Rohingya Children Need Support

1Evan Schuurman is part of Save the Children’s emergency response team in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Nine year old Shawkat* has a bandage wrapped around her head and vacant eyes that suggest her mind and body are worlds apart. I’ve never seen a child’s face look so empty.

Her uncle Ali, who cares for her now—despite her being the eleventh mouth he must feed— says she rarely speaks anymore. That is, until dusk each evening. That’s when the terror returns.

“She starts to cry and scream out for her mother,” Ali says. “During the day she’s ok, but everything changes at nightfall. She feels a lot of pain. She cannot sleep.”

I learn that Shawkat’s mother, father and three brothers were all killed by the Myanmar military forces. Her entire immediate family wiped out in a few minutes.

Soldiers entered their village in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State and opened fire, setting homes ablaze and killing indiscriminately. In the chaotic scramble for life, people fled into the jungle, including Shawkat. There was no time to take anything or save her family.

It was a brutal, planned massacre, says Ali, whose parents were murdered too.

Thankfully a group of villagers decided to take care of Shawkat. Carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs, they walked for days on end, up and down mountains and through driving rain.

Battered and bruised, they eventually made it to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, which is now home to some 800,000 Rohingya, including over half a million who’ve arrived in the past seven weeks.

Most have taken refuge in the makeshift settlements less and an hours walk from the Naf River, which divides the two countries. They can still see the hills of Myanmar on the other side.

Ali tells me he searched everywhere for Shawkat, and eventually caught wind that she was in a local hospital. In a time of endless despair, this reunion was a rare joy.

The settlements themselves are a sight to behold. Once lush green hills have been stripped bare. Terraces have been cut into the clay to make space for more bamboo and plastic shelters. When it rains the ground turns into a series of muddy waterfalls, and dirty, contaminated water pools everywhere.

The roads inside the camps are a hive of activity, with large trucks plundering up and down carrying tonnes of aid. Shirtless men run large bundles of bamboo while lone children wander in search of food, money or something to do. Umbrellas are everywhere, protecting people from the harsh sun or heavy rains – it feels as though there’s nothing in-between.

This foreign place is Shawkat’s home for now, along with more than 300,000 other newly arrived Rohingya children, many of whom spend their days in a similar trauma-induced daze.

Over the past few weeks I have interviewed nearly two-dozen Rohingya women, men and children about what happened in Myanmar and what their lives have become in Bangladesh.

Every single one of them told similar stories of deadly attacks on villages and desperate escapes. The heartbreak is everywhere.

The interviews were raw and emotional. Women wept before my eyes as they recounted their relatives being killed and their homes being turned into a blaze of raging fire.

I’ve deployed to a lot of humanitarian crises over the past five years including places like South Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan. But I’ve never seen anything like this, where so many people – especially children – are so visibly distressed or traumatized.

Dealing with this trauma will form a critical part of the humanitarian response. Already, agencies like Save the Children are running dozens of therapeutic playgroups for younger children known as ‘child friendly spaces’.

But what’s really needed is education. School isn’t just about learning; it provides routine and a sense of normality, a place where children can make friends, play and remember what it’s like to be children. It’s also a critical form of protection from exploitation and abuse like trafficking.

Yet right now more than 450,000 school-aged Rohingya children aren’t going to school.

Ensuring children can access education in emergencies like this saves lives. Seeing the haunted faces of so many traumatised children like Shawkat, I’ve never been surer of this.

 

Save the Children Now Accepts Donations Using Venmo

Looking for a fast way to give while you’re on the go? Save the Children is excited to announce that supporters can now donate using Venmo.

No_Logo_Venmo_Social_Share_Card2We continue to use new and innovative ways to make it easy for supporters to help children around the world, and because of this, we are excited to be among the first charities to offer Venmo on mobile web. Since we know Venmo users are a digitally engaged and mobile-first audience, we hope that offering this new payment option will make the donation process more aligned with the fast checkout experience they’re used to on their mobile device.

“We are thrilled to partner with Braintree on this innovation to accept Venmo as a new payment method for our next generation of donors,” said Ettore Rossetti, Sr. Director, Social Business Strategy & Innovation.

Offering Venmo to our supporters isn’t the first time we’ve expanded out digital payment options for charitable giving. Save the Children has also been an early adopter of PayPal, Apple Pay, Bitcoin, PaySafeCard, G2A Pay Wallet, YouTube donate cards and Facebook donate buttons. We will always continue to look for ways to adopt to consumer demand and provide a variety of ways for supporters to help make a difference for children in need.

