The Difficult Journey of Delivering Sponsor Letters, and the Joyful Reward

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Ery Rambu Rewa

Project Assistant

Indonesia

January 12th, 2015

 

The Difficult Journey of Delivering Sponsor Letters, and the Joyful Reward When Save the Children geared up for a sponsorship funded program in Sumba, Indonesia, I was really excited to join the team. As a native Sumbanese, I was excited to work to improve the quality of education at the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centers and Primary Schools in my home country. As a project assistant I have gone to schools in the villages on a regular basis for teacher training activities and for delivering sponsor letters to children. I am proud of the hands-on nature of my work, which allows me to witness the challenges and also joy experienced by children and teachers in the communities.

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My recent trip to an ECCD center in the Wanukaka sub-district was an eye-opening experience. I was tasked to take letters from sponsors to four children in the area. Our ride by motorbike to get to Wanakuka was quite slow, as we passed through bumpy roads and met flocks of buffalo walking ignorantly, sometimes blocking the road. Although the school was close to the road, the students, walking from nearby villages, had to cross a river to get to the center. It was the rainy season and the water level at the river was chest-high for children, so Eky, one of the sponsored children, and his three classmates could not meet us at the center.

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We encircled the river and moved down wet, slippery roads in search of the homes of Eky and the others. Many times I had to get down from the motorbike allowing my colleague to ride through deep slippery mud. It took us more than an hour before we finally found Eky’s house. While sitting down on the bamboo-floored living room, I read the letter to Eky in his local language. Eky’s eyes lit up as he listened to me, smiling shyly, eager to see the letter himself despite being unable to read. Eky’s joy, sincerity, and eagerness was so inspiring. The children’s enthusiasm for receiving the letters melts away the challenges delivery of them brings.

What do you know about the community where your child lives? Do they have to cross a flowing river with chest-high waters to get to their school? Remember that Save the Children staff in the field work hard every day to access some very remote areas, and we appreciate your patience in the sometimes lengthy delivery process!

Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.

Haiti Earthquake Five Years On

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Sarah Tyler

Head of Communications, International Programmes

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

January 12, 2015

 

"If my mother and father were alive I would be protected. They wouldn't let me live like this."

These are the words of Lovely*, a shy 12 year old who is a child domestic worker. Myrlande, my counterpart in Haiti, is translating Lovely's words into English. She's visibly shaken by Lovely's story. But Lovely* is very matter of fact; it's obvious she doesn't think her situation is uncommon. It's what life has handed to her.

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I've returned to Haiti on behalf of Save the Children Italy, which, five years after the earthquake, commissioned an award-winning photographer to produce a series of portraits of children. I was here a few days after the destructive 2010 earthquake that killed over 230,000 people and left two million homeless. I feel strong ties to Haiti, so when I had the chance to come back I grabbed it.

We are sitting in a small school in Port-au-Prince. It's a location chosen because of its anonymity. The child protection officer sitting with us is pregnant. I wonder what she thinks of Lovely's situation? Myrlande and I are here to interview child domestic workers. Domestic child labour is a major problem in Haiti, with up to 225,000 children aged between 5 and 17, mainly girls, virtually living as slaves. They are trapped in this lifestyle because of a series of twisted events. Some of them are orphans, but often they have been given away by their own parents or extended family in the hope that other families will, in exchange for the child doing chores, provide them with the food and shelter and access to education that their own families cannot afford to give them. Sadly, these hoped-for benefits rarely materialize, as the children are often given to an equally poor family that lack the resources to provide for even their own children.

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Lovely* tells us that she's regularly beaten and there are frequently days when she isn't fed. She wakes up at 5 am, prepares the household meals, fetches water from the local well, and does all the cleaning and laundry. Did I mention that she is just 12 years old?

She continues. "I don't even go to school. I used to go to school, I got to the third grade but ever since my mom and dad died I never went back to school. I would like to go to school. I would like to become someone tomorrow, although I don't know what. I want to tell other children in the same situation, those children like me that don't have a mother, that don't have a father just like me, not to be discouraged because life is like a ball – it rolls and rolls and you never know where it's going to take you."

In Haiti, Save the Children is working at the national level to raise awareness about child abuse, and at the local level it is working with child protection organisations to eradicate this practice. But we leave Lovely* with a heavy heart, knowing that all NGOs working on this issue need to move so much faster if we want to give children like Lovely* the chance of a better life.

Back in the car we make our way through heavy traffic. The rubble that once lined the roads is mostly gone, the collapsed buildings have been rebuilt. Small businesses and markets alongside the road are teeming with produce, but the pigs are still here, wading through rubbish and polluted water in the gutter at the side of the road.

Our next stop is a primary school that Save the Children supported immediately after the earthquake – we helped to remove rubble and repair classrooms – and our support here continues today as we provide teacher training and school supplies. Education is a major focus of our work in Haiti. It needs to be: only 2 in 10 children in Haiti learn to read by the end of first grade, and 15% of children dropout before grade 6. Over 50% of Haitian adults are illiterate.

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Although signs of the earthquake are mostly gone, the memories of that day are still very fresh for the children we meet. They tell us their stories of that fateful day. There's Jeantal who couldn't save the baby he tried to protect when a wall fell on top of them. He says he now develops terrible headaches every 12th January, the anniversary of the earthquake. He is clearly still shaken by his memories.

Then there's Oswaldynyo, who is 9, who refers to himself as "petit homme" or "little man". On his forehead is a scar he got from a falling cement brick. He's been telling us about the evacuation drills he is doing at school so he can protect himself if there is another earthquake. He tells us he loves school, and he holds his schoolbook tight to himself during the interview, preferring to look through it than at us. He's worried that his parents won't have the money for schoolbooks or his uniform.

And then there's Betchina, a soft spoken and shy 13 year old. She shows us her knee, which still has a massive scar where a block of concrete fell on her during the earthquake. She wants to become a nurse to help injured people and to provide for her parents.

These children bear physical scars from the earthquake, but there are also signs of emotional scars. How do you reassure children whose lives have been turned upside down that this won't happen again? In our work there are often times when we meet children who leave a very strong impression on us. Bettchina is one of these children. I leave her hoping with all my heart that she gets what she wishes for.

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Camp life has become a permanent fixture for over 85,500 people displaced by the earthquake. Of these more than half are children. There are approximately 123 camps still in existence. Basic services like clean water and health care are very limited in these camps, and cases of abuse are prevalent. During my trip, we met five children living in one of the largest camps. They were all girls, and they all told us that they were worried about their own safety. They were afraid of armed gangs and afraid of going to the toilets at night because of the fear of being sexually abused. But despite all the fear and harsh conditions in the camp, these girls were such an inspiration. They are leaders of our child protection clubs and they were all so positive about continuing their education and making sure that their rights were respected. In fact something quite remarkable happened during these interviews. When we were interviewing Marie Darline, she turned the tables on us and began to quiz us about our mission and vision, and how we would continue to support her goal to become a diplomat. It was then Katiana's turn to test her Spanish on me, since she decided that she had spent long enough answering our questions!

I left this camp full of awe for our community workers working with these children and creating such resilient young leaders. And I'd like to share Katiana's words about them:
"I would like to congratulate you on the work that you're doing. Save the Children is helping us however they can so I ask you to continue. It would help me a lot and would help the community a lot if you kept doing the work that you do here."

I want to promise Marie Darline and Lovely* that we will be there for them, but the reality is that the cameras and reporters have gone, funding has dried up for Haiti, and I can't help remembering an overused line from NGOs five years ago. "Don't forget Haiti" we said in unison. Have we?

Interested in learning more about our programs in Haiti Click here to learn more.