The Beauty of a Community Coming Together at the Border: An Emergency Responder Shares Her Story

Save the Children and GSK have been global partners since 2013 and have worked together in the U.S. since 2015. Together, our two organizations are helping children, with GSK providing corporate and employee donations to directly aid children. Angie is a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) employee who, as part of a partnership between Save the Children and GSK, was recently deployed to Las Cruces, New Mexico where Save the Children is running child-friendly spaces in transit shelters for children and families released by U.S. Customs & Border Patrol. Here is her story.


The Beauty of a Community Coming Together at the Border
Written by Angie, GSK

In early August, I was incredibly honored to have been selected for 6-month program that would allow me to take a leave of absence from my full-time job at GSK and work with Save the Children. My specific placement with Save the Children is with the DC-based U.S. Domestic Emergencies team.

This group is responsible for managing and implementing Save the Children’s emergency responses – simply put, the team deploys into communities so that families and caregivers can meet the unique needs of affected children.  My assignment is to identify and improve the operational efficiencies of the current model so that teams of people can deploy within 24-72 hours after an emergency strikes.  Additionally, I also deploy with the team to emergency response sites. Just three short days into my assignment, I was asked to do just that and support Save the Children’s efforts at the U.S.-Mexico border. Of course, my answer was yes. 

To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting into, but knew that help was needed. On July 19, I landed in El Paso and headed out to Las Cruces to meet a team of incredibly dedicated Save the Children staff and volunteers.  Thus began my work at the southern border.

The most common question from my family and friends is, “How are things at the border?” We see things in the media, and the purpose of this story is to give you my answer. Yes, there are stories and things I have seen that will leave a lasting impression and take some time to process and understand. Then there are the stories that we should all hear and embrace.

Save the Children and GSK have been global partners since 2013 and have worked together in the U.S. since 2015. Together, our two organizations are helping children, with GSK providing corporate and employee donations to directly aid children. Angie is a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) employee who, as part of a partnership between Save the Children and GSK, was recently deployed to Las Cruces, New Mexico where Save the Children is running child-friendly spaces in transit shelters for children and families released by U.S. Customs & Border Patrol. Here is her story.

The Save the Children crew on the ground is the epitome of what working with a team should be.  They received me with open arms and got me quickly up to speed. We would brief and debrief at the beginning and end of each day and ensured we looked after each other’s health, security and well-being.  Some of my best memories of deployment were cooking dinner for the team and chatting about our lives and everything in between, or travelling to a destination playing trivia and discovering new songs to listen to.  We laughed and helped each other out on our tough days by simply listening to each other.

We had many tasks, but the most important was to set up child-friendly play spaces in two shelter locations for children of families transiting onto their next destination after clearing detention. We did this every day and welcomed kids and parents open arms.  The thing is, based on my time in New Mexico, our work is a brief moment in someone else’s story. A child’s story. A child’s life. The children come into our child-friendly spaces and in the matter of a few seconds, they feel safe. They feel like they are children again. They just want to play and be kids. We created gardens, undersea magical kingdoms, and made it snow in the heat of a New Mexico summer using our imagination and some art supplies. We played soccer, football and endless games of Jenga. Every day, I saw new faces and smiles, and heard the laughter of children who had faced harrowing journeys. Despite different languages, we found a way to communicate, and more importantly, connect. 

I met a mom and her daughter who traveled for days with little or no food to get to the border. Upon reaching our space, the mom finally got to breathe and relax with her 2-year-old daughter. This beautiful mama sat in a rocking chair with a blissful smile on her face, while I played with her precocious daughter. She smiled, knowing she was about to give birth to her second child. She smiled, despite being separated from her husband and not knowing when she might see him again.  She smiled, moving into an uncertain future with a relative she had not seen in 6 years. 

