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Will we learn from our mistakes and respond in time to Ethiopia’s drought?

Written by: Patricia Erb, President and CEO, Save the Children Canada

I have just returned from an overwhelming trip to Ethiopia visiting Save the Children projects in the Sitti Zone (the northeast region of the country) and witnessing the extreme draught in these pastoralist areas of the country. While there, I saw communities struggling with a severe lack of food and water, experiencing the loss of their main livelihoods both in livestock and crops.  I saw children impacted by malnutrition and the illnesses associated with a lack of food and water. The children were receiving food aid and treatment for malnutrition, but the situation runs a grave risk of deteriorating without increased and urgent help from the international community.

Ethiopia has been a model in terms of reaching the goals we globally share for children.  They met the Millennium Development Goal #4 – reduce under-five child mortality by two-thirds – two years early. Some 87% of Ethiopian children are enrolled in primary school and completion rates continue to rise.  A health care system that includes 38,000 health care workers means even the poorest people have some access to basic care. But the situation the Ethiopian Government is facing today - the worst drought the country has seen in 50 years – is extreme. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the UN, has called Ethiopia’s drought the worst and most severe El Nino impact the world has seen. No country should have to face a crisis like this alone.

The work that is being done so far to manage this crisis is good work. We’ve come so far since 1984 and Ethiopia and the international community have put in place many early warning systems that are working. But in the face of such an overwhelming crisis, no system is strong enough to cope with the strain. If the rains do not fall in March and if the crops that are planted do not lead to a harvest, this drought and food crisis will quickly become unbearable and unmanageable.

During my time in Ethiopia, I visited multiple Save the Children field sites and saw first-hand the impact of this drought on the landscape - so much dust and no water anywhere in sight – and the people. I am unable to forget the looks in the eyes of the mothers and fathers that I met. They’ve lost their cattle, their homes, their livelihoods. Their thin children may have food today, but they do not know how long that will last. I spoke with a mother in a stabilization centre who was at risk of losing her four-year-old daughter. Her desperation is urgent and it is painful - the plea in her eyes haunts me.

Save the Children’s team in Ethiopia - led by John Graham, a Canadian - is a smart, committed and determined bunch. The work they are doing as the largest NGO on the ground in Ethiopia is impressive.  Their care and commitment is evident not only in the face of the drought emergency, but also in the ongoing portfolio of work across almost every sector and sub-theme Save the Children has.  They will need more resources and support to keep the development and emergency efforts going and our recent declaration of this emergency as a Category One response means Save the Children is committed to helping.

It’s 2016. The world has learned from our previous mistakes when we failed to intervene fast enough in emergency situations. To demonstrate this we must now come together, urgently. With this drought and food crisis in Ethiopia, we are presented with a unique opportunity to write a good story on behalf of humanity. I urge you all to support Save the Children’s efforts in Ethiopia and work with us to write a positive story of how we as a people respond to this call for help.




I Know First Hand Why Canada's Aboriginals Need Truth for Reconciliation

Written by: Patricia Erb, President and CEO, Save the Children Canada

The night of September 13, 1976 changed my life. It was the night that I became one of the "Disappeared" in Argentina's Dirty War and it was the night when I became a witness and a voice for those who could no longer speak. The Dirty War was an era when the Argentinian Junta kidnapped, tortured and killed as many as 30,000 people.

The majority of the disappeared were like me, young people who were trying to make Argentina a more just society. I was one of the few Disappeared who were fortunate to have survived. Because I was American by birth and my parents were Mennonite missionaries, they were able to mobilize people across the Americas, including Canada, to raise the alarm and call for my release.

Until the end of the Dirty War, I did what I could to speak for the disappeared. In 1984 democracy returned to Argentina and with it came the start of a collective healing process. Argentina launched a Truth Commission to investigate the atrocities committed by the Junta and its supporters. This process was not without controversy and many survivors and their families held different views on how to move forward. What the Truth Commission did was begin the national conversation in Argentina about what was done in the name of the State, how people were hurt, and the steps required to make the survivors whole and heal the country.

Since then I have been a witness in court, shared my experience with researchers, spoken to community groups and the families of those killed, all in an effort to support the Truth, Justice and Memory movement. I have seen the healing that this movement has brought to those directly affected, like the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, but also to the broader public who lived through the Dirty War and to the children born after who deserve to understand and learn from their country's history.

The search for truth, justice and memory can be a painful one and it is never easy work but I have seen the rewards. This is why I passionately believe in the work of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). Established in 2008 the TRC has been tasked with researching the stories of the more than 150,000 Aboriginal Peoples affected by the dark history of the Indian Residential School system and has provided a platform for the survivors and their families to speak the truth of their experiences. The process has acknowledged the deep injustices and harms committed against Aboriginal Peoples. The goal of the TRC is to help establish new relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Peoples "embedded in mutual recognition and respect (that) will forge a more equitable future for all Canadians". On Tuesday, the TRC will release their findings which will present new opportunities to work towards a path of healing, reconciliation and renewal.

Save the Children's founder, Eglantyne Jebb wrote the very first Declaration of the Rights of the Child and we are committed to ensuring boys and girls realize the rights to which they are entitled under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. For generations in Canada, governments at all levels have failed to provide First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and communities, the most basic of services in health, education, housing, and water much less the standard of services enjoyed by the broader Canadian public. As we build our programs in Canada we are committed to creating strong partnerships based on the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples as protected by the Canadian Constitution, the Treaties and the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous peoples.

All Save the Children, from the board to the staff, commit to listen carefully and deeply and to build understanding and respectful relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. We will partner with all committed stakeholders to realize the rights of indigenous boys and girls. The reparations of relations between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples need allies. Allies that support and respect differing worldviews. This is about nation building. Collectively we can bring a greater understanding to the humanity and resiliency of indigenous peoples in Canada. The road will be long and it will not always be easy but the reward will bring about justice and learning the true history will make us more compassionate as a country. As the Chair of the TRC, Justice Murray Sinclair so eloquently says, it is not that we believe that reconciliation will happen but that it should.

Nepal Earthquake: First impressions from Chillime

Blog by: by Krishna Bajgai, Saving Newborn Lives District Programme Officer, Save the Children Nepal

When the earthquake struck, I was on the Nepal-China border near Chillime. I am accustomed to seeing people in difficult circumstances – in my job with Save the Children, I work on our Saving Newborn Lives campaign, and other nutrition programmes. Nutrition is still a challenging issue in Nepal, with many children growing up stunted, and mothers who risk their lives in unattended deliveries. Yet this could not prepare me for the effects of the earthquake.

I had no other choice but to reach my family on foot – the roads were nearly impassable, broken and blocked by landslides. The old buildings are all gone – only a few newer structures remain standing. All the schools in the area have been destroyed.

Walking amongst the rubble, I could see bodies crushed by the debris. The death toll is high, though no one knows for sure how high it will go. The smell intensifies as time goes on, evidence that little to no assistance has reached this region yet.

There is only one small hospital in the district, and it’s been heavily damaged. Luckily, our six staff in the region are safe and will begin responding as soon as access opens for aid. I’m thankful that I survived, my family survived, and my colleagues are well. But I fear for what happens next. But I know that Save the Children will do whatever it takes in the coming weeks and months to help get the survivors back on their feet, and build back sustainably.


Devastation in Nepal: Tough Decisions in the face of a disaster

Blog by: Cat Carter, Emergency Response Team, Nepal

Every earthquake, tsunami and flood I’ve ever been dispatched to has one thing in common – the first relief team is always a local one. Volunteers from the community instinctively band together to pull out the injured from under heaps of rubble, share scarce food and care for separated children. Taxi drivers, lawyers, fruit-sellers, full-time mums and sulky teenagers all become rescue workers.

Nepal is no different. In the moments after the quake, everyone rushed to help the person next to them. Now – four days on – families cluster together under fragile plastic sheets, supporting and comforting each other, even as their own food and water supplies dwindle. It’s a saddening and frustrating sight.

Like many INGOs, Save the Children had a significant presence in Nepal before the earthquake (we’ve been working here on development programmes since 1976), so we already had a stockpile of emergency supplies. But with the sheer scale of this earthquake, that stockpile was quickly exhausted. A call went out to Save the Children’s global team – Nepal needed emergency stocks, and emergency experts – immediately.

I, along with others received the call on Saturday afternoon and within minutes our Logistics team were trying to get us on a plane. Our plans were continually thwarted – the airport wasn’t open, then it was. The planes weren’t flying, then they were, but were diverted at the last minute to India, or China. In theory the team could then try and travel overland – but that would take an additional one or two days.  Planes laden with life-saving aid were similarly diverted. We were tearing our hair out, trying to get to Kathmandu.

I finally managed to get a seat on a plane, but flying over Kathmandu, I and fifty other aid-workers peered desperately down at a damaged city that we were unable to reach. Kathmandu airport is small and the runway was chronically congested. We feared we were going to be diverted to India like the planes in front of us.

After five hours circling the runway, we made our descent to be met by skeleton staff at the airport reeling from the loss of their loved ones and their homes; many staff understandably hadn’t come into work.

What I didn’t know then was the extent of the logistical challenges we were to face. Naively I’d assumed that the major hurdle was getting the aid into the country in the first place, but slowly the full picture emerged. As teams attempted to get to the epicentre of the quake outside Kathmandu and to assess the damage, they were thwarted by damaged roads and landslides. The electricity, phone and internet were down, so we couldn’t co-ordinate with communities, understand exactly what their needs were, or to tell them that we were trying to reach them. While our logistics teams desperately tried to bring aid into the country, they simultaneously attempted to find warehouses, which were still standing, secure and large enough to house the life-saving supplies. The next challenge was finding enough trucks and fuel to move the aid to the warehouses, and then out to the communities.

It’s frustrating for everyone – especially the affected families – when logistical challenges mean a distribution can’t happen immediately. But when you rush aid-work, mistakes are made. And sometimes they can be deadly. Taking too few supplies to a distribution can lead to frustration for those receiving it, if there’s not enough to go around. Distributing at an un-researched site could mean you don’t reach the most vulnerable people, because they are sheltering at another location, or staying indoors at that time of day. Handing out the wrong types of food free can undermine local markets, or make people sick. In short – assessments and planning, which take time, are wholly necessary for us to deliver a proper humanitarian response – to help, not harm.

Over the past few days, Save the Children has sent large trucks, heavily laden with aid, in three directions, out to three of the most affected sites. We ran a distribution yesterday in Kathmandu – providing hundreds of families with secure shelter for the night, and we have a further 136 metric tonnes of aid on the way.

Our work to support these families is only just beginning. It will be a long time before they can pick up the pieces and get on with their lives.



Earthquake devastates Nepal: Stories from the field

It has been a day since the devastating 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, killing nearly 2000 people, in an area about 80km from Kathmandu and Pokhara.

This is the largest earthquake the country has felt in 80 years, so despite Nepal being in an earthquake prone area, this is much larger than people are used to experiencing. Many of the buildings have collapsed and the people are not confident of the integrity and strength of buildings to withstand aftershocks of over 7.0 magnitude.

As I travel from my home in Delhi to Kathmandu, fresh aftershocks were also recorded at home and in other neighbouring countries, demonstrating the impact of this disaster across borders. My plane was due to depart Delhi for Kathmandu this afternoon, but I remained firmly strapped in my seat for three hours as we waited to learn whether we can be processed at immigration to do the work we came to do.

Over the past 24 hours, colleagues I’ve been in touch with have recounted stories of intense earthquakes for several minutes, sleeping in open areas for fear of the integrity of their homes, and having no electricity and patchy mobile coverage.

Many of them are trying to keep their families alive together and to make sense of what has happened. Yet they have also rallied and are continuing to work in order to help those who have not been as fortunate as they are. Sleeping outdoors can be cold in the mountainous terrain at this time of the year, and many are without tarpaulins and blankets as the rainfall seems imminent.

We are expecting that many children and families will need shelter, health services, psychosocial support, food, water and hygiene items. In Kathmandu Valley, hospitals are overcrowded and we’ve heard reports of hospitals running out of room for storing dead bodies and also running short of emergency supplies. Medical staff are now treating people in the streets. There are also reports that the hospital emergency stocks are being used up.

Save the Children is now looking to mobilise stocks of relief items within the country and across the region. However, transportation may be challenging given the road conditions and mountainous terrain and it could take days to reach some of the more rural and remote areas amidst continued threats of aftershocks.

Attempting to enter the disaster zone has been more trying than expected. Colleagues from around the region and the world over will be looking to join me in the coming days, to support the worst-affected population in this catastrophic disaster.

Save the Children has been working in Nepal since 1976, and our work in Nepal focuses on education, especially early childhood development and primary education, as well as basic health, including maternal child health and HIV and AIDS prevention and care. We work in 63 districts of Nepal.

Written by: Devendra Tek, CD Save the Children India

“I just want to be human” by Sarah Tyler, Head of Communications, International Programs, Save the Children

The gate closes and the ferry sails away from Lampedusa en route to Sicily.

 On board are over 80 children who 12 days ago survived one of the most treacherous sea crossings in the world, traveling on rickety boats or rubber dinghies from lawless Libya to seek asylum in Italy. They came to Italy in search of a better life, a future in Europe. Like all children they are full of dreams and hopes but many grew up in very difficult circumstances and lost the chance to have a childhood.

 Some of them, like 17-year-old Yusuf* from Gaza, have “lived by the [sniper] bullet.” He tells me that he never had a childhood, that he never had any toys to play with and that every second in Gaza he feared that he would be killed by a bullet. Escaping from death, from persecution, from extreme poverty, is what drives these children to risk their lives to come to Europe.

 Since January, more than 26,000 children have made their way to Italy, spending up to 2 days at sea. They have seen fellow travellers thrown overboard just for being seasick, they have seen waves “10 storeys high” buffet their boats, and the whole time, crammed in with hundreds of other people, they don’t know if they will live or drown in the Mediterranean. But they know they have to escape the “hell” they have left behind.

I have spent this past week in Lampedusa to document some of the stories of children on the move who travel unaccompanied to Italy. At the invitation of the Italian authorities, Save the Children works in partnership with UNHCR, IOM and the Red Cross to monitor the first reception centre set up on the island and to address the immediate needs of children. Save the Children’s role is to explain to children the legal process and their rights, along with assessing any specific needs they may have, whether health or psychological, referring them to the relevant social services.

 The island of Lampedusa is so small it’s not even shown on the map used on the main Italian evening newscast, but Lampedusa has a big heart and despite recent reports of increasing anger towards migrants I have seen nothing but a warm welcome extended to them. Children amble through the town, the islanders yell out in greeting, and local restaurants provide them with free meals. I a nine saw a year old Somali girl who came back to the centre, her plastic bag filled with clothes, books, games and a new doll clutched in her arms. She was beaming.

 Yusuf* and his best friend fled Gaza together. They have known each other since they were very young and together they made the journey through Lebanon, Sudan Libya and to Lampedusa. They tell us they were put in jail and beaten. A video of the beating was sent back to Yusuf’s* family to extract a ransom for his life. The money was wired over. His life had a price: $4000 dollars.

When asked what their dreams are now that they are in Italy Yusuf* breaks down and says:

 “I want a future, I just want to be human.”

 To get to Italy the child migrants I spoke to have all told me the same horrific stories – they have in effect been treated like human cargo, been put in jail, beaten, and abused; all verbally and some sexually.

Our team in Lampedusa is a small one but has huge responsibilities. This team usually works in Sicily  but in February thousands of migrants landed on the island so they were deployed to Lampedusa as an “emergency” measure. There is a cultural mediator, Aman* who is trained in child psychology, who speaks 5 languages and provides translation services for the minors. He was a refugee himself: he came from Eritrea and created a life for himself in Italy. He knows what it is like to arrive here, with no money, no documents, driven by hope. Then there’s Lisa, a legal advisor who ensures that minors know what rights they have here in Italy, that they receive basic services, that the most vulnerable cases will be monitored, and that the legal process of reunification with family members living in Europe can begin.

 Aman* and Lisa are on call 24 hours a day. They are the first faces children see when they disembark and are the last ones waving goodbye today when the children sail away by ferry to Sicily.

 At the reception centre I have watched in awe as Lisa, standing in a dormitory and with the help of a cultural mediator explains to about 80 boys what they can expect from their new life in Italy. She opens a map of the world and shows them where Italy is located, she helps them comprehend the process of what will happen next: they will go by boat to Sicily where they will be put in another centre, but one better equipped for children. Then, when possible, they will be moved into children’s homes. And then she explains to these children what rights they can expect in Italy. For example, they have a right not to be expelled, a right to go to school, a right to be safe and to live without persecution.

She ends with this “Education is the most powerful tool you can have for your future. It is your right.”

The boys, ranging from 13 – 18 years old give her their full attention; it’s a new reality and it’s hard to comprehend. They haven’t understood all of the concepts and many do not even know what she means by “rights”, but over the next few days Save the Children staff meet them individually and will go through this again and again until it’s clear.

There is one child that stands out from the others - he inspires confidence in the other children, is a beacon of calm, and wise beyond his young years. This is Ismail* and he’s captured our hearts. When I first meet him he is explaining to other Somalis why they need to learn Italian, why they should stay in Italy and go to school.

He says he fled because he wouldn’t have survived in Somalia, he feared he would be made to join a militant group and be forced to kill people. But he never thought the trip to Lampedusa would be so dangerous. He was kidnapped, he was beaten, he saw a pregnant woman raped, he was held in a cell for a month and he was passed from trafficker to trafficker until he reached Tripoli. He is only 16 years old.

As I walk around the reception centre I see on a bed a tiny bundle wrapped in bright blankets.  This is 4 month old  Alma*. Her mother, Fatima*, 23, gave birth to her in a cell in Libya. Fatima had no access to any health care, and when I asked her who helped deliver her baby she points to a young woman sitting across the room. “My friend", she says.

They were terrified the baby would cry and be killed for crying. The traffickers showed little mercy to other women, there was no reason her life would be spared. But she is a survivor. Fatima* has four children waiting for her back home in Somalia. They are 6, 4 and 2 years old. She was able to call them last week after an absence of nine months. “Why did you leave? When are you coming home?” they asked her. “Soon” she told them, “soon.”

Today I watched as these children boarded the ferry to Sicily where they will begin their long process of cultural integration into Italian life. Many are anxious to find a job so they can bring their families to Europe. It’s heartbreaking to know that legally this will not be a possibility and that it will be another disappointment they will have to face.

But right now they are excited, smiling, they walk on board laughing, they wave to the Save the Children team, hugging them, thanking them and telling them to come and visit them in Sicily, in Rome, in Germany, in Norway. It’s an emotional time for the team and I feel very proud of the work Save the Children does here. It’s our mandate to help the most vulnerable and this is such a vivid reminder of the difference we make to children’s lives.

The number of migrants heading to Italian shores is unfortunately expected to increase over the summer months and, just as the ferry departs, we get word that another boat carrying migrants might be on its way.

The deteriorating situation in sub-Saharan and West Africa and conflict in Syria is fuelling this migration flow, it’s a global problem and not one that Italy should shoulder on its own. 

Meanwhile, as a helicopter heads out to sea to search for the boat, I know that Save the Children will be back at this quayside as soon as needed, to welcome the child minors to Italy. This incredible team will be with the children in the coming days, months and years to help them recover their sense of normalcy, and to give them a chance to be children again.

Additional notes:

Save the Children works in Sicily (including Lampedusa), Calabria and Puglia. In 2014 we worked with almost 26.000 children who were rescued at sea by the Italian Navy and brought to these regions through the operation known as Mare Nostrum. The Save the Children teams in Sicily, Puglia and Calabria consist of legal advisors, cultural mediators and program advisors. Save the Children works closely with our partners UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), IOM (International Organization for Migration) and the Italian Red Cross. The project to assist migrants is known as the Praesidium project, coordinated by the Italian Ministry of the Interior and financed jointly by the Ministry of the Interior and the European Union.

Save the Children focuses on accompanied children (who have come with one or more family members) and unaccompanied children with the aim identify the children’s needs and refer them to specialized services or organizations,  to ensure that the correct identification and protection services are implemented, monitor the standards of service in the various reception facilities where minors are transferred to and to facilitate where  appropriate the reunification of children with family members who are residents in Italy or in other European countries.


Children rescued from shipwrecks arrive in Italy exhausted, shocked and disoriented

- Gemma Parkin, Save the Children

When I meet Naouffel he is exhausted, having only slept 8 hours in 4 days. He’s worked for Save the Children in Sicily for just one year but already he’s seen around 500 boats land on Italy’s shores with children on board, rescued trying to reach Europe. When 300 people died last month, drowned or killed by hypothermia, Naouffel was one of the team responding to the crisis. Four of the survivors were children, boys aged 11-13, who had made the journey alone, one from Mali and three from Ivory Coast. “Like puppies”, he said, “very disoriented. There were two young Somali girls, just 16, with babies. They were exhausted and shocked”, when they were interviewed by Save the Children staff at the first reception centre on Lampedusa, understandably so. These children have seen more in one year than most adults see in a lifetime.

“You can see what they’ve been through from the expression on their faces”, says Naouffel. “Even if you’ve been doing this work for years, the horror of a shipwreck doesn't go away. You try not to think about it, but it’s always like the first time. Weeks later I’ll be on my own somewhere and will recall all their faces one by one and will not be able to think of anything else”.

The most important thing, for Naouffel, is to make the children feel at ease. “Without trust, the rest of the work we do is impossible”. It affects their work from the moment the children step off the boat. As a Cultural Mediator in Sicily, he works with the children to explain the legal path that that is their best and safest option to remain in Italy.

Children that have been treated as commodities by human traffickers tend not to trust bureaucracy or authorities, so it’s very difficult to persuade them of the value of legal avenues. “They don’t understand the law. They don’t have ID cards. They don’t know when they boarded or where they are.”

They have seen a lot of horror along the way and the boys especially make an effort to be men. They may wear hoods and play up to the carefree character they imagine proves to Europe they are strong. Because for so long, showing vulnerability may have been a fatal mistake.

If I’ve learnt one thing by visiting Lampedusa, it’s that if a child chooses to make a journey across two continents on their own to seek a better life, it is generally because they are fleeing a desperate situation. The journey itself often involves crossing deserts and war zones before they even reach the treacherous sea crossing. On route they face dehydration and malnutrition, kidnap, detention and extortion, torture, child slavery, trafficking, sexual abuse, all alone without their families. The route is laid out by people smugglers. Human trafficking is a booming business and it makes no sense to continue to ignore this problem.

Naouffel’s aim is to at least give them a perception of their rights in Europe and the risk they expose themselves to if they leave the legal process. “Even if they decide to stay on the legal route just a little bit longer, they learn some Italian, pick up more information and maybe return to us later down the line. When they arrive we give them a phone card with credit to call home and tell their families they are alive. They all have our number, so they can call Save the Children, day or night. Sometimes the only numbers they have in their phone are of traffickers and smugglers. When I think about that one reliable and safe number they have in their phone, I feel satisfied with the job we did.”

There’s a harrowing reason Naouffel decided to become a Cultural Mediator for the charity, as he lost six of his best childhood friends, who died making the crossing from Tunisia during the ‘Arab Spring’. Little wonder he has such an emotional connection to these children and finds it difficult when the journey goes so tragically wrong, as repeatedly happens off the Sicilian coast.

How many of these tragedies can the international community watch from the shores before we are morally compelled to respond? It is not acceptable to prioritise border control over life-saving rescue missions.   In just over a month, more than 3,500 migrants have risked their lives attempting the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.  This is almost sixty percent more than in January last year. 

It is essential that the rescue at sea of migrants is a priority for Italy and for Europe, and that the European Union strengthens its capacity for search and rescue missions. Mare Nostrum, the EU sea rescue operation, had its funding cut earlier this year. The EU at the time said the prospect of being rescued at sea was encouraging people to take the risk in crossing and led to people smuggling. Now we have Operation Triton, which only operates 30 miles from the European coast and has a primary function of border control. It doesn't focus on sea rescue outside of European waters. And yet, more people than ever are risking their lives making this perilous journey on rickety boats.

The majority of groups or families attempting this sea crossing are Syrian and this problem will not go away while there are nearly four million Syrian refugees living in limbo.  The world is facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II and approximately half of refugees today are children. 

Refugees cannot be expected to wait years to be resettled. It is outrageous that children spend entire childhoods in refugee camps. Lost hope is the trigger for many children to embark on this journey. So why are rich nations not doing more to resettle the most vulnerable refugees?


By Gemma Gillie

A six-foot security fence surrounds Gbanger sports stadium in Bong County, Liberia. It separates Ebola ‘contacts’ (those who don’t have symptoms but have been in direct contact with Ebola patients) from the villagers nearby.

It’s a holding centre – a place for families and unaccompanied children to stay while their loved ones are treated for the virus. It’s also where the same family members wait to see if the dreaded first symptoms will present themselves. Staffed by Ebola survivors due to the high risk of working with those residing here, the atmosphere is one of apprehension.

It was here that I met a one-year-old girl called Jojo. She was being fed as I arrived, wearing nothing but a nappy and a pair of small white socks. I later discovered her clothes had been burned in case they were contaminated with Ebola.

Her father had recently died from the virus and her mother was fighting for her life in the nearby Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU). Jojo was on her own.

“Fighting to keep my baby alive”

Just over a week later, I visited the ETU again. As we waited in the support hut, a health worker in personal protective equipment walked through the ward doorway cradling a small baby. Her hair had been shaved to allow an IV drip to be inserted, but I recognised her immediately: it was Jojo. My heart sank.

A lady followed the pair closely behind – Jojo’s mother. Thankfully, she had recovered from the virus but was staying in the unit to care for her baby. As an Ebola survivor, she was in no danger of contracting the virus again.

“I thought the worst day of my life was when they told me I had Ebola,” Jojo’s mother told me.

“I prayed for my life but the one grace was that Jojo wasn’t with me. When they told me I was better I went home, I was so happy, but three days later Jojo had a fever and I just knew. Now I’m back here fighting to keep my baby alive.”

Although the odds of Jojo surviving Ebola were less than 40%, the team at the unit were hopeful she could win the fight against this deadly virus. She was breast-feeding from her mother, an Ebola survivor, and was therefore exposed to the antibodies that had saved her mother’s life. I didn’t feel so sure.

A long, complex recovery

Two weeks later I received the news I had been waiting for. Jojo had beaten Ebola. She made a remarkable recovery; one that so many sadly did not make.

Yet this isn’t the end of hardship for Jojo and her mother. All of their belongings have been burned as a precaution to limit the spread of Ebola, and their husband, father, and breadwinner has died. Life cannot simply go back to normal.

Their situation is an all too common example of the lasting impact this epidemic will have on those who have been touched by it. The long-term effect of this outbreak will be felt for years to come, and entire communities will need support long after the last Ebola case has been treated.

Transformations: Stories of Partnership, Resilience and Positive Change in Peru

by Olivia Lecoufle, Child Protection Advisor, Save the Children Canada

On February 4th, I had the privilege to present the work that we do in Peru with our amazing local partners, CODEHICA and MNATSOP, at special exhibit entitled Transformations: Stories of Partnership, Resilience and Positive Change in Peru. The purpose of the exhibit was to show the value of partnership and how, through it, we can achieve positive change.

Initially the project looked at the relationship between Save the Children and CODEHICA through the Children Lead the Way programme, but it the photos also shows the stories and transformations of the boys and girls!

The photograph and their interviews captured, in a very beautiful way, the struggles and victories of boys and girls in vulnerable communities in Ica, Peru, where many of them started working at a young age to support their families. It captures their strengths and pride and it really gives meaning to what resilience is!

