Rohingya Children Need Support

1Evan Schuurman is part of Save the Children’s emergency response team in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Nine year old Shawkat* has a bandage wrapped around her head and vacant eyes that suggest her mind and body are worlds apart. I’ve never seen a child’s face look so empty.

Her uncle Ali, who cares for her now—despite her being the eleventh mouth he must feed— says she rarely speaks anymore. That is, until dusk each evening. That’s when the terror returns.

“She starts to cry and scream out for her mother,” Ali says. “During the day she’s ok, but everything changes at nightfall. She feels a lot of pain. She cannot sleep.”

I learn that Shawkat’s mother, father and three brothers were all killed by the Myanmar military forces. Her entire immediate family wiped out in a few minutes.

Soldiers entered their village in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State and opened fire, setting homes ablaze and killing indiscriminately. In the chaotic scramble for life, people fled into the jungle, including Shawkat. There was no time to take anything or save her family.

It was a brutal, planned massacre, says Ali, whose parents were murdered too.

Thankfully a group of villagers decided to take care of Shawkat. Carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs, they walked for days on end, up and down mountains and through driving rain.

Battered and bruised, they eventually made it to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, which is now home to some 800,000 Rohingya, including over half a million who’ve arrived in the past seven weeks.

Most have taken refuge in the makeshift settlements less and an hours walk from the Naf River, which divides the two countries. They can still see the hills of Myanmar on the other side.

Ali tells me he searched everywhere for Shawkat, and eventually caught wind that she was in a local hospital. In a time of endless despair, this reunion was a rare joy.

The settlements themselves are a sight to behold. Once lush green hills have been stripped bare. Terraces have been cut into the clay to make space for more bamboo and plastic shelters. When it rains the ground turns into a series of muddy waterfalls, and dirty, contaminated water pools everywhere.

The roads inside the camps are a hive of activity, with large trucks plundering up and down carrying tonnes of aid. Shirtless men run large bundles of bamboo while lone children wander in search of food, money or something to do. Umbrellas are everywhere, protecting people from the harsh sun or heavy rains – it feels as though there’s nothing in-between.

This foreign place is Shawkat’s home for now, along with more than 300,000 other newly arrived Rohingya children, many of whom spend their days in a similar trauma-induced daze.

Over the past few weeks I have interviewed nearly two-dozen Rohingya women, men and children about what happened in Myanmar and what their lives have become in Bangladesh.

Every single one of them told similar stories of deadly attacks on villages and desperate escapes. The heartbreak is everywhere.

The interviews were raw and emotional. Women wept before my eyes as they recounted their relatives being killed and their homes being turned into a blaze of raging fire.

I’ve deployed to a lot of humanitarian crises over the past five years including places like South Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan. But I’ve never seen anything like this, where so many people – especially children – are so visibly distressed or traumatized.

Dealing with this trauma will form a critical part of the humanitarian response. Already, agencies like Save the Children are running dozens of therapeutic playgroups for younger children known as ‘child friendly spaces’.

But what’s really needed is education. School isn’t just about learning; it provides routine and a sense of normality, a place where children can make friends, play and remember what it’s like to be children. It’s also a critical form of protection from exploitation and abuse like trafficking.

Yet right now more than 450,000 school-aged Rohingya children aren’t going to school.

Ensuring children can access education in emergencies like this saves lives. Seeing the haunted faces of so many traumatised children like Shawkat, I’ve never been surer of this.

 

Day 3: King Abdullah Park Refugee Camp

Anoymous womanTorrey Taussig

Zarqa, Jordan

January 17, 2013


Childhood’s Simple Joys 

Today we visited the King Abdullah Park refugee camp in northern Jordan, outside of Ramtha. The weather is still cold, rainy and windy today, and it is hard to think that these conditions will only continue to worsen over the coming months. King Abdullah Park is a much smaller site than the Za’atari camp that we visited yesterday, and it is a more enclosed space that can only accommodate around 1,200 people. The site was previously meant to be a park for the nearby neighborhoods, but upon completion, the Syrian crisis elevated and the Jordanian government turned it into a space for a refugee camp.

