can solve this challenge on its own. But we also know that political will is key to solving this challenge.

Our goal is simple – to get millions of refugee children affected by crises back in school, where they belong.

The Education Cannot Wait fund has the potential to be a game changer, but only if governments, donors and aid organizations come together to prioritize, support, coordinate and properly fund this mechanism.

While $90 million USD have been generously pledged to date, billions more will be needed over the next few years if we are to reach our goal of getting 75 million children affected by crises back to school by 2030. Only then can we meet the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN, and ensure that no child in the world is ‘left behind.’

Accountability and transparency will be key to the success of Education Cannot Wait – so too will be ensuring that any money pledged for education in emergencies is new, and not simply taken from aid already earmarked for life-saving services like healthcare and nutrition.

In September, world leaders and donors will come together at two key global meetings on the issue of refugees and migrants – this most pressing challenge of our time. We urge those in attendance at the UN high-level meeting and the leader’s summit to prioritize education for children in emergencies and protracted crisis, including those who have been displaced.

With the right opportunities and the chance to learn, children like Ali will no longer be pressured to work – giving him and his family the hope they need to rebuild their lives, and potentially their country, if or when it is safe for them to return.

To learn about Save the Children’s work to help refugee children, click here. 

*Name changed for protection

The Future Belongs to Educated Girls

This post is part of the blog series, “Her Goals: Our Future,” which highlights the connections between girls and women and the Sustainable Development Goals. It originally appeared on the UN Foundation Blog

 

March marks five years since the conflict in Syria began, the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Half of the population has been forced to flee their homes, with 6.6 million people displaced inside Syria and another 4.7 million refugees seeking safety and assistance in neighboring countries and Europe. Children are among the most vulnerable of all, bearing the brunt of the war. They are being bombed, facing starvation, and dying from preventable illnesses.

 

For those who manage to escape and find safety in neighboring countries, they can’t escape the psychological trauma. To ensure we don’t lose an entire generation to the effects of war, Save the Children is running schools, distributing healthy foods, and providing support to the war’s youngest survivors. Our team has collected stories of children in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt.

 

For some of these children, war is all they know.

 

One of the most compelling stories is that of Dana*, a 5-year-old Syrian child currently living in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Her brothers and sisters share what a wonderful place Syria was before the war and how they will return one day, but she doesn’t want to go back as she only remembers the bombs and violence. When Dana was only 3 years old, she was left alone in the house during a bombing in the middle of the night. Her father was able to rescue her, but her house was burned down and her family lost everything.

 

Dana is now in kindergarten at a school Save the Children runs in Jordan. She told our team that she likes learning the letters of the alphabet and playing on the slide with her friends. Dana wants to be a kindergarten teacher one day to help other children learn what she knows.

 

Dana’s mother, Um Rashid*, said, “The future belongs to girls who are educated.” She has seven children, five girls and two boys, between the ages of 3 and 16. The young mother wants to return to Syria one day and admits it is hard to hear Dana say that she never wants to go back to Syria because as refugees that is the only hope they cling to. Yet she is grateful that her children – especially her daughters – are being educated while they are safe in Jordan. She said, “What do they have without education?” Without education they get stuck in marriage at a young age.

 

I agree with Um Rashid that education is key to ensuring a brighter future for Syria. The conflict is complicated, and we must continue to put pressure on world leaders to help stop the fighting, but in the meantime, we owe it to the children to do our part today – individuals can visit SavetheChildren.org to learn more and donate so we can continue to help children survive and learn.

 

*Names have been changed for security reasons.

If These Syrian Kids’ Drawings Don’t Move You, What Will?

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This post originally appeared in the Global Post.

 

After World War II, we said never again. But today, five years after the conflict began, hundreds of thousands of Syrians — mostly women and children — are suffering in what some refer to as “death camps.” People are living in communities cut off from the outside world by armed groups. Food, water, medicine and electricity are scarce. Schools, homes and hospitals are being bombed.