I met another family who were waiting at the transit shelter for another family member to pick them up. That family member dropped everything and hopped into a car to drive 15 hours to pick up his sister and nephew. While they were waiting, the son very sweetly took care of his mom and all of the little ones around him. He played games, read to kids and colored. There was a kindness and curiosity about him that was infectious. We spent the latter part of the day looking at a map so he could understand where he came from and where he was heading. His curiosity shone brightly and by the end of the afternoon, a large group of us were standing around the map telling our stories. There were at least four different languages among us and yet we all understood.

After three weeks in the field, I now have an answer for those who ask about what’s happening at the border. I have met people with the courage, vulnerability and compassion to place humanity and common decency at the core of everything they do. I have seen the beauty of a community coming together to help people and children know that all is not lost and to inspire them to keep moving on their journey. I have seen the brilliant smiles of parents and children and heard their laughter. The work that team is undertaking at the border is quite possibly the first positive interaction some of these kids have had while heading towards their new homes. And yes, a brief moment in their lives, but hopefully a lasting memory that kindness, empathy and compassion can triumph over adversity. 

So please remember these stories – these are the stories that matter. 



Accidental Super Heroes: When the Work of Humanitarians Means the Difference Between Life and Death

Written by Dr Unni Krishnan is Director Emergency Health Unit (EHU), Save the Children 

Humanitarians are ordinary people. Sometimes people become humanitarians by accident when they find themselves in the midst of a disaster.

What makes them true heroes is the selfless and extraordinary work they do in some of the most difficult places in the world.

In wars and disaster zones, the work of humanitarians serves one key purpose – a catalyst to advance the idea of humanity and life, with dignity. This is something one can’t learn through an academic crash-course alone.

World Humanitarian Day, observed on 19 August every year, is a day to remember our accidental superheroes like Khadiza Rimjhim, who I met in Cox’s Bazar in early 2018.

Rim Jim Nurse working in the Emergency Health Unit in Cox’s Bazar; Photo credit: Unni Krishnan/Save The Children

Rimjhim was a young Bangladeshi nurse working in a health center run by Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit. She was busy providing healthcare for dozens of Rohingya refugee children. It was a challenging task and she was doing her best to find a balance between taking care of sick children and addressing the anxieties of parents who had a hundred questions.

Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh is home to nearly a million Rohingya refugees who arrived from Myanmar in mid-2017, fleeing violence and a terror campaign launched by the Burmese armed forces, which UN officials said was orchestrated with “genocidal intent”.

Humanitarians become so not always by design. An unexpected turn of events in life and witnessing the suffering of refugee children was the turning point for Rimjhim. “I never imagined working in a refugee camp,” Rimjhim told me. She graduated as a nurse in early 2018 and the work at the health center was her first job. “I have seen enough suffering here. My work here means a lot to the children here and to me.” The work of humanitarians such as Rimjhim often makes the difference between life and death for children in refugee camps. 

Photo credit: Sacha Myers/Save the Children
Kambale Kivasigha , Emergency Health Unit, Save the Children; Photo Credit Sacha Myers/Save The Children

What is the humanitarian spirit?

In mid-2018, when the worst flood in a hundred years hit the South Indian state of Kerala, I met several fishermen who acted instantly – they rolled up their sleeves, loaded their fishing boats into trucks and rushed to the flood-affected areas. Armed with nothing more than unflinching courage and grit, they rescued thousands of people long before helicopters reached the scene.

These fishermen were not humanitarians in the official sense. But they showed humanity and selflessness. They saved lives and embodied the humanitarian spirit.

Another person who became an accidental humanitarian is my colleague Kambale Kivasigha.

In 2002, several hundred people fleeing violence took refuge in the nursing college where Kambale was working as the principal.  They were sick and terrified. Amongst them were several children. Kambale didn’t know anything about humanitarian work at the time, but that didn’t stop him. He gave up teaching and started providing emergency healthcare for children and their families.

Ever since, Kambale has been on the frontlines of conflicts, disasters and disease outbreaks, providing life-saving humanitarian help.