P1081147Given the more manageable size, the conditions are slightly different from the larger Za’atari camp, which is in constant influx. Here, each family has a container with solid walls and floors, raised off the ground, which is crucial during the cold and rainy winter months.

There are around 450 children at the camp, and many of them are able to attend local Jordanian state-run schools in the nearby towns. Everyday, Save the Children helps to transport the children back and forth between the schools and the camp, separately busing girls and boys to their different schools. To maintain a sense of normalcy and reduce the tension that the upheaval has caused, the Syrian children go to school in separate sessions from the Jordanian children. The schools and teachers have graciously accommodated the new children, and have taken on more hours and longer shifts in order to handle the increased need for schooling.

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While at the camp, we had the opportunity to visit another child friendly space run by Save the Children. Similar to yesterday, we were met by dozens of happy, bright-eyed children, who were eager to play, sing and dance. The space, albeit cold due to the weather, was brightly colored and filled with toys. Given the rain, the older children who are often able to play soccer and volleyball on the outside fields needed to be inside the space with the younger children. The teachers and Save the Children staff have the patience and attentiveness of saints, and were able to manage the large number of children with care, warmth and joy.

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We also learned how selfless the staff is, as many of them have taken time off from their jobs elsewhere in Jordan to help aid in the refugee efforts. We met two men, one of whom is a physical education teacher nearby, and another who runs his own hair salon! They both now spend their days running around with a highly energetic group of children who are confined to the boundaries of their campsite and are in need of attention and activity. It is through acts of kindness such as these that you can truly see the generosity of the Jordanian people, who have accommodated so many people that have nowhere else to turn.

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We stayed at the space for over an hour, having been immediately accepted by the engaging and friendly children and staff. We were able to partake in a number of different activities that the children were doing, including drawing beautiful pictures of Syrian flags, flowers, smiling faces, and hearts.  They were also performing puppet shows that they had created themselves, playing ping-pong, badminton and legos. There were also dozens of toys for the children to play with, and it was clear that the space provides a respite from the more tedious camp life that awaits them outside.

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At the end of the morning session at the child friendly space, the children headed out to the school buses that were waiting to take them to the local schools. We followed them to Ramtha, where we visited a first-grade girls’ classroom. The teacher was conducting a math lesson, and the eight girls (smaller class size than average due to the weather) enthusiastically took turns coming up to the chalkboard to practice arithmetic, happily cheering when they arrived at the right answers. Despite the hardships they have been through, their excitement and energy is contagious. They left us with a renewed belief that children everywhere deserve the chance to have a childhood, regardless of their circumstances.

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Their lives are by no means easy, and their living conditions make their days even harder. All sense of normalcy they once had is gone, and even after months of living in the camps away from their homes and the lives they once knew, they face continuous adjustment. In a world where humans can do so much harm and cause so much destruction, the work that the Jordanian government and its people, Save the Children, UNICEF, UNHCR and other organizations are doing on the ground shows the best of humanity; and at the end of the day, that is all that we have.

Day 2: Za’atari Refugee Camp

Anoymous womanTorrey Taussig

Zarqa, Jordan

January 10, 2013


Strength, Kindness and Patience in Humanity  

Outside of Al Mufraq, about 12 KM (8 miles) from the Syrian border, lies Za’atari Refugee Camp. Approaching the camp is somewhat like approaching the end of the earth, and flat, desolate land stretches out in all directions. There is very little vegetation or life in the area, and with today’s rain, wind and cold temperatures, the setting was even bleaker.

On a numbers basis, the Za’atari refugee camp is nothing short of a miracle, especially when one considers the sheer number of people flooding into the once barren dessert site. The camp currently has around 60,000 people living there, and is receiving between 1,000 to 1,400 people a night. Nearly 1,800 people crossed the border and entered into the camp on a single night this past week. The numbers are unfathomable, and difficult for the mind to grasp, and even more so when one takes into consideration the amount of food, shelter and health services being provided to all of the refugees on a daily basis.

