Make the world great for all of our children

refugeekids_getty_0

Originally published on thehill.com

In the weeks following the election, when many of the divisions in our nation have come to the forefront, it has become clear that we need to find ways to bring Americans of diverse viewpoints together around issues we all care about. A divided America will not be made great again no matter how much we might wish it to be unless we focus on the foundation of our future: our children.

In my work for Save the Children over the last 18 years, I have visited children and families in more than 80 countries and across dozens of states. The desire of parents to give their children a healthy and safe childhood and an education that helps them gain the skills they need to find jobs and happiness is something I have seen in all corners of the world. Whether living in a wealthy suburb in America, a poor rural town, or in a refugee camp in the Middle East, the biggest sacrifices parents and communities often make are for our children.

We have a lot of work to do for kids here in America. Visiting a literacy program in rural Mississippi this October, I met children struggling with basic reading but who were making progress thanks to extra support for books and technology and caring teachers and specialists. Yet one in four children in the United States never learns to read. That’s 25 percent of our future parents, leaders, and workers. According to the Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy, as of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD country where the current generation was less educated than the previous one. Schools in poor neighborhoods of the United States are, and have been for decades, woefully under-resourced with too few books, no access to computers, and where parents are unemployed, or are working far from home. Kids in these communities are working against long odds and we need to put funding into these schools and provide parents with paths to real employment.

A brighter future for America must mean a better future for our poorest kids. In Mississippi, I met families – white and black – living in the toughest conditions you can imagine in a state that voted solidly for Donald Trump. These are the families that are truly disenfranchised and hoping that change in the White House will bring better opportunities for their children.

Last month, I also visited Jordan, a country that has taken on an enormous number of refugees from the Syrian crisis. More than 650,000 Syrian refugees, half of them under the age of 18, are living in Jordan – in refugee camps, or in poor communities where residents are often struggling, too. Jordan is working hard to meet its international obligations to refugees from neighboring countries, and the United States provides significant foreign aid for refugee programs there. Funding is used to feed young refugee children, to provide them with a chance to get back into school after years of being away from home, and on vocational training for Syrian youth to give them hope for a productive future.

This funding from the United States is critical for a country in the Middle East like Jordan, on the frontlines of a refugee crisis and doing its best to meet its responsibilities, and which exists in a complicated neighborhood. It is also essential if we are to avoid a lost generation of young people who eventually can help put their country on a better path to the future. The good news is that the cost is tiny in relation to the overall federal budget, with all foreign assistance to all countries of the world adding up to less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget. When I speak with Americans, they agree that programs for young Syrian refugees is one of the right things – and the smart things – on which to spend our small foreign assistance budget. They often donate to our work as private citizens, adding to the funding from the U.S. government to make those dollars go further.

There will always be people trying to divide humanity up into various formations of “us” and “them” – whether by race, nationality, class or geography. But in my work, I’ve seen people break down these barriers in the interests of children. We can help children both in the United States and around the world, and we must. A focus on making America – and the world – great again for every last child would be a lasting legacy for the new administration and something around which we could all support proudly. To make a safe and secure future for us all, we need not choose “our” children over “other” children. Many stand ready to help on this effort that unifies us rather than divides us, as parents and as humans.

How to Save the Children of Mosul

November 20, 2016. Qayyarah, Iraq. Children stand in the back of a truck as their family prepares to return home from Qayyarah Jad’ah camp.
Children stand in the back of a truck as their family prepares to return home from Qayyarah Jad’ah camp in Qayyarah, Iraq on Nov. 20, 2016.

                                  Originally published on time.com

The Mosul offensive continues—both militarily and in terms of help for civilians—but it is not too soon to help the region’s children start to recover from years of suffering. As Iraqi forces enter Mosul, they are not only faced with ISIS militants but also up to 1.5 million civilians still trapped, including about 600,000 children, who are growing increasingly desperate. In the short term, safe routes must be established so these families can escape the violence. We risk another Aleppo, where civilians are trapped inside a warzone, if safe passage is not possible.

As thousands of families flee and others are caught in the crossfire or by snipers and landmines, children must urgently be protected. However, in the long run, we will fail Mosul if we are unable to help a whole generation of children recover from the violence, uncertainty and lack of schooling that they have faced in recent years.

Thousands of babies were born in Mosul in 2003 and 2004 as the war in Iraq was taking place and fighting raged in the city. Now in their early teens, these children have lived the vast majority of their lives in a state of uncertainty.

By 2008, when these children should have been starting kindergarten, armed militants were using the city as their strategic center of gravity—a hub for funding and violence. UNICEF reported at least one-third of children in Mosul were out of school. Even as active conflict subsided, it remained a dangerous place to be a child. In December of that year, a bomb detonated outside a primary school as students were leaving for the day, killing three children and injuring 18.

The situation grew even direr in 2014 when ISIS invaded the city—just as children born in 2003 should have been finishing primary school. The group took control of schools, burned textbooks and instituted a new extreme curriculum. Children were to be drilled in lessons on ISIS doctrine. The curriculum was also militarized and encouraged children to fight and learn how to use weapons.

More than one million children who have been living under ISIS in Iraq have either been out of school or forced to learn from an ISIS curriculum. Many parents refused to send their children to school out of fear for their safety and well-being. Other families had to make the difficult decision to flee their homes to escape violence and intimidation and are now living in camps or non-camp settings that don’t always have educational opportunities for young people.