Venmo payments are possible on Venmo app versions 7.5.0 or later for iOS and Android devices. To donate to Save the Children on your mobile device using Venmo, visit www.savethechildren.org/venmo.

Readers’ Theater Opening Night

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESAmanda Kohn

Sponsorship Director

Save the Children U.S. Programs

October 13, 2017

As the sun starts to set behind the mountains, I remember that I left my Dramamine in the suitcase.  There is no cellphone signal on these winding roads taking me down and around sharp curves. As such, I’m not able to search my iPhone for a Walgreens. And come to think of it, I haven’t really seen any kind of store in the last twenty minutes. Did I mention that I’m in America? This road I’m navigating (and stomaching) is taking me to an elementary school nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, in one of the poorest counties in the United States.

To be clear, this community is poor in resources, but certainly not in spirit.

As we pull into the parking lot, we see a “Welcome Save the Children” message on the school’s billboard. The lot is already full of cars, and little ones are tugging at the hands of their grown-ups to get through the doors. It’s now dark, and Thursday. Oh to have that much enthusiasm at the end of the week! We stroll in behind them, our arms loaded down with boxes of books donated from Scholastic, who partners with U.S. Programs to get more books into the hands of the children we serve. The closer we get to the library, the louder the conversational hum gets. I thought this was going to be a small family night for first graders.

Children performing at the Readers’ Theatre at their sponsorship supported school in Tennessee.
Children performing at the Readers’ Theater at their sponsorship supported school in Tennessee.

We are greeted by a woman wearing a Save the Children shirt. She presents an air of leadership, so I assume she is the Principal. “Welcome to our school! We are so glad y’uns could make it out. The kids are so excited to do their Readers’ Theater. Everybody’s here,” she smiled and added with a Southern twang.

The library is packed. Parents, grandparents, babies, children convincingly dressed as animals, other non-animal children… We found a corner of the room, and the woman who greeted us turned her attention to addressing the crowd. She introduces the Save the Children visitors, and proceeds to enthusiastically share the school’s sponsorship program plan with the community.

She remembers to introduce herself, “Oh, and I’m Belinda, the Sponsorship Community Liaison.”  She’s not the Principal, but an extremely motivated and proud community member who works with sponsorship. I’m floored. And thrilled!

This was the first Literacy Family Engagement night for the school, paid for by Save the Children sponsorship, of many more planned for the rest of the year. This school joined us as a new partner, trying out this new program seeking to reach more children, and empower more communities to come together to help kids be successful at school. This night was the culmination of months of planning between the school, parents, members of the community and Save the Children. For me, it felt like the culmination of four years of my life as the Director of Sponsorship in the United States. Seeing this program play out before my very eyes was more gratifying than I can explain. But I’ll try.

Children performing at the Readers’ Theatre.
Children performing at the Readers’ Theater.

You see, we’ve always been a little different here in the U.S. Poverty looks very dissimilar internationally, and the needs of children overseas are certainly more obvious at a glance. This is not the case in rural America. Addressing the impact poverty makes on children here is not always providing basic needs, installing running water, or building a school. Here, it’s more subtle. The road out of poverty is more winding and curved, but after what I’ve seen tonight, I think we’ve found some capable navigators. Right there they stood, packed into a library wearing tails, whiskers and duck feet, reading aloud to their families and community while acting out the story.

These first graders will be navigating their way right out of the hills of have-not, around the twists and turns of grade-level reading, and upward to the peaks of their own success. In the U.S. a child’s chances of breaking the cycle of poverty are only as good as the quality of their education. Similar to my car-sick journey to the school, the road out of poverty is long and daunting when you’re not equipped with the things you need for the journey. But these kids have something special – this community, and more than 21,000 sponsors in the U.S. providing support along the way. Thanks to sponsors, these students have new books to read and activities like the Readers’ Theater to participate in, getting both kids and parents excited about education and the future.

Despite the darkness peaking behind those smoky mountains, the future is looking really bright for kids in this small, rural town.

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

Advocating to Give Every Last Girl a Future

Co-written by Carolyn  Miles & Maryam Ahmed

As the head of Save the Children, one of the best parts of my job is getting to meet amazing children, in the toughest places around the world, who are working to make it a better place.

maryam-1Maryam Ahmed one of these children. She is a Save the Children Girl Champion, 17 years old and born in Kano State (North West Nigeria) where she is a child right’s activist and a member of the Abuja Children’s parliament. Maryam is an advocate for girls’ education, ending child marriage, and combatting gender-based violence. I am thrilled to have Maryam write this blog with me, in honor of International Day of the Girl.