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Save the Children has about 120 staff there (it was the first organization to respond at Za’atari) and is working with other organizations such as UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP and others to provide the best care that they can, although the conditions get more and more difficult by the day. Everyone who comes to the camp is now staying for the foreseeable future. Before, around 150 people used to leave a day- some going back to Syria, others being taken in by Jordanian host communities or families. Now very few, if any, return to Syria.

Driving down the long straightaway to the front of the camp, you can only see flat land sectioned off by barbed wire fence, giving a sense of going into a closed off zone. At the entrance to the camp, the security presence is heavy.

Upon entering, we could see the entrepreneurial spirit of the people right away. Some tents around the entrance are being used as shops and small markets, sporadically set up by the Syrians as a way of obtaining different commodities and earning a small amount of money.

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We first went to the food distribution areas, where there are huge tents set up for daily bread distribution and bi-weekly distribution of food kits. Depending on the number of members in a family, each family is given a number and told when it is their turn to pick up their food boxes, which include salt, oil, lentils, rice and bulgur wheat, enough to last for about two weeks.

The distribution tents are divided in two, one half for the men and the other for the women. The woman side tended to be more orderly and quiet, slightly less raucous than the male distribution side. Regardless, everybody waited patiently for their food kits to be distributed to them, and smiled as we walked by. The food distribution sites are kept orderly by gates and single points of entrances and exits.

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Next we went to the school, which was constructed with great efficiency and care by the Bahrain government. The school is a more permanent structure than the dense population of tents growing outside of its walls, and each room has a space heater; a rare commodity that is unseen among the tents where the Syrians are living.

There, we met with Save the Children staff and a psychologist, who is working with some of the children, mostly on issues pertaining to violence that they have seen. The school is composed of children ages six to eighteen.  It can hold around 2,000 children at a time and the classes are taught by Jordanian teachers and Syrian teaching assistants who are refugees in the camps themselves. They teach the Jordanian curriculum, and we learned that the children had their end of semester exams approaching! Despite the added stress that may come along with the exams, the structure provides activity, continuity and a small amount of normalcy for the children whose lives have been uprooted since they left their homes many months, and sometimes over a year ago.

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Inside the classrooms, there are wooden desks and chalkboards. There are many pictures and writings on all of the desks, including pictures of the Syrian flags, and hearts. On others, the students have written poetry, writings of peace and in once instance, a short paragraph saying: Do not be afraid to write, my pen. Life is a memory. Freedom and pain are forever.

Writing, and art, can be a form of healing and expression at a time when there are no other ways to voice their fears, hopes and dreams for the future.

Save the Children recently put together a small book of children’s pictures, where the Syrian children sketched their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the coming year. Many drew pictures of flowers, Syrian flags, clothing and included inscriptions such as, I wish…

To go back to Syria

To go home

A doll and toys

Warm clothing

To see my brother back in Syria

To be back in my room

To be happy, joyful,

That my life will be full of roses

These are simple dreams, simple aspirations that many of us would take for granted. For all of the children in the Za’atari refugee camp, their homes are now tents in a cold and wintry desert. Unlikely to happen upon a rose anytime soon, they will, like all children, just continue to dream.

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We next went to Save the Children’s kindergarten area where a teacher-training session was taking place. Despite the grey skies and barren tents, the muddy paths and the large puddles of water developing on the main roads, the atmosphere was immediately filled with color, light and joy as soon as pulled open the entrance to the early childhood center tents. The space is covered with a bright red carpet depicting cartoon characters, and the every corner of the tent is filled with toys and red, yellow and blue chairs. At a small table on the side of the room, a teacher training was going on with both Jordanian and Syrian “animators” (a term used by Save the Children to describe the volunteers working with children in the early childhood centers.) The young women, many of whom are refugees themselves, greeted us with smiles, waving and singing, and seemed particularly joyful that morning. We all participated in a training activity using brightly colored balloons, meant to be an icebreaker game for the children.

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Save the Children is also caring for unaccompanied minors, children who came without families and are alone for a number of reasons. Some include that their mothers did not want to leave their homes in Syria, that they stayed behind to take care of a newborn or very young child, or because their mothers did not want their sons recruited and sent them to the borders for their own safety.

