Karl Schembri, Middle East Regional Media Manager, Save the Children International
June 26, 2014
I’m walking around Erbil’s city centre with our assessment team as they look around inside motels for displaced Iraqi families in need of help. One family after another, they all tell us how they’re running out of money, having to move out onto the streets with no clue where to go.
Sufian*, 12, and his sister, Fatima*, 14, in the family's hotel room in Erbil. The family fled the violence in their hometown Tikrit. Photo: Hedinn Halldorsson/Save the Children
In a small motel tucked in the bazaar just a minute’s walk away from the historic citadel, I meet 12-year-old Sufian*. His parents and two siblings are crammed in a room. A little suitcase lies on the bed as they collect the few belongings they brought with them when they fled from the hellish explosions and gunfire in Tikrit a week ago. His father, clearly distraught, tells me their money has run out and they are now leaving.
“We came here a year ago as tourists during Eid al Adha,” Sufian tells me. “We know the motel owner; we stayed here last year. He’s been very kind to us and gave us slashed prices, but my father has no more money left. Where will we go? Maybe in the streets, in the parks… there’s no place for us.”
Here is a middle income family who afforded to come as tourists last year, right in the same place where they are now seeking refuge. Sufian himself grasps the bitter irony and goes on to explain to me what it feels like.
“When we travelled as tourists we felt safe, there were policemen at the border and everything was orderly. We came to relax, we were comfortable. It’s not the case as displaced people. We had to flee from explosions, armed men, no security.
“When we came as tourists we got all the things we needed; our clothes and all the stuff you need when you’re travelling. When you’re fleeing you have to escape quickly. We couldn’t bring anything except the clothes we have on us.”
Sufian *, 12, Fatima *, 14, and their little brother, Kamal*, 6, in the family's hotel room. "Even if it's not safe to go there, I want to avoid ending up on the street", said the children's father. "I tell my little brother stories when he has nightmares during the night", Sufian says. Photo: Hedinn Halldorsson/Save the Children
Having to flee like that is something Sufian and his family never expected to have to go through. He dreamt of becoming a doctor to help people in need, but now the future is bleak, he doesn’t even know where he will sleep tonight and the tragedy is still sinking in. He misses his friends, his neighborhood, playing football with his mates. He tells me his 6-year-old brother gets nightmares at night, so he consoles him by telling him stories until he sleeps again.
But it’s a nightmare for the entire family, really, as it is for thousands of others fleeing from the raging conflict in Iraq right now. One might say we are all tourists in this fleeting life of ours, but nobody should be forced to flee from home, leaving everything behind, with no idea where to spend the night.
*Names have have been changed to protect identities.
Hurricane Sandy devastated the northeastern seaboard in 2012. Make sure your family is ready to respond to hurricanes.
Hurricane season has officially started, so what better time to observe Hurricane Preparedness Week and ensure your family is ready to weather any storm? Every year, an average of 10 tropical storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico—and six of them are likely to become hurricanes. These destructive storms can batter homes and whole communities with high winds, heavy rains, large waves, flooding and hail. Children are particularly vulnerable when disaster strikes, but the simple steps below can help protect your family.
10 Tips to Keep Children Safe in Hurricanes
1. Talk about hurricanes. Spend time with your family discussing why hurricanes occur. Explain that a hurricane is a natural event and not anyone’s fault. Use simple words that even young children can understand.
2. Know your risk. Find out if you live in a hurricane evacuation area. Assess your risks from a storm surge, flooding or wind damage that may accompany a hurricane.
3. Practice evacuation drills. Practice your family evacuation plan so that, during an emergency, you can evacuate quickly and safely.
4. Learn your caregivers’ disaster plans. Ask about evacuation plans and if you would be required to pick up your children from the site or from another location.
5. Stay informed. Use a NOAA weather radio or listen to a local station on a portable, battery-powered radio or television.
DURING A HURRICANE:
6. Evacuate if instructed to do so. Evacuate if told to do so by local authorities or if you feel unsafe. If advised to evacuate, avoid flooded roads and watch for washed-out bridges. Local officials may close certain roads, especially near the coast, when effects of the hurricane reach the coast.
7. Stay indoors, if not evacuated. If you are not advised to evacuate, or are unable to do so safely, stay indoors, away from windows, skylights and doors. Continue to monitor weather reports and do not go outside until the storm has passed.
AFTER A HURRICANE:
8. Limit media exposure. Protect children from seeing too many sights and images of the hurricane, including those on the internet, television or newspapers.
9. Ensure utilities are available. Before children return to areas impacted by a hurricane, make sure utilities, such as electricity and plumbing, are restored and living and learning spaces (e.g., homes, schools, child care facilities) are free from physical and environmental hazards.
10. Involve children in recovery. After a hurricane, let children help in clean-up and recovery efforts in age-appropriate ways as this participation may increase their sense of control over the situation.