He is now a nurse with Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit and for the past year, has been working in Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Ebola-affected areas.

“Fighting the Ebola virus is only one of the challenges,” Kambale told me. Health workers and aid workers in DRC are fighting the battle against Ebola on several fronts. Firstly, they are fighting a deadly virus. Secondly, various armed groups have been attacking health workers and health centers and disrupting health services. Thirdly, misinformation and fake news have triggered mistrust amongst communities resulting in attacks on health and humanitarian workers.

Local volunteers such as the health workers in the Ebola affected areas of DRC or Kerala’s fishermen are often the first responders, and sometimes the only responders, in many disasters.

What makes a good humanitarian?

In early August this year, I was asked this question by a group of young students, many of them millennials, during a conference in Kuala Lumpur organized by MERCY Malaysia, a humanitarian organization.

The students wanted to know what humanitarian agencies look for when they recruit staff. Not an easy question and there is no perfect formula!

Firstly, humanitarian workers are compassionate and courageous. Secondly, they have clarity of purpose and believe in the magic that it is always possible to make a difference. Finally, they are collaborative, optimistic and bring energy. These are just some starting points.

Humanitarian work is not just a profession, but often a state of mind.

If you are a nurse, teacher, doctor, engineer, shelter or communications expert, it is an added advantage but not a replacement for the universal humanitarian values and principles that inspire humanitarian workers.

Foundations for a better, safe and just world are; an unflinching commitment (to a higher cause); unfailing optimism; a compassionate approach (to people who have lost almost everything); and professionalism.

These building blocks make ordinary people like Rimjhim, Kambale and fishermen of Kerala into extraordinary humanitarians – into superheros.


*Dr Unni Krishnan is Director Emergency Health Unit (EHU). EHU is Save The Children’s global capability to provide life saving medical assistance and health care in humanitarian settings.


Photo credit: Sacha Myers/Save the Children, April 2019.

Child Protection and Emotional Support for Cyclone Idai Survivors

Written and Photographed by Sacha Myers, Emergency Health Unit, Save the Children

“Tell me about your average day when you get a chance.” The message, from a friend thousands of miles away in Australia, popped up on my screen. I leaned against the car and looked up from my phone at the tents surrounding me.

There was a hum of activity as people started their evening routine. Women milled around the
water points waiting to fill their buckets. Children ducked and weaved between the tents playing their last game of tag. Smoke from small wood fires created a haze across the darkening sky.

I looked back down at my phone. My average day?

Before and after
I’d spent that morning with children who had lost their homes when Cyclone Idai tore through central Mozambique a month ago.

They were doing an exercise in one of our child-friendly spaces – drawing their home before and after the cyclone.

The children took such pride in their “before” drawings. They used rulers to carefully draw the
outline of their house with their bed inside and food in the kitchen. Later they added pictures of their family members holding hands with love hearts between them.

In stark contrast, the pictures they drew of their community post-cyclone depicted an entirely
different reality: mothers crying as they clung to their babies; trees stripped bare and uprooted; great torrents of brown water; pieces of metal flying through the air; homes in ruins.

Photo credit: Sacha Myers/Save the Children, April 2019.
When Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique, 13-year-old Suraya recalls running out of a house carrying her brother after a tree crashed through the roof.

How did they survive?
Once the children had finished the activity, they took turns in presenting what they had drawn. As I listened to them, I couldn’t help but wonder how they had survived.

They described scenes of chaos. The walls of their bedrooms collapsing on them. Falling into
floodwaters as they ran for safety. Spending a week in waist-deep water waiting to be rescued.
Thirteen-year-old Suraya told me: “While we were sleeping, a tree fell down on top of the house. My mum told us to get out. We ran out of the house. The wind was increasing. We were running and I was holding my brother. On the day of the cyclone, I thought I was going to die.”