Now, with the offensive to retake Mosul underway, Save the Children staff positioned in nearby camps report meeting families with children who have escaped the fighting and who say their children are getting sick from breathing air filled with smoke from oil wells that ISIS set on fire. Many have already lost loved ones and they are dehydrated and hungry from long journeys made on foot as they flee ISIS-held areas.

Mahmoud, a father we met, recently escaped Shura, south of Mosul. As fighting approached the village, he and his family were taken deeper into ISIS territory, where they were reportedly forcing people to act as human shields. The family escaped and is now in a temporary camp.

“I have four daughters. Before IS the older ones were going to school and loved it,” he said. “When IS took over, the content of the curriculum changed, so we stopped sending them. Every lesson became militarized. Even math lessons—they would teach the children ‘one bullet plus one bullet equals two bullets.’ They’ve now been out of school for two years.”

We know from our work in Iraq and other conflict zones that getting children back into school is absolutely critical. Being in a classroom setting provides a child with a sense of normalcy that they miss during times of conflict or displacement. Trained teachers can help students process the trauma they have experienced, and a quality education can help young people acquire the knowledge, tolerance, and critical thinking skills necessary to help rebuild their country and make a constructive contribution to society.

The government of Iraq and international partners can show their commitment to education in Iraq in four ways:

For those families who have already fled or who are desperately trying to, children need to be provided with quality education and psycho-social support inside camps established for internally displaced people and refugees. Save the Children is establishing temporary learning places in tents in one of the camps where people have fled, but much more is needed.

The Iraqi government should also work with international partners to reopen schools in retaken areas as soon as it is safe to do so. Repairs to schools should be prioritized, and school buildings should only be used for classes, not by the military.

Additionally, special attention needs to be given to children who have been forced to serve as child soldiers. They need extra help to make up for time lost in the classroom, tools to regain their self-confidence, and assistance reducing stigmas that might exist in their communities.

Finally, make sure that all Iraqi children can go to school. Iraq was once a country where more than 90% of children were in education, but it now has about 3.5 million children out of school. Donors must ensure that the UN’s 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan is fully funded—at the moment education has only 40% of the funding it requires.

Securing Mosul is crucial, but unless we include education in the immediate recovery plan, it will be almost impossible to build a prosperous city and region. Children of Mosul have suffered for many years and have missed out on enough of their childhoods. Getting them back into a safe positive school environment is critical to starting the recovery process, giving them hope for the future and breaking the cycle of suffering in Mosul.

Ferdousi Brings Learning Home

rubina-a-sponsorship-community-volunteer-visiting-ferdousi-at-her-home-in-rayerbazar-slum

Fahim Shahriar

Deputy Manager

Save the Children in Bangladesh

December 28, 2016

 

 

“My older child is in good health and learning well. Also, I have got a healthy baby very recently who is 15 days old.” Ferdousi, age 26, tells us. She lives in Rayerbazar, a slum community of Dhaka city, with her family. Her husband Saddam, age 36, works as a day-labourer, meaning without a fixed income and hired in the short-term, while she tends to their home and two children. Her oldest son, Shahadat, is over two years old now. He and his mother joined Sponsorship under Bangladesh’s new programming, Maternal and Child Health, in 2015.

Since then, Ferdousi has benefited

ferdousi-with-her-children-at-their-home-in-the-slums-of-rayerbazar
Ferdousi with her children at their home in the slums of Rayerbazar.

through the provision of counselling sessions which began when she was still pregnant with her younger son, Sazzad. Thanks to sponsorship funds, Save the Children in Bangladesh is able to offer training for pregnant women and moms of newborns through community center-based sessions or home visits, on topics like danger signs to be aware of during pregnancy, the importance of vaccinations and having delivery in medical facilities, and other essentials of newborn care and services. Ferdousi explains from her own experiences, “Previously, I did not know about the risks for a pregnant mother and a newborn, and also the care they need. But, I have learned about those dangers and necessary measures during my recent pregnancy. My husband also took much [more] care of me and I saved some money for the delivery period.”

Similar sessions are provided for parents of babies and up to toddler-aged children under our early stimulation parenting programs, another way sponsors are helping parents in Bangladesh aid their young children’s development. Early stimulation parenting programs teach parents how to use playtime to promote language and communication development, utilize gentle discipline, manage healthy hygiene practices and provide healthy and nutritious foods to their children. Both parents and children learn with illustrative cards and colorful picture books. Being a regular participant in this kind of Sponsorship programming, Ferdousi tells, “My older son can identify distinct vegetables, tell their names and mention their shapes. He likes books with colorful pictures. Besides, I learned to take proper care of his health by maintaining cleanliness and feeding for his nutrition.”

2-year-old-shahadat-is-very-happy-to-play-football-soccer-and-be-active-outdoors
2 year-old Shahadat is very happy to play football (soccer) and be active outdoors.

Even in addition to this, Save the Children also supports Ferdousi and her family by helping her track Shahadat’s height and weight to ensure he is getting the nutrients his growing body needs. Ferdousi adds, “I like Sponsorship support, because I learned to take care of my children to grow with good health and learning.” Their little baby Sazzad, a boy just a couple weeks old, has already benefited in the extra care Ferdousi took during her pregnancy.

 

This family of four, Ferdousi, Saddam and the two boys Shahadat and little Sazzad, send their love and thanks to our sponsors of Bangladesh. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for your support!

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