August 2, 2010
Save the Children's Reporting Coordinator in Pakistan
I arrived in Saidu Sharif, Swat, last Sunday to conduct a training for local organizations. Just two days later, unprecedented monsoon rains caused widespread destruction here.
The beautiful tourist areas of Kalam, Bahrain, and Miandam, as well as other parts of Swat, have been severely damaged, with entire villages being swept away. Most villages and even cities have had no electricity for four days, ATMs are offline, and only one cellular network is working. None of the water pumping stations is functioning so nearly everyone is without running water.
evacuate to safer areas in southern Swat. Taxis and buses (bottom
right) are available to transport people in areas where the roads are
blocked. Photo Credit: Save the Children
I went with some colleagues to Upper Swat yesterday to help assess the damage. When we reached Fatehpur, the road suddenly ended in a 100 meter drop off to the River Swat below. It seemed like an entire part of the road, as well as houses, had been scooped out with a gigantic cup. This is the only road leading to Miandam, Bahrain and Kalam, where thousands of residents and tourists from all over Pakistan are stranded.
We left our car and climbed a small hill and walked through the tight lanes of a village. There were large groups of families coming back from Madyan, warning us of the terrible situation ahead. We were delighted to find children with coolers and buckets full of natural spring water providing free drinks to the travelers crossing their village.
Food Prices Increase with Threat of Stocks Running Low
Entering Madyan city we saw relief camps established by the army. Some men mentioned that nearly all the houses in Chel, Shanko and other villages had been destroyed. We learned that food prices had increased dramatically in the past two days, since new supplies were not reaching the markets. Survivors said they couldn’t afford to purchase enough food for their families, and shopkeepers said they were afraid their stocks might run out in the next three to four days.
The only health facility in Madyan, along with five primary schools, a high school, and a college have been completely destroyed by the flood. The remains of these buildings are nothing more than a few walls jutting out from the raging waves of the River Swat.
Our long journey back to our vehicle in Saidu Sharif involved two treks and two bartered rides till we reached the first break in the road where our car was parked. On the last hill, we helped a middle-aged man carrying a large bundle of food supplies, his aged mother, and his blind son, walk through the village and climb down to the road. He had lost all of his livestock in the flood. He was taking his family to a relative’s house, but hoped to return soon to salvage whatever was left of his home.
Large Road Crevasse Strands Motorists Overnight
Near Fizaghat, where we stopped in the morning, there was a never ending line of cars. We learned that a small pothole in the road had widened into a large crevasse which was being filled by army trucks. Since it would have taken the entire night to complete the work, we began walking back towards Saidu Sharif. Using our cell phones to light the pitch black road, we walked for more than an hour to reach Saidu Sharif. I felt strangely relieved to return to the safety and comfort of Save the Children’s office, but was saddened to witness the flood’s devastation, which had displaced so many children and families from their homes.
For more information on Save the Children’s response to the Pakistan floods, click here
Dave Hartman, Save the Children, internet marketing and communications specialist
July 24, 2010
Save the Children has had a global presence for decades, but this past May the organization ventured into new territory, outer space.
The t-shirt was signed by the crew of Atlantis and then heat-sealed in
plastic and stowed underneath the floorboards before embarking on its
journey to outer space.
Sellers served as Robotics officer, operating a massive arm that nimbly
moves equipment from a space shuttle's cargo bay onto the space station
or delicately maneuvers astronauts around the craft during space walks.
On Monday Sellers stopped by Save the Children's Washington D.C. office to return the t-shirt and speak to staff and children about his trip.
He also shared a 10-minute video produced by NASA that highlighted the mission and the crew's experience from launch to landing during the 12-day voyage of Atlantis to the International Space Station.
Take a look at this NASA video which shows highlights from Sellers' mission.
The presentation was streamed in real time to our Westport, CT home office.
Sellers said that he has supported Save the Children and has been
interested in the work that the organization does from the time he was
growing up in the United Kingdom.
Before wrapping up his presentation Sellers imparted words of wisdom on the children in the audience, “study hard, whether you want to be an astronaut, a fireman or a doctor. It all starts in school.”
- During launch, the shuttle, with the t-shirt safely secured underneath its floorboards, accelerated from 0 to 5 miles per second in about eight and a half minutes.