“My family is all over”
When 14-year-old Beatriz* sat down to present, her story silenced us.

She explained in a quiet voice how she was an orphan before the cyclone. She lived with her
grandmother. When the cyclone stuck, their house collapsed, and Beatriz’s grandmother was hit by a tree as they were running for safety. She later died in hospital.

Beatriz is now entirely alone. She lives in a tent with eight other people she doesn’t know. I alerted Save the Children’s child protection team immediately about Beatriz. They support separated and unaccompanied children and work with the government to try and reunite them with their family or caregivers.

Tragically, Beatriz’s story is not uncommon. Many people lost loved ones in the flood waters or became separated from their family in the rush to find safety.

Fatima, a mother of three, told me: “My family is all over. I don’t even know where [my husband] is. Even my two sons are not with me. We separated when we took the boat. I don’t know where they are. The way I’m living is hard. It’s painful.”

Rebuilding children’s lives
This was just one day in post-cyclone Mozambique. An average day.

While I felt emotionally wrecked afterwards, I also had hope. Because children are extremely
resilient, and with the right support and a safe environment, they can recover from the stressful events they’ve experienced. And that’s why mental health must be included in the recovery plans for Mozambique.

Mental health is a core part of Save the Children’s work. We’re rolling out a comprehensive child protection and emotional support program in some of the worst-hit areas in Mozambique. As part of this, we have set up six child-friendly spaces in and around Beira and will open up to 50 more spaces in the coming weeks.

*Name changed to protect identity

To learn more about the work Save the Children is doing to support emergency response following Cyclone Idai, visit our website.


Conflict in Yemen: Four Years, Four Facts

Yemen is a perfect storm of humanitarian, protection and economic crises, with each fueling the other. March 26 marks four years since the conflict in the country escalated. In that time, Yemeni families have witnessed the horror of more than 19,000 airstrikes and continuous ground fighting.

Over the last year, 37 Yemeni children have been killed or injured by foreign bombs each month. Twenty four million people, including 12.3 million children, need humanitarian assistance – without this, their prospects of survival dwindle every day.

On the four-year mark of the escalation of the conflict, here are four facts you need to know.

  1. 85,000 children under the age of five may have died from extreme hunger or disease since the war started in 2015. Children who die from Severe Acute Malnutrition suffer immensely as their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop. Their immune systems are so weak they are more prone to infections with some too frail to even cry.  


  1. 2 million children are currently missing out on an education, and 1,800 schools are unfit for use. Save the Children is working hard to keep children in school or giving them access to safe places to play and escape the trauma they are experiencing. 


  1. An estimated 2 million children do not have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene. In some parts of the country, the water supply is only turned on for an hour a day and 46% of the population lacks access to safe drinking water.


  1. 2 million children are without adequate access to healthcare. More than half of all health facilities have closed or are only partially functional. There are no doctors available in 18% t of the districts in Yemen.

Save the Children calls on all parties to Yemen’s conflict to support the ongoing peace process, to take urgent steps to protect civilians, to work toward stabilizing the economy and to allow complete and unconditional access for humanitarian and commercial goods into Yemen. 

To learn more about Save the Children’s work in Yemen and how you can help, visit our website.



Providing for an Entire Extended Family in Yemen – A Mother’s Story

Drawing to illustrate the blog post provided by Sukaina Sharafuddin, Save the Children’s Communications Officer based in Yemen. Photo credit: Takayo Akiyama | Save the Children, Feb 2019

Illustration by Takayo Akiyama, Save the Children

This is the third of a three-part blog series written by a mother named Sukaina who is living and raising her young son in Yemen. Sukaina works for Save the Children in her home country, which has been at war since 2015. 

The war has changed everything for me, my family and families across Yemen. So many have left.

My husband used to have a good job, but he lost it when the economy crashed. He has a degree. He speaks English well, but right now he goes out every day trying to find a job that pays. It has been more than two years since public servants, public school teachers and doctors have been paid. 

