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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Adjusting to Life in a Refugee Camp

David Klauber

David Klauber, Save the Children Intern

Dolo Ado Refugee Transit Center, Ethiopia

August 19, 2011 


Magala Hafow, 34, has lived in Ethiopia for exactly 23 days.  She is one of the thousands of Somali refugees who have fled their home to seek food and safety in the refugee camps across the Ethiopian border. The journey from Somalia to Ethiopia often entails great peril for asylum seekers who must walk for days on end to reach the border with little food and water.  For Magala, this journey was particularly scary.  She is the mother of three boys, ages 4, 5, and 10, and is five months pregnant. While giving birth to her 5-year-old, she developed a severe eye problem, which has deteriorated to the extent that she cannot see well. She says that she is gradually going blind. 

But despite these tremendous obstacles, deciding to make the difficult journey from their home to Ethiopia was very simple. “We came here because I was scared for my children,” she says. “It was the only option we had. Because of the drought there is no food in Somalia; children were dying of hunger.  I just want to get food and medicine for my children.”  She describes witnessing the landscape around her small town, Kasa Hadere, transform into desert over the course of the past few months.  Her husband, a farmer, had become very ill and could not work and Magala’s sight had deteriorated to such a state that she could no longer work either.  

MRS._MAGALA_2_92453Magala and her sons.
Photo Credit: David Klauber/Save the Children

Though Magala and her family have now made it to Ethiopia, their journey remains unfinished.  She and her sons have been living in the temporary intake centers in Dolo Ado where asylum seekers are registered and granted official status as refugees.  The refugee camps, 30 miles away, have been so overburdened by the massive surge of arriving refugees that they can no longer accommodate any more people.  The construction of a new camp is underway but in the meantime Magala and her family must continue to live in the transit center where nearly 11,000 other refugees are waiting to be registered and relocated.

Recognizing the dire health status of arriving refugees such as Magala and her boys and the delays they face in reaching the refugee camps, Save the Children has initiated a feeding program in the refugee transit and registration centers.  The program provides two daily meals for all children aged 5 and younger. Magala explains how important this service is because the only other food offered to refugees at the center is difficult for her boys to eat.  “This is the only option we have now. My children are not able to eat the other food that is provided here because they are not used to it and makes them sick. So I take them here to Save Children’s tent where they can eat and also get milk.  I am so appreciative of the feeding program.  They have now started eating again and I am so relieved.” 

Magala still worries about her sons as she watches them struggle to adapt to such a new and harsh environment.  “The children are afraid. We were not from an urban area.  They are not used to being around so many people so they are having a very hard time mixing with the other children.  But I am hopeful that they will become more settled when we get to the refugee camps.”  Magala says that she is also feeling hope for her unborn child and the chance for new life in Ethiopia.  “I’m expecting I can get medicine for my eyes here and that my children can have food, milk, medicine, and schooling.  This is all I want.”

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Abdi’s New Life – Part 2

CAROLYN_MILES_HEAD_SHOT_062001 Carolyn Miles, President & CEO-elect

Hagadera Refugee Camp, Kenya

August 18, 2011


When we last left Carolyn, she had just met Abdi, a 13-year-old boy who travelled to Kenya alone

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On his first day in Hagadera, the day before we met him, Abdi was wandering in the market. "My husband found him crying and stopped to talk to him.  He told him he was alone and his parents had died" said the young woman named Nimo who lives here. "He brought him home to me and now we are caring for him".

I could not help but think how generous these people were.  They lived in a small mud and stick house with a simple open kitchen made of sticks and yet they were willing to take in this little lost boy who needed everything.  I asked Nimo to tell me a bit more about how she came to be in Hagedera camp.

"I came here several months ago from Somalia with my husband because there was so much war," she said sadly.  When I asked about her other children she told me that her first child, born in Somalia, had died from "disease" at 7-months.  Probably something that could be prevented but given the horrific state of healthcare in Somalia, likely the child never saw a doctor or healthworker at all.  I understood a little better why this young couple had wanted to take Abdi in.

