Seven Years since the Syrian Dream

The Conflict in Syria is not “Normal”

After seven years of war in Syria, we hear more and more that the general public is becoming desensitized to the conflict. As horrible as the news reports are, the stories are no longer shocking. But we must never accept suffering and human rights violations as “the new normal.” The crisis in Syria is unacceptable—and it’s getting worse.

In the U.S., people work hard to achieve the American dream. Before the conflict, families throughout Syria were pursuing their Syrian dream—sending their children to school, buying what they wanted, working and running businesses. That was their normal.

When you listen to displaced Syrians describe life before the conflict, it sounds a lot like the lives my friends, family and neighbors live:

Just as we strive to raise our children in peaceful communities surrounded by neighbors, friends and relatives, a mom named Haya* reflected to us that: “Ours was a simple quiet village.” Seven-year-old Amer* recollected that: “My grandfather used to lift me and pick me up, play with me. My memories of Syria are we went for a walk at night, with my father and my mother. We bought something sweet.”

Sadly, seven years on, we know that many places in Syria are anything but quiet. Escalation in fighting forced more than a million people across Syria from their homes in the last three months of 2017.

Just as we dream of owning homes and giving our children more than we ever had, 7-year-old Lubna* told us: “I had a big, big home. My grandmother got me a toy, I remember that. I had a white room and it had a closet. The closet had a lot of clothes in it. I had a lot of toys in Syria.”

Today, homes in communities like Eastern Ghouta are being decimated by bombings. Satellite images show neighborhoods with the majority of their buildings destroyed. Basic services like sewage, electricity and water are gone.

Just as we are ambitious and work hard to provide for our families, one young boy we met named Mushen* told us: “We used to have chickens and sheep in Syria. My dad had a small shop. We also had two cars.”

Now, in besieged communities in Syria, 80 to 90 percent of people  are now unemployed and even staple foods are unaffordable for many families.

Just as we send our children to school and want them to be safe, 13-year-old Rasha* remembered that: “My school was really nice, it had two playgrounds. I really liked the school and had many friends.”

But in Syria, attacks often target schools and hospitals. In Eastern Ghouta alone, more than 60 schools have been hit by bombing in the first two months of 2018. Many schools operate in basements because of bombings. Children are years behind in basic reading and math skills.

We must actively resist the feeling that what we are seeing out of Syria is normal. It would not be for us and it is not for Syrian families who are desperate for peace. Seven years of conflict must end now. Millions of Syrians are dreaming of rebuilding their lives.

Since 2012, Save the Children has been supporting children and families both inside and outside of Syria. Our programs address physical and psychosocial health, return children to education, give them safe spaces to play, provide food and more. Save the Children will continue to raise its voice for those affected by the Syrian conflict. On March 15, join us by sharing your message of hope for Syrians on social media with the hashtag #7WordsForSyria.

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

by Dr Nicholas Alusa

Save the children car in Kenya.

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

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

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

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

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

An emergency unfolds

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

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

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

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

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

Transforming emergency care

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

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

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

South Sudan sandstorm

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

A medal of honor

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

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

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

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

Now – what’s next?

 

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

The Decision to Escape Syria


Anonymous man

Hedinn Halldorsson, Emergency Communication Manager

Jordan

September 11, 2013



Two reasons. That is what most of the refugees give me
when I ask them why they decided to flee and take on a perilous journey. One, security
and the simple fear for their lives and their families. Secondly, Syria is a
country in ruins. With its eroded infrastructure, simply getting by, finding
water and bread, has become nearly impossible for many.

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Photo Credit: Save the Children/Hedinn Halldorsson

So in the end, the refugees don't have a choice. That's
the calculus. A question of life and death. They risk their lives by staying,
and they risk their lives by fleeing and embarking on a long journey, with no specific
destination other than “safety.” "We walked during the night and slept in
the daytime", says a pregnant mother of three who walked 60 miles in 5
days. "I was so afraid someone would attack us from the bushes".

The option of fleeing, if everything goes well, offers
refuge a distant light at the end of tunnel. That is why one in three Syrians
is now on the run, either internally displaced within the Syrian borders or in
a neighboring country, having left everything they once knew and loved.

There is no sign of the violence to cease, on the
contrary. And those bearing the brunt are ordinary people. The needs are
biggest in the plagued country itself, where humanitarian access is greatly
limited. Nonetheless, Save the Children has, since the onset of the crisis,
more than 900 days ago, reached hundreds of thousands in Syria, under extremely
difficult conditions.