 

Put yourself in the shoes of a mother who watched her malnourished infant die in her arms because she wasn’t allowed to cross a security checkpoint. Imagine the fear a young child feels as his school is bombed and he sees his friends killed. Hungry children are waiting hours in line for bread. These are stories our team is hearing as we talk with those who have survived so far, and they were included in our new report, “Childhood Under Siege.”

 

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While it is hard to hear these stories of what it is like in Syria, and to see images of children who have died on the beaches while seeking safety, we owe it to the children to listen and not turn our eyes and ears away.

 

Consider what it’s like for 5-year-olds in Syria who have known nothing but war. An entire generation could either be killed, or experience a lifetime of hardship due to psychological damage and lack of an education. According to a September 2015 report from Germany’s chamber of psychotherapists, 40 percent of Syrian children who found safety had witnessed violence. More tragic still, 26 percent had to watch family members being attacked.

 

Yet, there is hope with the first-ever break in fighting, which started recently, and the peace talks that began in Geneva this week.

 

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Just like several decades ago, there are heroes risking their lives to help children and their families. Aid organizations are delivering food, water, and clothing, and are providing safe places to learn and play both inside Syria and throughout Europe where children have found refuge.

 

At Milan’s Central Station Mezzanine for Syrian children, a popular transit hub for families awaiting passage to northern Europe, children were encouraged to draw how they felt about home, war, and their journeys to safety. Our colleagues who were with these children sent us photos of these pictures.

 

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It was heartbreaking to see the children draw images of war that included bombs and people lying in puddles of red ink. But at the same time, I felt hopeful looking at the drawings of their homes in Syria, which included sunshine, playgrounds, smiling faces, and blue skies.

 

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The drawings were analyzed by Vitorria Ardino, President of the Italian Society for the Study of Traumatic Stress. She said, “Although many of the drawings depict fear and terror, there is also an element of hope for the future and gratitude for the help received.”

 

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While the war is complicated and world leaders work on a solution to end the fighting, one of the most important things we can do is to help Syria’s children continue their education. This conflict has starved millions of young minds, and that must stop now. Making sure that Syrian children are learning is not only the right thing to do, it also protects children and youth from being exploited by child labor, early marriage, and recruitment by armed groups. This creates a safer, brighter world for all of us.

 

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Last month, world leaders, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, agreed to mobilize funds to educate refugee children in Lebanon and Jordan as part of a broader United Nations appeal for Syria. This is a big step in the right direction.

 

We must tell our representatives to continue the positive momentum, and support the essential role education plays in returning the country to stability, and rebuilding society. And we must continue to support aid groups. We know we can’t be the ones to stop the war, but we can stop children from dying from malnutrition, provide a safe place to learn, and give them hope today. With our help, they have a chance at a brighter future. Syria, and all of us quite frankly, cannot afford a lost generation. The time to act is now.

 

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A People with No Place

The five mothers sitting on plastic chairs beside me were decidedly cool while I sweated in the heat that was building, even on what was a relatively cool Myanmar morning.  They were dressed in beautiful saris and long, colorful skirts and headscarves, and smiled widely in welcome.  Through translation from English to Burmese to a local dialect of Arabic, I explained I had come from the US to visit the Save the Children program here in this camp for internally displaced families and wanted to hear their stories… stories of how they came to be in a teeming, dirty camp only six miles from their homes in the nearby town.  Homes they had not seen now for more than three years—homes that no longer existed after they were forced to leave.

 

One by one, they told me about their lives before – as a rice trader, a bicycle repair shop owner, and one lady whose livelihood was the family coconut mat and bamboo shop.  Several were at home with young children. They described a past life of simple pleasures and peace, room for their children to grow up and a decent school for them to attend. Although all of them were poor, they worked hard to have enough to send their children to school, get medical help when needed, and make sure they had a childhood. That was before, what they call, “the events.”