As she spoke with us, Nimo kept glancing at Abdi to check that he was okay. She patted his knee to reassure him as we talked.  Nimo told us she wanted to take care of him and we asked what he needed.  "A mattress and supplies so he can go to school next month" she said.  These are things Save the Children will provide, along with the support we give to families who are willing to foster children while we look for their parents or relatives.  Since Abdi's parents are dead, we will search for realtives here in Kenya.

In the meantime, Save the Children staff will come back to visit Nimo, her husband and Abdi regularly to make sure the arrangement is really working and to provide parent and child counseling, help in enrolling him in school, and access to healthcare.

As we said goodbye, I hoped that Abdi would finally find a home where he would be safe in Hagedera.  We asked him if he had yet met any of the curious children peeking through the fence at us and he shook his head.  "He will soon play with them" said Nimo with a smile.  "When he is ready, he will make new friends here".

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Abdi’s New Life – Part 1

CAROLYN_MILES_HEAD_SHOT_062001 Carolyn Miles, President & CEO-elect

Hagadera Refugee Camp, Kenya

August 17, 2011


Today we traveled to one of the camps to meet with Abdi, a shy 13-year-old boy with bright dark eyes and a tough story with a happy ending. I thought how young and small he looked, remembering my own towering son at 13.  We sat outside on straw mats, huddled close to the mud wall for some shade from the afternoon sun and spoke wIth Abdi and the woman who lived here about his journey from Somalia and his new life in Kenya.

With his head hung, he told us that both his parents had died in Somalia, first his mother and then his father.  An uncle had taken him in and then in a desparate bid to get Abdi to a better life away from famine and civil war, had paid for him to travel alone for several days on a truck, packed with other Somalis, along bone-jarring roads.  He arrived at Hagadera camp on his own knowing not one single person.

We had met Abdi the day before at the registration center where Save the Children staff meet unaccompanied children and help get them food, supplies, clothing and most of all a foster family where they can stay while we try to trace parents or any relatives.

We got him what he needed and then staff started to work to find him a place to stay.

As we heard today from his kindly new care giver, it turns out Abdi thankfully had already started his new life with some luck

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Inside a Refugee Camp

Gabriel

Gabriel Nehrbass, Emergency Food Security and Livelihoods Fellow

Kobe, Ethiopia

August 17, 2011


Allow me to give you an idea of this past weekend.  Imagine a continuous dust storm that distorts your vision and blows into your nose and mouth as you breathe. Envision a rusty red and light yellow desert with thousands of white UNHCR tents peppered evenly as far as the horizon.  Picture parents with sadness in their eyes and children without a smile as you pass them.  This is Kobe refugee camp.  It is where the 24,000 recently arrived refugees have been resettled.  There are two other camps already at capacity (more than 40,000 people in each) and one scheduled to open later this week to accommodate the increasing refugee population.  The refugees are from different parts of Somalia, with different cultures and dialects. 

DSC_1709_91647 (1)Kobe Refugee Camp in Somali Region, Ethiopia  Photo Credit: Michael Klosson

Many children and adults are sick.  Most are skinny and malnourished due to both their escape and the drought that is plaguing the region.  They don’t even appear to have the hope or energy to talk.  However, approach a man, woman or child and smile, offer your hand to shake theirs and say “hello, how are you” in some broken Somali and at once their facial expressions revive.  Hope shines through their eyes and they become quite animated.  You get a glimpse of who they are and what they have left behind. 

Just weeks ago, the people in front of me were teachers, farmers, shop owners, pastoralists, and traders.  Some of the children attended school, some didn’t, and some worked herding the family goats and sheep.  They had family lives, dreams, hopes and aspirations like you and me.  Now they are dazed.

In the refugee camps there is nowhere for the children to play or be safe, and there are strangers everywhere.  Who actually lives in the camp and who comes from the surrounding areas is difficult to determine at this point.  During the day, many children hide in their family tents.  Some venture into the desert bush surrounding the camp.  Who knows what can happen to them there.