One testimony that keeps resonating with me and motivates me to continue the work that we do with Save the Children is Jenny's story:

“I don’t want people to get the impression that working kids are beggars or victims. We are very proud people. We’re proud of ourselves. We struggle and work every day. There are cases of exploitation, but in the majority of cases we work because we want to. We want to help ourselves, and our families. We aren’t forced to work. But even though we are working, we are still kids and we still like to play and have fun.”

I invite you to look at the online exhibit. 


By Kadi Jumu, Save the Children, Sierra Leone

Every weekend the markets are packed with shoppers stocking up on their weekly groceries.  The markets are always hot and buzzing with vendors shouting, buyers haggling, and children weaving in and out of stalls.  This is what any weekend in Freetown looks like—at least it was, before Ebola hit. 

Today businesses and vendors are lucky if they get their full shipments of food delivered and, when they do, the prices of food are now high enough to keeps buyers away, especially poor families whose bread winners have lost their jobs as a result of the outbreak. 

But that’s not the only reason the markets are quieter now.  Ebola has created a real sense of fear in this city and across the country. What used to be Saturday nights out with friends is now Saturday indoors catching up with loved ones via the safety of the telephone.  The government has enforced a ‘time surge’ to try to minimise the spread of the virus which means all businesses close by 6pm on weekdays and noon on Saturdays. On Sundays nothing is allowed to open at all. 

When I returned to my home country of Sierra Leone in 2000, I, like many of my fellow countrymen, was eager for a fresh start.  Our country had just endured eleven years of violence; infrastructures were destroyed and our children were scarred.  It took years for Sierra Leoneans to move past the psychological impact of the war as the government worked to reintegrate fighters back into society.   We decided to move forward, and soon our country was beginning to come back to life.  Our human index began to improve, economic projections were positive, and tourism started picking up.

That all changed with the outbreak of Ebola. Sierra Leone’s once-growing economy has now come to a grinding halt. As business and world leaders meet this week at Davos to discuss the long term response on Ebola, the latest economic projections for Sierra Leone and our neighbour Liberia are dismal.  When investors started to flee after the outbreak, their departure contributed to a brewing, and potentially explosive, mix of high numbers of youth who will have no prospect of employment once the epidemic subsides. 

The biggest challenge will be the rebuilding of health systems.  Sierra Leone, like many conflict-affected countries had a health infrastructure which was fragile long before the Ebola outbreak. The lack of qualified health workers and poorly stocked health facilities meant the country was among one of the most difficult places in the world for a mother to give birth.

If access to basic care was difficult in Freetown, it was virtually non-existent in rural areas.  Often, women would have to walk for miles while in labour, just to reach a health facility where she had no guarantee about her access to the right equipment or medicines to safely deliver her baby. Health workers worked tirelessly in understocked, underserviced facilities to provide the best care possible, so Ebola was the last thing we needed, and has strained the health system to the point of near collapse. 

So many health workers lost their lives to the virus, and those who survived have either been redirected to the response efforts or are too scared to turn up to work. However, it’s not just access that’s a problem—it’s a lack of trust in the system.  As more and more health workers have died from the disease, communities have become suspicious of a health system which couldn’t even protect its own.

Another big consequence of the Ebola outbreak is the impact it has had on education.  Schools across the country have been closed since last March and the work to re-open them will be as difficult as the response operation itself.  Many teachers have been killed by the virus and those who survived left to find new jobs.  Children who lost their parents also lost their source of funding for their education which means they are now left unable to afford tuition.  What’s more, once the schools were closed they went from being places of learning to emergency treatment centres, so the job of turning the schools into safe spaces for children will take some time.

What’s most heart-breaking is that this type of disaster was completely preventable.  We’ve been campaigning for years to get governments to invest more in strengthening the health system to prevent this type of disaster.  Governments and donors are starting to put the plans in place to get these critical health services back on line, and to strengthen our country’s health system so that this epidemic leaves us stronger and more prepared to tackle future challenges.  But I am scared that in a few months’ time, once Ebola is contained and Sierra Leone drops from the news, donors, governments and the public will no longer be interested in our small country.  In order to make sure that we don’t have a repeat of this, we need to make sure that the international response lasts beyond containing the immediate epidemic.

The virus hasn’t just killed thousands and kept millions of children out of school, it’s also destroyed our way of life which we fought so hard to build back after the civil war. It has suspended the sense of camaraderie amongst family and friends – no hugs, no physical show of empathy, and everyone keeps their distance from one another - which is not the norm in our culture.  

It will take years to rebuild the communities, but we’ve already proven that we can build back from destruction and create a thriving society.  So let’s begin.

Kadi Jumu is Save the Children Director of Advocacy in Sierra Leone.  Originally from Sierra Leone, she has been in and out of the country since 1999 before permanently settling in Freetown with her family in 2007.

Rina (aged 5) and her father were overjoyed to be brought together again

By Sonia Khush, Senior Director - Humanitarian Response, Save the Children US

On 26 December 2004, I was at home in California for Christmas vacation with my family. I remember how the numbers affected by the tsunami started out quite small, and I thought that this wouldn’t be so bad. But every six to twelve hours the numbers increased and I began to sense that this was a real catastrophe.

When the news reports started talking about possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths, it was hard to comprehend. At that point it was impossible for me to continue to be on vacation as my mind started racing with everything that I knew needed to be done. I took an overnight flight back to Washington, DC and was there at the Save the Children office for a few days to get our response in gear. Then I flew to Jakarta and onto Banda Aceh. I remember when our Garuda Air flight came into land in Banda Aceh that the coastline just didn’t look normal – it looked washed up and disjointed.

On my first afternoon we took a drive around the town and saw the total destruction wrought. I remember the large boats that had washed up inland, empty fields of mud where villages used to be, and the sight of naked bodies still lying in piles of trash, waiting to be picked up. People were in shock still.

Save the Children was one of the only NGOs that had an office in Banda Aceh prior to the tsunami so we were already a leader in the response. The pressure on us was enormous but we were lucky to be able to pull from such a large international network of emergency responders. 

I was in the first wave of staff deployed to Banda Aceh and was the Information/Communications Officer. As I got to know our staff in Banda Aceh, pretty soon I realised that dozens of people were personally affected. The director of our office, for example. Her husband had gone to play golf the morning of the tsunami and he was missing. I remember the day a few weeks later that his shoes were found – it was really terrible.

One of the main challenges of the tsunami operation was dealing with the enormity of the devastation. There were needs in every sector. There was also the enormous psychosocial impact of the disaster on the local communities. Coordination was also a challenge because of the sheer number of agencies involved – NGOs from all corners of the globe, foreign militaries, the GAM (Aceh rebel movement), individuals who just showed up wanting to help, the range of UN agencies and donors, the Indonesian government struggling to remain in charge, loads of international media, and local bupathis (mayors) wondering what was going on with all these foreigners now on their doorstep wanting to work with them. It was very difficult to coordinate but we achieved some successes.

I believe our Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR) program was one of the key successes of the initial response. Save the Children took a leadership role in setting up the database with the other players involved, we did lots of training on FTR, and we made sure lists were accurate and visible to all who were looking for children.

I remember the first child that we reunified with her father. Her name was Rina and she was five years old. Her father was a truck driver and he had been on assignment to Medan when the tsunami hit. Rina was at home with her mother and two sisters. When the water hit their house they all ran outside. However her mother turned around to go back into the house to get a precious pair of earrings. At that point the family members became separated. Rina was carried by the water to an inland part of the town. There she was found by a lady who took her in and cared for her. Rina was registered in the database as a separated child. When her father managed to make it back from Medan he couldn’t find any of his family.

When the list of missing and separated children started to be posted around town he saw Rina’s name and came to the Save the Children office looking for her. Our Child Protection staff went through an extensive process of verification to make sure that he was in fact Rina’s father. Once they were able to verify that he was really Rina’s father, we were able to reunite the two. I remember right after the reunification they both had lunch at our office. Rina’s father was beaming the entire time and he could not stop staring at her. They were both just overjoyed to be brought together again. 

I was already in the humanitarian response department but this response and this moment was validation that I had chosen the right career path.

The Save the Children structure at that time was disjointed but the entire organization rallied around the tsunami response. We had staff from Save the Children members all around the world. Everyone pitched in with a real team spirit and worked together to get the job done. While there were certainly differences and disagreements, everyone had their sight on the bigger picture which was responding and looking out for the well-being of children.

There are so many major humanitarian crises ongoing right now – the crisis in Syria, the Ebola outbreak, conflicts in South Sudan and CAR. The challenges in front of us are perhaps greater than they have ever been. We need to continue to step up and take a leadership role in child protection. If we don’t, who will? I’m in Liberia working on the Ebola response right now – and everyone simply expects Save the Children to lead in protecting children affected by Ebola. We can’t forget our primary mission. We have come a long way but we can’t get complacent. We have to continue to challenge ourselves to do better.


by Ned Olney, Country Director of Save the Children in the Philippines

On 6 December 2014, Typhoon Hagupit, locally known as Ruby, made landfall in the Philippines. As the typhoon made her approach to the country, our teams started preparing for the possibility of an enormous storm hitting and devastating the already vulnerable communities that had been hit by Typhoon Haiyan only a year before.

Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, the biggest storm ever to make landfall, had ripped through the Philippines on 8 November 2013, killing 6,000 people and affecting over 14 million people.

We have been working with families ever since to piece houses back together, to work with families to find new sources of income and come to terms with some of their losses, but also to prepare for future storms and weather events.

Haiyan has left behind a more resilient country, determined never to be as affected by a storm ever again.

Better prepared

In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, we spoke to children about the emergency response. They talked about the language that was used around storms and how it had left them confused and unprepared. They didn’t know what ‘storm surges’ were and hadn’t expect the 16 foot (nearly 5 metre) wave of water that flooded their homes and killed thousands. They didn’t know how to keep safe and many children didn’t know what to do if separated from their parents. Many families didn’t heed the call to evacuate as Haiyan approached and took shelter in their inadequate housing and many who lived on the coast were drowned.

Learning from this information, we gave out Disaster Risk Reduction kits to children. The kits included ponchos, torches, name tags in case children were separated from their parents, and spare shoes. Staff disseminated messages in schools and communities about how to keep safe in a storm, how to be prepared and what to do with their possessions, and worked alongside government departments to make evacuation routes clear so communities would know where to go in the event of an emergency.

We have stocked warehouses all over the country with emergency relief goods, ready to be loaded on trucks. We have pre-positioned ‘BEACON’ boxes – storm-proof boxes that contain clean birthing supplies such as sterile blades, alcohol, a flashlight and even a birth certificate, to help a pregnant woman deliver safely immediately after, or even during, a disaster.

Thankfully, Ruby did not hit the Philippines with as much speed and strength as Haiyan; it lost its super-typhoon strength before making landfall. Nonetheless, the latest reports are that Ruby killed 18 people and injured almost a thousand. There were a great number of damaged houses, destroyed schools and clinics, water systems ruined and the livelihoods of hundreds and thousands of people have been affected. But due to the biggest peacetime evacuation seen in the Philippines, 1 million people sheltered from the storm in areas identified by the government for evacuation and stayed safe. Because of the preparation of the government and organisations such as ours, thousands of lives were saved.

Baby joy during the storm

For one mother going into labour during Typhoon Ruby, the readiness of a BEACON box meant a better outcome than her labour may have otherwise have had. In Villaba, Leyte, Amelita (31) gave birth to her first baby boy. Her husband Remy told us:

“In the middle of Typhoon Ruby, my wife was in pain and about to give birth. I rushed to the midwife’s house with my motorcycle. It was a difficult road and I had to clear trees out of the way that had fallen down.”

He went to the house of the local midwife, Criselda, who had taken the BEACON boxes to her home as the typhoon approached knowing there were several women in the village close to giving birth. Criselda recalls:

“It was difficult because there was no electricity but I had everything I needed in the BEACON box to help her deliver safely. I even used the flashlight that was inside. I thank Save the Children for providing us with the clean birthing kits.”

Three babies that were born safely during the storm, because of our pre-positioned birthing kits.

Our response

In the past two weeks we have distributed non-food items including household and hygiene kits, tarpaulins and hundreds of home repair kits to 6,500 families, and also provided WASH interventions including water jugs and water treatment technology. It is incredibly hard to predict where the worst affected areas will be. But I think that rather than having larger teams concentrated on the main islands, by having more, smaller teams distributed onto more islands, we can reach the worst affected areas quickly.

We will now prepare for the next storm by replacing all of the prepositioned supplies that were delivered. More importantly, we will invest in upgraded ability to transmit data and improved protocols will be developed for communications and media deployments. Our operations capacity was strong, but we couldn’t always communicate our results.

We need to keep investing in the tablets for data collection and rapid assessment, GIS mapping, and other real-time technology solutions. Information is leadership. The rapid assessment tool was incredibly successful at gathering and transmitting data, faster than that of any other NGO.

I’ve been so impressed with the professionalism of the team. Save the Children in the Philippines has been able to support a large response team without any surge from the rest of the organisation and reach the key affected populations even before organisations with presence in the areas. I’m really pleased with our speed of response.

Education Under Attack, by Tove Wang, CEO of save the Children, Norway

On Tuesday, dozens of children in green uniforms piled into their classrooms and prepared to sit for their exams.  For 17 year old Aamir, a year’s worth of chemistry lessons was about to be tested. But within minutes, his anxiety over an exam was replaced by terror as masked men armed with bullets and grenades stormed his classroom and began shooting.  And killing.

By the end of the day, 141 people at a school in Pakistan’s city of Peshawar were dead – 132 of them were children.  The brutality of this school attack has shocked all of us especially as it comes less than a week after the world celebrated the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to 17 year old Pakistani school girl Malala Yousafzai. She became a victim of violence when voicing her right to an education; her blood stained uniform now hangs in Norway’s Nobel Peace Center as a reminder of the dangers many children around the world face while trying to get an education. 

The reality is that these types of such attacks, where learning and playing is replaced by violence and terror and where schools are targeted for political purposes, are not unique.  Since 2009, there have been 9,500 attacks on schools in 70 countries, including 838 in Pakistan alone. Of the 58 million children who are currently out of school; 28 million of them are living in conflict affected states.  In the last year, 148 schools in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed by conflict, Afghanistan has seen at least 73 attacks on schools and in Nigeria 300 school girls from Chibokare still missing almost one year after being kidnapped. 

Turning this tide will take time and effort. Save the Children believes that the best way to prevent attacks of this sort is to ensure that everyone recognises that children have the right to education, and children should have safe access to education and be protected while in education facilities. This is why Save the Children will continue to work with children, communities and governments to make sure that that these rights are recognised and secured. In the end peace will begin in the minds of children.

But there are also some immediate steps that we can take. This week, Save the Children and the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack contributed to an event at the UN, were 38 countries, led by Norway and Argentina, together with 10 international organizations, were meeting in Geneva to increase the protection of children in conflict and unveil the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.  Many states are supporting this initiative and over 29 have already made public statements in support of these Guidelines; as have a number of armed non-state actors. We hope that now all states will do so. 

When fighters attack schools or use them as a political prop, they deny children their right to be protected and to be taught in safety.  Education is crucial if we are to save a generation of conflict affected children. We must all do what we can to prevent this happening again.


by Elizabeth Muiruri

Juba, 15 December 2014: One year ago today the world's newest country erupted in bitter conflict. For many families in South Sudan, hope that their children could finally thrive in peace appeared shattered.

Today, there is little sign of that hope being rebuilt. A political impasse continues to have devastating human consequences. Information came slowly at first. But as the days and weeks passed it became clear that a political dispute between the president and his deputy had spiraled into violence that has gone on to claim at least 10,000 lives.

We may never know the true figure.

Save the Children's Country Director Peter Walsh said, "Children are at greater risk of harm, including child labour, early marriage, sexual violence and recruitment and use by armed forces and groups.  This is a child protection crisis."

"The situation for children has deteriorated significantly and the future of an entire generation of South Sudanese Children is at risk." He further said, "I call on all the actors to increase their efforts to ensure the protection and care of children who have been affected in this conflict. Grave violations of children's rights - including abduction, killing and maiming, sexual violence, recruitment, denial of assistance, and attacks on schools and hospitals - must stop." 

Those that survived the appalling violence are now most at risk. More than half the population is in need of aid.

A 17 year old currently living in the Protection of Civilian site in Bor said, "Many people have died already in this conflict. Today we are remembering those who were killed in the conflict and we pray that God take their souls. And for us who are still alive we pray that the door of this fence will be open one day so that we can get out of here to enjoy our life like other children who are out there."

Kong, 15 years old, said, "Today I remember how brutal we were forced out of our home and ran over dead bodies in the middle of heavy gunfire. In the first few months I have to come to terms with nightmares every night.  I don't want to see that happen again. I want our leaders to bring peace in South Sudan they should stop violence so that we can go back home again."

Every aspect of children's lives has been hit. Hunger and malnutrition have increased, as planting and trade were disrupted. Now, an estimated 235,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Education has fallen by the wayside as many of the 1,200 schools in the worst affected states Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile closed due to the conflict, with over 400,000 children have been forced out of school.

In addition to the conflict, South Sudan saw a deadly outbreak of cholera, which prayed on the unsanitary conditions people have been forced to endure. 


By Emma Pomfret, Save the Children, in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

As Ebola continues to devastate parts of West Africa, killing an estimated 5,000 people, at least 3,700 children have lost one or both parents across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to UNICEF - and the numbers spiral every day.

In Sierra Leone, where Ebola has now seeped into every district, the number of confirmed cases has now escalated past 4,100, leaving an estimated 2,911 unaccompanied and separated children in its wake, including 944 who have lost both parents. This is in addition to the many thousands of children surviving alone on the streets before the epidemic hit hard and fast in early May this year.

In reality such figures are likely to be far higher due to a chronic under-reporting of Ebola deaths by affected families coupled with a lack of reliable statistics, particularly in isolated rural areas, across all three countries.

What we do know for certain is that 2.5 million children under-five now live in areas affected by the Ebola outbreak. As the number of victims increase, the vulnerability of children separated from their families - as well as those who have experienced severe stress by witnessing the death of a relative - will also rise exponentially.

To compound the situation, traditional community support networks - usually a safety net for such children in this part of the world - have been shattered as a result of fear and stigma surrounding the virus. The economic impact on extended or foster families - if they can be persuaded to take these children in - is also pushing many to breaking point as basic food and commodity prices continue to soar well above their means.

Augusta_Sierra Leone

*Augusta, 17, from Mabruaka in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, lost her mother to Ebola two months ago. She is now living in a tiny shack with her stepfather and his five children in Freetown. She knows that she is not welcome.

Sitting on the dusty steps of a deserted school she recounts her story. “Often if I need help with food, clothes, or a little money for soap, my new guardians will not give it to me because they have their own children,” she says quietly.

“Their children say that because I have a dead mother I am like an orphan. My mother was my best friend and I feel a lot of discrimination from them. Ebola turns everything backwards, even the schools are shut, and I feel so alone.”

Christiana_Sierra Leone

*Christiana, 17, sat protectively nearby as Augusta fights back tears, says that she is afraid for her school friends who, without parental protection and very little to eat, are being forced to enter into early marriage and pregnancy by older men I order to survive.

She too has lost her mother, one of the 240 health workers here who have already died from Ebola, and awaits news of her sick father who has been admitted to a field hospital far away in in Sierra Leone’s northern district, Kailahun.

Augusta and Christiana are members of the Children’s Forum Network (CFN), a national children’s rights advocacy group made up of more that 1,000 young boys and girls, partnered with Save the Children, and run by the children themselves. These inspiring young people are now fully focused on supporting Ebola-affected children, tirelessly going from house to house each day to inform families how to protect themselves from the invisible virus.

Anita_Sierra Leone

*Anita, 10, has been traced by CFN’s network in the last few days and identified as a child that needs their support, having lost both her parents to Ebola last month. She now lives with her aunt in a bare, empty compound in Freetown. Tightly holding a dirty cuddly toy, the last thing her mother and father gave to her, she talks in a whisper.

"I was visiting my auntie here on holiday from school, when she said your mum and dad are dead and gone forever. I didn’t say goodbye. I have no friends here and I feel sad all the time."

To help Ebola-affected children like Anita, Christiana and Augusta across the region, Save the Children is providing specialist emotional support to them, their caregivers and relatives. They are also supporting child welfare committees with family tracing and child reintegration programmes, including identifying foster parents and safe houses in line with International Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.

Separated and vulnerable children are being treated at an interim care centre in Kailahun, run by the Ministry of Social Welfare and supported by the agency. Across the entire region, Save the Children has now reached approximately 49,000 children through Ebola prevention radio broadcasts and community outreach programmes.

Children’s mental health in Ebola Treatment Centres (ETCs) - including their inaugural facility in Kerry Town – is also a large part of the agency’s response, through the provision of recreational activities, specialist case management, and psychological ‘first aid’ for affected children.

The war against Ebola is just getting up and running, and there is still no clear end in sight, but there is a global moral imperative to protect, support and nurture this future generation of West African children.

For when Ebola returns in the future, as it surely will, they will be the ones at the frontline to help prevent the humanitarian catastrophe the world now faces from ever happening again.

To donate, please click here. 

*Names have been changed to protect identity. 
Photo Credit: Louis Leeson/Save the Children

Syrian teenagers work with top iPhone photographer to produce their own portrait of life in a refugee camp

ZaatariSave the Children has launched a unique online gallery of images captured by Syrian refugee teenagers on mobile phones.

The iPhone photography project – facilitated by Michael Christopher Brown, a member of world-class Magnum Photos and renowned for his work using iPhones - paints a new and unique portrait of life in Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan.

The teenagers, working alongside Save the Children, have created a dedicated Tumblr feed for the project, which will continue to be updated over the next year to give a snapshot of life in the camp.

Saba Mobaslat, Country Director for Save the Children in Jordan, said, “These images remind us that behind all of the numbers, each Syrian child is an individual with a life and a voice – just like any teenager in any country around the world. Empowering these teenagers to tell their stories through their own eyes provides hope to a generation of children whose lives have been turned upside down by a conflict beyond their control.”

For more information visit www.insidezaatari.tumblr.com

Since March 2012, Save the Children's Syrian Refugee response across Jordan has reached 487,819 people including 278,808 children. We provide early childhood education in three Kindergartens, and run child and youth friendly spaces where children can meet, play and talk through their experiences. 

The phones used in this project were donated to Save the Children by Apple.

Save the Children works in 120 countries. We save children’s lives. We fight for their rights. We help them fulfil their potential.

The power of Resilience and Determination

By Patricia Erb, President and CEO, Save the Children Canada

On November 8th, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan – the strongest storm ever to hit landfall – ripped through central Philippines killing more than 6,000 people, destroying over one million homes, and affecting more than 14 million people.

Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as ‘Yolanda’) left complete devastation in its wake by sweeping away houses, uprooting coconut trees, destroying boats, taking away people’s livelihoods in the space of a few hours. 

Save the Children was one of the first humanitarian organizations on the ground. One year later, we remain the largest aid agency in some of the hardest hit areas.

I landed in Tacloban City shortly after the disaster hit. As the plane approached, the devastation was unfathomable. However, I was also moved by the sheer resilience and determination I witnessed. 

Resilience and determination multiplies with support. It has been one year since Typhoon Haiyan hit, and Save the Children has reached nearly 800,000 children and adults with essential life-saving aid, recovery and rehabilitation support. We have distributed food and water; provided medicines and primary health services through our mobile health clinics; repaired classrooms, health facilities and water systems; and provided shelter, household and hygiene items to keep children safe. 

Although children, families and communities are getting back on their feet, the needs on the ground are still immense. We led a consultation this September and children from the affected region told us that the greatest barrier to their recovery is low household income and the fact that their parents can’t find work.

Save the Children is currently working with communities to provide cash grants and skills development training to help recover livelihoods, fuel the local economy and support families to start their own businesses.

Save the Children is supporting the recovery effort for Typhoon Haiyan, but also helping communities prepare, cope with and adapt for future disasters. This requires proper planning and policy change at the highest levels. 

With the goal of policy change in mind, Save the Children is advocating for the Government of the Philippines to pass a law which will protect and prioritise children in future emergencies. This law, known as HB 5062, has been presented to various members of Congress. Today, the bill has been filed and tomorrow, we plan for change.

Child thanking donors_Phillipines

The tremendous amount of work that has been achieved is in large part due to the support we’ve received from generous Canadians. Canadians donated over $80 million to support the Typhoon Haiyan response.

A generation of children thank you, but continue to need your support. Typhoon Haiyan devastated the lives of millions, but we know that through resilience and determination – like that of the Typhoon Haiyan’s affected population – we can make immediate and lasting change for the children impacted by its destruction. 

Liberia Ebola Response: Scaling up our response

by Robbie McIntyre, Humanitarian Information and Communications Officer currently in Liberia

As the Ebola death toll in West Africa continues to rise, we are rapidly scaling up our response in order to match its reach. But, along with most of the humanitarian and international community, we are playing catch up. The initial response to this crisis was too slow, and too small.

The self-flagellation and recriminations must come later. What must come now, with not one iota of a caveat, qualification or delay, is an unprecedented global effort to prevent Ebola from shattering the futures of a whole generation of children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

I write this from Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. This country accounts for more than 2,000 of the 3,400 estimated deaths from Ebola across the region, but with cases going unreported, some choosing to die without seeking help, and others succumbing  in communities which are barely accessible, that is almost certainly a gross underestimate.

UNICEF calculates that around 2,000 children in Liberia have lost both parents to the virus.

And what faces a child in this position? The chances are, they will be a ‘contact’, meaning they were in very close proximity to someone who had Ebola. For those who are identified, this means 21 days under quarantine being monitored every day for symptoms. For some children here, it means being pushed to the margins of society, and rejected by a community whose instinct to help is paralysed by their sheer terror of this horrific disease.

All this means that Jennifer, is comparatively fortunate. She is living under quarantine with her aunt, her two brothers Robin, 6 and Luke, 12, and her 13-year-old big sister Sarah (all names changed). Their mother became sick a little over a month ago, and passed away on September 7 at MSF’s ELWA treatment centre in Monrovia. Just two weeks later, their father died in the same facility.  It was only at this point that the children were placed under quarantine with their aunt.

We provided them with a 21-day Survival Pack. It includes food, water, and hygiene items to help sustain them whilst under quarantine.  We will give psychosocial support to try and help them cope. But like all children here now, they face a precariously uncertain future. Not everyone will accept that they are safe to be around and to play with, even when they emerge from isolation.

Save the Children has been running a mass public campaign to educate people about Ebola. Messages are broadcast three times a day, every day, on 14 different radio stations in 8 of Liberia’s 15 counties. They are estimated to have reached 260,000 people. We created tens of thousands of Ebola awareness posters and factsheets for the Ministry of Health to distribute, and we are now running training sessions with healthcare workers on infection prevention and control to allow them to reopen clinics that have been forced to shut.

Although the challenge is unprecedented, and the prognosis for the spread of this virus wildly unpredictable, there are some certainties – a co-ordinated global effort on the scale required will save thousands of lives, and there are going to be many, many children who require the world’s compassion, care and attention for some time to come.

Save the Children is scaling up its operations. The Ebola Treatment Centre we built in Bong is being run by International Medical Corps and already saving lives. We are building another in Margibi, where our teams are also hard at work constructing 10 Community Care Centres and mobilising communities to use them so that people are not left to die with no access to health care.

But it’s not enough. We know it’s not enough. The families here know it’s not enough.

The international and humanitarian community must pour money, technical expertise and equipment into Liberia and across the region. We must not reflect on this crisis in years to come and realise we did not do enough, and that thousands of people lost their lives as a result.

To learn more about our work, or to donate, please visit: www.savethechildren.ca/ebola

Ebola crisis: giving parents in a terrible situation the knowledge to protect their families

by Daisy Baldwin, Humanitarian Information & Communications Trainee at Save the Children UK 

The Ebola outbreak is all over the news and the numbers can feel overwhelming.
At least 6,553 people have been infected across the region and over 3,083 have already died from the disease.
In Sierra Leone there are 5 new cases every hour.
Yet for people living in the affected countries, this crisis isn’t about numbers. It’s only about loved ones who are sick, and who are dying.