Before leaving, we visited the spaces where the unaccompanied minors are staying who have not yet been assigned to a tent. We spoke to one fourteen-year old boy, who was waiting in the trailer lined with cots, blankets, and a few other boys around his age. His hand was swollen from an injury that he incurred from mortar shelling, and he came to the camps for treatment and physical therapy. He told Save the Children that when he is better, he will return to Syria where the rest of his family has stayed behind. For him, there does not seem to be a doubt in his mind that he will return as soon as he is better.

We then left the camp to head back to Amman for the night. The rain was not letting up, and the increasingly worsening weather only stood to prove how much the refugees are in need of supplies and clothing to help keep them warm. Yet at the end of the day, even among such dire circumstances, hope was ever present and the human spirit indomitable.

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Day 1: The Jordanian Host Communities

Anoymous womanTorrey Taussig

Zarqa, Jordan

January 9, 2013


 Resiliency

Today we visited the host communities throughout Amman where Syrian refugees are being welcomed into neighborhoods by local Jordanians. The government has accepted them into local schools and Save the Children is working to help support their time in Jordan, which for some has been over a year. Save the Children is running cash voucher programs at community centers, along with resiliency programs and child friendly spaces throughout the neighborhoods for refugees and local Jordanian children. The resiliency programs are teaching children the skills they need to be accepted and get along with their new classmates and companions. The child friendly spaces give children an opportunity to participate in structured activities such as drawing and talking about their lives and communities in Syria and their lives now.

The Save the Children Community Center: Zarqa

 Our first visit was to a local community center on the outskirts of Amman where Save the Children was organizing a large-scale cash voucher system for Syrian refugee families. The cash vouchers can be used people can use for food at different markets in the area with whom Save the Children has agreements and remain valid for two weeks. The amount of cash in the vouchers depends on the number of members in the family. We learned that the cash vouchers are better than food distributions because it allows the families to purchase what they need and do the shopping themselves rather than queue in line for distribution.

Each of the vouchers had a serial number on them, as opposed to names, to protect the identity of the families. Then, different numbers get called on different days, and families know when they need to come and collect their vouchers.

The front of the center was a busy scene, with dozens of people leaning over the registration desk, attempting to register and find out when they would be allowed to pick up their vouchers. The back room was calmer, with people, almost all adults, calmly waiting for their numbers to be called. At this point, the program is a well-oiled machine and staff are able to efficiently locate the vouchers for the families and get through the lines of people quickly.

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As we were leaving, we stopped to talk with a few people waiting outside. On was a man in his mid-twenties holding his niece, who was still a baby. She was wearing a small sweatshirt and sweatpants, clearly growing out of them as her uncle tried to pull the bottom of her pants back over her bare ankles. He told us that they had been in Jordan for four months now, and that his greatest needs were food and warm clothing for his family.

Standing next to them was a mother with a young son, who was shivering and looking down at the ground. The mother explained that he, along with his younger sister, were blind and desperately in need of winter clothes. Only wearing a light sweater and jeans, the boy was clearly not prepared for the windy and rainy (and sometimes snowy) months ahead. The mother spoke calmly, yet was visibly upset, as she explained her family’s situation, which now consists of living with over twenty-seven family members in a single apartment. Their family had been in Jordan for a year, always thinking that their return was right around the corner until another moment when the conflict would worsen and their time as refugees would remain interminable for the foreseeable future.

Children’s Resiliency Programs: Amman

Out next visit was to see Save the Children’s resiliency programs in another neighborhood in Amman where Syrian refugees are living. When we entered into the building, we were met by dozens of young children, all of whom were Syrian refugees, and who were waving, smiling and laughing. They were partaking in an exercise run by Save the Children staff, in which they were learning to breakdown barriers and get along with other children. Sometimes, we were told, refugees are excluded by others in the host communities, and these activities teach them how to get along with their new classmates, and help them assimilate into their new neighborhoods and surroundings.

The children were acting out and role-playing different situations where one child was being bullied or excluded, and they needed to find a way to incorporate them into their group. All of the acts were very well done, and received standing ovations by the rest of the young children in the classroom when they were finished.