The transit center is even more jarring.  Children walk through trash and human feces.  Some are defecating in front of everyone, on top of heaps of discarded plastic and other materials.  Children are emaciated.  Makeshift tents of cloth strewn across branches give little refuge to the newcomers.  The families will be in the transit center until they receive refugee status documentation.  This may take days or weeks.  People are in shock from their displacement.  There is no telling what happened to them over the past couple weeks.  What did they see?  What pain did they endure over their journeys?  Who did they lose?  What from their experience will weigh heavily on them for the rest of their lives?  How long will they be in the camp?  How long will the drought in East Africa continue?

Visit one of our nutrition tents and the knot in your heart intensifies.  The children are so skinny you can see bones everywhere their clothes do not cover.  Most just have a blank stare on their faces and do not notice you.  Others lift their heads slightly and just gaze weakly.  No smiles.  I wonder how many children didn’t make it to the tent.  I pray that the ones who are nourished back to health do not relapse in the coming months. 

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Educating the Forgotten Children of the DRC

Sarah press Sarah Press, Save the Children, Democratic Republic of Congo Education Coordinator

New York, New York

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


 Sarah is attending the launch of the 2011 Global Monitoring Report at Columbia University in New York City today on behalf of Save the Children. This year’s report examines the consequences of conflict on children’s education.

If you want to put names and faces to the millions of forgotten children in the world, you might start in the rolling hills of Kitchanga, north of Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC.) There you will find thousands of children living in poverty exacerbated by violence and a general lack of interest from the international community. You might start with Rafiki, a twelve-year-old child with a bright smile and a nearly unbelievable sense of optimism. 
 
Rafiki’s father died when he was just four years old. When he was 10, he and his mother fled from their home when one of the many active armed groups in the region tore through their village, burning homes and fields and destroying anything in their path. “I don’t know why they did it,” he told me sadly, “no one knows.” 
 
When the soldiers came, we saw and ran away. I was too scared. I thought I was going to die. Everyone ran. We came on foot with nothing, only our clothes that we were wearing. We came to stay with my uncle because we didn’t know what else to do,” Rafiki recalls. 
 
Rafiki’s uncle took them in, and his mother helps around the house, collecting water and wood and helping with the cooking. 
 
I wanted to go to school right away,” Rafiki said, “I was in fifth grade, and I wanted to continue but I couldn’t. My mother didn’t have any money to pay (the fees) and my uncle couldn’t help. Instead, I helped my mother with her chores. 
 
“Children who are not in school are treated like vagabonds, like bandits. Children who go to school are respected by the others and by the grownups,” he said. “I felt awful when I wasn’t in school.  I felt like I had no life.”
 
Last August, Rafiki and his mother heard that Save the Children was helping children who were not in school to enroll.  Rafiki was thrilled. He is now in his last year of primary school – a school in which the teachers have been trained through the support of Save the Children, and in which there are children’s clubs and recreational activities and schoolbooks. Rafiki comes to school every day.  He says that he feels better about himself and about his life, and he hopes that one day he’ll be a doctor.
 
“I love school!” he said, “I want to have a good life.”
 
He pointed to the secondary school next door to his primary school. “That’s where I’ll go next year.” 
 
But he probably won’t. 
 
Secondary school fees are as high as 5 to 10 times primary school fees, and Rafiki’s mother couldn’t pay those. The district of Kitchanga, while home to more than 20 Internationally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps and more than 40,000 displaced people, is not considered enough of an emergency to garner the kind of humanitarian support that would allow a child like Rafiki to continue his schooling. In Kitchanga, 24 rapes were reported during the weeks around Christmas; in another part of the country, that figure was in the hundreds. While 24 rapes would be a crisis in your neighbourhood or mine, in the DRC it pales in comparison to other emergencies. The children of Kitchanga are trapped in a grey area: they live in a context of instability, but not enough instability for the humanitarian community to consider them a priority. 
 
The funding for Save the Children’s education program in Kitchanga ran out at the end of February 2011, and there is no further funding in sight. Thanks to the support he’s already received Rafiki will make it to the end of primary school.  But what of the children who will come after him? Each child in Kitchanga who enrolls in school, each parent who enrolls his child in school, is making a statement of optimism: against all odds, they are insisting in a belief in the future of Kitchanga and the future of DRC, which most of the world seems to have forsaken.

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