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.

Syrian Children Have a Right to Go to School

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David Skinner

Director, Education Global Initiative, SCI

Lebanon

February 16, 2016

The statistics are difficult to fathom. There are 1.4 million children who are affected by the war in Syria who are of school age and who are living as refugees in the neighbouring countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. More than half of these children are out of school.

Over the last three years, Lebanon alone has taken into its public education system 150,000 children who are refugees from the conflict in Syria. Accommodating an additional 150,000 children in schools in the United Kingdom would be a challenge. But in Lebanon the proportions are different. In Lebanon there are only 150,000 Lebanese children in the public education system. So the influx of refugee children has meant that every state school in Lebanon has had to double in size in the last three years. Every school – double the size. 

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Syrian children attend classes at a Save the Children supported school for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon.

In addition, the children who are joining the schools have been subject to severe stress. They have been moved from what was once the security of their homes in Syria. They have seen things that no one – let alone a child – should ever see. And their families are under severe economic stress because of the great difficulty that refugees have finding work in Lebanon. All of these factors are significant barriers to accessing the educational system in Lebanon.

The Lebanese people deserve enormous credit for what they have already done to help Syrian children go to school: schools have introduced a two-shift system; teachers are working longer and longer hours to support the refugee children.

But it is not enough.

There are a further 150,000 children who should be in school, but are not. Although teachers have received some support to help them assist severely stressed children with learning, more needs to be done. Although there is an enormous need to provide support for the youngest children, the provision for pre-school support for refugees is pretty much non-existent.

I am writing this in Lebanon, where I came to look at the kind of support that Save the Children is providing already, as well as the support that we should be providing in the future. Education is a human right, and it is the means by which society equips children with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the world. It also saves lives, protects and builds peace.

The Bekaa Valley is – on a good day – a 60-minute drive from Beirut (the Syrian border is only 60 minutes away). It is beautiful: snow-covered mountains on both sides of fertile pasture.

In the gaps between the houses and on random fields in the agricultural areas, landlords have let out spaces to communities of refugees for informal settlements. These consist of flimsy shanty huts. It is the children in these settlements who we are supporting.

One of our projects involves providing early childhood support. We have helped communities find the space and the materials to run early childhood development activities for three to six year olds. The spaces are temporary. We use tents or unfinished buildings; buildings that the owner had started to build but are now unfinished shells. We rent the shell, put in polythene windows, carpets and partitions, and create a serviceable space.

We have also helped find Syrian refugees to act as facilitators (very often refugees who were fully qualified teachers in Syria) alongside facilitators from Lebanon. The centres are packed with young children. They are playing, they are singing. They are drawing and coloring.

But, above all, these children are developing their skills. They are learning how to socialize with children of their own age. They are understanding what a book is; how to hold a pencil. They are sorting objects and starting to understand basic numeracy. This is all done through fun activities and play. Activities that would be recognizable in pre-schools across the United Kingdom.

The centers are very popular with the children and with their parents. It is the sight of children engaged and happy and learning, despite the horrendous experiences they have suffered, that confirms that the work you do is having a genuine and positive impact on the lives of some of the most deprived children.

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Syrian children attend classes at a Save the Children supported school for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon.

The other activity I visited was a homework support session. I was quietly skeptical about this when I saw it on my itinerary. It sounded a little trivial. But witnessing the reality made it clear quite how wrong I was.

Children from Syria are taught in Arabic. In Lebanon they are taught – after the first few years – in either French or English. Children who have left Syria have very often had to miss significant parts of their education because of instability at home or because of the journeys that they have had to take. They find learning in the Lebanese system hard. So we are helping them.

Most Syrian children attend the afternoon shift of the schools. In the morning we run sessions for a couple of hours, where they can get additional support for their learning. Save the Children’s support goes well beyond simply making sure they do the exercises they have been assigned for homework. It’s effectively remedial help across all the subjects that they are learning. The sessions are wildly popular. The group I visited had forty children in a small – very small – room with four teachers who were providing fantastic assistance. Despite the cramped conditions, the children were taking extraordinary steps in their learning.

Children like the ones I met in the Bekaa Valley have suffered enormously. They are facing an insecure and uncertain future. They don’t have – no one has – any idea when they will be able to go back to their homes in Syria. But they are determined that they are not going to be left behind. They are determined to do what they can to learn. Their parents are determined to help them. And we are determined to make sure that they have their right to learn fulfilled.

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

The Warning Bell Has Rung: Will the World Hear It?