Sam’s story


Sam* is around three years old and lives in the remote district of Kailahun, eastern Sierra Leone, which has been heavily affected by the outbreak.
When Sam’s mum caught Ebola, she brought him and his little brother Peter* to the Ebola treatment centre run by Médecins Sans Frontières‎. Neither Sam nor Peter was found to have symptoms of Ebola, so they were taken to an interim care centre supported by Save the Children.
Sam was very thin when he arrived, and later developed a sore throat. The team at the care centre made sure he had the treatment he needed to get better.

A terrible fate for a tiny child
Sam’s younger brother Peter was not so lucky. He developed symptoms of the disease and was immediately transferred to the treatment centre but sadly, he died shortly afterwards.
However, there is a little good news in the midst of this family tragedy: Sam’s mother has made a full recovery. She now lives at the care centre with Sam, where she is able to help out.
Sam is not currently believed to have Ebola, but he and his mum must wait until the 21-day incubation period is over to be sure. At the moment Sam is healthy and being cared for.

Support is vital
Without the support provided at the Save the Children-supported interim care centre, Sam would have been more vulnerable to catching this deadly disease. Instead, he has been looked after throughout this extremely traumatic experience.
Unfortunately, this interim care centre is one of very few such places currently operating in Sierra Leone.
There are 2.5 million children under five living in areas affected by the Ebola outbreak. They are at risk of catching the disease themselves but also of losing their parents or carers.
The scale of this outbreak can seem paralysing; but we can help, and we must act.

Awareness and education
It’s vital that we continue to raise awareness and educate people on preventing the disease’s spread. It’s equally important that there are sufficient care facilities and trained staff to handle cases.
When Sam’s mum got sick, she recognised the symptoms and knew where to go. In a terrible situation, she did the best for her family. We want to enable many more families to do the same.
We have already trained more than 3,000 community health workers, to go from house to house explaining how to prevent infection.
We have also set up a treatment centre in Liberia, and are helping the UK government to set one up in Sierra Leone.
So far, we have reached more than 265,000 people across four countries. But we need to do much more.

Please support our Ebola Crisis Appeal.

*names changed to protect privacy

Ebola Response: Vlog from Sierra Leone

Dan Vlog

Vlog provided by Dan Stewart, Ebola Response Communications Manager in Sierra Leone 

Save the Children is working in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Guinea. Please help us reach children and their families who need these urgent, life-saving supports. 

Donate today


Ebola: Coming to Sierra Leone

Blog provided by Dan Stewart, Ebola Response Communications Manager in Sierra Leone

The first sign is as you enter the terminal building. A crowd forms around a large bucket of water with a tap coming from it. Every passenger joins, and one by one washes their hands before going inside. As soon as you get close to the water you can smell the chlorine, stronger than any swimming pool.

Welcome to Sierra Leone in the midst of an Ebola epidemic.

The second sign is immediately after passport control. An official points a small plastic-handled device at each person’s temple, looks at it and gives a curt nod, before showing it to the new arrival and waving them through. When it’s my turn I see the digital display reads 36.4 °C. Normal. So on I go.

Ebola is tearing through West Africa. It’s infectious and deadly. This epidemic is killing around half of the people it infects, as though their lives depended on the toss of a coin. Sierra Leone has had over 1,500 cases.

The airport itself is on an island a twenty minute boat ride from the capital, Freetown. It’s 5am and still pitch black as I climb aboard, while rain hammers down and the boat rocks from the wind. From the front seat I can see that visibility is zero. You can only tell we’re moving from the way the boat rears every time we hit a wave.

So much has been said and written about Ebola but there’s still a sense the situation here is equally shrouded in darkness. I know the signs and symptoms and I know the steps to take to stay safe.

But I don’t understand. Not what it has been like for this disease to exert an increasing stranglehold over society, seemingly under the world’s radar. Not what it’s like to weigh up the safety of every journey you make.

As we close in on Freetown it slowly begins to become light and I start to make out the city through the murk, stretching away up the shore. I hope that in the coming days and weeks we can say the same for Ebola and its impact. Demystifying the disease is vital. A lack of understanding, fear and misinformation make the perfect breeding ground. Save the Children has so far trained over 3,000 community health workers who go from house to house explaining how to prevent the spread of the disease.
But this crisis is at a tipping point. There are new cases every day and we have a small window to contain the outbreak. Without a dramatic increase in the international response, cases could reach hundreds of thousands.
The third sign comes every time you meet someone. Hands twitch almost imperceptibly and an awkward look is exchanged. Nobody touches anyone they don’t know well now, not even to shake hands.
These signs are positive - they are necessary to help slow the spread. But there is far worse. Basic services are taking the brunt. Pregnant women can’t get the healthcare they need. With schools closed children are at risk of losing their education and with it the futures they dream of.

We must shed light on Ebola – to the people at risk and the world at large - and we must stop it now.

Save the Children is working in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Guinea. Please help us reach children and their families who need these urgent, life-saving supports. Donate today

International Women's Day


International Women's Day


My parents from an early age taught me that regardless of my gender or skin colour #ICANBE anything I want to be if I work hard.


Today, it’s International Women’s Day and I celebrate the advancements that women have made throughout the world. I realize that because of their contributions they have empowered people including my parents to instill this value in me.

I have been honoured to learn from and witness women pursue their ambition to take up leadership positions and continue to make a positive change in their communities. However, there is so much more to do and the only way is if we work together. Women continue to be undervalued when it comes to equal pay for work of equal value.

Investing in women is a catalyst for transformation and has a powerful multiplier effect. The OECD affirms that with women’s economic participation and their ownership and control of productive assets speeds up development, helps overcome poverty, reduces inequalities and improves children’s nutrition, health, and school attendance. Women and girls earning money reinvest an average of 90% of it into their families and communities while men, on average, invest 30-40% of the money they earn. Every dollar reinvested builds economies, helps additional families and grow communities (OECD, 2010).

There are many barriers that women face such as access to land, financial services and facilities that are vital in order to break the glass ceiling. Save the Children has recognized the impact that is made when investing in women and children as drivers of economic growth. I have seen firsthand that transformation can happen when this commitment is made.

I met Bewa Chagni during my last visit to a remote village in western Ethiopia. She was married when she was 15 and now at 19 years old she has two children. With barely enough food to feed her family once a day she regularly walks 20 kms each way to carry water to be able to take care of her two little girls with limited support from her husband. When talking to her I asked if I can try to carry the water, she first laughed and then said ‘why not’.

In this area, 2 large jerry cans of 80 litres are balanced by a thick stick. She demonstrated her technique with such ease and grace. I ducked underneath and balanced the 2 jerry cans filled with at least 160 pounds on my shoulders. I remember thinking, I can’t, I can’t! Then it occurred to me I have to. These women have little choice. If they do not do this then there will be no water for their children to drink. As soon as I made up my mind that I have to continue I gathered my strength and wobbled only 5 metres. This taught me an important life lesson. I should never say I can’t do something because the power of determination is stronger.

Bewa is now receiving support from Save the Children, to diversify the food choices, increase her families’ agricultural productivity and engage in sustainable income generating activities with an aim to improve the food security and economic wellbeing of 127,000 farmers in Western Ethiopia. She is already seeing the benefits as she is able to now feed her children three times a day with nutritious food. Both Bewa and her husband, along with their neighbors are also participating in community conversations that allow for a forum to discuss barriers that hinder their communities’ development. They discuss topics which include how men can help to lessen the work load of women. This has helped Bewa’s husband to see how helping his wife would benefit the family as well as the community as a whole. I asked Bewa what she dreams for her children and she responds “I want them to go to school and be anything that makes them happy.” There is a common thread that I have seen during my travels, and it’s that parents want their children to succeed. I hope that more girls and boys regardless of the country that they are born in realize that they too can be anything they want to be if they work hard and persevere.

Tweet us @ICANBE

"I am taking a shortcut"

"I am taking a shortcut"


Isolation is a novelty in Canada. We seek it out in vacations, and idealize it in pop culture and our sense of national identity. And yet, 80% of us are urban dwellers. 

The same applies in visiting a developing country. Yesterday, when scouting a story to share with our supporters, I was thrilled that we'd be visiting a particularly remote village in the Ntoroko district of western Uganda. My excitement only increased when David, our affable driver, pulled off the main road and drove through empty fields of long grass, dried river beds, red dirt, and cattle in what he termed a "shortcut". The shortcut took an hour. 

Isolation in Uganda, however, brings a set of challenges to the subsistence farmers and herders of the region that are far from idillic. With no road access, electricity, or safe drinking water, youth who I met have limited options for their future. The improvised roads become impassible in rainy season, making the 8 kilometre trip to the nearest health clinic and primary school nearly impossible. Save the Children's Youth in Action program was recently rolled out in rural areas of Uganda (as part of a larger project in Ethiopia, Egypt, Malawi, and Burkina Faso) specifically to address the needs of youth in these communities. And overwhelmingly, youth are telling us they want to see economic opportunities in their communities. We are aiming to equip them with the skills to do so. 

I met one 18 year old girl named Majesta, who despite these challenges, is remarkably reminiscent of any other confident young person in other parts of the world. She lives with her family of 20 in a thatched roof mud hut, selling woven floor mats for subsistence level wages. Her father has two other wives and no longer supports his family. And moreover, two years ago, she was raped and is now a mother herself. 

Despite this tough reality, she has great hope for her and her family's future. Out of school for many years now, she Is now enrolled in Save the Children's Youth in Action program and is brushing up on some basic literacy, numeracy, and business skills before she will be placed in a pathway of professional mentorships, apprenticehsips, or further education. Her family is supportive, and noticibly motivated to create lasting change in their community. She's identified tailoring as a need in her village, and has a goal of starting her own business. 

Some 78% of Uganda's population is under 30, and it is this kind of energy and dedication that will transform the more isolated rural areas in future years. It will take a lot of hard work and dedication, but I also have a lot of confidence in the young people I met from Ntoroko. They have a maturity, energy, and drive rarely seen among 18 year olds at home. 

We took the long road home from the visit, which seemingly took the same amount of time as the shortcut. David laughed it off, saying "Okay maybe it wasn't a shortcut. What matters is your internal compass so you don't get lost". In driving as in education, there's an important lesson here. 


Kyle Degraw, Save the Children Canada

In Kampala, Uganda


One sad dark night -1000 days of conflict

By Walaa -­‐ a 17 year old Syrian refugee living in East Amman, Jordan. She learnt English at school and wrote this article in English to mark 1000th day of the Syrian conflict.

One sad dark night, a night without a moon, I was with my family at my home in Syria and we were preparing a dinner to have a nice meal together. Suddenly the power goes off and darkness prevails, a moment later the sky lights up, but not by the moon but from an explosion.

Then all light is gone and all we can hear is screaming. Another explosion goes off and the screaming gets louder and louder. Death was around us, between us and we were waiting for our turn. My little brothers stated to cry and I had to be strong for them, although I was afraid too.

The night of April 24th 2011, we left our house to find safety at our grandparents’ house. On our journey, all we could see was death, all we could hear was screaming, and all we could smell was blood. Our house had gone and we were homeless.

After that night, for a year and a half, all nine of us lived in one room. Even that room they took from us, in a big explosion on a night like that night. And we left our grandparents’ house for the same reason and came to Jordan. We left our schools, our education, our friends and we lost everything.

In Jordan we’ve had to change our house twice in just 3 months, as the houses are too expensive here and my parents cannot afford the rent. There is no school for us anymore, as our parents can’t work here, because many Syrians are not allowed. We are not children anymore, we are old people in children’s bodies.

The Syrian children are not thinking about having fun or playing or making friends, they have bigger things to worry about. All they are thinking about is how to sleep not hungry, not thirsty or not cold. And if they actually will have a place to sleep tomorrow or will they be on the street as their parents can no longer afford the rent.

When we went to register, there were a lot of people fighting. I can’t blame them, they are afraid for their children. There were crowds of people there, crowds of children who have lost their education, their friends and their families

Early marriage is happening more and more and girls are no longer able to continue their schooling. But at least we are safe here, the situation in Syria is becoming worse by the day. You see people living on streets as if they’re in an apartment. Children are always crying because they are starving and almost dying from the cold. There they do not have the necessities for life. They are destitute, needing everything from a house to food, medical care and medicine, clothes, books, schools, a heater to keep them warm and even water.

The children do not ask to play and have fun or to study and learn, they simply ask for the right to a life.

I still cannot believe what has happened. It feels like a nightmare that I cannot wake up from. I wish anyone to wake me up from it. Is it true that I have left my house, my school, my family, my friends, and my country?

I can’t stand living without my country. I can’t continue to watch the Syrian people suffer anymore. It’s been a thousand days and how much more suffering needs to happen before this conflict is over?

My friends and family still inside Syria, please forgive me for being safe while you are in great danger.

I ask to those who read this, please provide help to the people still inside Syria. They need help, more help than you can even imagine. A child deserves the right to live and a future, do they not?

Help support relief efforts in Syria, visit: www.savethechildren.ca/donatetosyria

Photo: Rosie Thompson/Save the Children 

Rafael's Story - Super Typhoon Haiyan Aftermath

Rafael is 10 and has 7 siblings. His mother and siblings left to go to the evacuation centre, but he stayed with his Father to protect the house. After their house flooded, they decided to leave too, but his father was killed by a collapsing wall.

“When we went out of the house, my father was hit by a collapsed wall. There was blood every where. I tried to wake him up but he wasn’t moving anymore. The water got even higher and I wanted to carry my father with the tide but I thought we would both die.

I was scared and I was crying.

I swam and swam and every time I was tired I would cling to a log. Then I would swim again. It was a miracle that I survived.

When I was swimming, the rain felt like needles on my face. I was very afraid for my mother and siblings as well as I thought they were all dead”

Drifting through the village, Rafael finally fell asleep.

“When I woke up it was a miracle because I was in another village. I saw some of my friends.”

He began walking to the evacuation centre to meet with his family. He went to the evacuation centre and the first thing he told his mother was that his dad had died and they both just cried really hard.His mother told him that they had been through similar things on their way out. They have a baby and one of the youngest children is disabled with slow mental and physical development.

“Dad was really protective and generous. Although we are poor, he would always make sure that he will bring something home to us after work. Whenever he prepares his coffee he would share half of the cup with me.”

They are now living in a van outside the centre as they cannot stand the stench inside.

“We are getting sick, my siblings are always coughing because it is very cold and we don’t have any dry clothes at the moment. We don’t have anything with us.

The problem is that they have two baby siblings and they don’t have water. They are drinking water from a waterhose and it is not clean.”

Interview conducted by Lynette Lim, during a Comms assignment to Philippines in Nov 2013

Help children like Rafael today, donate now: www.savethechildren.ca/helpnow

A peaceful daybreak after a night of chaos in the eye of the cyclonic storm

By Devendra Tak

From Puri. Odisha.

I heaved a huge sigh of relief this morning (13 October) as the number of fatalities in the aftermath of Cyclone Phailin remained at a low number of 14. The low death toll from this disaster proves that preparedness saves lives, even in the strongest storms. Over 800,000 people were evacuated prior to the storm’s landfall, some even moved forcibly from their homes into cyclone shelters that ensured their safety from the strong winds, heavy rain and storm surge.

However, packing winds of over 200km/h, the destruction left behind by the category five storm will still take months to clear and repair. Save the Children staff arrived at the disaster area a day before the cyclone was scheduled to make landfall, on high alert to respond to any humanitarian needs. Up in one of the tallest buildings in Puri, I had a bird’s eye view of the destruction – trees uprooted, telephone posts and electrical lines down and mud houses collapsed the coastline. Late at night, we witnessed the storm relentlessly roll past across the street, which was visible through our windows thanks to the hotel lights, which ran on a generator even as the township of Puri (on the Odisha coastline) had had its power supply completely shut out. In the distance, I could even see a lighthouse, whose lights went on and off during the passing over of the cyclone. The screeching and howling sounds of the wind took over all our senses, with occasional flashes of swathes of water swirling in the water as they were swept on from the sea by the storm.

As soon as the storm passed us, Save the Children’s team launched into action. Our team began assessing the needs and damage in the surrounding areas, along with local partners and government counterparts. A team of three colleagues headed for Gopalpur, which was where the cyclone had made its landfall and the maximum damage was expected to be. With the wind and rains slowing, families too began emerging from the cyclone shelters and children resumed playing on the streets knowing that almost everyone survived the storm. There was a huge sense of relief in the expressions of everyone, and not just me.

From initial assessments and reports, communications lines and power remain down in the worst-affected areas, with roads blocked by fallen trees and damage to more than 200,000 homes. Large swathes of farm land have also been affected, destroying much of the crops. This could have a huge impact of communities, who depend largely on agriculture for survival.

In the coming days, along with other NGO partners we will identify the needs that have arisen from the worst-affected children to regain normalcy in their lives. We know that in a situation like this, we need to ensure that children feel safe with a roof over their heads, a blanket to keep them warm, hot food and clothes. Having gone through a big storm like this, they could be afraid of heavy rain or strong winds that are predicted to continue over the next few days. Working closely with the local government and other aid agencies, Save the Children will ensure that children caught up in the disaster are protected, with food, water, shelter and a safe space to play.

Kudos once again to the government, the media, the NGOs and the people at large, who have acted as one to ensure that countless human lives have been saved from the wrath of this cyclone.

Support Save the Children's Emergency Response Fund. Donate now: www.savethechildren.ca/emergency

Central Africa Republic: Bertin's Story

Bertin’s eyes are focussed intently on the coin he slowly passes from hand to hand. Despite his strong gaze I get the impression his mind is really somewhere far away. When he speaks his voice is barely a whisper.

Bertin*, just 5 years old, recounts the day armed men took over his village

Every 30 seconds or so, he looks out of the window and scans the horizon. Every noise, no matter how slight, impels him to check his surroundings once again.

He is just five years old and one of the bravest boys I’ve ever met.

A little boy in danger

Through the window we hear a pickup in the distance drive past. I can make out the tiny silhouettes of soldiers perched in the back and on the roof. Bertin’s eyes stay on the car for as long as it is within view.

Then, in a hushed voice, he tells me his story:

“I don’t like them… the soldiers. They came to my house. They wanted my dad but he had run into the forest.

They were shouting and angry… I was scared. They asked me where he was but I didn’t know. They kept asking where he was, but I didn’t know. My mum was shouting.

After a while they left to look for him. But then they came back.

They pushed me around and hurt me. I was crying but they didn’t stop. They told everyone that if my dad didn’t come back they would hurt me more.

Then some other men came and said that they had my dad and they left.”

I ask Bertin if he is OK and he looks up and smiles at me. A sneaky part of me wonders if he can tell how shocked I am by his story – whether he is in fact being brave for my benefit.

A hopeful future

One of our Child Friendly Space Animators, who is helping Bertin through his experiences, explains that Bertin is making real progress and that not that long ago he wouldn’t have had the confidence to talk to me.

Bertin and I continue talking about his favourite games, playing football and the prospect of going to school when it reopens later in September. Every-now and again his eyes light up and his voice rises and I catch a glimpse of a less troubled little boy.

I’m sure it will be some time before Bertin is truly able to move on with his life, and the chances are he will never be able to completely forget that day. But it heartens me to know that our staff are now watching over him, gradually building his confidence back up, and that one day he will be a smiling, happy boy who can get on with his life unhindered by the need to take time, every 30 seconds, to scan the horizon.

Help children like Bertin, donate to our Children's Emergency Fund: https://www.savethechildren.ca/emergency

Spotlight on York University!

Spotlight on York University!

In this feature, we take a closer look at one of our fantastic student groups.  Two of our York volunteers graciously took time out of their schedules to reflect on a year of student engagement:

World Marathon Challenge:

To mark World Food Day 2012, children around the world participated in the Race for Survival, aimed at raising awareness of malnutrition.  In Canada, our university volunteers took the lead on this event, running workshops in middle schools across the country, from Calgary to Toronto.

 “My favourite part was a short film we watched about a young girl from Niger named Djamila,” says York club co-president Radhika Gupta, “She spoke about having to do a lot of manual work to harvest and process the grains and vegetables, as well as environmental issues affecting her family.  I think her story really caught the students' attention, because she was about the same age as them, but her reality was so different. It was really eye-opening for everyone.”

Rita Benjamen, director of the School Outreach wing of the York club, agrees: “The whole experience was very humbling.  Being able to get youth in Canada to relate to children all over the world is one of the many great things we feel we accomplished.”

York U’s Got Talent:

Our volunteers had a lot of fun running this mid-autumn talent show.  From singers to yo-yo masters, everyone involved had a great time, with all proceeds going directly to Save the Children! 

“It was a blast to host,” says Radhika, “As a university club, we are lucky to have some great resources, like free use of campus spaces and tech equipment, so we definitely made use of those!  We ended up with a packed house the night of the event!”

 A Fond Farewell:

Sadly for us, these top-tier volunteers have both graduated and are moving on to other things.  As they carry the Save the Children flag out into the world, we asked them to reflect on their years with the club.

Rita, who organized so many of those school outreach activities, fondly recalls “the impact we made in our own community.  Reaching out to children in local schools allowed them to also gain a perspective and a voice to help reshape the world.”

Radhika says she learned a lot about herself: “Not only have the last few years allowed me to have fun and be creative with an amazing group of peers, but they have helped me realize the nuances of my passion for social justice.”

And both students agreed: there’s nothing like a Save the Children group for bringing like-minded people together.  Though they leave York behind, the friendships they made won’t disappear anytime soon!

Interested in starting a Save the Children club at your school?  E-mail volunteering@savethechildren.ca – or join an existing group in your community.

Dramatic Global Reduction in Child Deaths Announced

New child mortality figures released by the UN today show the number of children dying every year has almost halved in a generation – down from 12 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012. It's further proof that efforts to reduce poverty are producing results.

mum holding baby - today dramatic global child deaths was announced

Hailing the news Save the Children UK's chief executive, Justin Forsyth, said: "Dramatic global progress is being made in saving children’s lives and we are now at an historic point where ending preventable child deaths is within our grasp.

"This is further evidence that massive efforts to eliminate poverty are paying off."

However the new research also reveals that this opportunity is at risk because two main challenges remain: the poorest children are being excluded and too many children are still not surviving the first month of life.

Challenges remain

"Governments need to take urgent action to deliver health care and nutrition to every child if we are going to see sustainable progress in coming years, and give special attention to newborns and the most excluded. Every child has the right to survive, no matter where they are born," added Mr Forsyth.

The latest findings from the UN show that over the past 20 years, around 90 million children were able to survive thanks to proven solutions and global and national efforts.

These are lives that would have been lost had child mortality remained at 1990 levels.

Encouragingly, the world is currently reducing under-five deaths faster than at any other time during the past two decades.

Progress in the poorest countries

This is thanks to greater investment in nutrition, trained health workers, life-saving immunisations and treatment against major childhood killers such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria.

Seven poor countries (Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, Timor-Leste and Tanzania) have already reduced the number of children who die before theitr fifth birthday by two-thirds or more since 1990.

Impressive results have also been seen in a number of other poor countries such as Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, Niger, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Uganda.

But despite this remarkable progress, 6.6 million children still died in 2012 mainly from preventable causes.

That’s a loss of around 18,000 children every day – 18,000 children who will never celebrate their fifth birthdays, never finish school, and never fulfill their dreams or realise their potential in the world.

SYRIA: The decision to escape


SYRIA: The decision to escape

by Hedinn Halldorsson, Emergency Communication Manager

Two reasons. That is what most of the refugees give when I ask why they decided to flee and take on a perilous journey. Firstly, security and the simple fear for their lives and their families. Secondly, Syria is a country in ruins. With its eroded infrastructure, simply getting by, finding water and bread, has become nearly impossible for many.

So in the end, the refugees don’t have a choice. They risk their lives by staying, and they risk their lives by embarking on a long journey whose destination is safety. “We walked during the night and slept in the daytime”, says a pregnant mother of three who walked 100 km in 5 days. “I was so afraid someone would attack us from the bushes”.

On the run

If everything goes well, flight promises refuge. Some distant light at the end of tunnel. That is why one in three Syrians is now on the run, either internally displaced within the Syrian borders or in a neighboring country, having left everything they once knew and loved.

There is no sign of the violence ceasing; on the contrary. And those bearing the brunt are ordinary people. The need is worst in the plagued country itself, where humanitarian access is greatly limited. Nonetheless, Save the Children has, since the onset of the crisis more than 900 days ago, reached hundreds of thousands in Syria, under extremely difficult conditions.

Save the Children has for months demanded unhindered humanitarian access, something we don’t currently have. Operating without limitations in Syria would mean that we could reach those most in need.

Syria has become the great tragedy of this century so far, says the head of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, “with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history”. According to the UN, the fighting has been so intense that the number of refugees has risen tenfold in a single year.

Dire situation for millions

When you know how enormous the needs are - how dire the situation of millions of people – it is difficult to get your head around the fact that the emergency response of an organisation like Save the Children, whose simple aim is to meet the basic needs of children and ensure they stay alive, is only 40% funded.

Outside Syria itself, Lebanon has the largest number of refugees – a change, as a few months ago, Jordan held that dubious distinction. One in ten inhabitants of Jordan are Syrian, one in five inhabitants of Lebanon. Most of the two million people that have sought refuge and safety in neighboring countries live in ramshackle homes or temporary shelters.

More than one million Syrian children have fled to a neighboring country. I’ve met Aya, aged seven, who said she would dance when there was shooting outside, “because I don’t like to be afraid”.

No one says it, during my interviews with the refugees, but many do realise that it could be months and years before they will be able to return to a country that was once called Syria. And those I talk to are in different stages of grieving for everything they have lost and left behind and might never see again. Family, home, a country. The conflict has unleashed an unimaginable tide of suffering, and continues to do so.

Our teams are on the ground inside Syria and in neighbouring countries getting vital aid to children.


But we need your support to reach more children: please donate now to our Syria Appeal


SYRIA: Children scarred by conflict

SYRIA: Children scarred by conflict 

By Farah Sayegh, Save the Children, Jordan

“I was shy because the other children laughed at me,” Amira* tells me. She has an innocent smile and dark brown eyes but I can see the burn marks on the sides of her face and I notice some bald spots on her head. She is 10 years old, with a neat ponytail of golden hair.

Last year, Amira was severely injured by shrapnel that hit her whole body from a nearby explosion while she was attempting to escape the violence in her city with her family. Due to the dreadful state of Syrian hospitals and their limited medical supplies, Amira was not properly treated.

Za’atari camp has been Amira’s home for the past year. The burn marks on her little body and face were much more apparent when she arrived here.

“She refused to leave the tent for any reason, and on the rare occasions that she did, she would come back crying to me because this child called her names, that child moved away from her and it broke my heart to see my daughter in this weak state,” Amira’s mother tells me. Tears fill her eyes and she hugs Amira, who sits in her lap continuously scratching the scars on her arms. Occasionally they bleed under her clothes.

Syria’s children are suffering

For more than two years, children in Syria have endured appalling suffering. Hundreds have died in brutal attacks and many more, like Amira, have been severely injured and their wounds left untreated. These children have lost everything: homes and schools, toys and clothes, and in this case even their self confidence. No child deserves this.

Things are brighter for Amira now. For the last year, she has been going to one of Save the Children’s Child Friendly Spaces near her tent. She brightens when one of our field coordinators approaches,; she has been working closely with Amira since day one. Proudly, she tells me about Amira’s drastic improvement.