My brother is a dentist, but now he teaches Biology at a high school. We are just glad he found a job at a private school that gives salaries to teachers. My cousin used to have an excellent job as a Finance Officer. The company had to shut down when the war started. Now it has been four years and he is desperate to find any kind of job to look after his wife and two daughters. I worry about him – his face has gone pale and he is just exhausted, worrying every day about how to feed his girls.

People like me, who are lucky enough to still have a job, support their whole extended family. I support my parents, my brother’s family, my grandmother, and my cousin’s family. Although the support I provide them is very basic and is barely enough, it is better than nothing. Everything in the shops is so expensive. I used to buy diapers without thinking about it. Not now. They are a luxury item. Many families use plastic bags or cloths in children’s underwear for their newborn babies, because they cannot afford the price of diapers.

Transport, hospital, schools, nurseries – everything is breaking down.

Over past six months, I’ve taken my son to seven different nurseries. Often, it is overcrowded. He comes home dirty, because there is only one carer for every 10 children. I’m looking for a new nursery, but I want it to be close to my work, because when the airstrikes start, I need to be able to run there to get him to a safe place.

A few months ago, we had the chance to leave Yemen. My husband traveled to Malaysia and found a great job. I was planning on joining him. But in the end, I asked him to come back. I’m sure you’re wondering, ‘Why?’

Everyone keeps abandoning Yemen. I can’t. I am the provider for my entire family. I can’t abandon them. I can’t abandon my country. I figured that it will be mentally exhausting for me and I will find no joy living elsewhere, knowing that my country and my family and friends are struggling to survive.

That is why I am still here.

What hurts the most is the feeling that we have been neglected by the outside world. I am grateful to Save the Children and their supporters for not forgetting us. Seeing the work we do in Yemen is a great relief for me.


To learn more about the work Save the Children is doing in Yemen, visit our website.


Giving Birth as Bombs are Falling – A Mother’s Story

Drawing to illustrate the blog post provided by Sukaina Sharafuddin, Save the Children’s Communications Officer based in Yemen. Photo credit: Takayo Akiyama | Save the Children, Feb 2019

Illustration by Takayo Akiyama, Save the Children

This is the second of a three-part blog series written by a mother named Sukaina who is living and raising her young son in Yemen. Sukaina works for Save the Children in her home country, which has been at war since 2015. 


When I think about my son, I get tears in my eyes. He is three and all he has ever known is war.

This is what happened the night he was born.

It was midnight when my contractions started. We had to go to three different hospitals before we found one where they had electricity. There were airstrikes all around – it was so scary. In the end, I needed a C-section and I asked to have a general anesthetic because I didn’t want to hear the sound of bombs when my son was born.

So war has been part of his life, right from the start. I feel like it has stolen his childhood away. He is three years old! He wants to go out and explore, but we have to keep him indoors where it is safer. He can’t play with water outdoors because he could get cholera. Or play football in the street because it is too dangerous.

This isn’t what I want for him.

Before the war, we used to have big family gatherings. I loved them. Everyone would eat together. The kids would play – it was such a happy time. Now, all we talk about is the war.

We are exhausted. We are tired of crying. We are tired of war. All we want is to have a safe life where our children could live an ordinary life.

To learn more about the work Save the Children is doing in Yemen, visit our website.


Staying Calm for the Sake of Her Son – A Mother’s Story

Drawing to illustrate the blog post provided by Sukaina Sharafuddin, Save the Children’s Communications Officer based in Yemen. Photo credit: Takayo Akiyama | Save the Children, Feb 2019

Illustration by Takayo Akiyama, Save the Children

This is the first of a three-part blog series written by a mother named Sukaina who is living and raising her young son in Yemen. Sukaina works for Save the Children in her home country, which has been at war since 2015. 