The tiny boy’s chest rose and fell fast as he lay on the thin mattress of the hospital bed, his grandmother by his side. As I watched him struggle, I asked the doctor looking over him what was wrong. His diagnosis was severe malnutrition complicated by a serious case of pneumonia. Pneumonia kills more children under 5 than any other single disease in Ethiopia and, layered on top of a case of severe malnutrition, Mohammed’s little life hung precariously in the balance on the day I met him. This was his second visit to the district hospital in the last few months and his mother and grandmother had traveled over 100 miles to get him there. He is one of 400,000 children in Ethiopia now suffering from severe malnutrition due to lack of food caused by the worst drought in 50 years.

 

In the United States, El Niño is causing warm spells in the Northeast, flooding in the Midwest and forest fires in California—but its severity and duration this year is wreaking havoc on Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa and threatening tremendous progress made over the last 25 years. Ethiopia is a country I often hold up as an example of what can be done, especially with strong government leadership and partners. Ethiopia has reduced child mortality by two thirds, meeting that element of the Millennium Development Goals several years even before the 2015 target; the vast majority of Ethiopian children are enrolled in primary school; and the country’s innovative health system serves families through clinics in even the poorest communities with more than 30,000 health workers supported by the government. Governments and partners invested in an early warning system that monitors rainfall and soil moisture, which rang the alarm in mid-2015 that a drought was imminent. But alarm bells don’t do much good—and won’t save children’s lives—if no one listens to them.

 

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I met several struggling families on my trip to the Amhara and Afar regions of Ethiopia this week. For many, their cattle had died or been sold off for half their value due to lack of food for the animals. Almost 80% of the population is dependent on rain-fed agriculture, so the failure of three successive rainy seasons has left families with no crops to sell or to eat. Now they are receiving monthly rations and children are slipping from moderately malnourished to severely so, every day. Children have started dropping out of school because they must instead walk for hours to collect the scarce water that is available.

 

The Government of Ethiopia has mounted a strong response to the drought, vowing that they won’t see the suffering of 1984 repeated. Governments like the US, Norway and the U.K. have also stepped up aid to Ethiopia to provide food, water, animal feed and health services like treatment for malnutrition through Save the Children and other organizations on the ground. But many others haven’t. The sheer scale of the drought means more resources—food and money—must be mobilized now, both from those who have already given and especially from those who have not. There’s no time for delay.

 

I left the Dubti Hospital that day with the very real worry that Mohammed might not make it through his tremendous struggle against pneumonia and malnutrition. But thankfully he was receiving the medical support he needed. At the same time hundreds of thousands of others were struggling just like him that day, and each day since, often without food or access to medical care.

 

The warning bell has sounded—we cannot be deaf to it. We cannot wait for more children to suffer before we are moved to act.

The Best Gift Parents Can Give

This holiday season, Guin and Nate are giving a very special present to their baby and Guin’s two older children, who they raise together: themselves.

 

It used to be that this young couple from rural western Washington state wouldn’t spend much time with the kids. They would hide in their room with the door locked, each of them says.

 

“We’d come out to give them their food or whatever, and then we’d just tell them to go play,” says Guin, 24. “We just shooed them on pretty much. That’s what my parents did to us, and that’s what hurt so bad. That’s what I never wanted to do, but that’s what we ended up doing anyways.”

 

Inside the locked room, Guin and Nate would do drugs. That was their escape, their means to cope. It was a strategy they both learned early in life.

 

“My parents were always gone, or when they were home, they were loaded,” says Guin. “So, we didn’t have bonding time, unless it was a loaded time. Like they were loaded, or just being crazy.”

 

Nate, 21, says his mom was also always gone or drinking, and that his older brother was the only father figure he ever knew. Together they raised their younger brother. Holidays were especially tough.

 

“There were presents under the tree and everything, but there weren’t any parents around. It was just my two brothers,” he says. “It was hard.”

 

As Guin and Nate struggled with their pasts and trying to scrape together a living and a future, they turned to drugs and then each other for comfort. But when the two older kids, 3 and 7, got taken away by the state temporarily last year, they knew something had to change.

 

Getting clean wasn’t easy, but in some ways the regimented recovery program made the path clearer than knowing how to become a good parent — something they desperately want. They say having Hollie in their lives is making a huge difference.

 

As a home visitor in Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program, Hollie visits with pregnant mothers and families of babies and toddlers in economically depressed communities. The idea is to teach parents to be their child’s first teacher through reading, talking, singing and playing — and to serve as a resource and support for families struggling with many different challenges.

 

“If Hollie wasn’t here every week helping us with our daughter, I don’t think that we’d be improving so much with our child. She’s helped us be better parents,” says Guin. “I’m grateful for Hollie all the time. Books, man, she brings so many books. My kids are so grateful for the books.”