 

Inside the camp, much of that life was gone.  These mothers were no longer allowed to work and support their children.  They survived now on aid – food rations, informal education and very basic medical services provided by donors from their and other governments, and delivered by agencies like Save the Children.  Basic bamboo and tin shelters jammed together along a deeply rutted road was now home for these families, and tens of thousands of others. Blog

 

Hamida described how the only way she could continue to provide nutritious food for her four children was to take part of the dry ration of beans that was meant for her and sell it to buy a few vegetables and eggs.  She was struggling to keep her eldest in school, a daughter she adopted in the camp when the girl’s mother died in pregnancy, and was determined to get her into the 1st grade and beyond. Kahin Mer Cho had a 3-year-old and a 5-month-old, both born in the camp, both born at home.  She described her intense fear when her first child was born—at that time there wasn’t access to medical services in the camp and she worried something would go wrong.  She told me even today there are others not as lucky as she was, who were losing children and losing their own lives in childbirth.

 

Another mother, speaking quietly, described how she had to take her oldest, a girl who had gotten through the 6th grade, out of school because she could not afford the very basic supplies for her to stay.  When I asked if she had a plan for her daughter, she said she wanted to get her some training, perhaps in sewing with a machine, but the teenagers are not allowed to leave the camp so she now stayed at home and helped with household chores.

 

As I listened to these stories of life before and life now I was struck by the intense impact on these mothers – but mostly on their children. If things don’t change, a whole generation will grow up here in this camp.  Despite the incredibly hard work of my colleagues at Save the Children and many others, these children will have limited educations, suffer from high rates of malnutrition and stunting, with many girls being married off early and having children while they are still children themselves.  Sadly, some families will give their children up to traffickers to get them out of the camps, a situation that most likely will lead to horrific exploitation.

 

The reason for the violence against these mothers, the hatred that forced them and their families from their homes, burning everything they ever had, is a complicated one.  In my short time in Rakhine I could only get a shallow understanding of century old tensions between the Buddhist and the Muslims that caused the flares of violence over three years ago now.  Violence that has added hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar to the global flood of displaced people – the largest since World War II.

 

I would not begin to tell you I understand the deeper issues and history.  But I do understand the suffering I saw in the children I met in the camps.  No child deserves to have their future taken away and all children have the right to a decent education, to survive and to thrive and to be protected from abuse. And every mother’s heart is broken when she can’t provide it.

 

The hope is in the new government here in Myanmar, one just forming and still struggling to lead.  A government built on the foundations of democracy, rule of law and basic rights for all, with leadership that also lived through those things being taken away. The five moms I sat with in that dusty camp need access to those things just like every other person in Myanmar.  There are many on both sides working toward that goal, and it will take care and time, but the futures of the children I met should not be the price to pay to get there.

 

Assessing the Needs of Children in the Aftermath of Fiji’s Cyclone Winston

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Iris Low-McKenzie

CEO of Save the Children Fiji

Fiji

February 22, 2016

The night Cyclone Winston barrelled through Fiji was one of the worst experiences of my life. It was difficult to sleep with roaring winds outside and trees falling.

My children were scared as the winds howled and screamed.

Thankfully my family and my home in Suva in the east of Viti Levu island survived the night, but it was nothing short of terrifying.

Tree trunks were literally snapped in half and power lines with live wires lay across many roads. 

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Save the Children's response team assesses damage after Cyclone Winston barreled through Fiji

The clean-up will be immense.

Cyclone Winston was one of the most powerful storms ever in the southern hemisphere. Some will say this is evidence of climate change in action but that is a debate for later.

Right now, aid agencies like Save the Children are trying to get a clearer picture of what's happening in some of the more remote parts of Fiji, far from the capital and other towns.

My greatest fear is for those in outlying islands, which assessment teams are finding difficult to reach. Fiji consists of more than 100 inhabited islands, all of which were impacted by this monster storm.

Until communications are re-established, we won’t know exactly how these islands have been affected, and by how much the death toll is set to rise.

I pause and think back nearly a year ago now to another monster storm in the Pacific – Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu. It was days before the extent of the damage was known there, so we must brace for more bad news coming out of remote parts of Fiji.

The authorities have moved quickly to ensure that Fiji’s main airport at Nadi is cleared of rubble and re-opened. This will allow relief flights with aid workers and supplies to arrive.