Save the Children has for months demanded unhindered
humanitarian access, something we don't have today. Operating without
limitations in Syria would mean that we could reach those most in need. And
secondly, the burden of Syria's neighboring countries, already hosting more
than two million refugees, could be eased.

Syria has become the great tragedy of this century,
says the head of the UNHCR, "with suffering and displacement unparalleled
in recent history". According to the UN, the fighting has been so intense
that the number of refugees has risen tenfold in a single year.

When you know how enormous the needs are and how dire
the situation of millions of people are as these lines are being typed, it is
difficult to get your head around the fact that the emergency response of an
organization like Save the Children, whose simple aim is to meet basic needs of
children and ensure they stay alive, is only 40% funded.

Some months ago, Jordan had the biggest numbers of
refugees, but today it is Lebanon. One in ten inhabitants of Jordan are Syrian,
one in five inhabitants of Lebanon. Most of the two million people that have
sought refuge and safety and neighboring countries live in ramshackle homes,
temporary shelters, vacant housing.

The demographics of the region have changed for good,
on such an epic scale that no one could have predicted. And what is worrying,
is that the exodus is bound to grow in coming days.

Numbers have a tendency of losing their power the
bigger they get. That is the case of more than one million Syrian children that
have fled to a neighboring country. One million of them, in a dire need of
humanitarian assistance. I've met Aya, aged seven, who said she would dance
when there was shooting outside, "Cause I don't like to be afraid",
she explains.

No one says it, during my interviews with the refugees,
but many do realize that it could be months and years before they will be able
to return to a country that was once called Syria. And those I talk to, are in
different stages of grieving everything they have lost and left behind and
might never see again. Family, home, a country. The conflict has unleashed an unimaginable
tide of suffering, and continues to do so.

Click here to donate to help Syrian children

 

Haway is Healthy

Pc field head

Penelope Crump, Web Editor

Westport, Connecticut

September 2, 2011 


Penny just returned to the United States after spending two weeks surveying Save the Children's food crisis relief programs in Ethiopia. 

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Little Haway from drought-parched Ethiopia had something special to celebrate on her first birthday – being alive. Her village, in what had been the dairy capitol of Ethiopia, has been devastated by drought. For two years, the rains haven’t come. Massive herds of goats and cows have been decimated. Almost nothing grows and fertile pastures are turning into deserts. Village children had nothing to eat but bark from the dying shrubs.

The drought took a significant toll on Haway’s village, her mother fell ill and couldn’t nurse her and there was no longer any milk to drink since the livestock had perished.

Haway became dangerously malnourished and weighed only 12 pounds when she was brought to a Save the Children emergency nutrition program. She was skin and bones, extreme hunger and severe acute malnutrition consumed her tiny body.

Like almost all children in drought-affected regions of Ethiopia, Haway also suffered from infections due to a lack of clean drinking water in her village. Infections hasten dangerous dehydration and muscle-wasting, forcing malnourished children into a rapid downward spiral.

You have to treat babies like Haway very carefully as feeding them the wrong nutrients can be dangerous,” says Sisay Demeke, a Save the Children emergency nutrition coordinator. “First, we treated her illness and restored her body’s balance of water, sodium and essential minerals.”

Haway
Once Haway became stable enough to digest protein and fat, she began receiving a weight-gaining mixture of milk, vitamins, minerals, grain, sugar and oil. And then she began to thrive. She went from listless to vibrant in just a few days. Her sunken face became full, eventually plumping up to the chubby-cheeked baby you see today.

Haway became well enough to go home and begin the out-patient treatment program – consisting of high-nutrient, high-calorie foods and water purification supplies.

The village matriarch, also named Haway, was astounded by the baby girl’s recovery. She has since become a health volunteer for Save the Children and has been trained to keep an eagle eye on health problems in her small tribal village.

I am happy to give back by being a health volunteer. If there were no Save the Children, many of the babies in my village would have died,” she says.

“They [Save the Children] give a very good service. The guys are clever and wash their hands. The food they provide to kids is very good and the way they provide it is kind.”

With her entire village now involved with Save the Children’s health and nutrition programs, Haway and the other young children have the support and hope they need to make it until rains will come back.

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