 

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Children growing up in poverty tend to fall developmentally behind other children long before they ever reach school. Then they struggle to catch up and many never do, making it very difficult for them to break the cycle of poverty. Yet, despite the many risk factors their families face, more than 80 percent of the children in Save the Children’s program go on to score at or above the national norm on pre-literacy tests.

 

Guin and Nate’s baby is only seven months old, but Guin can already see how she’s ahead of where her older kids were at that age. She started rolling over, sitting up, crawling and making her first word sounds much sooner. All the floor time, reading, talking and playing is really working, Guin says.

 

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And, she says, the bond she’s building with her baby is so much stronger from the very beginning.

 

“Hollie has told us that face-to-face play is really important at this age, because they’re learning facial expressions and feelings and all that stuff,” Guin says. “Babies have the coolest facial expressions. They have happy in their eyes is what I say. Happy eyes. I love that.”

 

“I think I beat you in facial expressions,” Nate cuts in.

 

“Yes, he has,” says Guin. They laugh and then reflect on what lies ahead.

 

“Our goal is to make life better for them,” Guin says.

 

“Hopefully, we’re able to achieve that for them,” says Nate. “It’s hard, but we’re getting through it.”

 

“It’ll all be worth it in the end,” says Guin.

 

I can only imagine how difficult it must be for these young parents to turn their lives around, given the rough start in life they both had. It’s wonderful to see the pride Guin and Nate are taking in their parenting and to see their children get the loving attention they themselves missed.

 

This holiday season, I’m grateful for the amazing home visitors like Hollie, who are helping parents be the best they can be.

 

Together with Save the Children, JOHNSON’S® is bringing awareness to the importance of early childhood development (ECD) programs, so that every child can reach their full potential.

 

This holiday season, if you select Save the Children through the Johnson & Johnson Donate a Photo app and donate a baby photo using #SoMuchMore, JOHNSON’S® will triple its donation in support of early childhood education programs.

 

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Providing a Future for Millions of Syrian Children

It takes only a few hours on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos to understand the enormity of the current refugee crisis sweeping Europe and the many dangers that refugees face, including so many mothers and children.

 

On one typically busy day, our Save the Children staff counted 22 small rubber dinghies arriving in just five hours — filled with babies as young as three months old and adults as old as 76. While no Greek official was on shore to meet the refugees, volunteer aid workers, including Save the Children staff, were there to assist and guide them toward registration. The numbers of people arriving in Greece this year is staggering — up from 40,000 last year to 580,000 so far this year. During one five-day period last month, 48,000 new arrivals — or nearly 5,000 a day — came to shore.

 

I recently visited the north shore of Lesbos and talked with a number of refugee families arriving by boat. One woman I met from Syria was traveling with her little girl, little boy, and two brothers. Her husband was left behind in Syria and was hoping to meet them later. We helped guide their boat to the shore and pulled them out of the water, and she said she couldn’t believe they were alive. She was so cold and overcome by emotion, she shook violently. We wrapped her in a space blanket and one of our workers offered her his scarf. Slowly, as we gathered warm clothes for her children, she stopped shaking and even smiled weakly as her daughter showed off her warm jacket.

 

I also visited the two informal camps outside the island’s capital city of Mytilene, where refugees must register to continue their journey to Europe. One camp was originally for Syrians and the second camp for other nationalities, the majority of whom are from Afghanistan. Our staff met several teenagers making the trip by themselves. One boy from Afghanistan was traveling with a small group including four other teenage boys. They were trying to get to Germany, where one of the boys had a brother. No one knows precisely how many children are making this journey alone, but recent estimates put the number in the tens of thousands and is growing rapidly. Recent figures from the Serbian government, for example, show that nearly one in four refugee children arriving in Serbia in recent months have been unaccompanied.

 

While the international community continues to struggle to find a solution to the conflict in Syria, now approaching its fifth year with no end in sight, the sheer numbers of desperate Syrian citizens are staggering. Four million have fled the country and over 7 million have been forced from their homes but remain inside Syria.

 

Almost 3 million Syrian children are not in school, including half of those who have fled to neighboring countries. As Secretary of State John Kerry noted last week, “Imagine what it would mean for America’s future if the entire public school systems of our largest cities — New York, Chicago and Los Angeles — were suddenly to close and stay closed.” Schools, in fact, are among many public institutions that are in shambles. More than 4,000 attacks on schools have taken place in Syria since 2011, according to the U.N. Meanwhile, two of Syria’s neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan, are reaching their breaking point in assisting Syrian refugees.