- The t-shirt traveled more than 4.5 million miles, orbiting the earth roughly every 90 minutes for a total of 192 orbits during the 12-day voyage.
July 28, 2010
Today I’m recovering from the last three days marathon of the heads of state meeting at the African Union summit. With the theme of “Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Development in Africa,” this summit offered the perfect chance to muster major action to save the lives of millions of children and mothers.
I’m sorry to say that although Africa has around 12 percent of the world’s population, half the world’s child and maternal deaths occur here. So there’s much work to be done.
A few days ago, I wrote here what Save the Children and many other advocates and experts were calling on our leaders to deliver at this summit. I’m happy to report good news. African heads of state have issued a declaration on that includes many commitments we believe are necessary to dramatically reduce the annual 4.5 million child deaths and 265,000 maternal deaths on the continent.
On the resources question, the leaders recommitted themselves to meeting their 2001 promise in Abuja to devote 15 percent of their national budgets to health. In reality, few countries have reached this goal as of yet. In the last budget year only three did—Rwanda, Tanzania, and Liberia—and that’s down from six countries the year before. So I’m happy that African leaders recognize they must continue to chase this goal, and not just push it aside. Prioritizing health funding is central to results in maternal, newborn and child health.
The leaders also promised to strengthen their health systems “to provide comprehensive, integrated maternal, newborn, and child health care services.” They listed several important strategies, including addressing the health worker shortage as we had called for.
The leaders themselves called the current situation a “human resource crisis.” They pledged to train community health workers to help fill the gap. That’s good policy because you don’t need a huge amount of money or time to train these workers, and they can deliver most of the services needed to save mothers and children’s lives. Also, these workers come from the community and, especially when they are women, they can reach mothers and children who are isolated from existing health services.
However, I’ll point out that while community health workers can deliver lifesaving prenatal and postnatal care, and prevention and treatment for leading child killers pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria, they cannot necessarily provide skilled attendance at birth. That’s also critical to saving mothers’ and newborns’ lives. So African nations must also look at ways to increase the number of midwives, nurses, and doctors—and work to retain these professionals.
Another major concern of Save the Children and partners has been around making sure health services reach all women and children. Too often, poorer mothers and children don’t have the same access to health care (and thus survival) as better-off compatriots. So I was very pleased to see the leaders pledge to reduce out-of-pocket payments and to single out a strategy we’ve pushed for—making health care for pregnant women and children under 5 free.
The final pieces of good news that came out of the Summit was the decision to institute a strong and functional monitoring and evaluation framework at national level for data generation, the establishment of a continental task force on Maternal, newborn and child health as well as commitment to an annual report to the AU assembly moving forward on Maternal, newborn and child mortality. This should help hold governments accountable for their delivery on maternal, newborn and child mortality interventions.
If the leaders follow through on what they’ve pledged in Kampala, you can be certain that many more African children and mothers will survive and go on to lead healthy, productive lives. That’s good for families, communities, and the very future of the continent.
So there’s the question of that word “if.”
In the closing ceremony last night, President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi implored his fellow leaders to act on the declarations they had passed.
He said: “The time has come for us is to go for action, so that our people are able to see and appreciate the tangible results and benefits that this organization will bring to them. I believe that we have the means, and we have the political will to do so. Let us use these means and the political will to show to our people and the rest of the world that indeed we mean to move the economic and social transformation of our continent.”
Amen to that!
I hope African heads of state will heed Bingu’s words, because they are the ones with the power to transform promises into action. If the political will is indeed there, African mothers, newborns, and children will stop dying of preventable causes. So let’s continue to raise our voices, and do our part to build and sustain that political will!
Dr Naamala Hanifah Sengendo|Program Manager, SNL
Save the Children in Uganda
July 24, 2010
Sometimes the cost of public transport can save a mother's life. Sometimes a piece of cloth and a short talk with a mom can save her baby's life.
I was reminded of these facts on a recent visit to our health programs in rural Uganda. My colleagues told me about a teenage girl who had just given birth prematurely, and since I'm a pediatrician, they asked me to pay a visit.
When I met Sarah, 17, she was holding her baby and sitting with her grandmother in their grass-thatched mud home. I learned she had given birth at home without the help of a skilled attendant. She was lucky that she and the baby both survived. Lack of skilled attendance at birth is a major cause of death for both mothers and babies in Africa.