It is morning, but as I write this blog post, I am already thinking about what will happen tonight. Will there be airstrikes? It was quiet for the past couple of months, but lately airstrikes have resumed.

I remember how excited we were when we moved into this apartment – me, my husband and my son. It’s on the ninth floor! Which means that we have to take the stairs every now and then because electricity is not always available. My apartment views over Sana’a (that’s the capital of Yemen) are amazing, but then the airstrikes started again on the night we moved in. There were four airstrikes that targeted the same neighborhood where my mom and my handicapped grandmother lived. I called my mom and I asked her to stay away from the windows and to be careful. I couldn’t sleep and I was worried about her, until she texted me three hours later saying everything was OK.

Now, whenever the airstrikes happen, I lie with my little boy – he is three years old – and his one-eyed cuddly sheep and we cuddle until it is over. We stay where we are because this building has no shelter. Even if we ran down the stairs – nine floors, remember – there would be nowhere to go.

Sometimes, we put on headphones and play loud music to drown out the noise.  At other times, we just listen to the sounds of the planes overhead. My little boy is so funny. He actually loves planes and carries a small orange airplane everywhere he goes. Every time an aircraft hover over, he gets all excited and jumps up and down. He says, “Whoah, let’s go see the airplane!” but I pull him away from the windows, because we don’t have any functioning airports here, so I know airplanes mean one thing: bombs. When I hear them approach, I think, “This might be the end”.

I try to stay calm for my son. On the inside, I’m completely panicking, worrying about how on earth we will get out of here if we get hit. Somehow children always feel your stress. My son tells me, “Mummy smile. Mummy, be happy don’t be sad!”

So be happy  is what I try to do. Even though my country is at war, bombs are falling, and people are going hungry, I try to smile and be happy for my son.

Think of us tonight when you go to sleep – without the sound of airstrikes or the fear a bomb will wipe you out.


Civilians fleeing violence face life-threatening risks the moment they embark on their journeys. The most immediate dangers are death or injury due to explosive weapons, which have been used indiscriminately by all parties to the conflict with little regard for their legal obligation to protect civilians in conflict.

If displaced families manage to survive their dangerous journeys and avoid airstrikes and shelling to reach relative safety, they face further difficulties in strained host communities or in camps lacking in adequate food supplies and basic sanitation and hygiene. This puts young children at risk of malnutrition and disease in a country where the health system has all but collapsed and some 14 million people are on the brink of starvation. Save the Children estimates 85,000 children have already died from extreme hunger and disease since 2015.

To learn more about the work Save the Children is doing in Yemen, visit our website.


Hurricane Michael Draws Comparisons to Hurricane Katrina

It was 13 years ago, in August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc along the U.S. Gulf Coast, leaving 1,833 people dead.

Thankfully, few children died as a result of Hurricane Katrina. But the storm has had a lasting, negative impact on tens of thousands of children who survived, only to suffer serious emotional and developmental consequences for years afterward. 

More than 5,000 cases of missing children were reported after Katrina, many separated from their families for weeks, and some for months.Hundreds of thousands of children lost their homes and the communities where they grew up. Many lost loved ones and family pets. Countless children witnessed death while wading through or being rescued from rising waters. Thousands of children who were separated from their families and caregivers were rescued and placed in shelters in different cities and states. Many children spent days in unsanitary shelters with insufficient food and water, and where there were many accounts of violence and sexual assaults.6

In the days and months following Hurricane Katrina, Save the Children worked tirelessly to protect children from harm. We developed Journey of Hope, a program that helps children and the adults who care for them cope with loss, fear and stress. The evidence-based program also aims to help children become more resilient in the aftermath of a hurricane.

Until recently, Hurricane Katrina was recognized as the most destructive storm in U.S. history. However, with reports out of Florida describing the area as a “war zone,[i]” experts are concerned that Hurricane Michael, just 2 mph short of being classified as a Cat. 5 hurricane when it ripped into the panhandle[ii], will be even more devastating to some coastal communities.  

