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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.

 

Haiti Is Facing A Humanitarian Crisis We Can Solve — So Why Aren’t We?

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Originally published on huffingtonpost.com

Of the many humanitarian crises challenging the world today, none is as solvable as the human disaster that Hurricane Matthew has wrought in southwestern Haiti. The threats to human life in Haiti’s Sud and Grand Anse departments are entirely within our grasp to address immediately: starvation, exposure and disease—cholera, from contaminated water. And we have the solution at hand: food, shelter, clean water, medicine and sanitation supplies.

The only barrier is the collective will and resolve to act. Not doing so now — as we approach the one-month mark — means certain death for thousands of people, perhaps tens of thousands.

Hurricane Matthew hit the United States with wind, rain and floods that have tragically killed more than 40 people, but gave its hardest punch to southwestern Haiti. The category 4 storm made a direct hit on the remote peninsula, killing hundreds and pummeling the landscape with brutal 145 mph winds and as much as 40 inches of rain. The wind stripped trees, ripped off roofs and toppled block walls. Overflowing rivers tore out bridges and spread cholera bacteria. Crops not killed by wind were drowned by a surge of seawater; ocean water also flooded wells, contaminating precious sources of fresh water.

As a result, an estimated 1.4 million people are in need of assistance, many without food, safe water, shelter or basic health services, and children are often the most vulnerable.

Because the few roads that serve this region are badly damaged, towns along the southwestern coast were without help for days. In Port-à-Piment and Port Salut, some health clinics and cholera treatment centers are damaged, but functioning with limited supplies and an increasing patient load. Food is scarce and the vast majority of homes are damaged or destroyed.

Cholera, a deadly diarrheal disease, is a serious concern with more than 3,400 suspected cases in the three weeks following the storm. Patients are arriving at cholera centers, but without additional, ongoing deliveries of large quantities of IV fluids, water purification supplies — tablets or even bleach — and basic sanitation items such as soap and gloves, the disease will most certainly expand its deadly reach, making the hurricane’s death toll a footnote. In some damaged health facilities cholera patients are treated alongside children and pregnant women, increasing the risk of infection.

In the hardest hit communities, 100 percent of homes are destroyed, there is no food, little water and no aid deliveries. Understandably, people in the region are becoming increasingly desperate. With their livestock dead and crops stripped, survivors can’t subsist without outside help. Without shelter, they are at risk of exposure. When all water sources are most likely contaminated with cholera bacteria, they can’t safely take a drink. And with roads blocked and no aid trucks in sight, all hope is gone.

The Haitian government and local communities are doing their best under tough circumstances. Our organizations with decades of experience working in Haiti are also mounting significant relief responses. Like partners and peers, we have qualified teams on the ground with many Haitian staff members leading the charge and are rushing aid to as many communities as we can. But our experience tells us that these collective efforts are not enough. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “A massive response is required.” The need for food, shelter, medicine and cholera prevention and treatment supplies is too urgent. The United Nations is seeking $119 million for Haiti’s recovery but so far only 28 percent of that has been raised. Will the commitment be met by member nations? If so, when? There is no time to find out.

This disaster requires mobilization at a huge scale and fast. The U.S. government has deployed resources but if it does more, it will signal the urgency to others. Individuals, corporations and foundations need to support the work of qualified relief agencies that can save lives.

Amid the spin and noise of the news cycle, let’s not tune out the voices expressing human needs. There are a lot of complicated things in the world. This crisis is not one of them.

“It’s not peaceful in my head.”


Annie bodmer royAnnie
Bodmer-Roy, Senior Media Manager, Emergencies and Advocacy

Gao, Mali

February 26, 2013


This
is what 15-year-old Aissatou finishes with. We have been talking for almost an
hour – she has had so much to tell me. It’s hardly surprising, after everything
she has been through.

Forced
from her home over one year ago, Aissatou was more than eight months pregnant.
She was 14, and gave birth to her son Salam less than one month later, on the
run and staying in Gao.

AissatouShe
still remembers the day the rebels first entered her town, but the words come
hesitantly at first, in short pieces. “I was really scared,” she starts. I ask
what she was doing before the attack started. “I had been having fun. I was
playing with my friends. Everyone was outside. It was a Friday.”

“First
we heard gunfire,” she remembers. “We thought it was the military. Then we
started seeing people running everywhere.” Aissatou tells me she started
running too, straight into her house. She stayed there for two days without
leaving.

It
was on the second day that she finally came out and heard what had happened.
One of her friends had been hit by a stray bullet. She was alive, but needed
urgent medical treatment, and was fleeing the town for a refugee camp in Niger.

Aissatou’s
family had also been directly affected. As she describes what happened, her
pace picks up, rushed, as if she wants to get the words out as quickly as
possible. She tells me how her brother-in-law had been accused of stealing. She
explains how, under the rebels, the punishment for this was amputation. She saw
her brother-in-law after it happened – his hand had been cut off at the wrist.
As she explains this to me, Aissatou looks down at her own hands, drawing a
thin line with her finger over her wrist, over and over again. “It wasn’t
true,” she says, looking back up at me. “He said he hasn’t stolen anything.”