“She would stay in the corner of the room not wanting to speak or play. I noticed the disgusted looks on the children’s faces as they looked at her, so I got her a change of clothes before the start of activities to allow her mother to wash the bloodstained shirt and pants that were the only clothing she was able to bring from Syria,” the field coordinator told me. She made sure that Amira was participating in all psychosocial activities, drawing and learning songs, and helping her build friendships with the other children.

A roll call of new friends

“Rawan, Nour, Aisha, Sarah, Yasmine…” Amira tells me her friends’ names. Her mother explains how glad she is that her daughter now happily leaves the tent to play and has been going to the mosque with her siblings. Amira has also insisted that her mother enroll her at the camp school.

After we say warm goodbyes, I leave Amira’s tent with mixed feelings. I admit I feelproud to belong to an organisation that has brought back normality back to Amira’s life and lifted the spirits of thousands of children like her. However, I also leave with deep guilt. The number of Syrian child refugees has just topped one million. There must be untold numbers of Amiras suffering inside Syria, their injuries untreated, desperately in need of the kind of help Amira has received here in Za’atari.

*name changed to protect identity

DONATE NOW to help children in Syria. Visit: www.savethechildren.ca/donatetosyria

When Iraq means safety

When Iraq means safety

By Ingrid Lund, senior Humanitarian Communications Officer in Save the Children International

It is hard to imagine how desperate the situation in Syria is. But it says a lot about the security level when parents decide to take their children with them and flee to the relative safety of Iraq. Through my entire childhood “Iraq” was only ever mentioned in the same breath as “war” on the news. Then Iraqis fled to Syria to find safety. Now, the situation has reversed. So far more than 160,000 Syrians have fled to Iraq in order to escape the violence and the atrocities in their home country.  

Before the war many people in Syria lived normal, modern lives not too different from how I live in Oslo or London: A lot of families had houses, cars, computers ... nice clothes ... good lives. Now their lives are turned upside-down – even though everyone has mobile phones and TVs, it seems, even though they are refugees in a camp.

Around 55,000 Syrians currently face a tough life in tents in Iraq's largest refugee camp, Domiz. When I visited the camp this August, it was incredibly dusty and hot with temperatures above 40° Celsius in the shade – if you'd manage to find some. That is almost impossible, though, so in the midday sun, many people stay inside their tents – if they have been lucky to receive one of the air coolers provided by the UN; otherwise being inside would be completely unbearable. But sitting in a tent with nothing to do is not easy either.  

Everyone I spoke with agreed that lack of water is the largest problem in the camp. There is too little drinking water, and water for washing is close to impossible to get. The only water clearly visible in the camp is in puddles of stagnant, black water that looks disgusting and has a foul smell. This is a breeding ground for bacteria, so no wonder that diarrhoea, respiratory diseases and skin rashes are widespread problems throughout the camp. Many families struggle with mice and scorpions in their tents too.

At the same time – in spite of these horrible living conditions and in spite of all the violence and fear the families have experienced in Syria – Domiz camp has the atmosphere of a vibrant city. After you enter the main gate, you'll find yourself on a busy “main street”. Children are running around, you can hear the sound of laughter and inside a grocery shop a group of women are having a pleasant chat.

On this street you can choose from an array of restaurants. One has a rotating kebab grill, and another has stylish outdoor lighting and a nice, shaded seating area. There are countless little shops selling bottled water, food and even fresh vegetables across the camp. You can also find barbers and hairdressers, a facial clinic, several clothes stalls, mobile phone outlets and stores specialising in satellite dishes, building materials, including doors and windows. Several little kiosks have tempting ice cream machines. And you can go to the photographer and have your picture taken by a professional. In short: It is remarkable how much you can buy inside Domiz – as long as you have the money. Quite a few does not have the money, though. Many of the families have spent all or most of their savings already.

My favourite shop, though, is the bridal salon. It is owned by Nyzhin* and is situated on a dusty side street surrounded by tents. Definitely not the place I would expect to find rows of pretty wedding dresses for hire! Actually, there are two other bridal shops in the camp, but Nyzhin’s is the oldest. She was one of the first people who moved into Domiz refugee camp together with her four daughters. “We have so many young people in the camp who want to get married. And why shouldn’t they? People can’t wait to start a family until we all safely can return to Syria. Only God knows when that will be. Life goes on. Here the brides can rent a dress, get make-up and get their hair done before the wedding. This is a good job. The girls are always happy when they come to me to get ready for their big day,” explains Nyzhin.

After we leave the bridal salon my guide, Sara,* shows me the restaurant where all the young single men and women in the camp meet after the sun finally sets to hang out, flirt and have fun. “Every night it is very, very busy here. People come to have a good time, relax and leave their worries behind.”

To me, this says a lot about people’s remarkable resilience. Life in the camp is not just about the fight for survival. It is also about regaining a sense of normalcy.

“People are trying to live as normal lives as possible. Although many things are difficult, most of us are happy to be here in the Kurdish part of Iraq. Because we are safe here,” says Sara.    

Help Syrian children and families, donate now: www.savethechildren.ca/syria

Syria: "We had no choice but to escape"

Syria: "We had no choice but to escape"

By Mona Monzer, Save the Children in Lebanon

Tented Syrian refugee community in Lebanon“I traveled through seven villages before finally arriving in Lebanon, and doing so while pregnant made it a thousand times more difficult," says Zahra, a 28-year-old mother of four. Zahra arrived a few months ago from Syria, and is now staying in a shelter in the north of the country.

More than two years after the conflict began, Zahra and her children are among more than 1.6 million people who have been forced to flee Syria, leaving their old lives behind.

Before the war, Zahra and her family lived a very decent life. “My house was beautiful and my husband made a good living,” she recalls. “But after the war started, my whole world changed.” Zahra and her family fled through half a dozen villages, before seeking refuge in neighboring Lebanon.

“We had no choice but to escape,” she says: “I feared for my husband’s life. It was either he dies from shelling, or he will be captured by armed men.” Like many others, Zahra had to pay a large amount of money to get into Lebanon, selling her jewellery for much less than it was worth to raise the necessary cash. “We had to leave in any means possible."

Once she arrived in Lebanon, Zahra was able to visit a doctor regularly and attend sessions on motherhood, pregnancy and hygiene, organised by Save the Children.

“I was afraid of the anesthetic, but after Save the Children conducted the awareness sessions I began to understand its importance and I thank them for the advice they gave me,” Zahra recalls. “After I gave birth, I attended another session on breast-feeding, children’s nutrition, and what a baby should or shouldn’t eat depending on his age. I found it really useful."

Save the Children continued to provide assistance to Zahra after she gave birth to Nader, through regular home visits, newborn and hygiene kits and awareness sessions.

Nader is now 10 weeks old. While she is glad to have escaped Syria, life in the shelter remains very difficult for Zahra. She worries about money, and addressing her family’s needs, and even more, she worries about her children, “especially when it comes to my little Nader’s health”. Lebanon is a more welcoming place for her and her family than Syria at present, but it is not home – and it is certainly not easy.

You can help us provide vital support to Syria's children. Donate today.

Hadeel, 28, devotes her life to help Syrian children

Hadeel, 28, devotes her life to help Syrian children

Hadeel is 28 years old and was born in Baghdad. Nine months ago she moved 450 kilometres away from all of her friends and family into the Iraqi desert to work as a Child Protection Officer for Save the Children. She was the first woman to work in the refugee camp near Al Qaim.   

By Tue Jakobsen, Communications Officer, Save the Children in Iraq

A well-educated psychologist, Hadeel decided to do what very few others do: leave career, friends and family to live in an extremely dangerous and inhospitable place haunted by extreme temperatures and reoccurring sandstorms.

“I am passionate about child protection. I was offered better jobs back in Baghdad where I have my friends and family, but I wanted to work in child protection and so I ended up here.”

Part of Hadeel’s compassion comes from her own experience as a refugee.

“My family fled to Syria when the war started here in Iraq in 2003, and we stayed there for one year. While living as a refugee in Syria, I experienced firsthand how children fleeing their home need special care and attention. And I feel that I owe it back to the Syrian people to support them the best I can, since they supported my family and my people 10 years ago.”

The forgotten refugees

West of Baghdad, the Iraqi province of Al Anbar stretches for many hundred kilometres bordering Syria and Jordan to the west and Saudi Arabia to the south. It is mostly desert, and while it is Iraq’s biggest province, it is also the least populated. The harsh climate proves hard to live in for even the most rugged Iraqis.

The road from Baghdad follows the river Euphrates, and after a 7-hour drive you reach the small border town of Al Qaim. Here, close to the Syrian border, lies a refugee camp unknown by the most of the world. Al Obeidy refugee camp is its name, and compared to the well-known Za’atari camp in Jordan, one of the world’s largest refugee camps, this is a small camp. Yet more than 2,000 Syrians – more than half of these children – have sought refuge here. Dwarfed by other refugee camps across the region, Al Obeidy does not receive the attention and support needed; competition for attention is hard when around two million refugees have now fled Syria, and many millions more are still trapped inside the country.

“The families in the camp fled the insecurity of Syria but ended up in Al Qaim where the security isn’t good either. Many left family members behind and haven’t been able to get in contact with them since. And now that the border is closed there is little hope for separated families to reunite any time soon,” says Hadeel.

“The situation is very dire”

Save the Children is one of the few aid agencies working in Al Obeidy camp, and Hadeel has worked with Save the Children there for the last 9 months.

“When I arrived in the camp for the first time, the conditions were really bad. It was very unclean and with a distinct smell of trash. We had serious concerns about the impact on the children’s health. And at the same time there was a complete lack of services for the refugees in the camp.”

Over the months she has been able to follow closely how the conditions in the camp have developed.

“To be quite honest, the situation hasn’t changed much since I arrived. We recently relocated to a new camp and that should have improved the refugee’s situation, but the tents here are in a very bad condition. They have been affected by the bad weather in winter and now they are contaminated to a degree where children get respiratory diseases from living in them. The situation is very dire.”

Help children cope with life in camp

The conflict has had a terrible impact on Syria’s children. Reports estimate that at least 7,000 children have already lost their lives. And stories of the abuses of children such as torture, sexual violence, beatings and threats are everywhere. The children have a great need for psycho-social support, says Hadeel.

“The children are very affected by what they have been through, though they don’t want to talk about their experiences. But from their behaviour and their paintings it is clear that they have experienced things no child should. I remember one girl who came to our Child-friendly Space. For the first couple of months all she drew were pictures of war and weapons destroying her home.”

How do you work with children affected by war? The recipe, Hadeel describes, is to try to restore a sense of normality in the children’s lives.

“We have a wide range of activities in the Child-friendly Spaces. Some are designed to keep the children physically active. Some are focused on getting the children to express their emotions through painting, drawing or storytelling. Others are focused on information-sharing and skill-building: learning about basic child rights or joining a computer training class. And we also try to raise the children’s awareness on issues like hygiene and health. We try to restore as many parts of the children’s normal life as possible while at the same time provide the specialized support they need.”

Hadeel does not doubt that the activities help the children adapt to life in the camp.  

“We had a five-year-old girl who attended our Child-friendly Space but didn’t really participate and kept to herself. She was very sad and had clearly been harmed by her experiences in Syria. The facilitators then put a lot of effort in getting her involved while giving her room to draw by herself. And slowly, after two months, she started to open up. Now she participates in the activities and builds relationships with the other children.”

While Save the Children’s programs and activities are targeting the children, the impact reaches the entire family. Parents don’t have to worry about their children’s safety while they are at the Child-friendly Space. That gives them some much needed time to solve practical problems.

“We get positive response from the parents. Their own capacity is stretched and their biggest concern is their children, so it is also a refuge for them to send the children to a safe space. We had one family with four children attending activities, who, during a focus group interview, expressed their gratitude that we could host their children”.

“We are really making a difference”

Despite Hadeel’s commitment, she admits that it hasn’t been easy to move to Al Qaim and that she does pay a price for her devotion.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. My father supported my move. He has always support me what ever I did. But my mother and my sisters asked me not to go. They are concerned by the security situation out here, and none of them have been able to visit me out here because of the unsafe travel through Anbar.”

And life far from home can be a challenge even though you are still in your own country.

“This isn’t an easy place to live. Life here is just so different from in Baghdad. The community here is also very different. For example, I didn’t were a head scarf back in Baghdad, but here I have to. We depend on community support so it is important to follow the local customs. But my work with the children means a lot, and we are really making a difference. So it is definitely worth it.”

Hadeel finds some light in the children’s dreams for the future.

“I am especially happy about the long lasting impact we make on the children. Many of the children tell us that when they return to Syria they want to work as teachers or as children’s activity facilitators and volunteers with Save the Children. It is touching and gives a sense of hope for the future,” says Hadeel.

Support Save the Children's Emergency Humanitarian work, visit: https://www.savethechildren.ca/emergency

Deserted villages in the Central African Republic

Deserted villages in the Central African Republic

Mark Kaye, Save the Children

As I look around the empty health post it dawns on me just how much work is to be done here. Its four rooms are completely empty apart from a single broken maternity bed and a dented chamber pot.  There are no medicines left, no equipment, not even a mattress.

I’m told everything of value was stolen in the aftermath of the coup; that this area is practically lawless and that armed gangs now rule with impunity extorting ‘tax’ from those who have already lost almost everything with the threat of further violence.

It is no wonder that nearly every village we pass on our way to the local hospital is practically deserted.


Talking to the few who have returned to their homes it is obvious that the fear is still palpable. They tell me that most people are still in hiding, still living in the ‘bush’ without access to basic services and healthcare.

It has been 4 months since the violence erupted and for many food reserves are said to have all but disappeared.

Looking around the needs are both obvious and huge. Children with distended abdomens – a tell tale sign of acute malnutrition – are an all too common sight here.

I hear stories of pregnant women so afraid to come back to their villages that they give birth in the ‘bush’, in the most primitive of conditions, leading to miscarriages and maternal deaths.

One of the village chiefs explains that in the bush people are dying of minor illnesses for want of treatment and that in less than a month 3 children under the age of 5 in this largely abandoned village have passed away.

Malaria and dysentery are the suspected culprits.

Paying the highest price

Time and time again in this job I see that when disaster strikes it is always the most vulnerable who pay the highest price. Here it is no different as women and children go hungry or succumb to completely treatable illnesses.

It is in response to this crisis that Save the Children have set-up a new country programme in the Central African Republic that will look to help those most in need.

We are already on the ground and are starting to distribute much-needed drugs and equipment to this health post – and the other 8 that are located on this stretch of road. We will replace the looted and destroyed equipment, and train both existing Ministry of Health staff and Community Health Workers to ensure that those in need of essential health care receive it.

For sure there is much to be done in the CAR, but little by little we know we can make sure that no child here is born to die.

Visit: www.savethechildren.ca/emergency to donate to our Emergency Response Fund

Mark Kaye is the acting Emergency Communications Manager for Save the Children’s Central African Republic response. You can follow him on twitter via @mk8287.

Central African Republic – A forgotten crisis

Central African Republic – A forgotten crisis

Mark Kaye, Save the Children

These days it takes a crisis of truly epic proportions to get the world’s attention.

And in the case of the Central African Republic (CAR) – where over 4.6 million people are currently suffering the effects of recent fighting – even this is not enough.

Devastating impact

Back in March armed actors marched on CAR’s capital Bangui terrorising the local population and toppling the government.

In the aftermath chaos ensued: buildings were looted, civilians were killed, women were raped and thousands upon thousands of CAR’s most vulnerable were forced to flee their homes to the surrounding forest.

4 months on and things for the majority who live here are sadly much the same.

Day by day the security situation improves incrementally; offering hope that the CAR may finally find some form of stability.

Yet still over 200,000 internally displaced people remain displaced; while reports of people being ‘disappeared‘ and discoveries of tortured bodies remain all too frequent an occurrence.

Nothing new

For the people of the CAR suffering is nothing new. Even before this spike in violence the CAR was facing one of the most silent and forgotten emergencies on the globe.

Ranked as one of the world’s poorest countries over two-thirds of its population live on less than a dollar a day. While according to the Human Development Index there are only 7 places on this earth where it is worse to live.

To be a child

What is particularly poignant is that approximately half of those suffering the effects of this crisis are children – some 2.3 million.

To say that growing up here is tough would be the most considerable of understatements.

Born in the CAR and life is a lottery. 1 child in 10 doesn’t reach their first birthday; while on average only 85 out of 100 make it to the age of 5. To put this in perspective this is 33% worse than the regional average and 2,660% worse than in England and Wales.

Enduring effects

As the situation begins to settle the enduring effects become clearer.

Most households have either lost their food reserves in the looting or have exhausted them while hiding in the forest. Health posts and hospitals are critically low on medications, equipment and staff and admissions for severe malnutrition rise on a daily basis.

At the moment a staggering 1.5 million people here don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

It seems these days that to get the world’s attention a crisis has to be of truly epic proportions. Unfortunately for the CAR it currently looks like it is the exception that proves the rule.

Visit: www.savethechildren.ca/emergency to donate to our Emergency Response Fund

Mark Kaye is the acting Emergency Communications Manager for Save the Children’s Central African Republic response. You can follow him on twitter via @mk8287.

SYRIA: Children in desperate need of an education

SYRIA: Children in desperate need of an education

By Mona Monzer and Rakan Diab, Save the Children in Lebanon


More than two years after violence broke out in Syria, the civil war continues to devastate children’s lives. Many are deeply traumatised and have witnessed horrifying things, says Nada, Save the Children’s Education Officer in eastern Lebanon.

They are also being denied an education. This means they are deprived of the safety of a learning environment and that their future is being compromised. Childhood is already difficult for these displaced children; if they don’t go to school, adulthood will be, too. Attendance rates vary widely but we know that over 200,000 children are currently missing out on an education.

“When the security situation is unstable, Syrian families are reluctant to send their children to our classes,” explains Nada. “I was even told that some children are shy because they don’t have enough clothes and are wearing the same every day to school, or they don’t have enough food and feel constantly hungry. So they skip class.”

Save the Children has responded by running education programs for children who have fled Syria – and for the children from the local communities hosting them. The classes help the Syrian children fill in the gaps in their patchy education. In Bekaa, northern Lebanon, “we are reaching around 175 children in each school”, Nada says. “However, the biggest remaining challenge is transport, as it is costly and in many cases, the security situation makes it difficult to reach children”.

Lebanese and Syrian children participating in recreational activities at an accelerated learning programme in Lebanon

Crucially, both Lebanese and Syrian children are attending the catch-up classes and the interaction is very positive. Parents are very happy that their children are going to school. In one of the schools Save the Children is supporting, a parent committee has been set up; at the meetings, parents shared information about school dropouts and explained that lack of income is forcing some families to send their children to work.

“This is happening more and more,” Nada says. Parents also attend awareness sessions on positive discipline and learn how to help their traumatised children overcome their psychological distress.

Despite the importance of the work, a lack of funding continues to hamper the response. “Without confirmed funding, we are unable to recruit new teachers or to start operating in a new school,” explains Nada. ” This affects our programme delivery. We need to make sure we raise enough funds to sustain our activities”. Because, unfortunately, it looks like they’ll be crucial for quite a while yet.


Help Syrian children return to school, donate to our relief efforts now.

South Sudan: Two years old and full of potential

South Sudan: Two years old and full of potential

Nguoth, Wechpuot Primary School, Wechpuot, Akobo East, Jonglei state, South SudanBy Helen Mould, Information & Communications Manager at Save the Children, South Sudan

(Right: Nguoth, Wechpuot Primary School, Wechpuot, Akobo East, Jonglei state, South Sudan. Photo credit: Helen Mould/Save the Children)

Gatluak stands in front of a primary-school class in Leer, Unity State and talks about what South Sudan’s independence means to him.

“Independence freed us from slavery,” he says. “We suffered a lot but now we have our own nation.” Everyone claps.

Gatluak was 20 when his nation was born, but his enthusiastic audience aren’t his students: they are his classmates.

Like many young people in the world’s newest nation, he never managed to go to school during the long civil war that blighted his country. Now finally, aged 22, he can get the education he has craved for so long.

Uncertain future

Yet like many young people I have spoken to here, Gatluak is uncertain about the future. The excitement and hope that independence brought have become tainted by the realisation of the huge challenges facing the country.

“Now we have freedom, we need everything else: roads, schools and hospitals to improve the development of this nation,” he told me.

He is right. No country can advance without infrastructure of this kind. But in South Sudan the things we take for granted are woefully hard to come by.

After decades of conflict and instability, even the most basic services are scarce and hard to access. Inevitably, this affects children.

Harsh lives

A child born at the same time as South Sudan became independent faces some of the harshest living conditions in the world. Less than half those two-year-olds will have the chance to go to primary school and of those that do, fewer than one in five will finish.

One in three will end up stunted as a result of malnutrition, and one in eight will die before they reach their fifth birthday. They are also at risk of conflict, displacement, abuse and in the case of girls, early marriage.

But for me, one fact stands out above all others: in South Sudan, a girl is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete her primary education.

This is what Save the Children is working to change.

Young nation

South Sudan, like any two-year-old, has so much potential, and this is nowhere as evident as among its children. Even those in the most remote schools are full of enthusiasm for their country and their role in its future. And with twice as many two-year-olds as 21-year-olds in South Sudan, that’s vital.

And the children already know what should be done. 15-year-old David Ghai Mayen from Bor, Jonglei State, told me: “We need security throughout the country to prevent the killing of more people. We need to ensure there are no more landmines. And we need more schools and hospitals and the tools and skills to grow our own food.”

Two years ago, there were parties on the streets of Juba, the capital city. Independence was a great achievement and a new start. Now it is time to forge a future where girls don’t die in childbirth – and do finish their primary education.

Given the young people’s passion for what their country could become, the outlook feels hopeful despite the difficulties ahead. David puts it best: “I hope we will be able to develop like other countries. Even if war delayed us for more than 20 years, I dream that our country will have a bright future.”

Canada floods: I’m one of the 100,000 displaced. - July 2

Canada floods: I’m one of the 100,000 displaced.  - July 2

Colleen Malone, SCI Humanitarian Advisor


What a scorcher today – 37 degrees Celsius in the shade, with humidity pushing it over 40. Not typical weather for Alberta! Although the breeze blew through our tent at the Siksika child-friendly space, everyone was still looking bedraggled and damp by lunch. We have a core of ‘regulars’ at the space now: little JoJo and big JoJo, Aiden, and Ozzie can usually be counted on to arrive shortly after we do, and are joined by other kids as the day progresses. I’m reminded of why I always thought my mother’s job as a teacher was the hardest in the world as I try to keep 8 highly energetic kids in one place while they eat spaghetti. Yesterday’s Canada Day celebrations packed the tent, with 29 kids having their faces painted, doing crafts, and playing games. Today was quieter and the mood at the evacuation centre was heavy, as many people were bussed out to see their homes for the first time since the floods. One grandfather told me that water continues to fill his basement through the house’s cracked foundation; he won’t be able to go home for at least a month. Nine houses have been rated “black” for condemned. At least another 110 require major work to be habitable. The Siksika sportsplex will need to continue to shelter families over the summer. More families are camping around the sportsplex in tents and campers; others have found spots overlooking their flooded homes where they can watch out for looters. After the long drive home across the prairie I found my own house baking in the heat. I was grateful that I could put my baby to bed in a cool – and entirely dry – basement. 


Follow Colleen's updates on twitter: https://twitter.com/colleenfmalone

Visit: www.savethechildren.ca/Albertafloods to donate.

Canada floods: I’m one of the 100,000 displaced. (cont)

Canada floods: I’m one of the 100,000 displaced. (cont)

By Colleen Malone, SCI Senior Humanitarian Adviser

June 27

Fought our way out of Calgary’s post-flood nightmare traffic this morning, made even worse by a train derailment and partial collapse of a bridge battered by the flood waters. What a week this city has had! Clearing the congestion it is smooth sailing east through the beautiful prairies to reach the Siksika First Nation. Clear endless skies, hot sun, mosquitoes. We set up Save the Children Canada’s first ever child friendly space in response to an emergency within Canada, and then we wait for the kids! Lights are still out mid-morning in the gym with all the sleeping cots– the kids are late to rise. Then they start to arrive; kids we had seen on the previous days hanging around the porto-potties, a trio of girls who are staying with their teacher each night and returning to the reserve during the day, another group of siblings whose parents want to be able to walk to the convenience store without several sets of dragging feet. The tent is suddenly a flurry of activity, with kids kicking around balls, making Playdoh creations (such as a pickle with eyes), beading necklaces and bracelets, and colouring. Two little brothers, both wearing Spiderman shoes, tell me unprompted about the floods and other scary things (like tornados and bullies at school) as they colour. They stay to the very end, after we’ve packed everything up, and we find their Mom sorting donations in the centre. When I arrive home this evening, my daughter hangs back at first but then happily comes to me to inspect my beaded bracelet made by one of the boys.


Follow Colleen's updates on twitter: https://twitter.com/colleenfmalone

Visit: www.savethechildren.ca/Albertafloods to donate.

Canada floods: I’m one of the 100,000 displaced.

Canada floods: I’m one of the 100,000 displaced.

By Colleen Malone, SCI Senior Humanitarian Adviser

June 20  

Following the news of massive flooding in Canmore, in the Rocky Mountains just west of my hometown, Calgary. It is headed our way – in fact it is arriving faster than anyone expected. We walk down to the bridge crossing the Bow River just one block from our house; this morning the water level was at the 2 feet marker, and in the afternoon it is at 7 feet.  We talk to a neighbour about the huge flooding in 2005, and she says our neighbourhood didn’t have to evacuate then. My visiting mother raises her eyebrows when I suggest perhaps she shouldn’t sleep in the basement tonight. I am in the park playing with my 15 month old daughter when I see pairs of police going door to door and a passerby shows me the flyer they are handing out: we are under a mandatory immediate evacuation order. We are told just to pack for a night. We hurriedly throw stuff in bags and the baby wears the new tiny backpack we had happened to buy for her the day before; she looks like she is heading out on an adventure.

June 21

Waking up early in the downtown hotel room we were lucky enough to snag, we notice the power go out. And then the back up power. About 6 hotel staff shine their cell phones as I walk down 8 flights of pitch black stairs with the baby. Do we stay in a hotel with no power or look for somewhere else to stay? Every hotel we call is fully booked. As the baby naps in her carrier, I stand in the pouring rain on a deserted downtown street; a few other stragglers here and there.  Emergency vehicles are the only ones on the move. The river pathways – and the streets – are filling with water. Nothing is open, nowhere to eat. Downtown is being evacuated. 

June 22

A friend is out of town and is letting us stay in her house. We are among about 100,000 people who have been displaced from their homes. Evacuation centres are sheltering around 1,500 people – everyone else is like us, benefiting from the kindness of friends and families. Our friend has a baby a bit older than my daughter. My daughter is delighted with all the other baby’s toys and books, and I am so relieved to be able to put her safely to sleep in a safe, quiet, comfortable place. But I want to go home. I see pictures from our neighbourhood – the pathway just across the street from our house has disappeared under about 13 feet of water. The Bow is rushing with just slightly less than the force and volume of Niagara Falls.

June 23

The rain has cleared at last and the air is fresh and crisp, but any thoughts of playing in the park across the street are dashed by the swarming, huge clouds of mosquitoes. Starting to get a bit stir crazy. Baby watches her Dada, Mama and Nana all transfixed by their smart phones, iPads and the TV news. All her caregivers are distracted and it isn’t good for anyone. While we are pretty calm on the outside, I can feel stress building with each day away from home. I am addicted to Twitter updates and spend all day trying to find news of our neighbourhood and when we will be allowed home. Part of my neighbourhood is literally slipping into the Bow and no one has power. So frustrated by the lack of even an estimated timeframe of when it might be safe to return – we need to leave our friend’s house so where should we go? For how long?

