Destruction caused by arial shelling in Eastern Ghouta, 25th February 2018.

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.

Moving Local Organizations into the Driver’s Seat

Carlos CardenasCarlos Cardenas, Guatemala Country Director  

Guatemala City, Guatemala

July 18, 2012


Sometimes the best way to serve families over the long haul is to step back. A recent change to U.S. foreign assistance policy is putting more local organizations in the lead on development projects around the world.

X00228_9In Guatemala, chronic malnutrition keeps half the country’s children from developing properly. That fuels a vicious cycle of poverty that hurts children in rural, indigenous communities the most. U.S. investments to break this cycle have helped countless children and families, but new reforms mean Guatemalans will play a bigger, more sustainable role in fighting the worst rate of chronic malnutrition in the Western hemisphere.

Save the Children has worked in Guatemala for 14 years with a variety of public and private funding to help poor populations overcome the impact of poverty and three decades of civil conflict. As an international nonprofit humanitarian and development agency, we work alongside communities to implement integrated programs that improve health, nutrition, economic opportunities, disaster risk reduction, democracy and governance.

For the last five years, Save the Children was the prime recipient of funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to run a major food security project. In tandem, a local consortium created by Guatemala’s largest export corporations called AGEXPORT was running small scale projects with USAID funds opening up markets for poor rural farmers.  

As a result of USAID’s policy called Implementation and Procurement Reform, AGEXPORT is about to move into the driver’s seat. Under this policy, USAID aims to spend 30 percent of its resources on local institutions by 2015. In Guatemala, USAID has required that a local organization be the prime funding recipient in a new Feed the Future project called “Rural Value Chains.” AGEXPORT has been selected to take the lead and AGEXPORT has asked Save the Children to play a supportive role by providing key technical support and institutional capacity.

We know that improving farmers’ access to markets leads to greater, steadier income through the year and–critically for children–to improved nutrition for their own families. 

If the new project moves ahead as planned, AGEXPORT will bring its expertise with domestic market to the partnership, and Save the Children will bring our experience improving children’s nutrition and food security.

AGEXPORT’s selection as the prime grantee will also give the organization the opportunity to build capacity and institutional expertise to lead increasingly large-scale projects. 

That bodes well for the future.

In the next grant cycle, I suspect that AGEXPORT may not need Save the Children or any other international NGO to improve conditions for Guatemalan farmers and their children. And Save the Children can move on to another area where our technical expertise and services are still truly needed. 

Working ourselves out of a job is a development success.

The New Year festival (Nauroz) in Afghanistan

AfCO March 2012 Blog Post Author Photo with children 2Dr. Sohail Azami, Sponsorship Manager

Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan

April 20, 2012


Nauroz, the New Year Festival, takes place on the first day of the Afghan month Hamal. Nauroz, which means “new day”, has been celebrated in this region for at least 3,000 years. It marks the start of the solar year and the first day of spring. The festival is rooted in the Zoroastrian religion, a major religion once practiced here.

Today, Afghans celebrate Nauroz with family and friends, enjoying traditional foods. Special to this holiday is haft mewa, or seven fruits. Haft mewa includes almond, pistachio, walnut, raisins, apricots and dates which are soaked in water overnight.

Another holiday dish is Samanak, which is made from wheat germ and slowly cooled until it becomes a creamy and sweet pudding. For New Year’s dinner, an Afghan tradition is to prepare seven types of food whose name start with the Afghan letter of “Seen”, the “S” sound. We call this special meal haft seen, or seven “S”.

AfCO Sponsorship Blog Post - Photo 3 - March 2012Many cities in Afghanistan host festivals to celebrate Nauroz. In Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in northern Afghanistan, thousands gather at the historical shrine of Hazrat Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed and the fourth Caliph of Islam. Famous for its Blue Mosque and centuries old history, the shrine is deeply respected by Afghans. T Mazar-i-Sharif also hosts a Red Rose Festival, named for the red roses that naturally grow in the deserts nearby.

New Year’s Day is right after the schools’ winter break and on the 3rd day of the year the schools reopen. To celebrate the holiday, children receive new clothes and enjoy picnics with their families. They also enjoy playing soccer, volleyball, playing music, singing songs, dancing and flying kites.

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