One year after Alan Kurdi photo, the moral test of a generation

The body of a 2-year-old boy who washed ashore in Turkey was identified as Alan Kurdi, seen here, left, with his brother, Galip, who also drowned. The boys and their mother, Rehen, died during a treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015 to escape war-torn Syria. The boys' aunt, Tima Kurdi, who lives in Canada, posted this image to Facebook.

Originally published on CNN.com

Every week last summer news of refugees streaming into Europe dominated global headlines. Yet it wasn’t until September 2, one year ago, that the world reacted in horror to the image of Alan Kurdi — the 3-year-old Syrian toddler who drowned trying to escape a war that was older than he was — dead on a beach in Turkey.

Like the photo of the naked girl burning from napalm during the Vietnam War or images of starving children in Ethiopia in 1984, would Alan’s photo prompt action by world leaders to end the suffering that has caused millions of people to risk their lives in search of safety?

Sadly, the answer so far is no, and the world must do better. Since Alan died, more than 4,000 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters have died trying to make a similar journey across the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration. The situation is so dire that Save the Children, an organization for children in need, is launching a search and rescue boat to prevent children from drowning as they try to get to Italy from Africa. Globally, during the same period, the International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 6,000 migrants died attempting to find a better life.

How will history reflect on our lack of action?

Just last week, humanitarian organizations including Save the Children called for a 48-hour ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria, to allow for aid and food to reach the families under siege. That’s a first step, but political solutions to end fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and elsewhere must remain the goal to bring about peace and to ensure that another generation of children doesn’t grow up surrounded by constant violence.

The reality is that even when such solutions do develop, not everyone who has left can or will go home. Some still do not feel safe returning. For others, their land or home is gone. For others still, there is no reason to go home because they have been permanently resettled in their new home country — earning a living, integrating into local communities and making economic and civic contributions.

Regardless of why people left and whether or not they can return, there are three steps we can take to improve the lives of displaced people the world over.
First, we need to continue to support countries at the front lines of the crisis with immediate needs. I just returned from Berlin, where I met with refugee families. They told me that the majority of their basic needs such as food and shelter are covered, but their biggest concern is their children’s future. Nearly every family I’ve spoken with says the main reason they fled their country is so their children could have an education and a childhood.

Another example is Lebanon — a small country where more than 25% of the population is refugees. This country has taken in families in their time of need, but they need additional funding from the international community for extra shifts at school so more children can access quality education, vocational training and cash subsidies to avoid a rise in child labor.

Second, as leaders prepare to meet in New York for the UN General Assembly, they should commit to the principle that no refugee child should be out of school for more than 30 days. Given what these children have been through, we need to focus on more than just their immediate physical needs.

 

After basic needs are met, few things are more beneficial than an education to help a child recover from the psychological trauma of violence. Learning inside a classroom helps children gain skills that enable them to become productive members of society and embrace a future of hope, not one overshadowed by the false promises of extremism.

Finally, we need to change the negative and generalized way that we think about the 65.3 million people worldwide who are currently forcibly displaced. They are individuals who would collectively make up the 21st-largest country in the world, with a population larger than Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania combined. They come from all races, religions, professions and more than 150 countries.

Many have experienced or witnessed violence on a scale that most Americans cannot fathom. Each has a family and has had to leave a job and oftentimes a home. We need to understand that those displaced are people with great potential.

President Barack Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees is just 18 days away. This fall will also see the election of the ninth UN secretary-general and elections in more than 20 countries. It is time for the world to step up and make a greater commitment to help refugees, help the countries who host them and give refugee children a future they can believe in.

The Sustainable Development Goals After One Year – Already In Need Of Course Correction

by Michael Klosson, Vice President for Policy and Humanitarian Response, Save the Children

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post 

In the weeks leading up to last year’s United Nations General Assembly, world leaders and activists were united in their optimism about launching a new set of global goals that would set a bold direction to 2030. One year on how are we doing? In short, not well enough. These inspirational goals require us all to stretch, but far too many are hunkered down in business as usual.

While celebrating the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we knew that we could do better. MDG achievements were impressive, but generally limited to those groups who were easier to reach. MDG progress was based in averages and masked inequalities. Less privileged groups did not see the same improvements, excluded from progress by their gender, ethnicity, caste, and place of birth, among other factors. Countries in conflict also saw few improvements. According to the World Bank in 2011, “No low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single MDG.”

Recognizing the need for bolder action, the UN orchestrated one of the most participatory projects in its history to define 17 ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to move everyone, both in developing and developed countries alike, toward a better future by 2030. Embedded in this new framework was the transformational commitment that “no one would be left behind.”

One year on, overall progress toward the 17 goals in support of reaching everyone is already off track. Research from the Overseas Development Institute suggests that only three of the goals, including ending extreme poverty, are on a path to success with some additional effort, while nine goals, including many affecting children such as reducing maternal mortality, ending hunger, ending child marriage and boosting secondary school completion, are progressing much too slowly and require a major step change. Five goals, including reducing income inequality, are moving in the wrong direction. The Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators has yet to approve a set of global indicators to measure progress on the SDGs, and the promise to disaggregate data by gender, age and ethnic group – so critical to the goals’ transformational impact — does not appear very high on countries’ priority lists.