This week, we are together in Washington, D.C, meeting with influential figures on Capitol Hill and the U.S. Administration to discuss the importance of investing in girls and asking U.S. policymakers to continue leading on issues such as tackling the barriers girls face in getting an education.

Girls are too often barred from the opportunity to learn – limiting their lives and risking their futures. I, Maryam, am proud to be a girl from Northern Nigeria who is still in school. This is not something you see very often. In my community, only 4 percent of girls get to finish secondary school. While this number may sound staggering, unfortunately it’s not uncommon around the world. Globally, girls are 3 times more likely to be out of school than boys, putting them at risk for child marriage, pregnancy, and trafficking.

Without education, the world’s girls will be left behind. That’s why today and every day, we’re recognizing that girls are worth more – worth educating and maryam-2empowering. And that is why we both are dedicated to advocating for gender equality and girls’ rights. Back at home in Nigeria, for example, there are laws and policies in place to prohibit child marriage, but customary norms and practices continue to violate our rights and no proper action is taken to address this. So I promote the rights and the well-being of girls while providing advice on how everyday citizens can help be a part of the solution.

I also wrote and recorded a song called “I believe,” to elevate the voice of children, especially girls. The song is a reminder that investing in adolescent girls is not only the right decision, but the smart decision and also to inspire girls to be anything they want to be.

Investing in girls yields amazing results, and education and empowerment is our best bet for keeping them on the path to success. By advocating against child marriage and inequality, we at Save the Children aim to influence U.S. leaders, Nigeria’s leaders — and the world’s leaders — to help girls get the opportunities that every last child deserves. Together, we’ll empower every last girl to realize her dreams. We invite you to join us at savethechildren.org/girls and to share this blog with the hashtag #ShesWorthMore.

Gloria’s Restored Confidence

Author Portrait_Agnes Nantamu, Senior Officer Adolescent Development
Agnes Nantamu

Senior Officer of Adolescent Development

Save the Children in Uganda

October 6, 2017

Gloria is a 13-year-old girl who lives in Namayumba, Uganda, with her mother and four siblings. She recalls the days before the sponsorship program started in her school as hard, especially the time when she first began her menstrual cycle.

As with many of the girls in her community, she did not have sanitary towels to use most of the time simply because her mother couldn’t afford them, so she dreaded her period’s monthly arrival. Most families in Namayumba have too little to provide even the most basic provisions for their children, like daily meals, so unfortunately – though they would have loved to provide these materials for their daughters – parents were unable to purchase them.

“I had to miss school because I was afraid that I would get embarrassed if my uniform got stained.” Gloria says. This greatly affected her confidence as she was always worried about when her period would be approaching. It also affected her grades since she had to miss school for a couple of days each month. Like other girls in her community, without the proper materials to be able to sit comfortably through the whole school day, she had no choice but to be absent, despite her eagerness to learn.

 Gloria and Agnes, Senior Officer of our adolescent development programs, making reusable pads.

Gloria and Agnes, Senior Officer of our adolescent development programs, making reusable pads.

When sponsorship started the implementation of its adolescent development programs in Gloria’s school, it provided disposable sanitary towels to all the girls that had started their menstrual cycle. Our adolescent development activities in Uganda aim to improve sexual and reproductive health of adolescents, as well as promote gender equity and overall improve the quality of life for children ages 10 to 19 years old.

“I was very excited to get the sanitary towels because I then did not have to be scared or miss school during my periods, but I was also a bit worried about what I would do when I had used them all up.” Gloria recalls.

Since the disposable sanitary towels would eventually get used up and the girls would still not be able to afford to buy new ones, a more sustainable solution was introduced by Save the Children. Senior female teachers in each of the schools were taught how to make reusable menstrual pads, and also trained on how to teach menstrual hygiene management to their students. These teachers then trained the girls in their schools how to make the reusable pads themselves, and taught them how to manage their hygiene.

Many of the children did not have any hope of ever having a constant supply of sanitary towels and having a comfortable time during their menstrual cycle, but with the knowledge of making these reusable pads, this hope has been restored. “Having sanitary towels I can use more than once had never crossed my mind. After the lesson from Ms. Allen, our teacher, I went home and made myself some.” says Gloria proudly.