A community health volunteer supported by Save the Children had been visiting Sarah while she was pregnant, giving her prenatal checkups and telling her about the importance of skilled attendance. So I asked Sarah, why hadn't she gone to a health facility?
She told me the nearest clinic was private and she didn't have money to pay. So I asked her, why hadn't she gone to the public hospital? She said it was far away and she didn't have the money for bus fare.
This kind of story is too common in rural areas in Uganda and many other countries.
Sarah's baby weighed only 1.2 kilos, and was small enough to hold in one hand. Such babies are at great risk of death without the proper care. In the city or richer countries, these babies are put in electric incubators to help keep warm. That is not a possibility for Sarah and many others who have no access to hospital.
However, the community health volunteer and I explained that Sarah herself could give the baby all the warmth she needed. We showed her how to use a clean cloth to wrap the baby to her bare chest. Sarah's own body heat and the ease of breastfeeding would protect her baby just as much if not more than an incubator.
Hundreds of thousands of babies could be saved if Kangaroo Mother Care were more widely practiced.
This week I told Sarah's story as I sat on a panel at the Uganda Non-Governmental Organization Forum being held parallel to the African Union Summit. Health experts and audience members discussed recommendations to the African leaders meeting. They must make sure mothers and children don't continue to die for lack of access to proven, low-cost health care.
The people in the room also recognized that everyone has a role to play.
I stressed that community participation is key. The volunteer in Sarah's village was able to link her to our services and we supported Sarah's visits to a health facility for post-natal care. Her baby is now six months old and doing well!
Several people at the forum commented on how good it was to see a discussion of maternal, newborn and child health have so many men in the audience. We all agreed that husbands and fathers must also fight to make sure their wives and children get the health care they need.
The moderator pointed out that of 53 African Union nations, there is only one woman head of state to join meetings starting Sunday. So men truly have a major role to play if we are to stop the deaths of 4.5 million young children and 265,000 mothers each year in Africa.
July 22, 2010
These days, the Hotel Africana in central Kampala is abuzz with conferences and events related to the African Union summit now underway. Outside the meeting rooms, lies a big grassy courtyard where all sorts of groups are holding receptions in view of the rolling hillsides of the city outskirts. Around the corner, Ugandan officials are credentialing dignitaries, media, and other observers for the official summit, held some distance away at a resort on Lake Victoria.
Happily, I received my credential, but instead of traveling to the official summit today, I decided to go upstairs and attend a mock presidential debate hosted by health and humanitarian organizations.
As people trickled in, the warm-up entertainment began. A group of young women and men danced their hearts out and got a festive mood going as they sang along with the “Yes we can” refrain of joyful music playing. The message was – if youth can keep their promises, so can leaders.
Above the stage was a banner exhorting African leaders to keep their 2001 promise in Abuja, Nigeria to address the huge burden of disease on the continent by devoting 15 percent of national budgets to health. Only a handful of the 53 nations have fulfilled that promise to date. According to 2010 World Health Organization figures, only three countries are meeting the Abuja 15 percent standard, down from six the year before.
Meanwhile, many African countries have seen slow or no progress in reducing the large number of preventable child and maternal deaths devastating their communities. This year, child and maternal health is the theme of the African Union summit.
So it was fitting today when a large group of performers gathered around the stage to sing a catchy song with the refrain “The time is now. The time is now. Abuja 15 percent now!”
Several more performances followed, including a group of men holding young children and bundles that were supposed to be their babies. They told stories of losing wives and babies during childbirth, and
seemed to be challenging the audience to consider this question – why is it more surprising to see grown men nurturing babies and young children than to hear about maternal and child deaths?
When the actual debate began the supposed presidents of Malawi and Botswana got to talk about how their countries have recently joined the ranks of only 10 African nations to be on track to meet Millennium Goal 4. That goal is to reduce child mortality rates to two thirds of 1990 levels by 2015.
The other presidents couldn’t say the same, and some even tried to argue against Abuja despite high disease rates in their countries. The supposed president of Nigeria, however, said “I think as heads of
state we can not make commitments and then begin to dance around and discard. We should keep our commitments!”