Additional Resources: The tips above are just the start of knowing how to prepare for and respond to hurricanes. Use the following resources to help ensure your family is ready for the next hurricane:
American Red Cross: Hurricane Preparedness. http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/hurricane
National Hurricane Center: Hurricane Preparedness—Be Ready http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/prepare/ready.php
Chester Maneno, Sponsorship Field Officer
Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries, ranked 171 out of 187 nations, and 85% of the population lives in rural areas, including Zomba where we implement sponsorship programs. People in these areas have different perceptions about the Western world, which is why I’m sharing ideas on what sponsors can write to their sponsored child.
Many people in rural areas think Western people have a lot of money and everything they need in life, hence they do not struggle as people in this part of the world do to have a successful future.
Sponsors, therefore, should regard themselves as role models to these children and tell them about the advantages of working hard in school. In Zomba, the fact that there is little interest in education among both children and their parents is a big challenge, and the mention of hard work in school from sponsors can be very helpful.
Sponsors should avoid asking children to write about what they would want sponsors to do for them as this poses a challenge for field staff when the child or the parents want a follow-up to what they requested. Statements like “I hope the money I send every month will help you achieve a better life,” and “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you,” are culturally sensitive and contradict our program’s community orientation.
It would be better if sponsors concentrated on encouraging the child to go to school and study hard so they can realize their dream of what they want to become. Children should also be encouraged to share information about their culture, their family and their holidays. These topics bring a smile to the child’s face, and they feel connected to the sponsor.
David Brickey Bloomer, Asia Regional Child Protection Advisor
January 6, 2014
Part 1: Mass graves, widespread losses, and begging children
Two main issues weighed heavily on my mind as the plane landed in Tacloban five days after Typhoon Haiyan ripped through Eastern Visayas.
Firstly, it was the prospect of unaccompanied and separated children. With dead bodies lining the streets, we assumed that we would be documenting many cases of children unaccompanied or who have lost their parents in the storm.
A set of swings in a playground in Tacloban are destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. Photo Credit: David Bloomer/Save the Children
The other was the physical safety and psychosocial well-being of children in the aftermath of such a large scale disaster that left so many displaced and impacted. Death and the loss of shelter affected almost everyone.
While fortunately there were few cases of children separated from their families – and for this I acknowledge the strong Filipino family structure and disaster preparedness, the physical hazards for children and adults were everywhere. Planks of wood with rusty nails; shredded sheets of corrugated tin roofing, downed electrical wires; and smashed windows and glass were littered everywhere. In villages, fallen coconut trees created obstacle courses of movement and even the air in many places was thick with smoke as people burned piles of debris.
With schools obviously not being opened—and badly damaged if not completely obliterated—and adults so preoccupied with salvaging what they could, rebuilding their homes or temporary shelters and trying to restore their livelihoods, children in the thousands were left with little in the way of structure and routine and in many cases roamed aimlessly around their community. Along the highway south of Tacloban city, hundreds of children begged for food and money.
This posed an extremely dangerous situation for children, who scrambled for coins or food that was tossed out of passing car windows, and I used my time in the field doing assessments to hold brief awareness raising sessions with barangay and municipality authorities, groups of parents and even with children themselves on the risks of physical harm as well as the dangers of trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Along with other aid agencies and government departments, discussions on common awareness messages on protection were developed and disseminated.
Assessing the situation of children’s psychosocial well being was a major task in the initial phases of the Haiyan response efforts. Overwhelmingly, children seemed to be making sense and coming to terms with the disaster. Many children expressed fears associated with high winds and water and other aspects that brought back memories of when the typhoon struck. However, most children seemed to be in a state perhaps best described as “numbness” or “shock” but with few signs of extensive change in behaviours.
Children play in a school yard near mass graves in Leyte Island. The school was badly damaged during the typhoon and children had no structured activities to play or learn. Photo Credit: David Bloomer/Save the Children
It was a very different picture, however, as you moved into communities that were more extensively damaged and where the death toll, even among children, was higher. In communities where so many died there was hardly space to bury the dead and large mass graves were established. In one community, hundreds were buried in front of the Catholic Church, which had become the temporary office space for the barangay captain.
As we talked one morning, the barangay captain, obviously sleep deprived and dealing with tremendous grief, fought back tears as he told me about so many of his friends that he had lost and how the village was completely devastated. As I rested my hand on his shoulder for comfort, he pointed to the mass graves in front where many children played: “Please if you can help the children of my community,” he said as tears rolled down his cheeks, “we have no school and children have nowhere to go, so they come to this graveyard and play; many of their own friends are buried there and some are still missing.”
Save the Children established a Child Friendly Space—a safe space for children to gather, play, have time for social interaction with their friends, engage in non-formal learning activities and to receive psychosocial support—in this and many other communities like it.