June 24

Home! The evacuation order has been lifted for our neighbourhood. We have no power but our house is amazingly, thankfully dry. Others are not so lucky – our neighbourhood is a mess. The streets are all covered in river mud and chalky dust blows through the air. The river is still dangerously high and sink holes are appearing in the roads and sidewalks. Volunteers are dragging out the contents of neighbours’ basements and throwing them into dumpsters. One neighbour asks me why we store away precious things instead of enjoying them. She is cheerful and bizarrely hospitable, but her voice catches briefly as she pitches her water damaged family treasures in the dumpster. As is the case in every neighbourhood every day, free food and coffee is being provided to volunteers and flood victims, and businesses with trucks, dumpsters and pumps show up to help. We take our daughter to the only place open for dinner, the local truck stop, with some friends and their baby. The two girls ‘wow’ and ‘beep beep’ at the model train running around the restaurant while the adults share flood stories. We put our daughter to sleep at last in her own bed, and light candles in our cold dark house. The normally busy neighbourhood is entirely quiet except for the constant hum of pumps and generators.

June 25

Although we are home, all is not back to normal. My husband’s office is closed, as much of the downtown core remains without power. He is helping friends and strangers gut their basements, right back to the studs, slipping through thick river muck. I am heading out to do an assessment for Save the Children of the Siksika First Nation, a reserve east of Calgary that was devastated by the floods. My daughter is not herself; she clings to me at every chance and wants ‘up, up.’ We are trying to get her back into her routine but me leaving her behind, instead of simply going into my home office, is not part of that routine. She has to be distracted while I leave, feeling terrible. I’m told she cries for me whenever she sees my empty office.

June 26

Out for a second day with the Siksika First Nation. It strikes me as I prepare to leave that while it is a much too common experience for so many of our staff around the world, this is the first time I’ve headed out for a day of emergency assessment or response from my own home. The Siksika are quite literally overwhelmed by in kind donations: the sportsplex that is serving as an evacuation centre has mountains of donated clothes, toiletries, toys, baby supplies, and bottled water. But the kids are climbing the walls – there is nothing to do, nowhere to go. No running water, no showers, lines of porto-potties. Fortuitously and coincidentally, a company from Calgary has donated and set up a tent just outside the sportsplex that is ideal for a child friendly space, and the centre staff are keen to have us establish one. On our way out, we talk to a family camped outside in a tent. The parents went through the residential school system; they don’t want to sleep inside in an institutional setting. No one knows when they will be able to drink the water, let alone go home.

10 Tips to Help Kids Cope with Disasters

1Save the Children staff hand out pre-made aid packages to affected families0 Tips to Help Kids Cope with Disasters

(Right: Save the Children responded to 77 emergencies in 2012 alone assisting 5.8 million children in 46 countries.)

Flooding in parts of southern Alberta has a dozen communities under a state of emergency, including Alberta’s largest city, Calgary, where evacuations could affect up to 100,000 people. Officials in Calgary have warned residents to brace the worst flooding since 2005.

Children are always the most vulnerable in emergency situations. That's why it's important for parents and caregivers to consider the unique needs of children directly, or indirectly affected by emergencies. 

Here are some quick tips to help your children cope in times of crisis:

  1. Limit TV time: Intense media coverage of disasters can frighten young children and disturb teenagers.
  2. Listen: Find out your child’s concerns about the situation. Children often cannot give meaning to a dangerous situation. Begin a dialogue to help them gain a basic understanding that’s appropriate for their age.
  3. Comfort: Let them know their safety is your top priority.
  4. Be Aware: Changes in routine behaviors, such as sleeping pattern or eating habits, can indicate distress. Seek professional support if they persist.
  5. Expect the unexpected: As children develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional capacities change.
  6. Make time: Help kids understand they are safe and secure by talking, playing and engaging in bonding family activities.
  7. Keep calm and carry on: Your child will learn how to deal with these events from you and will model his or her behavior after yours.
  8. Care: Make a point of showing sensitivity toward other families impacted by the disaster. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other.
  9. Routine: Help your children return to normal activities including school, sports and play groups.
  10. Volunteer: Helping others can give your child a sense of control, security and empathy.


Donate now to children and families affected by flooding in Alberta.


World Refugee Day - Fatima's story in her own words

Fatima’s story in her own words

My name is Fatima and I am 16 years old. I arrived here in June 2012 with my mother, my father and my two younger and two older sisters.

When I was back home in my village my father didn’t have a job but would cultivate our land. I was going to school, but my father struggled to get enough money for the fees. All he could do was sell the small amount of crops he grew, and if he could not pay then I would have to stop going. The classrooms in my old school were not very good; we didn’t have desks so we would sit on stones and we didn’t have enough textbooks or notebooks. But my father never completed school so he always encouraged me to continue going.

I was in grade 7 and about to go into grade 8 when I had to leave my village and run away. The journey here was very difficult. When the fighting started we ran out of the village and went to a place near the border for three months with little food or water or clothes and no one to help us. We were always scared because there were bombs falling behind us.

We didn’t know where we /were going or what there would be once we got here. At this time the rains had just started and we didn’t have anywhere to sleep or any mats. We were very tired, so we just slept under the trees with no plastic sheeting to protect us from the rain. The young ones found the journey hard and I was looking after my younger sisters who were very scared.

In this camp I am safe but there are many challenges. We don’t have any of our possessions with us, and my father is unable to earn any money to support the family. When I arrived here I felt very free and we were able to meet up with some of the people from our village. But I left many friends behind. When we left the village everyone ran in different directions. I still have not heard from them and I don’t know where they are. At first I didn’t have any friends here in this camp but now I am making new friends.

When we first came to this camp there was no school. Then Save the Children opened this school (Nur Primary school) which I joined last year. My favourite subjects are geography and Arabic language. In March this year I took the final exams. When I was sitting my exams I did not know how well I would do as I am a refugee, but I wanted to show that the refugee school is good. So I worked hard, did well in the exams and got one of the highest results in the county. My parents were very happy and so were the teachers in the school. I am now in secondary school (Bunj Secondary School in the host community) and when I go back home I wantto be a doctor. I will also encourage other children to go to school.

Before Save the Children opened this school there was nowhere for children to go, but now all the children are coming here and even their mothers come here in the afternoons because they also want to learn like their daughters. There are many girls who are in P8 hoping they will do well in their exams so that they can go on to secondary school like me.

If young girls are educated then the whole world is educated, so I always encourage girls in this camp to go to school. Life is difficult here, but we have the chance to have a good future and not get married early if we go to school and are educated.

Before Save the Children opened this school early marriage was a problem in this community. Now every child is going to school and the teachers are always talking to the students about the problems of early marriage and how they should finish their education.

The teachers also support us to talk to our parents. Before the school was opened some of them were pushing their girls to get married, but since Save the Children gave the students a voice they are able to talk to their mothers and fathers about their desire to stay in school and not get married yet.

If everyone here was educated then there would be fewer conflicts between different people as they would be able to talk to each other, resolve their problems and manage their differences. It is also important to support those who finished school back home but now have nothing to do in this camp, as they need training to give them a skill.

Education is important for refugees and all refugees should have access to schools; those who are educated will be peaceful and will go back to their homes and be able to rebuild their communities. The world should support all refugees and help protect them from further harm. I don’t want me or my sisters to go back without education; I want to take something good from this camp so that I can help my community when there is peace.


Fierce fighting in the border regions of Sudan has forced over 190,000 people into camps inside South Sudan. Many other people are feared trapped beyond the reach of aid agencies and with little access to food, clean water or emergency medical care.

Over 60% of the refugees in South Sudan are children. Many have walked for days to reach the camps and are in urgent need of humanitarian support.

Upper Nile state, where Save the Children works, is host to over 118,000 refugees. The majority are children fleeing conflict in Blue Nile State, in addition to Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and South Sudanese

World Day Against Child Labour - Children Lead the Way

World Day Against Child Labour - Children Lead the Way


Children Lead the Way is our largest program which focuses on protecting children who work and providing them with better opportunities in Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Peru. This includes working with child domestic workers in these countries.

Although there are no formal statistics on the numbers of child domestic workers, due to its invisible nature, domestic work is estimated to be the most common form of work for children globally, especially for girls. This includes both non-economic household tasks, but also children informally employed as domestic servants. It is often not the nature of the tasks the girls or boys are performing which can be exploitative, since they are household chores performed normally at home, but rather the status of the child in the employer’s household and relations which can cause exploitation. Child domestic workers can be isolated from their families, subject to physical and verbal abuse, be required to work long hours and have no access to formal schooling. However, there are alternatives in which the child is provided with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise receive: access to quality schools in the capitol city with their fees paid by their employers, a reliable and safe source of income and positive relations with employers. These conditions are the exception to the rule.

In Burkina Faso, Children Lead the Way targets employers of child domestic workers to advocate for better working and living conditions for children, especially girls and the adoption of ‘good codes of conduct’. We also promote the inclusion of child domestic workers in groups where they relate with other children and learn about their rights, such as their right to discuss their contracts with their employers, right to rest, right to education, right to compensation, right to respect and social protection. Save the Children also works to make the issue of child domestic work visible to policy makers so they develop legislation to protect them, by advocating for it to be included on the List of Hazardous forms of Child Work. We work to make sure that if children have to work as domestics, they have their rights to education, protection, development and participation fulfilled.

Natalie Folz is the Program Manager of Children Lead the Way, a five year $20mil program funded by CIDA, focusing on children & work in Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nicaragua and Peru. Natalie has worked for Save the Children Canada for six years on the themes of education, child rights and protection.

#Nutrition4Growth – Nutrition Leader Dr. Stanley Zlotkin

#Nutrition4Growth – Nutrition Leader Dr. Stanley Zlotkin

Dr. Stanley Zlotkin

What he is known for:

One of Canada’s great innovators, Dr. Stanley Zlotkin realized that in order to address micronutrient deficiency in children, parents needed a simple to use, inexpensive product that could be added to food without altering its flavour. Working after-hours in a hospital kitchen, Dr. Zlotkin developed Sprinkles, a low-cost blend of micronutrients in powder form, which are easily sprinkled onto foods prepared in the home. In 2004, he and his team took Sprinkles to Mongolia and saw how the addition of supplements from a package no bigger than a salt packet to food helped transform children. Now Sprinkles are found in millions of households in countries around the world, not to mention many of Save the Children’s own programs. Dr. Zlotkin is a Canadian Nutrition Hero - his work saves lives!

His Critical Issue:

Malnutrition – especially micronutrient deficiency – is the critical issue for Dr. Zlotkin. During his first trip to Nigeria as a medical student, he saw firsthand how malnutrition was negatively impacting the health of children, and was one of the primary underlying causes of preventable deaths for children under the age of five. Stan has carried that early inspiration with him over the course of his illustrious career in paediatrics and nutrition, and continues to do so in his new role as the inaugural Chief of Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children (Sickkids) in Toronto.

Why He Inspires Us:

He has combined research and innovative thinking with a willingness to be an advocate for the cause of nutrition both at home and abroad. He is currently leading a team of researchers from SickKids and the Munk School of Global Affairs to capture and demonstrate results for 10 maternal newborn child health projects funded by CIDA and being implemented by Save the Children, CARE Canada, Plan International Canada and World Vision Canada. Finally, Save the Children is thrilled to be working with Dr. Zlotkin to develop a research project focused on severe acute malnutrition in Pakistan.

Read more: www.savethechildren.ca/HealthandNutrition 




Photo credit: Ayesha Vellani/Save the Children

Are you my little kangaroo?

Are you my little kangaroo?

Anna Miller, Advisor, Humanitarian and Emergency Response

My newborn son’s fuzzy brown head was nestled on my chest, his bare chest against mine, his small soft legs froggy style inside the light blanket with elephants on it as he lay, wrapped around me.  Kangaroo Care, a technique Save the Children promotes in the developing world, is being used here and brought this overwhelmed new-mom peace of mind, particularly in those first few hours.  Here he was, right where I could see him, his small healthy heart beating next to mine, small reassuring breaths letting his back rise and fall, and that newborn baby head to put my nose to – breathing in that beautiful new baby smell.  If there was a lucky star I forgot to thank, I thanked it a million times that first hour, as the nurses raised him to my chest, as his little glassy eyes rose to mine in those first moments of alertness that new babies show before they konk out.  He slept peacefully, and propped up on pillows, my husband and I could too. Born healthy but 5 weeks premature, our baby boy and I had spent time recovering in the most state of the art maternity ward in the city, and even still, it was kangaroo care that was the best thing for keeping him warm, regulated and bonded.  Carrying him close to me like a kangaroo in those early weeks at home became an endearing way to bond with him as well – I would tuck him into my pajama shirt and take a deep breath (and even deeper swig of coffee in those early morning hours), knowing that he felt the most secure next to me and I to him.  Feeding, was helped along too.  Bar any ‘attachment method’ or approach that friends or ‘parenting experts’ and “googling” was promoting, this just felt natural, and I felt like a Mommy, at long last.

Over the course of my second pregnancy with my son, I couldn’t help but  flash back to the outcome of my first.  Watching the exhausted proud new dad that day in the hospital foyer as he carried a baby carrier out the revolving doors; popping out, the baby’s  small silky head covered in a small, soft, knot-top cotton hat. He motioned gently with a “wait here” motion giving his wife a tired smile as she walked slowly after him, comfortable in yoga pants and hooded sweatshirt, stopping to sit gingerly in the chair near me, as he brought the car around.  It cut like a hot knife.  I too had been walking behind my husband moments earlier, also in yoga pants and sweatshirt, my own usually quick stride slowed by child birth, but we didn’t have a basket, a silky head, a little knot top.  My husband’s fists were plunged into his jeans pockets – empty. I sank into the chair and willed the crushing pressure in my chest to go away, tears streaking my cheeks (I was surprised I had any left) as we looked helplessly at each other, with a “what now?” expression.

Crushing, paralyzing pain that once felt like a giant foot was holding me to the floor or the chair, and a grief that could only be worked through by feeling every ounce of it, now miraculously transformed into promise, hope and life. Looking down on my son, I couldn’t help but be acutely aware that had he been born a little earlier like his healthy yet far too tiny sister we had lost after 1 hour of life, the hospital would have tried countless interventions to save him. I knew that my family was fortunate to live in a city that had a modern, equipped health facility, I had access to an ambulance if it was needed, the medical staff were trained and specialized and present, and compared to the majority of the world there was funding to support a public health system and our family wouldn’t be bankrupted because we needed medical care. I was educated and my husband wanted, and did not think twice about being present at the birth.  It was a given.  These factors make up the line drawn in the sand, purely by circumstance of my birth, between me and many thousands of mothers around the world who were giving birth that same day.  It weighed heavily on me, despite the euphoria of the moment.  I often say to myself that once you know something it is very hard to act in a way opposite to that knowing. Every day at work I am made acutely aware of the disparities in health care and access to the necessities of life that face far too many women globally.  Not surprisingly, I had feelings of guilt and hypocrisy when I thought about all the women that Save the Children works to help who lose several children over their lifetimes.  

While traveling in South Sudan just 3 months after my daughter was born, when speaking to mothers,  I came across the same responses  I had heard from mothers in Ethiopia and Tanzania and elsewhere. When asked  how many children they had, these mothers would unflinchingly respond “4, 2 are here with me” or “7, 3 are alive.”  I knew now more than ever, that this was a mother’s small but poignant act of making her child count, visible, despite circumstances that were beyond her control.

That it is common for mothers to differentiate between the number of children they have birthed versus the number of children they are raising, is why Save the Children did original research relating to the most dangerous day of a child’s life – their birth day. In the 2013 State of the World’s Mothers report , we have developed the Birth Risk Index.  While we have seen considerable reductions in the number of preventable deaths for children between 1 and 5 years old, infant mortality is not dropping as quickly.

The number of first day deaths could be dramatically reduced with simple cost-effective solutions. Skilled birth attendants who have training and basic equipment  like a simple device to resuscitate  newborns having trouble breathing (asphyxia), and chlorhexidine  an antiseptic  to clean the umbilical cord stump to prevent infection.  With medical training and by linking clinics and hospitals to midwives, nurses and community health workers, we can provide necessary health support and teach moms  (and ideally dads) about the  benefits of Kangaroo care and early breastfeeding  so that moms feel empowered and comforted providing care to their newborns.  So that no mother needs to differentiate any longer between children that are, and children who are no longer.

Kangaroo care is an amazing “leveler”.  Because no matter where a mother gives birth, we know that kangaroo care saves lives.  Full-stop.  Lying with my little boy on my chest, I felt secure in knowing that this tiny, living, breathing, healthy baby boy, was ours… ours for real and that even though he was premature my body heat was helping to regulate his.

I had first come across ‘Kangaroo Care’ in my work in Malawi, one of the countries with the highest proportion of premature births.  And then again, in Northern Uganda – where the ongoing  insurgency and internal displacement was wreaking havoc with curfews rendering nightly travel all but impossible even for women in labour.  I saw maternity ward after maternity ward, where newborn babies lay on their moms’ chests wrapped gently in colourful vitenge cloth - nature’s own incubators.  I met dozens of fearless and dedicated trained midwives who were saving women and their babies, daily, hourly.

I remember a happy reunion with my colleague Lucy – a strong, capable woman, always quick with a broad smile and enduring sense of humour – intent on making a tangible difference in her community.  She had returned to her full practice as a midwife in order to make this difference felt, in a remote rural clinic.   “They’ve stolen the fridge” she scoffed, as we walked arm in arm up the ramp of her new maternity ward, motioning with her free arm to the empty space by the wall; “Already!”. “So what are you going to do?” I asked.  “I’m going to march right over and demand it back” she said, her head tossed back laughing.  I had no doubt, that by tomorrow, that fridge, and the clinic’s entire cold chain (system for keeping drugs and blood fresh), would be back up and running – with more mother’s being saved thanks to Lucy’s competence, dedication and professional care. 

It is simple interventions like these (trained midwives, Kangaroo care), that provide a level of dignity and peace of mind to mothers. Women who because of circumstance – where they live, which group they belong to, where they were born – face particularly undignified conditions. They deserve better.

It is worth every bit of effort and resourcing, to improve conditions and reduce the rate of first-day infant deaths and maternal deaths, globally.  Not doing so, is simply wrong.

Flash forward to any afternoon at my home, anytime over the last 15 months - my son and I on the couch or floor. 

“Are you Mommy’s little elephant?” I ask.

My son shakes that fuzzy brown head of his, no.

“Are you Mommy’s little zebra?”

He glances at me with a mischievous grin, anticipating what comes next.  Our old game, oft repeated. Always fun.

“Are you Mommy’s little kangaROO?!”

YES! The build-up now complete, we bounce high, on my lap and then into the air.  Nowadays, at 15 months of age, there is less ‘tossing’ and more ‘hoisting’, as my arms slow and he grows. But the game, just like the practice of Kangaroo care, does not get old, the parallels only reaching me now as I write. Sometimes it is the simple things we do in health care, as  in life that can make the biggest difference; that count the most.

Learn more about the State of the World's Mothers, visit: www.savethechildren.ca/sowm

The day I met Tourki

The day I met Tourki

By Mona Monzer, Communication, Media and Advocacy Coordinator Save the Children in Lebanon

It was a warm sunny day following cold stormy weather in Bekaa, East Lebanon. The day before, I was visiting a tented settlement in the area with an ABC Australia media crew. There we met new arrivals from Idlib and Aleppo. They were living in vulnerable conditions with no access to water, electricity or food on a regular basis. It was raining that day and exceptionally windy and cold for April. An old Syrian woman offered us tea in her tent where some of her children and grandchildren joined us sipping their warm drink in silence. I could see there was worry and sadness in her eyes but for some reason she was a bit reluctant to vent or share what was on her mind. We left few hours later, after wandering around the tents, talking to people and asking them a few questions.

On our way to the hotel, I noticed that more lands on both sides of the road were busy with tents and children running around. It made me think about the two years that have already passed since the beginning of the conflict and violence in Syria. It also reminded me of the civil war in Lebanon that lasted for 15 years and ended with no proper reconciliation among different parties. On one hand the overall situation in the region is worrisome with the various dynamics taking place while on the other hand, the continuous fighting in Syria and its proximity and relation to Lebanon put the country at risk. I personally haven’t lived through the Lebanese war but listening to my parents and my grandparents before them talking about it generates sadness in me and a desire to leave. But I’m still here. It is because of the resiliency that our people have built throughout years of conflict and the ability to adapt to circumstances. Will it be the same for Syrians? Will they have to adapt? And the international community, will it become resilient to what is happening in Syria as years pass by?

I am still moved whenever I meet a child such as Tourki who, at the age of 10, is taking care of his younger five brothers and sisters as well as his mother and father. They all arrived two months ago from Syria and are living in one of the tented settlements in Bekaa. Tourki stood next to an old carriage with scrap metal he has been gathering from nearby streets. He was sorting out the pieces he could sell.

“I work every day from 7:00 in the morning till 1:00 in the afternoon gathering scrap metal here and there. I try then to sell them to adults who scare me sometimes because they beat me. I make around 15,000 Lebanese Lira every day. Life is not nice here. I am sad because my father cannot work. But we need the money and I have to bring food for my family”.

Once Tourki is home in his tent, he plays with his friends and cousins with marbles. During the time I spent with him, I got to see a smile on his face only when he was having fun with other boys his age. His sisters and brothers were very shy and clinging to their mother as if they were scared to leave her. None of them was going to school, not here, not in Syria for the past two years. Tourki was very against it which surprised me as most Syrian children I met before were very excited to go back to school, make new friends and study for a better future.

“I don’t like to go to school. Schools were shelled in Syria. They weren’t safe for us. I don’t want to go back to school but I hope we can return to Syria, to our home”.

There were no signs of the innocence, simplicity or beauty that childhood normally means. Tourki was a boy with huge responsibilities. I cannot even recall other than playing when I was 10 and going to school to learn and grow. I felt guilty because the world seemed a sad place in his eyes; I felt guilty because of the little things that annoy me but are almost nothing compared to the conditions Tourki has to cope with at this very young age.

On the way back, I thought of Save the Children and how much the work we do is and can improve the lives of children. Tourki’s family had received shelter assistance and will be benefiting from further support through education, child protection and relief items’ distribution. Belonging to Save the Children made me feel hopeful and proud because I knew I have the chance to be part of the positive change we bring to children; an opportunity I would never want to miss.


Learn more about our work in Syria, visit http://www.savethechildren.ca/syria

Good Policy Makes for Happier, Healthier Moms and Babies

Good Policy Makes for Happier, Healthier Moms and Babies

Annick Gillard-Bailetti, Manager, Business Development

Save the Children Canada

I was told countless times before I had my son that nothing really prepares you for motherhood – just that your life is forever changed…it’s different. Different how is hard to explain until you have actually experienced it yourself, they said. This frustrated me as the weeks of my pregnancy, a pregnancy that was difficult to come by in the first place, wound down and I realized that the pregnancy was in fact a means to an end – the end being a brand new life that would be entirely reliant on me for protection, safety, and love.

I had my son in March 2012. Now one year later, I can look back and say that the exhaustion, discomfort and inexperience associated with a being new mother quickly gave way to the most profound love, joy and sense of responsibility that I have ever experienced. So this was the change that no one can easily put into words. Now I understand.

Like most Canadian women I was fortunate because we have systems and policies that support us. I had access to public health care during my pregnancy and delivery. I had amazing support from health professionals and family so that I was able to start breastfeeding within 30 minutes of my son being born. Early breastfeeding is important to the health of babies and studies suggest long term health benefits as well. Maternity and parental leave, something that mothers in the global south have limited if any access to, made sure that I could continue to breastfeed and thanks to being home with him for that time, it has made combining breastfeeding and my return to work easier so that my son can benefit from breastfeeding for as long as possible.

I loved the year at home with my son and my new identity as a mother – but I also love my job at Save the Children and navigating my back-to-work plan caused a fair amount of anxiety and stress. I had to overcome feelings of guilt for leaving my son with a caregiver as well as perceptions about loyalty and commitment to my employer. In my opinion, affordable childcare and flexible employers will help new mothers who work while they are raising their children, otherwise businesses risk losing qualified employees and women may miss out on what can be a meaningful balance in their lives.

There is still work to do in Canada. In our State of the World’s Mothers report Canada ranks 22nd out of 176 countries in our Best and Worst Places to be a mom. The analysis looks at 5 indicators that help to determine the rankings – maternal health (lifetime risk), child under-5 mortality, educational attainment and economic and political status of women. Canadian women still don’t have the same maternal/parental leave and breastfeeding support that women in Finland and other Nordic countries do nor the level of education, and political status. We do however fair better than women in other industrialized countries including the UK and the US, which rank 23 and 30 respectively.

The first day of a child’s life is also the most dangerous day of a child’s life. Save the Children’s first-ever Birth Day Risk Index compares first-day death rates for 186 countries and finds that every baby, everywhere is at great risk on the day they are born. Canada ranks 122, the second highest rate of first day deaths of newborns in the industrialized world. We know that the first day death rate of children in the far north is twice and three times that of children being born in Canada’s urban south. Why these children are dying is not as easily understood. Canadian researchers have identified much higher rates of infant and child mortality for Indigenous communities particularly in the far north. Lack of research and consistent data makes it difficult to identify the causes and implement public health policies to address what is clearly a significant problem.

Because I work for Save the Children I also know how lucky I am when I compare my experience as a woman in a rich country living in an urban city to those of women in the country that ranks last in our Best and Worst Places to be a mom ranking - the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The contrast between the top-ranked country, Finland, and the lowest-ranked country, Democratic Republic of the Congo, is striking. In Finland, nearly 43 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women, in DR Congo only 8 percent are. A Finnish child can expect to receive almost 17 years of formal education, while the typical child in DR Congo receives 8.5 years. Maternal death is a rare event in Finland (a woman has less than a 1 in 12,000 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth). But in DR Congo, 1 woman in 30 is likely to die of a maternal cause. Children in DR Congo face similarly poor odds: 1 in 6 Congolese children don’t live to see their fifth birthday. In Finland, only 1 child in 245 doesn’t survive his or her first five years. At these rates, 9 out of 10 women in DR Congo are likely to lose a child under age 5, whereas only 1 in 181 Finnish women is likely to suffer the loss of a child in her lifetime.

When I think back my son’s first breath, that deep joy and love I felt, I know that it was possible because I had a skilled birth attendant to make sure my son and I were safe. While timely access to a properly funded public health care system with skilled health care workers doesn’t guarantee healthy outcomes for moms and babies, it vastly improves the odds.


Learn more about the State of the World's Mothers, visit: www.savethechildren.ca/sowm

World Malaria Day: Bringing health to rural communities in Mali

World Malaria Day: Bringing health to rural communities in Mali

Rebecca Harry, Program Officer, Health and Nutrition

As World Malaria Day is marked by many people around the world, Community Health Workers in Sikasso, Mali are preparing for an increase in malaria with the approach of the rainy season.

With the support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Save the Children has trained and installed Community Health Workers in rural communities in Sikasso where they provide vital services for the prevention and treatment of childhood illnesses, including malaria. During the rainy season their role becomes paramount in the fight against malaria because the risk of transmission increases substantially and the heavy rains can make it very difficult for parents to bring their children to community health centers for treatment.

In the fight against malaria, Community Health Workers have begun to spread the word on how to prevent malaria by organizing workshops with mothers, fathers and community leaders on the importance of sleeping under mosquito nets and removing stagnant water from their communities. The Community Health Workers have also been supplied with Rapid Diagnostic Tests to determine whether a child has malaria and they have been provided with the necessary treatment to treat children under five for malaria.

In mid-April, as I was visiting Community Health Worker sites, entire communities were celebrating the installation of Community Health Workers in their villages because health services are now much closer to home. It means that children under five can be screened and treated for malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea in their own villages and newborns can be followed closely during the first week of their life – a very vulnerable time.