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Next, we all got a chance to play the human knot game, where you link hands with others in your circle and then try to disentangle yourself from the group. Although we all ended up falling down in fits of laughter, still completely tangled in our groups, it was refreshing and endearing to see just that, children laughing and playing, as if they had no other cares in the world.

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We were soon reminded, however, that their lives are far from simple. One girl, nine years old, was sitting outside of the classroom. With deep brown eyes and short brown hair, wearing a long red coat, she was sitting quietly on a couch, talking to a Save the Children staff member, as she kicked her small feet back in forth, only reaching halfway to the ground. We were told that she had lost ten members of her family that very morning. When speaking to another staff member, the young girl quietly said that her father had been shot, but did not go on any further. She did, however, go on to say that she wanted to be at the child friendly space, to be with other kids her age and to play, because, as she explained, she is only a child and she deserves to play.

The stories of the other children went untold, and one can only imagine the atrocities that they have been through and what unimaginable tragedies they have already faced in such short lives. And yet, they sing and dance like other children, they draw pictures of their families, their homes, and the lives they used to live. For some, this was the only classroom-like experience they have ever had, since many are from rural areas from the south of Syria and did not attend school. Despite a lack of formal education, almost all of them dreamed to grow up and become doctors, while others mentioned they wanted to be carpenters and teachers. One very outspoken boy stood up, pointed to himself and with a big smile said that he wanted to grow up and be a “manager.” 

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They seemed happy for the chance to be children again; to laugh, to dance and sing, to dream, and to have a piece of their childhood back. While there were so many children, there are so little signs of childhood except for those experiences afforded to them by Save the Children and other organizations working to help them.

Child Friendly Spaces: East Amman, Zarqa, Ramtha, Mafraq, Irbid  (Center and North of Jordan)

Save the Children (STC) is also running Child Friendly Spaces throughout the host-communities in Amman and Zarqa (Central Jordan), Ramtha, Mafraq and Irbid (North of Jordan), where refugee children come and have structured activities run for them by the STC animators. A consistent theme of the programs and spaces run by the organization are the warmth and color and energy. When we arrived, the children were drawing pictures of their communities, and identifying what they considered to be safe and then more dangerous spaces. Some are still depicting scenes of violence, but overall, they were drawing what came naturally to them, things such as supermarkets, homes, mosques, and roads. Even through art, it is incredible to see the resiliency in these children, and the energy and joy they bring to every activity.

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Sandy Hook Tragedy: Volunteering for Save the Children in Newtown


Lacey-head-shotKristen Lacey, Senior Director, Marketing and Brand Management

Newtown, Connecticut

Decmeber 20, 2012


Working at Save the Children, I thought one day I’d help
earthquake survivors or war refugees in some remote land. I never thought I’d
be part of our relief efforts in my neighboring community.

When Save the Children was called on to help families in
Newtown, there was no hesitation. Responding to requests by community leaders
and the American Red Cross, we sent teams to do what we’ve done around the
world for decades – help children in crisis. 

Kristen and puppy

Kristen cuddles with a fellow volunteer in Newtown. They've both been helping kids cope with the tragedy in their own way.

I’m part of a team that works in our Child Friendly Space in
a large art classroom next to the counseling services in Reed Intermediate
School. It’s a place where kids can be kids again; comforted by trained adults
who can help them open up and give them tools to cope with their feelings.  

What we've done in Newtown is some of the most important
work we've ever done.  We provided
children who were frightened, confused and in some cases not speaking, with a
safe and warm place to play, feel protected and express themselves. 

One child said to me, “I like it best right here”.

We created an
environment where the kids became content and did not want to leave…painting,
playing with play dough, making ornaments, writing on our mural and creating
bracelets brought a calm and peace to these kids, and actually created a
setting they could partially control. 
These kids stepped back into a school in a way that was constructive and
healing, the opposite of what so many experienced that dark Friday in Sandy
Hook. 

As a parent, I also value that we gave parents a reprieve to
get much needed counseling while their children were in good care. 