Gloria, happy to be in school and enjoying class comfortably.
Gloria, happy to be in school and enjoying class comfortably.

“Gloria is a much happier and more confident girl now. Her school attendance and grades have greatly improved.” says Ms. Allen.

Gloria is exited and hopeful about the future and believes that now that she goes to school regularly, she will be able to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse. She is very grateful to the Save the Children sponsorship program for revitalizing that dream.

All the way from Namayumba, Uganda, please accept our dearest thanks from Gloria and her friends! Thanks to our sponsors, today they are happy to be back in school and learning comfortably.

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

No More Stomach Pains

Author Portrait_Anisa Naimi, School Health and Nutrition Officer, Faryab Province
Anisa Naimi

School Health and Nutrition Officer

Save the Children in Afghanistan

October 3, 2017

In Afghanistan, especially in rural areas, people are suffering from the lack of a consistent energy source for heating and cooking in their homes. To overcome this problem many families still prefer traditional ways of supplying energy. This means that often children can be seen walking the streets to collect animal wastes. Dung, or called “sargen” in Dari, the local language, can then be dried and used as fuel or even building material. Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge on protecting ones health and hygiene was causing children to get sick after collecting sargen.

9-year-old Amina is in 3rd grade at the girls’ school in her village, in Faryab Province. She lives with her parents and is third eldest among her 3 sisters and 2 brothers. She is an active student, but a few months back she suddenly was facing some difficulties, enduring a pain in her stomach followed by her health quickly deteriorating. She tried to attend school regularly but her poor health conditions did not allow her to actively participate in the class work and recreational activities at school.

Her mother Gulbadam shared, “Our family worried about her health. Her father gave her a pain killer medicine, but the pain continued because she felt terrible cramps in her stomach. She preferred to stay at home and was disappointed and sad.”

Thanks to sponsorship, 9-year-old Amina no longer gets stomach pains and is able to stay in school.
Thanks to sponsorship, 9-year-old Amina no longer gets stomach pains and is able to stay in school.

Amina told us proudly, “Save the Children staff came to my school and conducted deworming campaigns. They told teachers and students about worm infestations which is very common in school-aged children in this community, because every day children collect sargen and the germs enter our stomachs and makes us sick.”

She added, showing what she had learned on the topic, “Save the Children staff told us that if these worms grow they would make children much weaker and sick. It is always better to take dewormers to kill worms and to wash our hands with soap. They gave deworming tablets to all the children in school and I took the tablets too. The next day it kicked out many worms from my stomach and I felt better.”

After being inspired by her new knowledge of what had made her sick, Amina become a member of the child-focused health education group in her village, and actively participates in the sessions. She mentioned, “Before I never knew to wash my hands with soap after collecting sargen, and that [washing with] only water does not remove the microbes and causes stomach worms. Thank you Save the Children,” she added shyly.

The child-focused health groups are sponsorship supported programs that provide a forum for girls and boys to meet once a week in the homes of volunteers or in community spaces. At these meetings, health skills such as how to maintain good hygiene and nutrition and prevent diseases are key topics. Children learn through participating in public campaigns to spread health messages through their community, as well as in meeting sessions learn through activities such as drawing, storytelling, roleplaying and other child-friendly activities that strengthen important health skills, like proper handwashing.

Amina explained, “Now our school is closed for winter holidays but there is a [child’s health] group in our neighbors’ house. I regularly attend each session because I enjoy learning many new things, I learned when to wash my hands with soap and why I should do so. Before this I rarely used soap but I learned if I do not use soap I will face stomach worms which is very scary and painful.”

Amina and her fellow child-focused health education group members practice safe handwashing.
Amina and her fellow child-focused health education group members practice safe handwashing.

As a part of the child-focused health groups, child participants are asked to share what they have learned in each session with at least 3 family members or relatives. Community elders, parents and school management are also invited to some of the events. In this way, not only do the children benefit but the impact of our programs are felt throughout the entire community.

Amina’s mother says, “Children learn best when they are healthy. Thanks to Save the Children for implementing very helpful and useful programs. Now I encourage my children to always wash their hands with soap after participating in deworming awareness raising and deworming tablets distribution campaigns.”

Amina’s mother also says, “Amina regularly attends school and is much more active and healthy than before. I am really happy and appreciate Save the Children for its efforts for our school.”

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