Learn more about Save the Children's work in Health and Nutrition, visit: 


National Volunteer Week Interview: Elizabeth Kerim

It is National Volunteer Week and we're thankful for every single one of our amazing volunteers. This week we're profiling Elizabeth Kerim, a Toronto based jewellery designer who created a necklace collection for Save the Children. 

1. How long have you been designing jewelry?

I have been designing jewelry 2 years. When I was young I made pieces for myself or gifts for family but it wasn’t until 2010 when I decided to start a company and actually sell what I made. It has been an incredible ride full of highs and lows but something I couldn’t imagine not having in my life. For me designing and making something with your hands are the most rewarding aspects. In February 2013 I will be rebranding to Compass + Company and very excited for this new challenge!

2. What inspired your line of necklaces for Save the Children?

The inspiration for my Save the Children necklace was taking a classic weaving technique called ‘corking’ that many children learn to do for fun and turn it into something that would help remind adults of their youth and the joy of creating. I chose to use t-shirt material because it’s not a common element that is used in jewelry making but woven this way it transforms the materials to be fashionable and playful. The colours I picked are 4 of the main colours that represent Save the Children. My personal favourite is the red one, I love how vibrant and rich the colour is. It’s the perfect addition to any outfit!

3. Why do you choose to support Save the Children?

I first learnt about Save the Children through their Extra Plate Champaign and reading about it on Facebook. I then got in contact with them to see about doing a joint effort to raise awareness and funds. I was very lucky to be born into a family where I never had to worry about where I was going to sleep or if there was going to be dinner on the table, any organization that helps kids who weren’t that lucky I want to be a part of.

Learn more about Elizabeth's work, visit: http://www.savethechildren.ca/CompassJewelry

Children most vulnerable in the aftermath of Sichuan earthquake

Children most vulnerable in the aftermath of Sichuan earthquake

By Fan Xiaowen

It was not a typical Saturday for the children in Sichuan, China. Instead of enjoying a weekend morning, a 7.0 magnitude temblor rocked the province, causing buildings to collapse and roads to be blocked due to debris and landslides.

At least 180 people have been killed in the most affected areas of Ya’an and Lushan, children among them. Overall, 1.5 million people have been affected and tens of thousands left homeless. Rescue workers dove straight into action, trying to pull as many people out of the rubble within the first 72 hours, also known as the golden hours for rescuing quake affected people.

In Chengdu, where Save the Children’s closest field office is located, tremors were felt but little damage was sustained. Despite having families to care for as well, staff immediately arranged to go into the field to assess the damage and impact on the most vulnerable children and their families in the worst-affected areas of Ya’an and Lushan.

But the rescue and assessment efforts will not be easy. Roads have been blocked due to debris and landslides. Many could be cut off as rescue workers find their way through the rubble. Electrical lines are down and mobile communications signal poor in some areas. Wet weather has also been predicted by weather forecasters in the coming days. Mudslides and flash floods are also possible with heavy rain in the mountainous areas. Temperatures are expected to fall to as low as 13 degrees Celsius at night, and children without blankets and shelter could be left out in the cold. 

More than 24 hours have passed, and children could have spent the night without clean water, hot food, blankets and a bed to sleep in. As we go into the worst-affected areas, we are especially concerned about the children who have been separated from their parents in the chaos.

It is going to be a very distressing period for young children, especially those who have lost their homes and playgrounds and had school interrupted. They will almost certainly require a safe place to play, learn and talk through their experience in order to regain a sense of normalcy again.

About 230,000 children have been affected in this earthquake and we are now working around the clock to reach vulnerable children and their families. 

Helping Children Cope with a Crisis

Ten Tips to Help Children Cope with Crisis

Save the Children recommends parents, teachers, grandparents and caregivers:


1. Limit television time. 

While it can be important for adults to stay informed about the situation, television images and reports may be confusing and frightening for children. Watching too many television reports can overwhelm children and even adults. So, limit the number of television reports about the situation you and your children watch.


2. Listen to your children carefully. 

Try to find out what your child knows and understands about the situation before responding to their questions. Children can experience stress when they do not understand dangerous experiences. Find out what your child knows about the crisis. Then, talk to your child to help him or her understand the situation and ease their concerns.


3. Give children reassurance. 

Tell children that adults are doing everything they can to protect and help children who have been affected by the tragedy. Also, let them know that if an emergency happens, your main concern would be their safety. Make sure they know they are being protected.


4. Be alert for significant changes in behavior. 

Caregivers should be alert to any significant changes in children’s sleeping patterns, eating habits, and concentration levels. Also watch for wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints. If any of these actions do happen, they will likely lessen within a short time. If they continue, however, you should seek professional help and counseling for the child.


5. Understand children’s unique needs. 

Not every child will experience a disaster in the same way. As children develop, their intellectual, physical and emotional abilities change. Younger children will depend largely on their parents to interpret events; older children and adolescents will get information from various sources, such as friends and the media. Remember that children of any age can be affected by a disaster. Provide them all with love, understanding and support.

6. Give your children extra time and attention. 

Children need close, personal attention to know they are safe. Talk, play and, most importantly, listen to them. Find time to engage in special activities with children of all ages.


7. Be a model for your children. 

Your children will learn how to deal with these events by seeing how you respond. The amount you tell children about how you’re feeling should depend on the age and maturity of the child. You may be able to disclose more to older or more mature children but remember to do so calmly.


8. Watch your own behavior. 

Make a point of being sensitive to those impacted by the crisis. This is an opportunity to teach your children that we all need to help each other.


9. Help your children return to a normal routine. 

Children usually benefit from routine activities such as set eating times, bed time, and playing with others. Parents should make sure their children's school is also returning to normal patterns and not spending a lot of time discussing the disaster.


10. Encourage your children to do volunteer work. 

Helping others can give children a sense of control and security and promote helping behavior. During a disaster, children and adolescents can bring about positive change by supporting those in need.

Providing health in the hardest to reach regions

Providing health in the hardest to reach regions

Regina, 45, has been one of Save the Children’s Community Based Distributors (CBD) in South Sudan for the last three years. CBDs work as part of Save the Children’s Community Case Management (CCM) programme that provides communities who have limited access to healthcare with basic health services in their village. CBDs have been trained to recognise and treat the three main killers of children under five; diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia. They have been trained by Save the Children to provide immediate treatment but also to refer more complex cases, complications related to pregnancy and childbirth and cases of malnutrition to a local clinic. They also educate the local community about the importance of taking their children to the clinic to be vaccinated.

Regina is one of the CBDs who has been trained to use coloured beads to diagnose cases of pneumonia. Because most CBDs are illiterate and innumerate a simple method was required to help them count the number of breaths a child was taking in one minute, as rapid breathing is one indicator of pneumonia. The CBDs have a stop watch which times one minute; during this time they hold a string of coloured beads in their hand and move along with every in and out breath that the child takes. If they are left with a green bead at the end of one minute the child’s breathing is normal, but if they are left with a red bead the child has rapid breathing and may have pneumonia. 


I have been working as a CBD here for three and a half years. Save the Children came here and told us they wanted people to be CBDs and then the community selected us. I thought that this program would lead us to a good life and help us rid this community of sickness. The major problems facing children here are malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea, but it is not as bad as it used to be. Everyone in this village now knows that I can treat their children and even people from far away villages come to me when their children are ill.

A long time ago people moved from here to the health clinic but it was very tough and so women left their children for five or ten days, and then when the child was so ill they were almost dead then they started to walk to the clinic. Many children died on the way. Now people can get drugs here they don’t need to walk long distances to the health clinic.

Any child who is suffering can come to me for treatment and mothers can bring them to me at any time of day; they can come in the morning, in the evening and even during the night. During the day I also work in the fields where I am growing some crops or I go and look for the grasses that we use to thatch our huts. Normally I see about four children in the morning, two in the evening and one during the night. The most common problems I treat children for are malaria and pneumonia.

If I am looking for signs of malaria I check the child’s forehead to see if they have a fever or if they are shivering, I also ask the mother if there are other problems like vomiting and how long it has been going on for. Then I will immediately treat them for malaria and will give the mother tablets for the child to take for three days, after the child has finished the tablets then the mother will bring the child back to me for a check up to see if the malaria has gone.

I have treated six children this week; two from pneumonia, three for diarrhoea and one for malaria. The children who had pneumonia were very sick but now they are getting better after treatment.

A long time ago children died from malaria and pneumonia, but now no children are dying from these illnesses because they have these drugs. Sometimes mothers will wait too long before they bring their children to me, they will leave them for many days after they fall sick and then I cannot do anything and they have to be referred to the facility because they are very weak and almost dead. All mothers know I have the drugs but sometimes the children live very far away in the cattle camp and the mothers cannot bring them to me easily.

All the people from this community know I have drugs and respect me as a doctor and know that I can help their children, this makes me feel proud and is why I appreciate this programme.

I feel that things are getting better here because these drugs are helping a lot. Previously many children were dying and without these drugs many children in this village would still be dying. This programme has helped a lot and has changed this community so that no children are dying here anymore.

Interview conducted by Helen Mould. 

Learn more about Save the Children's work in Health and Nutrtion.

SYRIA CRISIS: Will you come out and play?

SYRIA CRISIS: Will you come out and play?

Sabine Copinga, Communications Adviser, blogs from Zaatari camp on the Syrian border in Jordan.

When we talk about the children affected by Syria’s crisis, we tend to talk about ‘refugees’ or ‘traumatised children’ in plural.

But the fact is that there’s an individual child behind every refugee and every trauma. Each with his or her own name, face, character, dreams, wishes, sorrow, memories and loved ones.

The goal of the child-friendly spaces that Save the Children is running is to bring back the individual child.

Extreme stress

Because of the traumas, profound stress and irregular live they have lived, most kids have forgotten who they are as a person.

Because of everything they have been through, their heart has disconnected from their head. This is a physical response to the profound stress they have been through.

It causes uncontrolled behaviour. They don’t know how to cope with their emotions, resulting in aggression, an apparent lack of emotions or an overdrive of emotions.

Many have no clue any more of their identity. They can’t remember the dreams they had before.

Structure and a chance to play

By bringing back order in their lives and by offering sports and play, we help children reconnect with themselves.

Days in the child friendly spaces pass by with order and regularity, so children know exactly what to expect. This gives them peace of mind.

Children can express their emotions through smileys and they are given things to do both individually and in teams.

Today we tinkered; each child took part in the production of a piece of art.

We also played football. Team sports make you work as a team and find your own role in a group.

Finding themselves

Through the child-friendly spaces, we offer children support as they do the ‘work’ to find themselves again.

Children start to laugh again, simply because something funny happens. A child will remember how to dream again or his or her favorite colour.

Today I met Mohamad, Kamal, Farah and Bilal. Children who love red, blue, yellow or green; who used to made a snowman with olives as eyes back home and remember this with a smile on their face; who want to become a doctor, carpenter or engineer when they grow up.

Children who look forward to horsing around when they go home from the child-friendly space.

The faces of Syria's children: Ibrahim*

The faces of Syria's children: Ibrahim*

*Names have been changed to protect children's identities

"I only remember explosions and shelling. My brother was shot. He was walking on the street and got shot three times, in his tummy and his arms. He survived, but he is still in Syria.” ~ Ibrahim*, 12 years

Ibrahim, twelve at a refugee settlement near the Syrian border

(Above: Ibrahim, twelve at a refugee settlement near the Syrian border. Photo credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children)

Fighting continues in Syria after nearly two years of violence. Two million children trapped inside Syria are innocent victims of a bloody conflict that has already claimed 70,000 lives.

Children like Ibrahim* are in desperate need of help, both inside their country and across the region. Save the Children is programming across different areas of Syria, distributing essential life-saving aid from warm coats to food and safe water.

As the fighting continues more people are crossing the border into neighbouring countries every day. Host communities are coming under increasing strain, and resources are running low. Children and their families’ access to shelter, water, food and healthcare are already limited. Harsh winter conditions threaten to exacerbate the situation further.

Alongside responding to the needs of children in Syria, we are on the ground in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, responding to the needs of affected children, their families and host communities. We are helping families to access basic services like healthcare, and are providing emergency food rations, emergency shelter kits and warm clothes. We are keeping children safe from harm by creating child friendly spaces, as well as helping children to access education. 

You can help us provide vital support to Syria's children. Donate today.


Read our latest report, Childhood Under Fire, to learn more about the plight of Syrian children.


"When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion”

"When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion”

By: Tezeta Meshesha, Communication & Knowledge Manager,
Benishangul Gumuz Food Security and Economic Growth Project

Today is International Women’s Day.  A day to honour the contributions and achievements of women in Canada and around the world.

Gofa Dera from Ethiopia has not heard about this day. She is a 45 year old widow, and a mother of 5 girls and 4 boys living in Atsetsa in the Region of Benishangul Gumuz, along the border with Sudan. She grows soybeans on her half hectare plot of land, having experimented with new seed varieties and new ways of planting. Gofa Dera is a quick learner. She was trained on agricultural technology management and quickly applied what she learned; after increasing her harvest of soybeans, she is now looking to plant sesame and maize for next year. Gofa Dera regularly shares her newfound agricultural skills and knowledge with neighbouring farmers that visit her small farm; after seeing Gofa Dera’s most recent harvest, many of them leave with big hopes to improve their own farm productivity.

Almanesh Balbasha lives in Belo Jiganfoy, a neighbouring community. She is a born leader. Together with 25 other women in her community, she created a women’s self-help group and eventually became the group’s Secretary. Recognizing their productive potential, the local government gave the group five additional hectares of land on which to grow other crops. “The government saw us coming together as a group, producing carrots, beets, onions, cabbage and potatoes.  They saw that we had a shortage of land, and gave us five hectares to plant maize,” says Almenesh.  Very often smallholder farmers, and in particular women, are taken advantage of by local collectors who fix prices for their produce.  Self-help groups allow women to increase their bargaining power and to negotiate better prices for their produce.

Not far away in Tenkara, Kemise Tesfa recently joined an irrigation group where she learned new water diversion strategies that she is now applying on the group’s shared farm.  She and the 13 other women in the irrigation group grow sugar cane, corn and onions, and this year plan to add tomatoes, bananas and potatoes. Kemise and the women working with her have a clear business strategy – access more water, improve the water flow, and teach and mobilize more people in irrigation, all with the intent of ensuring sustainable income for their  community.

Yeshi Ejeta is proud of a noticeable and big achievement in her community in Dadessa. The livestock in her community can now benefit from regular animal health care. This is because of a new animal health post built in her community, complete with the capacity to vaccinate livestock – from cattle to chickens – in order to prevent disease. It’s important because owning livestock in Belo Jiganfoy is the equivalent of money in the bank, security for the future and food for today. Yeshi is on the oversight committee for the animal health clinic. “Before the animal health posts were constructed,” Yeshi said, “our cattle were treated in an unstructured manner on an open field; now we have a new health post for our cattle which benefits our communities greatly. This clinic is ours, the services are better, it will help us become stronger as a community, to better take care of our families.”

All of these women are working hard for their families and transforming their communities in Ethiopia – and they do so against incredible odds. Women generally have limited access to information, skills enhancement opportunities, finances and other inputs. These inequalities dramatically hinder development.

Like Gofa Dera, many women in Ethiopia have not heard of International Women’s Day. But they are doing amazing things in their communities, in spite of challenges that would otherwise hold them back.  Today, March 8, they are demonstrating just how important it is for all of us to acknowledge and honour them for their hard work, including their work to bring about collaboration and change. There is a telling Ethiopian saying   Dir biyaber Anbesa Yaser  (When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion). When women join hands and bring together all in their communities, the achievements in surmounting challenges can only increase.

Photo: All four women are being supported through the Benishangul Gumuz Food Security and Economic Growth Project in Ethiopia. A project that supports communities in Ethiopia to grow more food, improve agricultural productivity and engage in sustainable income-generating activities in an effort to improve their food security and economic well-being. With financial support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the project is a unique partnership between Government of Ethiopia and six Canadian NGOs: Save the Children Canada, Food for the Hungry, World Vision Canada, Oxfam Canada, Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief, the Canadian Hunger Foundation and the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan. 

Mwaujuma’s story

Mwaujuma’s story 


“I had no problems while I was pregnant, except that during delivery I didn’t get any labour pains. I started bleeding so when I went to the hospital, they said they had to operate.

My baby was born underweight. I don’t know why. While I was pregnant I used to eat what I normally eat –ugali [dough made from maize, sorghum or cassava], rice and vegetables. In the morning I would have tea with a bun. For lunch I would eat ugali with vegetables and for supper I would eat rice with vegetables.

On the third day after I gave birth I was taken to the kangoroo mother care ward. I was taught how to breastfeed and how to wrap my baby to my chest so that she could receive my body heat and grow. It’s important for a baby to breastfeed because it helps the baby get stronger. I was able to breastfeed exclusively for six months because my work allowed me to come back home to breastfeed her.

My baby has kept gaining weight so she’s doing well. When we were on the kangaroo mother care ward we were taught to feed our children a variety of foods. I was taught that if I was giving her ugali I should also mix it with vegetables and fruit. I think good nutrition is important for children because if you give them different types of food they will grow well and become healthy. It’s important for me to eat well too because I’m still breastfeeding. If I eat a nutritious diet my child also gets these nutrients from my breast milk.

I feel good when I see my baby growing well and with good health. I pray to God to enable my baby to continue growing well as she’s doing right now, to have a bright future and a better life.”

Breastfeeding in Tanzania

Despite some progress, four out of ten under-fives in Tanzania are stunted. Seventeen per cent are severely malnourished and every day about 130 children die from causes related to malnutrition. Tanzania is one of the ten countries worst-affected by chronic malnutrition and is the third worst in Africa. Milennium Development Goal 4 – to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 – cannot be achieved without tackling malnutrition.

Six Months Protection

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life reduces child mortality and has health benefits that extend into adulthood. It is estimated that exclusive breastfeeding of newborn babies can prevent almost one-fifth of all child deaths. However, in Tanzania the average length of time a mother exclusively breast feeds is just 2.4 months. Breastfeeding benefits not only the child but also the mother and family as it is free and reduces the risk of infection in newborn babies, hence a reduction in medical bills. As well as lacking essential immune-building components, breast milk substitutes and animal milk expose the infant to an increased risk of infection.

Our Work

Save the Children is supporting the Tanzanian government to train health workers at health facilities and community level to raise awareness of the best ways to feed infants and children, including exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months that aim at reducing chronic malnutrition.

Through a project supported by Reckitt Benckiser, Save the Children is also supporting community groups that are keeping poultry and goats, farming and running vegetable gardens in 125 villages of Lindi Rural District.

Interview conducted by Caroline Trutmann, during an EVERY ONE assignment to Lindi, Tanzania

Syria crisis: Mass exodus to Za'atari

Syria crisis: Mass exodus to Za'atari 

By Faris Kasim, Information and Communications Coordinator in Save the Children’s global Emergency Response team.

Syrian refugees arrive at the reception/registration area in Za`atari camp on January 24th

(Right: Syrian refugees arrive at the reception/registration area in Za'atari camp on January 24. Photo credit: Mohamad Alasmar/Save the Children)

“This is an exodus! Nearly 22,000 people have come into the camp in the past week, 6,000 alone in the past two days.

“Most people are arriving with just the clothes on their back. They fled for their lives, unable to grab anything from their homes. I’ve seen women covering themselves only with a large shawl and children without shoes.”

This is how one Save the Children worker at Za’atari, the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, described the crisis as I arrived at the camp.

The camp population has recently soared to 60,000 people – a 20% increase since the start of the year.

Za’atari is turning into a small town. There are shops opening on the side of the camp’s main road, set up by refugees themselves, as well as small eateries, coffee shops, barbers and stalls selling food, clothes and other household items.

From a high vantage point, one can see endless rows of tents, interspersed with toilets, schools and distribution centres.

A long journey to safety

As I entered the camp, there were dozens of vehicles unloading people near the registration centre.

A little boy ran up to me, yelling something in Arabic. My colleague intervened and found out he was asking where to get breakfast.

We walked back to his family and told them about the Save the Children tent nearby where they can get welcome meals, made up of hummus, beans, juice, tuna, crackers and honey.

The family had hastily fled their homes in Syria after hearing news of bombardment in their area. After travelling overnight, they reached the border near Za’atari at dawn.

While waiting for registration, the father told me he was worried about what kind of accommodation he would get for his family. But he thanked God that at least his children were now safe from harm.

Rising frustration

There was a large tent nearby where the newly registered families were given blankets, mattresses, buckets, water bottles, soap, cleaning powder and other sanitary items.

There was a huge crowd pushing against the fence around the tent. Though the camp staff insisted people queue to speed up the distribution, most of the men and women were furious about the delay in receiving their supplies.

When pushing and shoving started, which would have eventually led to a riot, senior camp management arrived at the scene. The situation was controlled when some of the frustrated families agreed to be patient and wait their turn.


Save the Children is responsible for the general food distribution in the camp. I saw long lines of families sitting with boxes of their bi-monthly rations. Many had recently arrived and were delighted to receive the rations.

While talking to a colleague who was supervising the distribution, a man ran up to us clutching a little girl in his arms. His face covered with a red kaffiya (traditional headscarf), he yelled at us to help his daughter.

She’d been sick for many days and was running a high fever since last night. Now she was barely conscious and couldn’t even sit up straight.

My colleague immediately rushed them to the camp hospital. I later learned that the girl was given medicine and doctors observed her for many hours in case she had to be transferred outside of the camp.

Near the reception area, Save the Children is caring for unaccompanied and separated children.

There were 14 boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 15 who were residing at special designated areas.

About two to three such children are arriving at the camp every day. Most are connected with their families or relations within the camp.

However, four unaccompanied children have been living at the space for the past three months.

The Save the Children team have been working day and night to assist the refugees in Za’atari, and there’s good coordination between all the NGOs and agencies working to make room for new refugees.

But everyone is anxious about what will happen if this exodus continues. Will the humanitarian community and the Jordanian government be able to shelter, feed and clothe another 60,000 people?

Please donate to our Syria appeal now – we urgently need your help.

Progress in Haiti: Three years on

Progress in Haiti: Three years on

Children take part in activities at a safe-play area in Haiti.(Right: Children take part in activities at a safe-play area supported by Save the Children in Carrefour, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Much of Port-au-Prince was destroyed in the devastating earthquake in January 2010, which killed over 230,000 people and left more than one million homeless. Photo credit: Teri Pengilley/Save the Children)

January 12, 2013 marks the third anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, which killed over 230,000 people, destroyed 400,000 homes and left more than one million homeless.

Now, three years later, Save the Children is still working hard to help communities rebuild, protect children, and provide education and access to life-saving healthcare.

Highlights of 2012

In 2012, Save the Children Canada supported two projects in Haiti, both focused on child and maternal health, in Leogane and in Port-au-Prince.

Our project in Port-au-Prince helped over 103,000 women and children receive access to immunizations, health care and treatment for malnutrition. We established or supported existing health clinics in areas with high concentrations of vulnerable people, such as in and around the camps. We worked to build community capacity through the training of 157 medical staff.

Our project in Leogane established and supported health clinics including in the hard to reach mountainous areas. Through these clinics, we provided primary health care and nutrition services for a population of approximately 54,000 people.

Looking ahead to 2013

In 2013, Save the Children Canada will focus on supporting education for Haitian children, through the ‘Reading is the Future’ program, which aims to improve reading skills in Creole and French. Students from approximately 40 schools in Leogane, Port-au-Prince and Martissant will benefit from this program.

Read the Humanitarian Coalition press release marking the third anniversary of the Haiti earthquake.

Donate now to the Children’s Emergency Fund which enables Save the Children to respond quickly when an emergency strikes, or to scale up our work when an existing situation deteriorates and children’s lives are in danger.

Meet Amina!

Meet Amina from Africa

Monthly giving is critical to the success of Save the Children's programs. Without donors like you, we wouldn't be able to create lasting change and sustainable opportunities for the most vulnerable children. 

Amina, 5, from Africa"I like to go to school!" - Amina, 5 years old

With your continued support, we are able to transform the lives of children like Amina, 5, from Africa, who loves her Save the Children supported Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre in rural north-east Mozambique.

Amina has continued to explore so many new things at her ECCD centre. She and her friends play together and learn basic numeracy and literacy. They sing songs about health and hygiene, and have been taught how to wash their hands and use the toilets we installed.

Amina is having great fun, and at the same time, she is being prepared for primary school, which she will join soon. She happily tells us, “I am going to attend classes at the same school as my sister!”

While our ECCD classes introduce young children to education in a fun play environment so that they cope better when they start primary school, not all parents are committed to enrolling their children in school. Our community awareness campaigns are designed to help parents understand the importance and benefits of education for their children and the community as a whole. They also address health and hygiene issues, and how to prevent diseases like malaria, diarrhea and cholera. 

Help give children in need access to life-saving medical care, nutrition and education by joining our Guardian program. Sign up today!




Learn more about our Guardian program.




Building capacity leads to sustainable opportunities for families in Bangladesh

Building capacity leads to sustainable opportunities for families in Bangladesh

“Now, with the grant money from the Save the Children/SHIREE project that we’ve invested in our pot and tailoring business, we eat three times a day and we have a varied diet of rice, vegetables and sometimes even meat." - Onju, 25


(Right: Onju, 25, and daughter Ontara, four-and-a-halfOnju, 25, and her daughter Ontara, four-and-a-half. Photo credit: Patricia Kapolyo/Save the Children)

Onju and her husband Milon are beneficiaries of the Stimulating Household Improvements Resulting in Economic Empowerment (SHIREE) project that Save the Children has been supporting since 2009. The aim of the project is to work with extremely poor households in the hard-to-reach coastal belts in Bangladesh, and help them to develop sustainable livelihoods and improve their standard of living.

In 2010 the family were identified as living in extremely poor conditions and a micro plan was conducted to assess key problems, the main causes and the resources needed by the family to improve their situation.

That year, the family received TK 8000 (£62) to develop their pot business and also had training on running their business effectively and making the most profit. In August 2011 they also received TK 4000 (£31) to buy a sewing machine as Milon is a trained tailor, but due to a lack of funds had never been able to work for himself.

Onju and Milon have one daughter, Ontora, who is four-and-a-half. She stays at home with her mum, but she will start going to school next January.

Read more about our work in our latest report, Ending Poverty in Our Generation.

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Heartbreak, tragedy and separation in Congo

Heartbreak, tragedy and separation in Congo

I remember one day when I was eight and I lost my mother in a supermarket. I could feel the panic rising as I scanned the shoppers’ faces. The minutes wore on and I my walk turned into a run as I searched the aisles for the familiar figure of my mother.

I still remember the fear – what should I do if I can’t find her? That was in shop in the UK. Going through those emotions with gunfire ringing in your ears, neighbours lying dead on the ground and having to flee for your life is quite unimaginable.

I have been in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for a few weeks – witnessing the heartbreak and tragedy that is invading families’ lives yet again in this beautiful but war-torn region.


The children I have spoken to have been as young as 14 – they should be going to school, coming home to their families, playing with their friends in the fields around their village.

Instead they are terrified, alone and often living in displacement camps where living conditions are basic and every day is a fight for survival. Having lost their parents in the chaos, these children often have no idea where their family now is, or whether they are even alive.

Save the Children has been working with lost and traumatised children since the influx of families over the border into the DRC from the Rwandan genocide in 1994. We are here yet again, sadly, responding to the urgent needs of children who have been traumatised by conflict, displacement and separation.

Reuniting families

Reuniting these children with their families is a laborious and not always successful process. With nearly six million people living in North Kivu province alone and half a million displaced from their homes since April this year, the expression ‘needle in a haystack’ comes to mind.

These children don’t have phones, there is no ‘home phone’ to ring and houses don’t have postal addresses. The reunification process here relies largely on word of mouth – using the incredible systems of community networks and oral traditions.