Here’s why: Hurricane Michael’s path impacted some of Florida’s and Georgia’s poorest counties. Poorer families are often  hurt hardest by storm’s fury and have more difficulty recovering. What’s more, these inland communities of Florida are less accustomed to dealing with powerful hurricanes.

We already know that 20 of 38 schools in Bay County, Florida have been damaged. “We’ve seen schools that are completely destroyed. Children will be out of school indefinitely,” said, Sarah Thompson, team leader on the ground.

While assessments are still underway, we anticipate a large number of day care, pre-K programs and schools in Hurricane Michael’s path have sustained extensive damage, rendering them uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. The future of thousands of young students remains largely unclear. Child care facilities are essential for getting communities back to normal routines and parents back to work. The loss of these services debilitates the entire community.[iii]

The potential for Hurricane Michael to have a widespread, deep and enduring impact on children’s mental health is great. 

When forced to evacuate from their homes, many people –  particularly the poor – have no choice but to turn to emergency shelters. Unfortunately, our national sheltering system doesn’t adequately account for the unique needs of children, making them vulnerable to injury and abuse.

Children are only sometimes counted separately from adults in shelter facilities, making it difficult to provide services that meet the specific needs of children and keep them safe. Shelters rarely keep families separated from the rest of the population, making kids vulnerable to abuse, violence and even rape.[iv]

Early reports are that conditions in shelters in and around Panama City are extremely poor. There is limited electricity and no running water, which means displaced children and families are unable to bathe, making an uncomfortable situation unsafe and more likely to spread illness. “These shelters are meant to be temporary, but families we met may be here for a very long time. We have to help make them better,” said Sarah Thompson. 

Thanks to the generous support of our donors, Save the Children’s emergency response team is  preparing to set up safe play spaces in shelters in the Panhandle’s hardest-hit areas – where children can play, learn and cope – and working to ensure shelter conditions are made safe and accommodating for families.

To learn more about Save the Children’s work to help Hurricane Michael survivors, please visit:





4 Still At Risk: U.S. Children 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina






A Save the Children staffer plays with a child in a safe play space, set up to help children cope with the devastating effects of Hurricane Michael.

Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Children Following an Emergency

The mental health needs of children following an emergency are immense. Stress caused as a result of lost homes and lost communities can have a widespread, deep and enduring impact on children’s mental well being. 

As reports surface on the damage caused by Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 hurricane at the time it made landfall in Florida, Save the Children is actively working to protect vulnerable children and provide immediate support for families affected by the storm by distributing critical supplies. Our long-term response efforts will focus on providing much-needed emotional support to children as well.

Despite heightened vulnerability, children’s mental health needs are historically underrepresented in preparedness efforts in both public health and medical communities.[i]

Save the Children knows this is unacceptable.

Through the generous support of our donors, we are working to provide schools and communities with structured programs designed to support the emotional development of children following an emergency.

Here’s why it’s so important:

Children have unique needs that make them the most vulnerable in a disaster. From their small bodies being at greater risk of illness or harm during an emergency to their dependency on routine to help them make sense of their surroundings and feel comforted, children have the potential to suffer the most following an emergency.

The long-term negative impact of a disaster can be mitigated. With some basic training, parents, teachers and caregivers can help protect children from further harm following an emergency. Providing reassurance and validation of emotions while working to normalize routines and returning to learning can all work to reduce the mental harm caused to children.

However, many parents may not know how to address these needs. After Hurricane Katrina, key findings documented in American Medical Association’s Journal of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness found that while one-third of children were reported to have been diagnosed with at least one mental health problem, fewer than 50% of parents were able to access needed professional services. The major barriers that parents reported included not knowing where to go for help, lack of insurance coverage for treatment, no available providers and lack of transportation or child care for other children in the family. [ii] 

Children’s well-being depends, in large part, on the stability and well-being of their parents and caregivers. Children understand and process events based on messages they receive from those responsible for them. Helping parents and caregivers to process their experiences and develop resources for coping is the first step in increasing their ability to support children. By attending first to their own emotional needs, parents and caregivers can be more fully present and attentive to the needs of children.  