It would be wonderful if the real African heads of state said the same thing when they meet Sunday through Tuesday at the summit. To save the lives of millions of African newborns, children, and mothers each year, the leaders must not only commit to strong actions, they must follow through.
If a very poor country like Malawi can successfully put a plan of action in place and slash child deaths, there is really no excuse why countries across Africa cannot do the same.
July 22, 2010
I read and delete dozens of emails every week. Which ones do I save? The ones that make me feel good.
When you sponsor a child through Save the Children, you connect with a child in need. Now think how much it would mean to your sponsored child to get a personal message from you – their joy would be indescribable.
Sound impossible? It’s not! It happens every day. A sponsored girl or boy somewhere in the world has an email or letter from their sponsor read to them by a Save the Children staff member. Or that girl or boy is writing a reply, to be translated and forwarded by Save the Children to their sponsor. Are you that sponsor? You can be.
The simpler your message – about you, your family, your own children and what it’s like where you live – the better. And asking simple questions about your sponsored child’s day, their school or their favorite foods shows that you are interested in their life.
While you wait for a reply, know your e-mail messages, letters and photos you send become treasured possessions to your sponsored child.
Here’s the easiest way to start: as a sponsor, sign up at www.savethechildren.org/myaccount. This is a direct link to your sponsored child’s Save the Children country office. The email you write to your child through our office will be printed, translated, and personally delivered by our staff.
Writing a letter and mailing it to your sponsored child in care of Save the Children’s country office is another way. If you don’t have the address, call 1-800-728-3843 to speak with a Save the Children staff or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What you say is not as important as how you say it. Each communication with your sponsored child shows her or him how much you care.
If you are not yet a Save the Children sponsor, click here to become one.
July 22, 2010
Today foreign ministers and health ministers from across Africa are meeting in Kampala. Here at Munyonyo, the luxury resort where the 15th African Union Summit is being held, there’s a breeze off Lake Victoria and questions are swirling in the air.
What will come out of this summit? Will leaders exercise the resolve to act forcefully on the summit’s maternal and child health theme? Will they find unity?
I’ve been catching up with some sympathetic African Union ambassadors and officials as they come out of closed door sessions to see what I can learn. Their initial report has yet to be released and, much more than in past summits, the ultimate declaration from heads of state is still very much up in the air.
The good news to report is that African civil society has found remarkable unity on what we’re asking our leaders to deliver. Representatives from Save the Children and more than 70 health and human rights organizations gathered in Kampala in the days leading up to the summit to discuss its theme: “Maternal and Child Health and Development in Africa.”
We are community members, advocates and experts from diverse countries, backgrounds, and organizations. But I was struck by how strongly we agree on what African leaders need to do to save the lives of mothers, newborns and children in our countries. It’s worth noting we are also echoing nearly identical principles that experts from ministries of health across Africa developed at an African-Union-organized Continental Conference in Ethiopia this April.
At the heart of the matter lies this reality: 4.5 million African children and 265,000 African mothers die every year because there’s a lack of political will to get the well-known, proven, cost-effective health solutions to those who need them.
So the biggest question we have for our leaders at this summit is: Will they do what it takes to save the lives of mothers and children in their countries?
If they do, here’s what maternal and child advocates and health experts across Africa are saying will make all the difference:
- PUT A PLAN IN PLACE. Every African country must develop and implement an accelerated national plan for reducing maternal, newborn and child deaths.
- MAKE SURE THE RESOURCES ARE THERE. Every African country should meet and exceed its 2001 promise in Abuja, Nigeria to spend at least 15 percent of the national budget on health care. Additionally, a meaningful portion of this budget must specifically dedicated to maternal, newborn, and child health.
- ADDRESS HEALTH WORKER SHORTAGES. Countries must recruit, train and retain more doctors, nurses, and midwives to help reduce the overall gap of 800,000 health workers in Africa by 2015.
- ADDRESS THE COVERAGE GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR. Countries must ensure health care, including emergency obstetric care, is accessible for the poorest people and is free at the point of use for pregnant women and children under 5.
Stay tuned to see what happens!
I recently returned from my first trip to Haiti. I took the photo below at the École Eddy Pascal School in Port-au-Prince. Their school building was destroyed in the January 12th earthquake. With the help of Save the Children, the school is now set up in several tents.