The first step is identification. Sadly separation often becomes ‘normalised’ in communities here. In the UK a child who has lost their parents would instantly be recognised and referred to the relevant authority.

Listening posts

Here, local authorities may not be notified and the local community are the ‘first-responders’, taking children in or providing them with food. To allow for quicker identification Save the Children is supporting ‘listening posts’ in the camps.

These are small temporary structures that are staffed by a local partner aid agency that we have trained. They keep their ears and eyes open for cases and provide a point where separated children can seek help and be registered.

The team will the note down as much information that the child can provide – names, ages, dates and locations – registering the child as officially separated and referring them to the agency that carries out the tracing process.

Meticulous process

This often involves posting photos and information of the separated children around the settlements and speaking to local leaders who can spread the message through the community networks.

Whilst this meticulous process is underway, the child will be placed with a local family and someone from one of our partner organisations will visit the child to make sure they are safe and respond to any health or protection needs they may have.

Yesterday I met Beatrice. She is 14 years old and was at home the day the rebels entered her village. Her mother was at the market and her dad was farming the fields. She faced no other option but to flee her village with her five year old sister.

With no money or extra clothes, she told me how she saw her neighbours lying dead on the ground and escaped into the forest in search of safety. Six months on and she lives with a host family in Goma, the main city in North Kivu. She no longer goes to school and has no friends. With tears in her eyes, she explained that all she wants is to find her mum.

Cycle of separation

Georgette from one of Save the Children’s partner organisations is visiting her every week – looking to support her reintegration into local schools and making sure she is safe.

Unbelievably, Georgette was separated herself at eight years old as a result of fighting in her village. She now dedicates her life to help children who faced the same terror and loneliness that she once faced.

I can only hope one day the children of the Kivus no longer have to live through the gunfire, displacement and separation from their families that is shaping the lives of those in this region yet again. Until that day, we will be here.

This post was written by Katie Seaborne, Save the Children Emergency Team, Goma, DRC

Syria crisis: 11 years old and he's run for his life

Syria crisis: 11 years old and he's run for his life

by Annie Bodmer-Roy, Senior Media Manager for Emergencies and Advocacy

Rami, 11, stands outside his family's tent in Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan

(Right: Rami, 11, stands outside his family's tent in Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan. Photo credit: Annie Bodmer-Roy/Save the Children)

The hardest thing to take in is the wrinkles. Rami is only 11, but when he looks at you, his eyes betray the exhaustion and hardship normally seen in a man five times his age.

Deep, heavy wrinkles are etched into the delicate skin under his eyes, and I know this boy has lived through more adversity than most grown men.

He’s had to give up everything he knows and loves, leave behind his home, his possessions and his friends. He’s lived through the all-encompassing terror of shelling, gunfire in the streets and open conflict in his hometown.

He’s 11 years old and he’s run for his life.


He doesn’t give me the details of his life before, and I don’t ask. What he’s going through, even now that he’s crossed the border to safety in Jordan, is hard enough. Because now, winter is setting in, and Rami’s hardship is far from over.

He invites me in to talk in the tent he now lives in with his family in Jordan’s Za’atari camp. Rami sits on the thin mattress laid out on the ground and his hands fiddle with the ends of his jacket sleeves.

He tells me his Mum bought this jacket for him at one of the stalls that have sprung up in the camp, some stocked with jackets, sweaters, boots and other warm clothes that most families cannot afford. Neither, really, can Rami’s.

The thin jacket he’s wearing is the only thing his parents have been able to buy to help protect their son from the icy winds that sweep across this camp that sits in the middle of a vast desert.

Rami tells me that because they can’t afford the warm clothes he and his brothers need. His mother has started cutting up the few blankets they’ve been given and sews them back together as pyjamas.

He brings over his brother’s hand-stitched pyjama top to show me. His mother’s desperation is made clear through the white thread holding the pieces of material together – she’s doing the only thing she can to provide her sons with the warmth and protection they need as winter sets in and her boys become ever more exposed to the cold.


Although he’s only 11, Rami shares his parents’ fear that the youngest boys are already too exposed to the plummeting temperatures.

“My youngest brothers don’t speak many words yet,” he starts telling me, looking over at his brothers Youssef, three, and Omar, only 18 months.

Both are already wearing their homemade fleece pyjamas, despite it still being early afternoon, usually the warmest hours of the day.

“But when they get cold, they say the word ‘cold’ – they know that word.” He looks back at me, and says it again.

“They know ‘mom’, ‘dad’, only a few words – but they know ‘cold’.”

His mother comes over and sets down a small metal tray with small kettle of hot tea. The young boys crowd around it, grabbing the glasses filled with hot liquid and begin to drink.

I leave the boys to take in the warmth from the tea, allowing them a brief respite from the chill that’s begun to set in, and fervently hope more aid will reach them in time.

Read more about the experience of Syrian refugee children in Jordan and Lebanon in Save the Children's, "Out in the Cold" report.

Donate now to help Syrian refugee children access the protection, healthcare and psycho-social support they have the right to receive.

Inside Al Qaem refugee camp

Inside Al Qaem refugee camp

by Amy Mina, Save the Children Iraq Country Director

Children gather in Al Qaem refugee camp.

(Right: Children gather in Al Qaem refugee camp. Photo credit: Save the Children)

We walk out into the second layer of fenced perimeter, layer within layer. The camp looks clean and organized. There is a good well-lit road bisecting the tents. Water, sanitation and bathing facilities are laid out along the outside perimeter. Rubbish is clearly collected.

Children gather around us. Everyone wants to speak, share a story, smile, be in a photo, show me their tent. A beautiful girl of about six twirls her dress, flashing a half smile. A mother brings her three-year-old son. His skin shows signs of an infection on his arms, scalp, legs and neck. "It’s been like this since we arrived," she almost shouts at me. "I took him to the health centre and used the medicine they gave me but it is useless." I recall pictures of children with similar infections shared by our team on their first assessment visit. The hygiene promoters tell me most of the children have similar infections. At the health clinic with mom and child, the doctor has no solutions, no diagnosis and sends them away instructing the mother to take the medicines he had previously prescribed. There is frustration.

There is something odd about the orderliness of the camp. There are no clotheslines anywhere, no laundry. When I ask the women about it, they tell me they don’t have changes of clothes to do the washing and there is no washing powder. The children walking with me are proof. Their clothes look as though they haven’t been washed in a long time. On their feet they are sporting light, flimsy sandals of the slip-on variety used in the shower. Some are wearing two different sandals; some wearing ripped clothing. I’m in long sleeves, head covered and already feeling chilly. They are in light t-shirts and shorts with goose bumps visible on their arms despite the sun. In winter, daytime temperatures here will drop to between 0C and 10C, and can drop below zero at night. The local councilor is right: winter clothes are urgently needed.

Um Majed (not her real name) invites me into her tent. It is tidy and clean inside, a testimony to the dignity that people are trying to maintain. There is a low table piled with chopped tomatoes and onions. She smiles apologetically and explains that her Iraqi relatives in the community bring her something every few days. Her daughter, a tall beautiful 15-year-old is drowning in a gown that’s clearly five sizes too large for her. I have the impression that her persistent smile is designed to mask her sadness as she tells me that she hasn’t been to school since the conflict started. "We are from Homs. My school was one of the first to be attacked. I saw many of my friends killed, 300 people killed in and around my school. Now I just sit in the tent. I have no books. What can you do? This is our fate and God is generous."

I want to spend more time with the families; they tell me that having a visitor is so important because their social life has disappeared. "Please stay for lunch." I apologize and head towards the car. We’re making this journey in one day – 13 hours driving and a few hours spent in Al Qaem.

We head out of the camp towards town and the actual border only to chance upon a heavily-guarded UN convoy coming towards the camp. We slow down and blink at the scene. This is the only way other expats travel here.

After a quick trip to the border and around the town we start to head back, stopping by the meandering Euphrates. One of my colleagues explains that the fishermen use electric shock to catch the fish. I’m make a mental note to avoid fish for dinner in the area.

This trip was a tribute to my amazing colleagues who agreed to take the risk and endure the very long journey. Our return trip was a mixture of shocked sadness at the situation of the refugees and bonding. Despite the terrible sandstorm, the 17-hour day and the long waits at checkpoints, we returned committed to deliver the essential supplies and assistance necessary to ensure that Syrian children and their families have appropriate clothes for winter, medicines, and safe spaces to play and go to school.

Read more about the experience of Syrian refugee children in Jordan and Lebanon in Save the Children's, "Out in the Cold" report.

Donate now to help Syrian refugee children access the protection, healthcare and psycho-social support they have the right to receive.

The girl in the graveyard

The girl in the graveyard

By Maricar Edmilao
Child Protection in Emergencies Officer, Save the Children in the Philippines

Destruction caused by Typhoon Bopha (Right: Destruction caused by Typhoon Bopha. Photo credit: Reine Kathryn Rala/Save the Children)

His god daughter was found in a cemetery in the town of New Bataan, Compostella Valley, Philippines, after her mother and siblings died in a landslide triggered by Typhoon Bopha. The girl’s father remains on the missing persons list.

She is just three years old – potentially orphaned and living with her relatives.

This was a story told to me by a local government officer about his god daughter while he gave us data about the number of casualties, injuries, displaced persons and damages. It is not unusual situation. Many aid and government workers conducting rescue and relief missions have suffered losses themselves, but press on because they see just how great the needs are.

Over 700 people are now reported dead, with more than 800 still missing. Many children have lost their fathers who were out at sea fishing when the typhoon struck. Because residents did not heed early warnings, many children have now been reported unaccompanied by adults while others are sleeping in open areas without proper shelter, access to water or food, making them more vulnerable than they already are.

Following an assessment of destruction and needs, Save the Children’s teams have begun distributing toiletries, blankets, sleeping mats and mosquito nets, cooking pots and pans, and jerry cans with drinking water to the worst-affected families in Compostela Valley and Agusan del Sur. These areas have been completely flattened in the storm – houses, plantations, schools and other commercial buildings reduced to a pile of mud and debris.

Save the Children staff hand out pre-made aid packages to affected familiesWe are just at the beginning of our relief efforts. There is not enough room in evacuation centres, electricity is expected to be down for the next two months, women and children are without private sleeping areas, children do not have safe play areas, schools could take months to be restored, livelihoods have been destroyed – there are huge problems still waiting to be tackled.

(Right: Save the Children staff hand out pre-made aid packages to affected families in New Bataan. Photo credit: Save the Children)

In the meantime, children could be forced to work in order to feed their families, stunting rates could go up in an area already blighted by child malnutrition, children could be at risk of being kidnapped at night while sleeping in open areas and subjected to abuse due to the stress of sleeping in close quarters.

Two years ago, no one would have expected a situation like this. Mindanao sits very close to the equator, away from the general path of storms headed to the Philippines. Families here are not prepared for such disasters, simply because no one expects it to hit them. As a result, their houses were not built to resist such strong winds, fishermen were unlikely to pay any attention storm alerts, and children have not taught to react and respond to a situation like this.

With climate change changing the way storms traditionally occur, new and stronger infrastructure needs to be in place, early warning systems strengthened and training to ensure that people evacuate and respond accordingly to keep their children safe. Save the Children is now appealing for more funds to help rebuild the lives of these children who were already living in some of the poorest areas of the Philippines.

Nearly 1.6 million children have been affected in this typhoon and we need to ensure that help reaches them and they are ready in the event a disaster like this strikes again.

Donate now to our Children's Emergency Fund, which enables Save the Children to respond quickly when an emergencies, like Typhoon Bopha, strike, or to scale up our work when an existing situation deteriorates and children’s lives are in danger.

Out in the cold: Ines' story

Out in the cold: Ines' story

Ines, 8, stands outside her home in a makeshift tented community.Thousands of Syrian children, who have already suffered through months of conflict and displacement, are now at serious risk as cold weather sets in. 

Save the Children has launched an appeal to raise funds to meet the desperate needs of refugee families ahead of the cold winter months.

Here is the story of eight-year-old Ines, one of the over 200,000 Syrian refugee children left out in the cold this holiday season.

Ines' story in her own words

“I feel cold. I’ve been shivering and feel cold.” - Ines (see photo, right), 8, living in a shelter made of billboards

“When we first arrived here, the weather was good. Now it's raining and we’re getting cold. My brothers also get cold. We sit next to the heater every day. We all go and sit next to the heater and warm ourselves with blankets.”

“When it rains, the water reaches inside – sometimes we get pockets of water in the tent. We want to push them from the tent, but then it floods outside on the ground.”

“We get floods around the tent, so we cannot go out anymore. We can't go to the market to bring bread. We cannot go walk around. If we want to go to my uncle's house, we cannot walk. The mud covers us. We need boots so we can walk.”

“When it rains I cannot go out. I stay inside. My mom is the one who goes out and gets us stuff.”

“This ceiling is caving in. We need metal for the roof, because the one we have here is ripped and the water leaks through. And the pillows get wet and damp.”

“Water comes down into the bathroom...in the kitchen too. Then you cannot go inside because of the water. Even if we want to go inside, we can't.”

“My throat hurts, and I feel like I have the flu. We need medicine. My brother Suleiman is sick from smoke. It went inside his eyes. Now we have to take him to the doctor.”

““I feel cold. When I'm cold, I start shivering. Even now I feel cold.”

“The cold is not keeping us warm. We need winter clothes. We need heaters. And stuff to keep us warm.”

Read more about the experience of Syrian refugee children in Jordan and Lebanon in Save the Children's, "Out in the Cold" report.

Donate now to help Syrian refugee children access the protection, healthcare and psycho-social support they have the right to receive.

(Photo credit: Sam Tarling/Save the Children)

Typhoon Bopha: "...unlike anything I had ever seen before."

Typhoon Bopha: "...unlike anything I had ever seen before."

By Norman Gagarin
Water, sanitation and hygiene program officer, Save the Children in the Philippines

Families bathe do their washing and bathing in an open area in Cagayan de Oro

(Right: Families bathe and do their washing in an open area in Cagayan de Oro. There is a lack of sanitation facilities and water supply in evacuation centres.)

While the residents of Mindanao were still fast asleep this morning, Typhoon Bopha approached the southeastern coastline of the Philippines, packing 210km/h of wind and heavy rain. The winds and rain were so strong that it was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

The good news is, there were no reports of people being swept away in their sleep despite being a much stronger typhoon than Typhoon Washi last December. Over 1,200 people were killed in that disaster, which struck in the wee hours of the morning as well, most of them children.

The fact that people were vigilant made all the difference. Yesterday, I watched as the people of Mindanao prepared for the arrival of Typhoon Bopha, or Pablo, as it is known locally. Families stocked up on food, water and other essential supplies in stores while others packed up their most precious belongings and headed off to evacuation centres all over the island. This is stark contrast from the scene last year, where many failed to heed warnings from authorities to evacuate.

“I’m happy that my parents brought my siblings and me here before the storm,” a child at an evacuation centre in Cagayan de Oro told me. “We feel safe here from the storm.” Cagayan de Oro was one of the worst-hit cities in Mindanao after Typhoon Washi. Many children displayed signs of distress following that disaster and required psychosocial support from the government and aid agencies like Save the Children.

Indeed, it is a relief to see that both children and adults were more vigilant ahead of this typhoon, the worst storm to hit the Philippines this year. Mindanao does not experience typhoons often, and as a result, the residents here are less prepared than others.

Still, immediate relief like food, water, medicine and other household items will most likely be needed. Water, sanitation and hygiene or WASH is my area of expertise and we know that water supplies may be contaminated and with large swathes of Mindanao flooded and without electricity, assessing the extent of the damage and bringing water trucks to evacuation centres will be tricky for the authorities and aid agencies alike.

Save the Children has been working in the Philippines since 1981 and has decades of experience responding to emergencies in the Philippines. The aid agency mounted large-scale emergency responses to Typhoon Washi in 2011 and Typhoon Ketsana in 2009.The aid agency has a stockpile of pre-made aid packages that can be distributed within 48 hours to those who need it.

Donate now to our Children's Emergency Fund, which enables Save the Children to respond quickly when an emergencies, like Typhoon Bopha, strike, or to scale up our work when an existing situation deteriorates and children’s lives are in danger.

Families crammed into an evacuation centre in Surigao del Sur

Families crammed into an evacuation centre in Surigao del Sur. It was the first point of landfall for Typhoon Bopha in Mindanao. 

Local authorities help families to evacuate

Local authorities from the Department of Public Works and Highways in Iligan City help families to evacuate as Typhoon Bopha approaches.

(All photo credits: Save the Children)

DRC: we’re always on stand-by

DRC: we’re always on stand-by

Written by Rob MacGillivray, Save the Children Country Director, Democratic Republic of Congo

It didn’t take us by surprise when we got the first reports of the fighting around Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu.

This region is extremely volatile – there are a range of armed groups in the area and over the years tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes.

Since 1998 war, hunger and disease have killed more than five million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Our teams have been on the ground since 1994, providing children with psycho-social support, access to healthcare and education, and delivering nutrition programmes to tackle the high levels of malnutrition.

There’s no doubt that it’s an extremely challenging context and as Country Director, I’m ultimately responsible for the team and our work.

Violence reignited

Since the violence in the east of the country reignited a few days ago, it has been non-stop. The security situation in the east of the DRC is becoming more and more tense by the hour.

Families are fleeing for their lives – we constantly receive updated reports of the locations and numbers of displaced people, many don’t know where is safe anymore.

At the moment, it’s extremely chaotic. Some families have been displaced more than once and we can only imagine how confused and frightened children caught up in this violence are. Many may have witnessed terrible things, and will be struggling to cope.

Child soldiers

One issue at the forefront of my mind is child recruitment. Sadly it’s rife in this area – armed groups have a history of recruiting children to their ranks.

With children fleeing amid the chaos and violence, there’s a high risk of them becoming separated from their parents – throwing them in the path of armed groups.

Once recruited, children may be exposed to abuse and exploitation and often have no access to school or healthcare.

Girls forcibly recruited into armed groups often endure sexual abuse at the hand of their captors.

Working around the clock

We’re always on stand-by for further conflict and displacement. Our team are working around the clock to prepare a response, whilst ensuring the safety of our staff.

Delivering household items to families who may have fled with nothing but the clothes on their back will be a priority, as well as supporting emergency healthcare and providing safe areas for children who have been caught up in this horrendous violence.

However, we need your help. After years of upheaval and displacement, the resilience of the people in this region is incredible, but it’s clear that additional urgent support is needed.

Please support children in caught up in conflict: donate to our Children's Emergency Fund.

Sandy Lake in World Marathon Challenge

Sandy Lake Running Club in World Marathon Challenge

Sandy Lake, World Marathon Challenge Sandy Lake, World Marathon Challenge Sandy Lake, World Marathon Challenge

Photos from Sandy Lake World Marathon Challenge by Charity Thistle and Danielle Bekintis.

On October 16, World Food Day, more than 20,000 children across 42 countries took part in Save the Children's Race for Survival, a global relay race to raise awareness of the urgent need to tackle child malnutrition. Children from Afghanistan to Canada and Zambia to Brazil took part in the race to bring attention to malnutrition, the underlying cause of a third of all child deaths. In 2011 alone, 2.3 million died due to the effects of malnutrition.

Sandy Lake Running Club has participated for the second year, running in this world event. The competing runners were between the ages of 7 and 13.

The first run was the 7-11 age groups, doing the 1500 relay world challenge race. The students were up bright and early even with the inclement weather and muddy track conditions. The first run was extremely fast for the youngsters and everyone was cheering them on. The time result for the 1500 meter challenge for Sandy Lake was 5 minutes and 34 seconds. As of today, Sandy Lake sits in 72nd place out of 200 schools. The children say they had a lot of fun and would love to do it again.

The second race scheduled was the World Marathon Challenge consisting of 30 participants, each doing 7 laps of 200 meters. The race started off with the first lap being done by Jerry Clark in his rubber boots, just nudging past Titus Day at the finish/start line. The baton was then handed off to Rebecca Kakepetum who started the next 210 laps. The total time for the race was 3 hours, 18 minutes and 48 seconds. We even had one runner, Drake Meekis running so fast that he literally ran out of one of his shoes half way. But he kept on running with only one shoe; true dedication on his part.

Towards noon hour it became harder to complete the race. Most racers were thinking more about their stomachs, as they watched fellow classmates leave for lunch. However, the runners kept going and finished the race! The day ended with a much needed prepared lunch and the submission of the final results.

We are very proud of our runners for putting Sandy Lake, Ontario on the world map. We also want to congratulate all the competing runners from across world; especially, Frenchman’s Head and Kasabonika for their great effort. The Principal of Thomas Fiddler Memorial Elementary School and the Sandy Lake Running Club would also like to extend a challenge to all other neighbouring reserves to participate in the race next year.

On behalf of the Running Club of Sandy Lake


View more photos from Sandy Lake Running Club and other teams.

Save the Children nutrition programs target "hidden" hunger

Save the Children nutrition programs target "hidden" hunger

Hamisi, four, with father, Yahaya

Hamisi, four, with father, Yahaya, who is the Secretary of the Community Group, Mihogoni village, Lindi Rural District, Tanzania. The group has been supported by Save the Children through awareness raising sessions on the importance of diversified and nutritious diets for children to grow up healthy. (Photo credit: Caroline Trutmann/Save the Children)

Two thirds of children aged one to two years old are not given enough meals a day to meet their growing requirements. Diets are undiversified and the average duration of exclusive breastfeeding in Tanzania is only 2.4 months – far below the recommended six months.

Stunting is caused by chronic malnutrition. Stunting includes both physical and mental stunting and means a child has not been well nourished from conception up until two years. Chronic malnutrition is irreversible at this stage and means children are often permanently mentally and physically affected, and face a lifetime of lost opportunity in education and work. They are more likely to succumb to illness and disease. Chronic malnutrition is often referred to as ‘hidden’ hunger because it doesn’t hit the headlines in the same way that severe acute malnutrition does in a food crisis.

Malnourished mothers are more likely to have malnourished children. Most undernutrition happens during pregnancy and in the first two years of a child’s life.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life reduces child mortality and has health benefits that extend into adulthood. It is estimated that exclusive breastfeeding of newborn babies can prevent almost one-fifth of all child deaths. However, in Tanzania the average length of time a mother exclusively breast feeds her child is only 2.4 months. Breastfeeding benefits not only the child but the mother and family also, as it is free of cost and reduces the risk of infection in newborns, hence a reduction in medical bills. Breast milk substitutes and animal milk not only lack essential immune-building components, they also expose the infant to an increased risk of infection and morbidity.

Save the Children is supporting the Tanzanian Government train health workers at regional and community level to raise awareness on best infant and child feeding practices including exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months that aim at reducing chronic malnutrition.

You can help children like Hamisi by donating to Save the Children's The Extra Plate campaign. For only $30 - the cost of an average Canadian family's dinner - you can provide life-saving treatment for a child suffering from malnutrition.

Vist our website for more information: www.theextraplate.ca

Camel 'librarian' brings books to kids in Ethiopia

Camel 'librarian' brings books to children in Ethiopia

Imagine if your child's school librarian was a camel?!

This isn't quite the case for the 3,214 school-age, children living in Ethiopia who benefit from the Save the Children supported mobile camel library, but it certainly is an innovative way to bring books, learning, and education to those who need them most. 

Only 51 per cent of children in the Somali region enrol in school, compared to the national average of 82 per cent.

Save the Children, in collaboration with the district education office, works to improve access and quality of education of pastoralist children in Somali Region, Ethiopia.

A camel carries books on its back for Save the Children's camel library programme in the Somali region of Ethiopia.

A camel carries books on its back for Save the Children's camel library programme in the Somali region of Ethiopia.

A group of children in a village in Afdam district, Somali Region, Ethiopia read books borrowed from the mobile camel library supported by Save the Children.

A group of children in a village in Afdam district, Somali Region, Ethiopia read books borrowed from the mobile camel library supported by Save the Children.

Hamza, 12, lives in a village in the Shinille zone of Somali Region, Ethiopia. Hamza carries a story book that he borrowed from Save the Children's camel library.

Hamza, 12, lives in a village in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. Hamza carries a story book that he borrowed from Save the Children's camel library. Hamza is a student of level three in the alternative basic education centre that is supported by Save the Children.

For more information on Save the Children's work in education, please visit our education programs page.

(Photo credits: Seifu Assegid/Save the Children)

Baby Shamsia beats the odds thanks to Save the Children health workers

Baby Shamsia beats the odds thanks to Save the Children health workers

One year old Shamsia and her mother Lantana at Aguie stabilisation centre, Maradi, NigerLantana, 29, brought her one-year-old daughter Shamsia to Gazaoua clinic. The family struggled to feed themselves after their crops were destroyed and Shamsia became ill. Hunger can leave children, especially young children, weak and more susceptible to infections and illness. We interviewed Lantana at the Save the Children supported stabilisation centre where Shamsia was referred to by doctors at Gazaoua clinic.

(Left) One year old Shamsia and her mother Lantana at a stabilisation centre, Maradi, Niger (Photo credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children)

"My child is suffering from diarrhoea, vomiting, and she has some rashes. I brought her to Gazaoua clinic. I was  frightened, I thought she would die.

“I arrived [at the clinic] on a Tuesday. I just laid her down and she began to vomit. I had one child who died of diarrhoea and vomiting. Of course, I thought she was in the same condition and when the staff were checking her I thought she was going to die.

“Worms ate our millet until only the stems were left. This year is hard since there is no food, it ran out quickly and buying food is more expensive because we didn't have a lot of crops. No one could take care of my children. My husband had to go and look for food. If he didn't find any, my children had to go to my mother and they would eat whatever she could give them.

“In my opinion, if my daughter takes my breast milk and I don't eat enough food this can make her hungry – my
breast milk isn’t sufficient. But I have nothing else. We eat millet and add green leaves when it's the season.

“They [clinic health care workers] gave her medicine. Now we have to thank them. God bless them and help them to continue their work.

“I felt worried. I saw some [parents] going out crying and others had their children with them, recovered. I was
wondered if my daughter would recover or die.

“They helped us with food and they gave medicine to our children and they have recovered. They were given
[therapeutic] milk. We thank them. We’re very grateful to them. You see now the children have gained their weight.

“I got more food here than at home. Here I have food every day, unlike at home where even if I get some I have to leave it for the children and stay hungry all day.

“We’re happy. We’re laughing in our rooms and chatting since our children are recovered because we’re relieved. Without the clinic we’d suffer. I would look for the medicine but I wouldn't know where I would get it. When I came here, within 28 days Shamsia was better.

“I'm very happy. When I get home I'll carry my daughter and they’ll see she has recovered because of the clinic. People thought we wouldn't bring her back. Now she's back. She’s feeling well and she eats everything. I thought she wouldn't gain back her weight even after a year. I never believed it would be possible."

You can help children like Shamsia by donating to Save the Children's The Extra Plate campaign. For only $30 - the cost of an average Canadian family's dinner - you can provide life-saving treatment for a child suffering from malnutrition.

Vist our website for more information: www.theextraplate.ca

Community Mobilisation Groups help families access nutritious food in Tanzania

Community Mobilisation Groups help families access nutritious food in Tanzania

Veronica's husband and two children are seen here eating a meal of sardines, ugali (a maize based dough) and vegetables she collected from her vegetable garden in Tanzania. In this garden, Veronica grows ocra, pumpkin leaves, and peas.

Veronica and her husband, Yahaya, have two children, Masudi, one-and-a-half years old, and Jackson, 14. They are members of the Community Mobilisation Group who has been supported by Save the Children through awareness raising sessions on the importance of diversified and nutritious diets for children to grow up healthy.

The Community Mobilisation Group has created their own vegetable garden which is looked after by all 11 families who benefit from its produce. Some families, like Veronica's, have also started their own individual gardens.T

Two thirds of children aged one to two years old are not given enough meals a day to meet their growing requirements. Diets are undiversified and the average duration of exclusive breastfeeding in Tanzania is only 2.4 months – far below the recommended six months.