 

What can we do? Save the Children has joined other major aid agencies in calling on national governments to adopt a bold new deal for refugees. In the short term, we need to provide much more support in the region in terms of food aid, employment, medical care and education so more refugees will not feel compelled to leave the region and reduce the current huge migration to Europe. In addition, we need to eliminate many restrictions that leave refugees living in limbo — in constant fear of arrest, detention and deportation.

 

We also need a special focus on children. Donors need to take additional steps to ensure that children are protected and educated. Otherwise, we face the prospect of helping create a lost generation of Syrian children. Investments now in education and protection for these children can pay enormous dividends once the war ends and rebuilding begins.

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In recent months, we have seen growing support from individuals and corporations to assist refugees. In early September, the worldwide dissemination of a photo of a little refugee boy drowned on a beach in Turkey helped people see this crisis as a human tragedy that is affecting tens of thousands of innocent children and their families. Our long-time corporate partners, such as Johnson & Johnson, stepped up their support for our humanitarian response for refugee children.

 

With the recent attacks in Paris, we are presented with very hard choices. Our sympathies, of course, are with the hundreds of families around the world who lost a loved one in the barbaric events of November 13.

 

But we can’t turn our backs on the Syrians who are also fleeing death and destruction in their country. By continuing to increase humanitarian support in Syria, in surrounding countries, and for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee families, we are not only doing the right thing but are also providing a future for millions of Syrian children.

 

This post originally appeared on the Global Motherhood section of The Huffington Post

450,000 Children Out of School in Turkey

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Sera Marshall

Communications Coordinator

Turkey

November 23, 2015

On September 28th, schools across Turkey opened their doors for the start of the academic year.

But nearly 450,000 school-aged Syrian children did not step into a classroom that day. Instead of sitting behind a desk, in a safe learning environment, you see many of those kids in cities across Turkey selling tissues on the roadside, running errands in stores or climbing into dumpsters to collect recyclable materials.

In Hatay, where our field office is located, you might see some in the fields picking the cotton harvest at this time of year.

Every child deprived of an education is at risk of becoming part of a 'lost generation'.

Even in the early days of the crisis that now engulfs Syria, many ordinary Syrians who fled to Turkey for safety recognised the need to address the lack of education facilities for their children. Ordinary men and women took it upon themselves to rent space, volunteer their time to teach, find desks, chairs and whiteboards all in an effort to ensure their children would not grow up illiterate, and instead have a future for their own families. 

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Vahar's* family fled their home in Syria when the town was attacked. She has not been able to go to school since she arrived in Turkey but is currently attending a Child Friendly Space supported by Save the Children where she has the opportunity to keep learning and meet new friends. *Name changed for protection

The Government of Turkey took a courageous step in 2014 and passed legislation that would bring these informally operating schools under the coordination of the Ministry of National Education. Currently 18,122 Syrian children are enrolled in 69 Temporary Education Centres (TECs) across Hatay province alone. The government of Turkey has shown unprecedented levels of generosity and hospitality – spending up to 8 billion dollars – on refugees from Syria and Iraq. Yet, this is only a small fraction of the overall need. Globally, education and child protection are the two sectors that receive the least amount of aid funding. Partners such as UNICEF and international NGOs like Save the Children are working to help bridge that gap.

But it is not as simple as throwing money at the problem. Meaningful understanding of the actual needs of refugee and host communities coupled with projects designed to address these needs are required. To this effect, we carried out a needs assessment of every Temporary Education Centre in Hatay and revealed a thorough yet stark picture of the varying challenges – from transport to textbooks – faced when trying to provide education to Syrian children.

As the crisis has deepened, the needs of refugees has evolved. It is no longer a matter of providing basic humanitarian relief but enabling refugees to live with dignity and, most importantly, hope for a better future.

I have visited several Temporary Education Centres in Hatay as part of our work. At one TEC, a soft spoken head teacher from Aleppo thanked me for the assistance Save the Children in Turkey was providing. This man is so dedicated that he works six days a week, up to 12 hours a day and has gotten into personal debt so that running water and electricity of the TEC would not be cut off. I could not help myself, I listened to his words of gratitude and told him: "No; thank you. "Without you, these children would not have been getting an education for the past three years. I am sorry the international community has been so slow to come to your aid."

"Better late than never," he replied.

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

Rewriting ‘Haiyan’ Two Years On

April Sumaylo Headshot copy

April Sumaylo

Media Manager

Save the Children in the Philippines

November 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then after 6 long hours, there was silence.

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

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

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

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

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

But does it all end here?

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