Save the Children is unique because we can focus 100% on
kids and their needs – that is what we do. 
In Newtown, we provided exactly what the community needed for their
precious children, the moment they needed it.

I am humbled to be part of our volunteer effort. It gives me
comfort that I can help my neighbors in need.

Parents, click to read our 

Ten Tips to Help Children Cope With A Crisis

my
neighboring community

“As hard as it is for us here, it’s worse for the ones inside.”

MistyBuswell-Misty Buswell, Senior Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Save the Children

Ramatha, Jordan

May 30, 2012


It’s only about an hour from Amman to Ramtha, near the Syrian border, but once we arrive it feels like a world away. Save the Children is supporting a thousand Syrian refugee and Jordanian children every week in their child friendly space (CFS) here and giving mothers a place they can come to and share their experiences with other mothers who have fled the violence in Syria. And yet there’s still not enough space for everyone who wants to come and there’s a waiting list for when an additional CFS opens in a couple weeks.

Apart from being a bit crowded, it looks like most other CFS’s I’ve visited in other parts of the world – kids playing games and drawing with volunteers and a few staff supervising. I start playing catch with a six year old girl who’s sitting apart from the others, playing on her own. After a few tries she’s got the hang of it and is catching the ball, a beautiful smile lighting up her face. 

My Save the Children colleague tells me that this little girl was so distressed by what she saw that she has not spoken a word since she left Syria, three months ago.

 I’m glad that I could make her smile, even if it was only for a few minutes.

20120529_jordan_blog_mbI later learn that she and her four sisters and baby brother fled with their widowed mom after their home was attacked. Without a husband to earn an income, the family is especially vulnerable and is struggling to pay the high rents charged here and still put food on the table. I wonder what will happen when these families’ savings run out and they can’t afford the rent. The government and local communities have been really supportive of all those coming across the border but with more people coming, scarce resources will be even more stretched and the communities may not be able to cope.

The mothers are in a separate room talking, kids running in and out. When I and my Save the Children colleague enter they are all eager to tell us about their lives and every woman in the room has her own gripping story. Some walked for hours with their children to reach the border and many talk about their homes being destroyed. They all worry about their kids and the lasting effects on them of witnessing the violence. We hear about kids who run and hide when they hear loud noises and others who’ve regressed and lost their toilet training skills – all serious signs of distress. Although they may not have much to go back to, all the moms hold out hope of returning – “Inshallah before Ramadan, Inshallah the violence will stop, Inshallah this will all be over soon.”

After we’ve talked for a while about what these moms and their children need one woman looks at us intently. “As hard as it is for us here, it’s worse for the ones inside (Syria). You should help them, not us.”

Her words came back to me vividly when I learned of the killing of 32 children in Syria on Friday. Children just like the ones I met in that child friendly space in Ramtha. It’s shocking and horrifying that this could happen to children. Humanitarian agencies like Save the Children urgently need access so that we can help those families who need it most. As I leave the child friendly space in Ramtha and head back to Amman and my normal life, I resolve to bring these kid’s voices and stories back with me and not forget what I’ve seen.

Japan: Six Months After the Devastating Quake and Tsunami

Lane Hartill

Lane Hartill, Director of Media and Communications

Washington, D.C.

September 16, 2011 


Six months after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Save the Children is still working with thousands of children on the ground in the disaster areas. As the crisis moves from an emergency into the recovery and development phase, Save the Children has created a 5-year plan to help children and communities create an environment where children can thrive.

To find out more about our work in Japan—and our long term plans—please listen to the podcast below featuring Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles and the Chief Operating Officer of Save the Children in Japan, Eiichi Sadamatsu.


Japan: Six Months After the Earthquake and Tsunami by Save the Children

For more information, check out photos of our work and the full report:

 

Six-month report on Save the Children's Japan earthquake and tsunami Emergency response and recovery program.

Protecting the Youngest Victims of the Food Crisis

David Klauber David Klauber, Save the Children Intern   

Kobe Regufee Camp, Ethiopia

July 27, 2011


Today while half of the team here on the ground was focused on the operation of our Blanket Supplementary Food Program (BSFP) in the Transit and pre-registration Centers, the rest of us turned our attention towards mobilizing our Child Protection program in the Kobe refugee camp. As we drove the 45 miles to Kobe, I began to anticipate a rather surreal experience at returning to this camp.