After their strong launch a year ago, world leaders have missed opportunities to throw SDG implementation into high gear. The World Humanitarian Summit, the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), the Financing for Development Forum, and the recent G20 Summit were big opportunities for pushing the SDG agenda forward, yet failed so far to trigger concrete action accelerating progress. As one UN representative said during the HLPF in July, “Leave no one behind isn’t something that will happen by everyone just repeating that phrase again and again at the UN.” The SDGs need to be taken more seriously if the world is to be successful in delivering on these goals.

While most countries have been slow to begin implementing the goals, there is good news: some have confronted the challenge and begun to design plans for achieving success. Twenty-two countries agreed to participate in national reviews at the High Level Political Forum in July. Colombia and Sierra Leone are examples of countries that have already worked to orient national institutions toward meeting the SDG goals. In addition, both countries have made monitoring and improving data a priority. These examples underscore the fact that with political will and determined effort, progress is achievable.

Meanwhile, Germany has worked to position itself as a leader in the process of achieving the SDGs. Not only did the German government note its need to address goals that were relevant to the country’s highly developed context, but it has also taken steps to address the goals in its distribution of international aid and by wielding its influence in the European Union.

In recognition of the fact that inclusivity is at the heart of the SDGs and indispensable to achieving them, such as ending preventable child deaths or ensuring all children learn, Save the Children launched in April the Every Last Child Campaign. This campaign shines a spotlight on groups of children excluded from progress to date because of who they are or where they were born. In every country where we are present, Save the Children is working to galvanize the necessary political will, resources and innovative programs and policies that will accelerate progress and bring “leave no one behind” to life. Our campaign recognizes that the SDGs will not be achieved without ending both poverty, but also discrimination against excluded groups of children. We set out three categories of initiatives – fair finance, equal treatment and accountability – which could turbocharge SDG implementation by overcoming barriers of exclusion.

The SDGs could be transformational but with 14 years still to go, they have yet to generate sufficient urgency. There are opportunities on the horizon to bring forward the magnitude of those goals so leaders feel the weight of their responsibilities to act now to fulfill them. We see the September 19 high level meeting at the United Nations on refugees and migration and President Obama’s September 20 summit on refugees as two such moments to tackle an unprecedented crisis of forcible displacement involving 65 million people, half of whom are children. This crisis has to be resolved if SDG implementation is to get on track. We have called on leaders to commit to provide access to quality education for all 3.6 million refugee children out of school in the near future, in keeping with the SDGs. Making these calls are in the context of defining and agreeing to national interim “stepping stone” targets, such as child survival or learning, will generate urgency by showing the trajectory required in 2020 that is necessary to reach the 2030 goal.

As new leaders take office in coming months in the U.S., at the UN, and in other countries, we will work to promote increased political attention to SDG implementation, improved data and accountability, institutional changes, and a priority focus on excluded groups. The ambitious commitment “to leave no one behind” cannot wait.

 

15 Years of Promises

author-portrait_sylvine-bule-data-officer

 

Sylvine Bule

Data Officer

Save the Children Zambia

September 16, 2016

After a tiring trip to one of the most hard to reach areas in which Sponsorship works in Zambia, we arrived at a small community school that has been struggling to stay functional for a very long time. The main aim of my trip to this village was to hear from different members of the community, including parents, teachers and children, on the current condition of the school and the needs of its students.

I will never forget the words spoken by one of the teachers upon our arrival, “Madam, we have heard promises from various other organizations willing to help us to build a better school. For 15 years we have waited for such words to come to life.”

The current conditions of the crumbling small school block.
The current conditions of the crumbling small school block.

“15 years?” my heart sank at the thought of the community being in such dire need for so long as I looked at the crumbling building.

She led me to the classroom block made up of two small rooms. In the first, young students took refuge in what appeared to be a class session. Children from the ages of about 3 to 6 were squeezed tightly onto small benches, with 8 or 10 children teetering on each one. The benches were simply made with loose planks supported by burnt earth bricks.

As the children noticed a strange face enter the room they all stood up and shouted, “Good morning madam!” I smiled back and responded happily, despite being troubled by the poor classroom conditions.

I was again led to a different class where my heart sank even more. It was a class of two different grades forced to share one teacher and learning space, a common circumstance in villages like this and a detriment to the learning of both age groups. A small board hung nailed to one of the mud walls, with the already limited writing space divided in half to accommodate the different lessons for each grade.

“This is a class of grade 4 and grade 5 children,” the teacher explained. “I have to start with the lower grade, teach them and then give them an exercise to write. Once I am done, I split the board into two, and write for the other grade on the other half.”

The classrooms were both very full – the children with bare feet and soiled faces, yet very eager to learn. I noticed already there were some school materials branded with the Save the Children logo, the beginnings of more work to come. I felt proud – though small, our contributions already were changing the lives of some of our country’s least privileged children.

Community members gather in jubilation to hear a new school will finally be built.
Community members gather in jubilation to hear a new school will finally be built.

I could only imagine how the community would feel once a school was finally built for them, a goal that Sponsorship will be able to help them achieve for themselves. I thought about the lasting and sustainable solutions the new school would bring. In the faces of those young children I envisioned doctors, lawyers and yes, future presidents of our country – with a story to tell and with Save the Children a happy part of it. It is possible, I thought to myself. We will change these children’s lives forever.

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