I chose to highlight this picture from their recess activities because I like the action and composition, but also because it represents to me what is right about Haiti. There is so much needed in infrastructure and resources, but as long as education can still go forward for the next generation, then Haiti has a chance.
I encourage you to post your comments and/or questions!
Photo credit: Susan Warner – Save the Children 2010
When the shooting stops, traffic picks up and the markets open — and it is sometimes hard to see the stress. Today was a day, one of several mentioned, when ethnic violence (or what the Kyrgyz I spoke to called “the war”) was to start again. Nobody seems to know why that term is used, but on June 10 people called and texted each other saying, “The war has started.”
According to rumors, a number of dates will bring renewed fighting. June 22 is recognized locally as the day WWII started with Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union. June 27, the day of the referendum on the constitution here, along with July 18–19 are also mentioned, though the latter dates seem to hold no historical significance.
As the staff meeting today neared 4:45 p.m., our local employees noted the meeting should end so they could get home before the 6 p.m. curfew. Usually these same staffers stay well past 5 p.m., but today they left early. A little after 6 p.m., Soviet-era choppers flew over the city dumping pamphlets urging peace and reconciliation. Children ran through the empty side streets laughing and jostling to catch the fluttering pieces of paper as they neared the ground. As midnight neared, a female staff member expressed relief that nothing had happened.
There were mixed reports yesterday of an operation in Nariman. The consistent information was it was carried out by authorities, two people were killed and several were injured. There is a lot of conjecture. Some NGOs suspended their work today as a result. Save the Children was making health and hygiene kit distributions and taking assessment data in Nariman several hours after the incident and were unaware anything had happened.
There was a visit this morning by the President. Our staff was to attend but when they arrived, a very large crowd (hundreds) was trying to see her as well. They described the situation as tense, and we advised our staff to leave the area.
Teams distributed another 200 hygiene kits in Osh to women displaced by the fighting and administered another 20 assessments. We’ve delivered 1,200 kits benefiting 6,000 people, mainly women and children. I was supposed to write a narrative explaining the findings, but never got to it.
Much of my time was spent meeting, orienting and generally trying to get 10 expatriate emergency response team members up to speed. It is time for me to hand the operation over to the longer-term staff. This is not a sprint and probably 200 people will be needed over the course of the marathon of relief and rehabilitation being undertaken by Save the Children. There are another four or five experts backstopping from Bishkek. The team that is being assembled has everybody from child protection and education specialists to accounting and logistics professionals.
We rented additional office space, taking over the rest of the compound where the office is located. Warehouses for the non-food items and relief food are coming under contract. The 5,000 health and hygiene kits we ordered yesterday were bid, tendered and bought in Bishkek. They are expected to arrive tomorrow.
The town is filling up with relief agencies and with them will come additional assistance. The time of beginning is ending and full-fledged response is getting under way. And I leave on Thursday.
Today was the first official day back to work in Osh. Traffic was light, but heavy by recent standards. The purple public busses carried commuters instead of soldiers around the city. Motorists even stopped at traffic signals, and checkpoints allowed most cars to pass unquestioned. Some barricades around Nariman have been removed opening more of the city to traffic
We see more smiles among the larger, but still sparse, crowds. However the unease was still there. We witnessed a sharp exchange between Kyrgyz and an Uzbek outside the mayor’s office. An official said he felt starting a program should wait until after the planned June 27 referendum on constitutional changes.
Save the Children delivered 300 health and hygiene kits today. Uzbeks sheltering in and living near a school in Nariman received 150 kits, and another 150 were distributed in Charumushka. To date, we have reached 5,000 people with health and hygiene supplies. We also are conducting needs assessments and administering 6-page questionnaires — and sharing the results with the Ministry of Emergency Situations.
Meetings were held in Osh to plan child protection centers based in schools. Attending were a range of officials and professionals, including the chief of the department of Family and Children’s Support, the Vice Mayor of Osh, the president’s special representative on children’s security and protection, the president’s special representative on the distribution of humanitarian aid, the head of education and the head of the Osh Children’s Home.
Save the Children will engage in planning school-based child protection. This will include providing supplies as well as supporting reconciliation and counseling.