Children communicate stress differently. There is no one way in which children express worries and fears. Each one may communicate upset feelings in different ways. It’s important to recognize both the physical symptoms and behavioral changes that can mask trauma. Sleep disorders, irritability and acting out area also ways in which children may communicate stress.

A donation to Save the Children’s Hurricane Michael Children’s Relief Fund will help support the urgent needs of children and families. Please donate now.

To learn more about Save the Children’s work in Florida and across the United States, please visit:





[i] A Child’s Health Is the Public’s Health: Progress and Gaps in Addressing Pediatric Needs in Public Health Emergencies 

[ii] Abramson, D., Park, YS., Stehling-Ariza, T., and Redlener, I. “Children as Bellwethers of Recovery: Dysfunctional Systems and the Effects of Parents, Households, and Neighborhoods on Serious Emotional Disturbance in Children After Hurricane Katrina.” Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. 4. (2010). pp. S17-S27.

A Story of Survival Following the Indonesia Earthquake and Tsunami

Photography by Junaedi Uko 

At least 600,000 children have been affected after a catastrophic 7.5 magnitude earthquake and 20-foot-high tsunami struck Indonesia on September 28. 

“Many children are in shock and traumatized, alone and afraid,” said Child Protection Advisor Zubedy Koteng from Palu, the epicenter of the crisis. “Young children searching for surviving relatives will have witnessed and lived through horrific experiences which no child should ever have to see or undergo.”

Nine-year-old Puri* is one such child. Trapped under rubble for five hours, Puri was found and rescued by her brother and a group of other but suffered a serious head injury. Here is her story. 

Puri*, 9, with her brother, Dimas*, 33, await an emergency plane in Palu, Indonesia to take them to Makassar for treatment. Photo Credit: Junaedi Uko / Save the Children.

The ground beneath Puri’s house began to shake just as she was preparing her evening prayer. The pillars of the house fell on her head before Puri had a chance to realize what was happening around her. She cannot remember anything after that.

“Our house, where Puri was found,” explained Puri’s brother Dimas,* “shifted almost 50 meters from its original location. Very few houses remain intact. I didn’t expect anything to be saved at that time. Puri’s survival was a miracle.”

When Dimas found Puri she was almost unconscious, buried face downwards in the rubble. She had been using her one free hand to make noise and attract attention. 

“Some people who were also looking for their families heard her cries,” said Dimas.

Miraculously, Puri’s cries for help were heard. She was found alive but was badly hurt and suffering from a serious head injury.

When Save the Children spoke to Puri and her brother, the siblings were at Mutiara Airport in Palu, awaiting an emergency plane to take them to Makassar for treatment. 

Save the Children, working through its partner Yayasan Sayangi Tunas Cilik (YSTC), has delivered vital aid on a military plane to Palu.

“I can’t overstate how much this aid is needed by children and families impacted by the disaster,” Zubedy Koteng, Child Protection Specialist with Save the Children’s national entity in Indonesia, said.

“The earthquake and tsunami cut off many transport routes in this remote area. We sent out three teams, on different routes, with as many supplies as they could carry to ensure we could reach people as fast as we could but the journey has taken days. We are relieved that these much-needed supplies have arrived by plane and are starting to get through.

“Children urgently need shelter and essential hygiene items to prevent the spread of diseases and contamination as families are packed into evacuation centers with limited supply of clean water. We’re also sending school kits to ensure their education isn’t interrupted any further.”

Save the Children has been working in Indonesia since 1976, and has a long history responding to humanitarian disasters in the country, including the recent earthquakes in Lombok and the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

*Names changed for protection


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