We are fortunate because Fiji is home to a number of large and effective humanitarian relief organizations that will all work in coordination with one another to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable are met.

I am of course particularly worried about the ongoing impact this disaster will have on children.

Children are the most vulnerable following disaster. So while other aid agencies, the UN and the Fijian Government with support from other nations figure out how to help communities physically recover, Save the Children will work with the Ministry of Education and UNICEF to ensure children’s educational needs are met following a number of schools being partially or completely destroyed.

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Many homes were left exposed after Cyclone Winston tore apart structures

Save the Children in Fiji has a history of working on education programs. It makes sense therefore that our relief operation over the coming weeks and months will focus on getting children back to school or at least into temporary classrooms, should their schools have been damaged or destroyed.

Save the Children knows from decades of experience working in disasters all over the world in places like the Philippines and Iraq that it's important that as many children as possible recommence their education quickly following emergency.

That’s because education – even informal lessons – give children who have lived through a terrible ordeal, a chance of normality, a safe place to learn as well as be supported by caring teachers and classroom assistants.

Part of Save the Children’s emergency response will also include setting up “child friendly spaces” at some of the 80-plus evacuation centers still housing families in Fiji. Child Friendly Spaces provide children with a safe place to hang out and play with other kids, while at the same time giving parents the much-needed opportunity to go out and assess the damage.

All the early signs are that Cyclone Winston will have a lasting impact on Fiji, an island nation and popular tourist destination visited annually by almost 700,000 foreigners.

It is our hope that at this difficult time Fiji is close to the hearts and minds of all. The scars from this storm run deep but with support from the international community we will recover.

To learn more about our work in Fiji, click here. 

Ethiopia: “It’s Heartbreaking to See my People Suffer Like This”

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Seifu Asseged

Communications Coordinator

Ethiopia’s Somali Region

February 18, 2016

I will never forget the smell.

The stench of rotting animal carcasses, spread across the barren land.

I remember watching large animals – cows and donkeys – take their last gasping breaths.  RS106115_IMG_9277

After months without rain there was nothing left for them to eat – the grass and tree leaves they normally lived on had all but disappeared. The worst drought to hit Ethiopia in more than 50 years had left them too weak to live.

It was more than three months ago, and yet I can still remember that smell vividly. It was everywhere.

I was born here in Dire Dawa in the east of the Ethiopia. In a few devastating weeks last year, the surrounding areas lost more than 100,000 of their livestock. Pastoral families are still feeling the impact.

I work in these areas, travelling regularly to see the communities hit hardest by the drought. Yesterday I met a group of six families who’d walked for three days to make it to a dusty roadside in the middle of the desert.

Here government water trucks would bring them water every second day, and they received food rations of various grains – a far cry from the camel milk and fresh meat they were used to eating.

A few skeletons remain, but most of the dead livestock have been cleared and destroyed as part of a Save the Children cash for work programme.

Now the challenges are different, and the needs even more pressing.

Six months ago the number of people in need of food aid in Ethiopia was 4.5 million, but that figure had increased to more than 8 million by October. Now it stands at 10.2 million.

What’s more, 400,000 children could fall prey to severe malnutrition in 2016.

Save the Children is among the main aid agencies screening for and treating severe malnutrition, but as long as they are returning home to families who are relying on food aid, I worry that children will remain at a terrible risk.

It is heartbreaking to see my homeland, and my people, suffering so much right now. I have never experienced anything like this drought before.

People tell me they don’t understand the weather any more. When it rains, it comes in patches. And while, in the midlands of Ethiopia, areas are still green and lush, some communities I visit haven’t seen rain in almost two years.

Part of my job is to document the drought and those people affected by it – to share their stories with the rest of the world.

After one assignment last August, my team discovered an entire community in desperate need of water. Within days I had organised for large quantities of water to be trucked to that area, reaching thousands of people.

Sometimes telling these stories can bring vital, practical outcomes for people in need. Sometimes they change the world.

I hope this story will fall somewhere between the two.

To learn more about our response to the Ethiopia Drought, click here.