When I last visited Kobe in early June, one could not have really called it a camp-it was still just a site, merely a large empty space with a few plots marked off by lines dug in the sand. It’s difficult to believe that within a month’s time of it opening (June 24th) it had reached full capacity.

Today there are 24,934 refugees living in Kobe, 88% (21,952) of which are under the age of 18 years old. We arrived and found the recently barren place transformed into a living, breathing refugee camp, overflowing with children.

Two colleagues and I weaved our way through the endless columns of tents. There were hundreds and hundreds of these small white domes that serve as the refugees’ only defense against the brutal environment of the exposed desert plain. Vicious winds periodically kick up the layer of red dust that coats the landscape. One must be quick to shield their face otherwise breathe a nice hardy mouthful. 

As we observed the countless children of Kobe wandering about in these awful conditions with really nothing to do, it became so apparent to me just how urgent the need for Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) is in this environment.

These spaces are an integral component of our Child Protection intervention in all the refugee camps as they provide children with safe zone/structures where they can take a break from the harsh environment and unstable situation. In this protected environment they can play, make art, express themselves, and perhaps most importantly, return to some degree of normalcy after being uprooted from their home and previous life. The child friendly zones also serve as screening mechanism for Save the Children caretakers to identify children in need of additional support or referral to medical services

By the time we left Kobe, the team had secured several sites, contracted local workers from the host community to begin construction, met with the committee of refugee elders/administrators to select community volunteers to help run the program, and put together a training schedule for both Save the Children staff and volunteers. In just two to three more days our child friendly sites sites will be operational and the kids here in Kobe will have a chance to be kids again.

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Learn more about our response to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Help Us Respond to the Food Crisis in the Horn of Africa. Please Donate Now.


How to Help Children Cope with the Emergency in Japan: Ten Tips from Save the Children

CMac Charles MacCormack, Save the Children president and CEO 

Westport, Connecticut

March 17, 2011


The dramatic images of the past week impact children not only in the immediate area where the destruction has taken place but also children throughout the country, and world, who are watching the images on television. 

Concerned about the emotional well-being of their children, many parents, teachers, grandparents and caregivers are looking for advice on how to respond to questions from children about unsettling and upsetting events that continue to be shown in the media about the disaster and the impact on homes, families and neighborhoods.  

Children often ask the adults in their lives to explain what they are seeing and reassure them about what will happen next: "Will everything be OK? Why is this happening? What will happen to the children who have lost so much?"

 How do we respond to these questions? 

Following 9/11 – and again after Hurricane Katrina – Save the Children prepared the following 10 tips to help adults support children through times of crisis. These tips are based upon Save the Children's years of national and international experience and can be used as a guide for adults to support children through this current crisis. The relevancy of different tips may vary upon issues such as a child's previous experience, age and where he or she lives in the world. 

1.Limit television time for children.  While it is important to parents and adults to stay informed, the images and messages being transmitted may be confusing and frightening for children. Watching television reports on disasters may overwhelm younger children. They may not understand that the tape of an event is being replayed, and instead think the disaster is happening over and over again. Overexposure to coverage of the events affects teenagers and adults as well. Television limits should be set for both you and your children. 

2.Listen to your children carefully. Before responding, get a clear picture of what it is that they understand and what is leading to their questions. Emotional stress results in part when a child cannot give meaning to dangerous experiences. Find out what he or she understands about what has happened. Their knowledge will be determined by their age and their previous exposure to such events. Begin a dialog to help them gain a basic understanding that is appropriate for their age and responds to their underlying concerns. 

3.Give children reassurance and psychological first-aid. Assure them about all that is being done to protect children who have been directly affected by this crisis. Take this opportunity to let them know that if any emergency or crisis should occur, your primary concern will be their safety. Make sure they know they are being protected.

