When the Rain Comes

Marie photo Marie Dahl, Save the Children protection advisor

Man, Ivory Coast

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


It has been a long day of work and I am finally home. As I sit outside, the pitch black sky is lit up by a distant lightning, revealing the silhouette of the belt of mountains that surrounds Man, the town I’m now living in, in western Ivory Coast. There is no thunder, just lightning, and as soon as it’s gone, the sky returns to darkness. Normally, I would have just enjoyed the beauty of this moment, but this time it’s different. I know that later tonight, when the rain catches up with the lightning, there will be children and families unable to sleep because they have no shelter.

Hundreds of thousands of families were forced to flee their homes in the Ivory Coast after disputed elections in November sparked a major crisis. Now, almost six months after the elections, children are still suffering the devastating consequences. Their homes have been burnt down, schools destroyed, hospitals looted and family members killed.

Right now, 150,000 people are still displaced in the West alone. Thousands of children are without a home, some staying with host families who don’t have the resources to support everyone. Others live in overcrowded camps, struggling to find free space to lay their heads at night, which, for many, still means sleeping under the stars.

Today I visited one of the camps where about 25,000 people are crowded together on the grounds of a local church. The conditions are atrocious. Apart from the need for adequate shelter, there is also a massive shortage of food, clean water, mosquito nets and medical supplies.

As I walked through the busy and narrow alleys of the camp, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of children – they were everywhere. Many of them showed signs of malnutrition and stomach diseases. Some of them would not stop crying.

The amount of need was palpable at the camp, and I was glad that we were there to take action.

While my colleagues work flat out to provide the basic needs of these children, I work to protect children from abuse, violence and exploitation. Despite the disheartening conditions I had witnessed on my visit, I left the camp with a sense of accomplishment. My visit resulted in a successful negotiation for a free space to set up a temporary school and a supervised playground. Children will soon have an opportunity to learn, play, express themselves and have fun together. In the midst of their daily struggles in the camp, children will have a space to leave their hardships aside and just be children.  

Knowing the space was secured; I had completed my mission of the day and our team returned to our base in Man.

Following a sudden brisk wind and a marked temperature drop, the rain arrived to Man, heavy and merciless. I get myself ready for bed and, knowing that this is only the beginning of the rainy season, I can’t stop thinking of the needs of families spending the night outdoors.

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Battling Crocodiles on the Way to School

Sophie headshotSophie Hamandishe, Communications Officer, Save the Children Zimbabwe

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mbire District, Zimbabwe


Most American school children think it’s a hassle just waking up early for the morning school bus. But that is nothing compared to the “hassles” for children setting out to school in northern Zimbabwe.

Out by the Angwa River in the northern part of Zimbabwe, children trekking to and from school daily must cross these crocodile-infested waters. You can imagine how much these children want to go to school to take such risks.

One such kid is 12-year-old Hardlife Kawara. Last year, on his way home from school, he and some friends were washing in the river when a crocodile attacked him. He told me his friends got scared and ran away. But his brave brother grabbed his waist and held on tight while the crocodile took a tighter hold of Hardlife’s leg and tried to pull him under the water. After a long struggle, the crocodile let go, but it took part of Hardlife’s leg off.

Hardlife now needs a new artificial leg as the one in this picture is now too small.

Hardlife, 12, after his crocodile attack with his prosthetic leg.
Photo Credit: Sophie Hamandishe

With orthopedic care and a prosthetic leg provided through Save the Children’s support, Hardlife is back on his feet and in good spirits despite his incredible ordeal. I am so inspired to see his determination. And, what is even more amazing is that after getting care, he returned home intent on going back to school. In the first three months of 2011 alone, seven children in this area were attacked by crocodiles.

Prosper Prosper, 8, another victim of a crocodile attack, is eager to return to school.
Photo Credit: Sophie Hamandishe

A sturdy foot bridge would help keep these children safe, but it is costs money that the community currently does not have. (A foot bridge would also allow kids to cross the river during the six months of the year that it floods.)

Local officials and education authorities are doing their best to come up with a solution. One idea is to build a new primary school in Komba village on the other side of the river so children don’t have to wade through the water. But until money can be raised for a new school, children will continue to face the river’s dangers.

In the meantime, Save the Children is holding workshops in the community to teach children how to protect themselves and avoid crocodile and lion attacks. I’ll save the lion stories for another day.