But
what hit Aissatou the hardest wasn’t either of these things. It was what
happened to her friend Ines. And it’s now, telling Ines’ story, that the words
pour out of Aissatou’s mouth. She stares me straight in the eyes, and I can see
the horrific events playing back in her mind as she describes them.

“The
rebels went into the village and took girls – not women, but girls. They were
15, 16, 17. They said they needed the girls to go prepare food for them. They
took them into their cars and brought them into the bush. They left them in the
bush after they were done raping them – but they beat them before leaving. I
know because my friend was one of them. There were 16 girls in total. My
friend’s name is Ines*, she is 15 now. She was 14 then, like me – we went to
school together,” Aissatou starts, and then paints a vivid picture of just what
happened to Ines.

“She
told me that they took her by force. They threatened her with their weapons to
make her sleep with them. There were 20 men but only 16 girls – so some of the
men shared the same girl between them. Ines was lucky; there was only one man
who took her. Afterwards though, he hit her five times with a long rod before
she managed to escape.”

Beaten
and abused, Aissatou’s 14-year-old classmate ran from the bushes, but in her
fear and confusion, fell when she reached the road. Aissatou says that’s how
the men from her village found Ines, and brought her back home again. Ines told
her classmate the whole story before Aissatou got her brother and brought her
friend to the hospital. Aissatou and her family fled the town the next day, and
she hasn’t seen Ines since.

As
she finishes her story, Aissatou pauses. She looks at the ground down for a
second, almost self-conscious. “Even now, even if I’m here,” she starts, “…I
can’t forget what happened. My head is full of these things – what happened to
my friends, my family…” She looks up one more time at me, willing me to understand.

“It’s
not peaceful in my head.”                                               

Syria Crisis: Reuniting Lost Children with their Families


Farisphoto (2)Faris Kasim, Information & Communications Coordinator 

Za’atari Refugee camp in Jordan on the Syrian border.

February 26, 2013


Near the reception area, Save the Children is caring for unaccompanied and separated
children.

There were more than a dozen lost girls and boys as young as 6 years old who were
residing at special designated areas.

About two to three lost children are arriving at the camp every day. Most are eventually reunited with their parents or extended families within the camp.

However,four unaccompanied children have been living at the space for the past three
months.

The Save the Children team has been working day and night to assist the refugees in
Za’atari, and there is good coordination between all the NGOs and agencies
working to make room for new refugees.

But everyone is anxious about what will happen if this exodus continues. Will the
humanitarian community and the Jordanian government be able to shelter, feed
and clothe another 60,000 people?

Thousands
of children need caring people to support Save the Children’s response efforts.
Please give generously to our Syria Children in Crisis Fund

Syria Crisis: Being There When Children are Sick


Farisphoto (2)Faris Kasim, Information & Communications Coordinator 

Za’atari Refugee camp in Jordan on the Syrian border.

February 19, 2013


Save the Children is responsible for general food distribution in the camp. I saw
long lines of families sitting with boxes of their bi-monthly rations. Many had
recently arrived, and were happy to receive the rations.

While
talking to a colleague who was supervising the distribution, a man ran up to us
clutching a little girl in his arms. His face covered with a red kaffiya (traditional
headscarf), he urgently called to us to help his daughter.

She had
been sick for many days and was running a dangerously high fever. She was
barely conscious and couldn’t even sit up straight.

My
colleague immediately rushed them to the camp hospital. I later learned that the
girl was given medicine and was put under observation by doctors for hours in
case she had to be transferred outside of the camp.

Hundreds
of men, women and children are arriving at Za’atari in similar conditions, and
many don’t know how to get help at the camps. Luckily for this man’s daughter,
we were there to get her safely to the hospital.

So many children need caring people to support
Save the Children’s response efforts.Please give generously to our Syria Children in Crisis Fund.

Syria Crisis: Supplies Needed for Refugee Families


Farisphoto (2)Faris Kasim, Information & Communications Coordinator 

Za’atari Refugee camp in Jordan on the Syrian border.

February 15, 2013


As I
entered the refugee camp, there were dozens of vehicles unloading people near
the registration center.

A little
boy ran up to me, asking something in Arabic. My colleague intervened and found
out he wanted to know where to get breakfast.

We
walked back to his family and told them about the Save the Children tent nearby
where they can get welcome meals made up of hummus, beans, juice, tuna,
crackers and honey.

The
family had hastily fled their homes in Syria after hearing news of bombardment
in their area. After travelling overnight, they reached the border near
Za’atari at dawn.

While
waiting for registration, the father told me he was worried about what kind of
accommodation he would get for his family, but thanked God that at least his
children were now safe from harm.

There
was a large tent nearby where the newly registered families were given
blankets, mattresses, buckets, water bottles, soap, cleaning powder and other
sanitary items.

There
was a huge crowd pushing against the fence around the tent. Though the camp
staff insisted people queue to speed up the distribution, most of the men and
women were furious about the delay in receiving their supplies. Calm was
restored when some of the frustrated families agreed to be patient and wait
their turn.

Save the Children is working to help the thousands of children living in the refugee camps. So many girls and boys need caring people to support Save the Children’s response efforts. Please give generously to our Syria Children in Crisis Fund.