4.Be alert for significant changes. Parents should be alert to any significant changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits, concentration, wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints without apparent illness. If present, these will likely subside within a short time. If prolonged, however, we encourage you to seek professional support and counseling. For children directly affected by this crisis – such as children who have lost a loved one – parents should consult their pediatrician or family doctor and consider counseling, not just for the child, but also for the entire family. It may be an important preventative measure. But other children also may be affected by the images they see and stories they hear. 

5.Expect the unexpected. Not every child will experience these events in the same way. As children develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional capacities change. Younger children will depend largely on their parents to interpret events, while older children and teenagers will get information from a variety of sources that may not be as reliable. Understand that older teenagers, because of their greater capacity for understanding, may be more affected by these stories. While teenagers seem to have more adult capacities to recover, they still need extra love, understanding and support to process these events. 

6.Give your children extra time and attention. They need your close, personal involvement to comprehend that they are safe and secure. Talk, play and, most important, listen to them. Find time to engage in special activities for children of all ages. Read bedtime stories and sing songs to help younger children fall asleep. 

7.Be a model for your child. Your child will learn how to deal with these events by seeing how you deal with them. Base the amount of self-disclosure on the age and developmental level of each of your children. Explain your feelings but remember to do so calmly. 

8.Watch your own behavior. Make a point of showing sensitivity toward those impacted by the disaster. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other. 

9.Help your children return to normal activities. Children almost always benefit from activity, goal orientation and sociability. Ensure that your child's school environment is also returning to normal patterns and not spending great amounts of time discussing the crisis.  

10.Encourage your child to do volunteer work. Helping others can give your child a sense of control, security and empathy. Indeed, in the midst of crisis, adolescents and youth can emerge as active agents of positive change. Encourage your children to help support local charities that assist children in need.

Save the Children urges adults to seek out and follow the guidance of Emergency Management and Public Health Officials to help ensure the safety of their children.

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Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Japan.

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Japanese Respond to Disaster With Quiet Determination

Awander Andrew Wander, Save the Children Media Manager

Tokyo, Japan

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The aftershocks come so often in Tokyo that no-one at Save the Children's office pays them much attention anymore. They usually start with an alarm on the television, giving a few seconds warning before the floor begins to judder, sometimes building in strength, sometimes fading away to stillness. It feels a bit like being on a boat, only on the fourth floor of an office block in the middle of a city.

If it's a particularly strong tremor, there might be some nervous smiles exchanged- we all know that another powerful quake remains a very real possibility. But there is urgent work to be done, and the atmosphere of quiet focus returns as soon as the ground stills beneath our feet.

It's the same with concerns over the nuclear reactor to the north of here. We all know there is a chance that the situation will deteriorate and radiation levels will rise. There's scant reassurance to be drawn from the apocalyptic headlines in the international media, and the team are working with one eye on the latest radiation readings announced on the rolling news coverage.

But short of making contingency plans, there's not much we can do about it. For now, levels of radiation are safe in the places we're working, and unless they rise, there is no reason for us to change what we're doing. In the meantime, a lot is getting done. As part of a team of international staff here in Tokyo, I'm watching the quiet determination of the dozens of Japanese staff members turn into results in the field.

Since the quake struck on Friday, Save the Children has made serious progress in our response. Our first child friendly space opened in Sendai on Wednesday, and the team there are looking to scale up their operations as soon as possible.

More spaces should be opening in evacuation centres across the affected area in the next few days, making a big difference to some of the 100,000 children caught up in this emergency.

That couldn't happen without our staff in Tokyo working around the clock to support our teams in the field, purchasing supplies, planning logistics, producing communications material and working with the media. The challenge is enormous, but the people here are meeting it.

We knew as soon as we saw the pictures coming out of Japan last Friday that this would not be simple. Events over the past few days have proven us right. But there is no doubt we are making progress, despite the constant growls of the earth and the ever-present spectre of the radiation.

There is a sense that our Japanese staff are drawing inspiration from each other's commitment, and in so doing, are helping their country take the first tentative steps towards recovery from one of the greatest disasters in its long, proud history.

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Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Japan.

Help Us Respond to the Japan Earthquake Recovery. Please Donate Now.