Despite some progress, four out of ten under fives in Tanzania are stunted. Seventeen per cent are severely malnourished, and every day about 130 children die from causes related to malnutrition. Tanzania is of the ten worst affected countries in the world by chronic malnutrition and is the third worst in Africa. MDG 4 – to reduce child mortality by two thirds cannot be achieved without tackling malnutrition.

You can help families like Veronica's by donating to Save the Children's The Extra Plate campaign. For only $30 - the cost of an average Canadian family's dinner - you can provide life-saving treatment for a child suffering from malnutrition. 

Vist our website for more information: www.theextraplate.ca 

(Photo credit: Caroline Trutmann/Save the Children)





Roger Mooking: cooking Sylhet-style

Roger Mooking: Cooking Sylhet-Style

Roger writes from Sylhet, Bangladesh, where he's visiting health and nutrition programs run with the support of Save the Children. For the latest updates, follow @EVERY_ONE_CAN on Twitter.

This morning, we visited a clinic that was offline for many years and is now up and running with the support of local Save the Children staff, as well as government assigned medical and paramedic staff. This clinic helps to support many childbirths and pre/post natal care for mothers in the community here.

It was amazing to see so many healthy happy babies and mothers visiting the clinic. The man in the white robe is the government doctor for this clinic, he was very gracious and knowledgeable about the community which he is serving in rural Sylhet. Everyone came out to say goodbye as we were leaving.

Next on the agenda... cooking! One of my favorite places in any part of the world is the local market. Here is one that we were driving past in Sylhet.

And here's some bamboo architecture that is actually used for fishing! It is a system of netting and supports for fisherman to catch the food that feeds this community locally in Sylhet. Pretty incredible structure.

This afternoon, Save the Children put me to work cooking with this lady, a local mom. She seasoned the fish with Salt and Turmeric before frying it in vegetable oil. The cooking setup here is an iron pot being held up with a clay / dung rack. The fire is stoked by a compressed packet of dung and rice that is made specifically for building these fires for cooking.

Apparently, a few families will get together and cook for each other - taking turns. All the while many people were standing around giving directions. Everything here is a community effort. They say it takes a village to raise a child, this village is certainly proof of that statement. So incredible.

Check out this spread of Turmeric Fried Fish, Garlic sauteed Veggies, Spiced Pumpkin with Chilies and Rice. The spices are Turmeric, Cumin, Coriander, Salt, Dried Chili. The produce is Garlic, Shallot, Pumpkin, Aloo (Potato), Green Chili and that purple leafy vegetable whose name escapes me now. It's late...


Chef Roger Mooking in Bangladesh with Save the Children Canada

Chef Roger Mooking in Bangladesh with Save the Children Canada

Chef Roger Mooking in Bangladesh with Save the Children Canada

Chef Roger Mooking in Bangladesh with Save the Children Canada

Chef Roger Mooking in Bangladesh with Save the Children Canada

Roger says:

"Every year, 2.5 million children die because of hunger and malnutrition. Save the Children is calling on Canadians to learn more about how we end hunger around the world.

"It will take some money: $10 billion a year from world governments will save 1 million children.

"It will take political will. I am going to email Prime Minister Harper and ask him to ensure that Canada leads the effort to end hunger today. You can too. Will you?"

  Take Action
Using technology to create solutions for children

How technology and new media can create solutions for the biggest problems facing children


An open response to The Global Conversation Question posed by Mashable and the UN Foundation at the Social Good Summit 2012: How can new technology and new media create solutions for the biggest problems facing my community?

Patricia Erb, President and CEO, Save the Children

Patricia Erb, President and CEO, Save the ChildrenDhaka, Bangladesh - I have worked for Save the Children for more than 20 years. Before becoming the CEO here in Canada I worked 'in the field' across Latin America, working with our partners on health, nutrition, education and child rights programming. Our mission has always been to reach the most vulnerable children, the ones most in need. Often the children we work with live in remote communities. I have been on hundreds of jeep and small plane trips into jungles, high up mountain ranges and across desserts. While it has been a privilege to go to these places, I also know how difficult it is for these remote communities to have access to the basic services that we take for granted when we live in and near urban centres.

Today I am in Bangladesh, visiting our health and nutrition programming outside of Sylhet. We are visiting the MaMoni Project that focuses on providing health and nutrition care to moms and children under 5. I have brought with me guests from Canada, celebrity chef Roger Mooking from Food Network's Everyday Exotic, blogger Annie who is known online as @phdinparenting and youth blogger Orysia Andryo. This is a first for Save the Children Canada. We haven't organized this type of trip before and that we are doing it at all confirms that social media is a vital tool for the global development movement. It is our hope that through the social media presence of our guests we will be able to get Canadians thinking and talking online and off about children's right to food and how ending global hunger is within reach.

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world, their child and maternal mortality numbers are still too high and millions of children are stunted by malnutrition. Bangladesh clearly demonstrates the need but it surprisingly also demonstrates the hope. Even though it is one of the poorest countries, Bangladesh has seen a significant improvement in child mortality, health and nutrition in spite of their economic challenges. In fact, when you compare the development improvements to those of their neighbour India (a country that has benefitted from significant economic growth) Bangladesh's development outcomes are proportionally better.

This is what our team and I will be witnessing and sharing with Canadians. We will 'reporting' from the field during a crucial week for the global development conversation, the opening session of the 67th annual United Nations General Assembly; a time when the world gathers to talk about the state of the world and the goals and challenges of development. The online communities who follow Roger, Annie and Orysia will hopefully be engaged and in turn will engage their networks in this important conversation.

It would probably surprise many Canadians how important technology, particularly cell technology and the internet, is to the practice of development today. While in Canada Save the Children mainly uses the internet as a communications tool for fundraising and public engagement, cellular technology is vital to providing health care and teaching communities about public health priorities, among other things. In the developing world this technology revolution is saving lives.

Every day cell service is reaching the world's most remote communities. These communities often have limited health facilities if any, but a frontline health worker with a mobile phone can be called in an emergency, she can reach a doctor or nurse in a hospital to help diagnose illnesses or determine the need for more skilled care for the patient. She can also provide basic patient check-ups and follow-up and submit patient data via text to a doctor based in a clinic hundreds of kilometers away.

Public health is one of the least glamorous but most important aspects of health care particularly in areas that are underserviced. Teaching people something as simple as proper hand washing, or good nutrition and the early signs of malnutrition can save lives and save resources. Save the Children is working in Bangladesh to help design, build and bring to scale a platform to provide lifesaving audio and text health messages about postnatal care, safe delivery, vaccines, breastfeeding and family planning and nutrition as part of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) Project.

The objectives of MAMA are to reach 500,000 pregnant women and new mothers within 3 years, and to provide them with health sustaining and even life saving information. The MAMA model depends on the combined resources and expertise of both the public and private sector to fund and sustain the initiative. Every hour, a woman dies due to maternal complications, 80% of these deaths are preventable. MAMA will use Bangladesh's extensive mobile phone penetration to deliver life-saving messages to pregnant women and new mothers.

Climate change poses a major threat to Bangladesh. Already it is a country that has an annual monsoon season and has experienced severe flooding that has stranded hundreds of thousands and put thousands of families in harms' way. The importance of mobile phones during emergencies has been seen time and again. We have already witnessed people surrounded by flood waters calling for help from rooftops and trees. Images from camera phones are some of the first transmitted around the world during times of natural disaster. Mobile phones make responding to a crisis more efficient helping our emergency teams to more quickly coordinate the relief effort and to track our response so that we are even more accountable to the communities we serve and to our donors.

New Media is still new in Bangladesh. Internet and its offspring social media have not spread like cell phones and text messaging. Bangladesh does rank 52nd in terms of Facebook users which suggests that new media is growing. For Save the Children's EVERY ONE campaign we have a fan page which has over 4300 people and engagement is quite high. It is a means to educate and mobilize communities in developing countries around important issues like health care access.

Canadians understand that mobile technology (cell and smartphone) and the internet are (for good or for bad) a necessity in their lives. It helps us work, schedule our time, connect with family and friends and yes it saves lives in developed countries too. In countries like Bangladesh it is all that and more. Save the Children along with our partners are pioneering innovative ways to use this technology to improve how we do our work, ensure greater accountability and to save more lives. How we tackle the digital divide between the world's rich and poor will, in and of itself, become an important indicator as to whether or not we solve the world's development gap.

Bangladesh: supporting mothers and children

Bangladesh: supporting mothers and children

The MaMoni project in Baniachang Upazila, HabiganjDistrict, Bangladesh.  The MaMoni project in Baniachang Upazila, HabiganjDistrict, Bangladesh.  The MaMoni project in Baniachang Upazila, HabiganjDistrict, Bangladesh.

From L-R: Nirob, aged 5 months; children at the MaMoni project; a mother and her child at the MaMoni project for maternal and child health. Photos by Guilhem Alandry / Save the Children (L) and  Shafiqul Alam Kiron / Save the Children (centre and R).

Today, Save the Children's team in Bangladesh are visting our MaMoni project. For live updates, follow @EVERY_ONE_CAN on Twitter.

We first met Nirob (pictured above left) when he was 10 weeks old, with continuous sicknesses including pneumonia, diarrhea and malnourishment. His mother Shipra was worried about him and feeling bad that she could not stop his suffering. She couldn't cannot afford to take him to a clinic or hospital because it was too far and costs a lot of money to get there.

Sadly, Shipra's story is one of many. Every hour, 11 babies die in Bangladesh – their lives cut short before they’re even four weeks old. One in 19 children under five dies needlessly of diseases we know how to treat or prevent.

In some regions the figures are even higher: in Baniachong and Ajmiriganj, one baby dies every day, meaning tragically that many women there have lost at least one child. In one village currently without a clinic, locals told us that 9 out of 10 women that live there lose a baby. Most of these children die because they don’t have access to even the most basic healthcare. 

And for every 10 births in Bangladesh, 8 mothers have to give birth in their home on a dirt floor without a skilled health worker present putting the life of their baby at risk.

Save the Children's MaMoni project in the Sylhet and Habiganj regions of northeast Bangladesh aims to improve maternal and newborn health, and increase access to family planning services. The project supports and complements the Government of Bangladesh's strategy to reduce maternal and newborn mortality in achieving the Millennium Development Goals in Bangladesh.

Our focus is on improving access to and quality of health and family planning services through capacity building, improved planning, and strengthening coordination between communities and healthcare service providers. The MaMoni Project also helps to ensure easy access to existing public healthcare facilities and promotes the benefits of healthy healthcare practices and family planning services.

Community and religious leaders, local government bodies, and male and female groups all play important roles in implementing program activities at the local level, across 15 sub-districts of Sylhet and Habiganj in northest Bangladesh, with the total population of the project area being 3.5 million.

Children and families work hard to combat the hunger crisis in the Sahel

Save the Children Program Officer, Health and Nutrition, Rebecca Harry, in MaliChildren and families work hard to combat the hunger crisis in the Sahel

Yesterday, while I was traveling from Bamako to Koutiala to visit our community health project sites, I noticed that the children in the villages I passed through were hard at work (they go back to school later this month).

Along the busy, pock-marked highway, I saw three young girls selling milk in used water bottles. There were young boys herding cows and goats along the highway from one grassy area to another. Young girls were selling fresh produce in baskets they carried on their heads, in the overflowing, road-side markets. Boys and girls were also pushing fresh cut wood and sticks in carts along the highway.

It is the lean season here in Mali and the food crisis continues in the Sahel. People, including children, are working hard to feed themselves and their families. This is something the media doesn’t always portray: West Africans are hard-working. They want to create good lives for their families, be independent and self-sufficient. The issues they are facing are complex – so complex that their hard work is simply not enough in the face of this hunger crisis.

In Mali alone, almost 150,000 children were treated for acute malnutrition during the first six months of the year – a three-fold increase in comparison to the same period last year.

In response to this crisis, Save the Children is scaling up our humanitarian response to reach some of the most at-risk children. Join Malian families in their efforts to survive the food crisis by donating today.

We only have until the end of September to double the impact of our donation through the Canadian government’s matching initiative for the Sahel food crisis.

On Twitter? Follow Rebecca at @RebeccaJHarry.

Bangladesh: Still an urgent need

Bangladesh: Still an urgent need

Shelly and Priton at their home in Pukra, Habiganj District, BangladeshShelly hasn’t been able to breastfeed her two-month-old son Priton for the last month and quiet desperation is clearly visible in her eyes.

She feels her next best option is to feed him powdered milk, which is having a devastating effect on Priton’s growth and health.

I had already met a heavily pregnant Shelly in June when visiting the site where Save the Children’s Build it for Babies Appeal plan to build the first of seven health clinics. The clinics will provide family planning services, healthcare for mothers and newborns, and basic, general healthcare to remote communities in Habiganj, Bangladesh.

At that time Shelly was glowing and full of hope for the future and for her unborn baby.

Out of reach

Now Shelly sits on the same bed I spoke to her before, this time with worry lines etched on her face and Priton sleeping next to her. His breathing is very shallow and he’s still the size of a newborn baby.

Shelly can’t afford to go and see the doctor about her breastfeeding problem.

Her family already paid more than an entire month's income in July for Shelly to go to hospital to deliver Priton and they can’t afford another trip.

The hospital is two hours away using local transport over very bad roads and although the services were free, transport and accommodation bills for her stay cost her family 5,000 Bangladeshi taka – they usually only earn 3,000 to 4,000 per month.

A desperate situation

Desperate situations like this are so common in Shelly’s community, and many of the communities in Habiganj district where Shelly lives, that no one seems particularly worried.

As one of the community volunteers said to me when I told her about Shelly’s story, “She is actually lucky, at least she got to a hospital and was able to deliver the baby safely and he is still alive. Many women here are not so fortunate.”

A chilling statement demonstrating just how desperate things are for women and newborn babies in the area.
By building a health clinic within easy access of Shelly’s community and six other areas, Save the Children hopes to reduce the kind of healthcare dilemmas women like her face in north-east Bangladesh.


Red boundary markers showing the outline of where the first health clinic will be built with funds from the Build it for Babies Appeal in Habiganj, near Shelly's homeConstruction of the Save the Children-funded health clinic starts next month and I plan to go back to document the start of the build and revisit Shelly and Priton.

I hope when I see them next the situation has improved for this mother and baby but to be honest I’m not sure how.
Babies should be fed almost exclusively with breast milk for the first six months of their life and the powdered milk Priton has doesn’t contain enough of the nutrients he needs to develop properly.

He’s at serious risk of malnutrition and this could mean his brain and body won’t develop as they should.

It’s been shown that babies in developing countries who aren’t breastfed are significantly more likely to die.
As Priton’s family can’t afford any more trips to the hospital, Priton’s life is held in the balance.

Save the Children is doing all it can to build clinics as soon as possible and ensure that future mothers have better chances of their children growing up healthy and happy.

Photo credit: Abir Abdullah

Nourhan's Story: Making school possible

Nourhan's Story: Making school possible for children in Egypt

Save the Children's integrated programs make attending school possible for children like Nourhan (middle).

Nourhan is rather tall for 13 years old. She lives in a large family home with her parents, grandmother, and five siblings: Amir in 9th grade, Bothaina in 5th grade, Gehad in 3rd grade, twin brothers who are about to enter first grade, and one year-old Hagar. She and her family live a simple life. Her father runs a small coffee shop and adjacent grocery store, with which the whole family helps out.

Nourhan went to school up until the 6th grade. She wanted to continue but because there’s no junior high in the village, was not allowed to. Her father refused to send her to a school in another village, due to safety and financial reasons. Her parents also thought that was a better use of her time to stay at home and help out with chores and the grocery store.

Her days were very routine and dedicated to her family: helping her mother out with the house chores, working at the grocery store and playing with her siblings before preparing dinner with her mother and going to bed. Nourhan stopped becoming exposed to the outside world as a result.

Through Save the Children’s programs her father was able to begin a new business, and now she can continue her studies at a junior high-school in a nearby village. Save the Children held sessions about the importance of educating girls which swayed the minds of Nourhan’s parents and many other parents within the community. Nourhan’s mother also took part in a program to teach financial skills to adult women. Nourhan has also joined in Save the Children’s new Beginnings program, and has attended a summer camp and other capacity building activities. She’s become more active in her community, has skills in craft making because of the summer camp activities and has interacted a lot with other school children. overall, nourhan loves going to school and can’t wait to go to university and become a teacher herself one day.

Save the Children provided financial solutions to Nourhan’s struggling family. It also provides loans and the ability for families like Nourhan’s to enroll their children in school activities, like summer camps and other important stages of early childhood education, for free. Save the Children also attempts to help Nourhan’s family help themselves, so they can support the rest of their children’s need for education.

A silent cry for help

A silent cry for help

By Carol Tisshaw, Manager of Administration and Special Projects, Save the Children 

Ouagadougou, Burkina Fasov

Save the Children conducted nutrition screenings on the site Somgandé refugee camp in Burkina Faso for 116 children under 5 years old. (Photo credit: Frederique Boursin/Save the Children)Nothing had prepared me for what I saw that day. Or what I heard - or actually didn’t hear.

I work for Save the Children. Usually I am based in our head office in Toronto. For the next two months I am working in our Ouagadougou office in Burkina Faso. Almost as soon as I arrived I had the chance to visit some of our projects in Kaya. Our last visit before heading back to Ouagadougou was to the Kaya District hospital.

Since 2008, Save the Children has been implementing an emergency nutrition and risk reduction program for vulnerable children in the Centre Nord region of Burkina Faso. The program has aimed to reduce malnutrition among children under five years of age through support to the Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) approach in Kaya health district, and by developing the surge capacity of the 40 health centres and the district hospital.

Support to the CMAM approach has included training over 600 community volunteers to conduct nutrition screening of children in nearly 300 villages. The volunteers refer malnourished children and women to local health centres where they are admitted into therapeutic (CRENAS) or supplementary (CRENAM) feeding programs based on their level of malnutrition. Severely malnourished children are referred to the district hospital for treatment. They also follow up with discharged children. Save the Children supports these volunteers with community mobilization teams (including nurses) at least every two weeks.

The babies I was to see that day had been admitted to the hospital after being identified as severely malnourished. I had read the words, and like many of us I have seen the images, but this was the first time that I was visiting one of our projects which was treating children so severely ill.

We walked along the outside path towards the pediatric wing. There were doctors and nurses outside getting some air and stretching before their next surgery, families of patients coming to visit, people coming to the dispensary to pick up prescriptions. People chatting, calling out greetings, going about their day.

We then walked through the doors to the pediatric wing. We first met a pediatrician and the staff who gave us an overview of the program: the number of admissions, the length of treatment, the number of those readmitted, all laid out on pieces of flip chart paper that they had prepared for us. The staff were smiling and warm. And tired. The doctor briefly explained that they could still use more staff. If they are short someone for a shift those already there for 12 hours stay.

“We have to,” he said. “Without being fed every three hours these babies will die." Not a complaint, just a statement of fact.

And then we went to visit the wards.

I heard...nothing.

I didn’t realize until that moment that I had an expectation of hearing children. I have spent time with my own children in a hospital, with one for a stay of a month. I remember the constant background of child generated noise - laughing, crying, chortling, mothers cooing.

And yet here...nothing...little fragile babies with feeding tubes in their noses; too weak to cry, some too weak to move. Mothers' and fathers' exhaustion obvious in their faces haunted holding their children close, but still greeting us with a smile. Tired siblings stretched out on the bed, on the floor...all in the strangely quiet wing of this hospital where the fight to bring babies back from the brink of death is the daily routine.

Yet I also found hope. Hope from each mother that her child would recover and grow strong. Hope from the medical staff that more funding would be secured to allow more staff, open more beds, allow more follow up within the communities to better ensure more lives saved through earlier identification of children in trouble and faster treatment.

My reaction was strong. Tears filled my eyes as I looked at these small, beautiful babies fighting the biggest fight of their short lives. Something in me changed right there.

These children are my children. They are your children. These babies are all of ours. We cannot turn our backs when the need is so great.

When a colleague back home emailed to let me know that Minister Fantino had announced a match fund for the Sahel crisis I was relieved. I felt the hope I saw in the faces of the parents, the doctors and nurses. I hope the crisis in the Sahel will now breakthrough the languor of summer at the cottage or the business of kids’ camps and daycare. I know if Canadians were to realize the seriousness of the situation they would respond. The match funds for both Haiti and the Horn of Africa crisis helped raise millions and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

The children of the Sahel are part of me. They are a part of you, even if you don’t realize it. We all must be part of the solution. Please, donate now. 

"Hope is here": Saving lives in the Sahel

"Hope is here": Saving lives in the Sahel

Koniba, 45, stands holding her twins, Yacouba and Lassina, 2. (Photo credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children)Even in a “non-crisis” year, an estimated 645,000 children die in the Sahel of largely preventable and treatable causes, with 226,000 of these deaths being directly linked to malnutrition. Global acute malnutrition has been a recurrent problem in Mali for several years - in 2010, the rate of stunting in Mali was 38.5%.

Last year due to limited and insufficient rains, many harvests failed and food prices soared. In addition, due to
global economic crises and this food crisis, levels of remittances dropped. This crisis is likely to dramatically
decrease families’ resilience and increase children’s vulnerability to malnutrition.

Koniba’s story:

“I am Koniba and I am a housewife. I am about 45 years old and I have had 11 children. The tenth pregnancy - I had twins, so now I have eleven children. My husband Sory Giota is a farmer. All my eleven children are alive and I live with my husband in our house in the village of Benigorola “I am a native of this village. I learned about the URENAM [therapeutic food treatment] at the CESCOM [community health centre] of Karingana from Hamidou, Fatoumata and Maimouna - they are the community health workers - during nutrition screening sessions and sensitisation.

“My twins were sick last year and the community health workers encouraged me to go to the CESCOM. My husband refused but this year the twins Lassina and Yacouba were weighed and identified as malnourished. They showed me the colour yellow and they told me the twins are malnourished and that I should absolutely bring them with my husband and my twins to the URENAM. This was the first time that I went to the health centre with them. I went with two of my other children. It has been over a year that my twins have suffered from malnutrition.

“I used to be worried but now its OK because we received some care at the CESCOM. When I went to the CESCOM, the health agents Soumanau and Jeanne gave me lots of food sachets called ‘Tige degeni’ [Bambara for peanut paste] for the twins and they liked it.

“My ten children are well - 2 daughters are married in other villages and one of my sons has migrated to find money and to help his father. Hope is here, thanks to God, the children will be OK. Unlike us they will develop normally. If there wasn’t a CESCOM it would be very serious because the life of the twins would be very precarious."

Case Study: Child and maternal health in the Philippines

Baby Kaye, five days old, being treated with antibiotics for her infection at an evacuation centre. She is cared for by her grandmother, Alicia Marco, while her mother remains in hospital due to pregnancy complications. Case Study: Child and maternal health in the Philippines

 “The day we evacuated, I was really scared,” said Alicia Marco, a grandmother to seven children, as she recounted the day her family had to flee from the floods. “The youngest one, baby Kaye, was just two days old.”

After baby Kaye was born her mother was forced to stay behind in the hospital due to complications associated with her pregnancy. Baby Kaye went home to the care of her grandmother Alicia. Two days later, increasing water levels gave Alicia no choice but to take baby Kaye and the other children, abandon their home and seek refuge in one of the many evacuation centres set up around the National Capital Region. The children’s father, a construction worker, was out at work, and their mother was still in hospital.

Alicia and her seven grandchildren fled to Pag Asa Elementary School, now an evacuation centre providing shelter to 170 families. At the school, families receive hot meals provided by local authorities, but still need to buy bottled water for drinking. Save the Children’s assessment teams spoke with Alicia and other families in evacuation centres across Manila to identify their most critical needs.

“There are no mosquito nets for us here,” said Alicia, when asked about the items that she urgently needed. “To protect her from mosquitos, I have to carry Kaye throughout the night.” Both of Baby Kaye’s parents are still in the hospital, as her mother has just undergone a hysterectomy.

To add to their woes, Baby Kaye is also struggling with her own set of health problems, battling an infection she developed while in her mother’s womb. Although a midwife visits her frequently to inject Baby Kaye with antibiotics, the newborn needs nutritious food if she is to regain her strength and have a proper chance at fighting her infection. While Kaye’s mother remains in hospital recovering from her operation, the newborn is being fed with infant formula mix instead of the nutrient-rich breast milk her mother would normally provide. “Hopefully, her mother will return soon,” said Alicia, as she rocked Baby Kaye.

Nearly 300,000 people have taken refuge in 488 evacuation centres spread across the National Capital Region and Laguna, where Save the Children has begun distributing household items and jerry cans to 1,500 families the children’s aid agency also plans to reach another 2,500 individuals with hygiene items and care kits for pregnant and lactating women in the coming week.

Save the Children has begun distributing household items and jerry cans to 1,500 families in National Capital Region and Laguna. The children’s charity also plans to reach another 2,500 individuals with hygiene items and care kits for pregnant and lactating women in the coming week. 

Nothing to sneeze at - Frontline healthworkers save lives

When a little boy comes down with a bad cold in Canada, his parents can make a short drive to the doctor's office to
make sure that it is not something worse. If it is, they will follow up with a visit to the local pharmacy to pick up some medication and treat their son at home.

Unfortunately, for millions of families around the world, a common cold can turn into something that is nothing to sneeze at. Doctors and clinics are simply out of reach for many people in the developing world, especially in the most remote and rural areas. That is why frontline health workers, like Felix Aguilar Ramirez, who serves the Xachmochán Village in Guatemala, are so vital. Right in his own home and by going house-to-house, Felix ensures that babies like José Miguel get the lifesaving care they need so that infections that need antibiotic treatment don't become life-threatening cases of pneumonia.

Save the Children has been a leader in training health workers around the world, recognizing the contributions of frontline health workers and encouraging greater investment in and support for these everyday heroes.

Gandafabou Refugee Camp - Women the Backbone of the family and community

Gandafabou Refugee Camp - Women the Backbone of the family and community

Patricia Erb, President and CEO, Save the Children

Yesterday I traveled to the Gandafabou Refugee camp for Malian refugees in northern Burkina Faso. More than 200,000 people have fled Mali because of conflict, political instability and forced displacement. They have been pouring over the borders of the surrounding countries including Burkina Faso, countries that are in the grips of growing food insecurity.

We heard the women tell the tales of the first families who arrived in February. How women worked to secure or build shelters for their families. The original huts were built from the branches of the small trees and shrubs which dot the terrain. They  also used woven mats to make the walls and create more shade.

We saw women and girls at the forefront of the everyday survival in tasks like cooking and washing the few clothes they own.  Some children stayed close to their mothers while others played quietly in the sand.

The chiefs of the camp\heads of the families were gathered to greet us. They want help and spoke for their families, immediate and extended. They spoke of the children being at the heart of the family. This struck my colleagues because it is the same language we use at Save the Children. The child is the centre of all we do.

Both of the men and women talked of the violence that had broken out and how they fled with their families for the safety arriving at the camp in vehicles, by donkey or on foot. They were concerned for their friends and family taken prisoner still unsure of their fate. They also spoke of how now some children were now mimicking guns and other violent play and that they wish for peace for their children and safety for their families.

There are currently 6,000 residents in Gandafabou and roughly 73,000 Malians in camps and communities in Burkina Faso.

Many of those who have come to the camps arrived with food. They shared with their fellow refugees who had none. Everyone we spoke to mentioned their concern about the cost and availability of food and the nutrition of their children. They told us they are used to a high protein diet of milk and meat of which right now is only a memory. .

Health care and specifically fear of malaria is another concern for parents. They spoke to us of the need for bed nets and more vaccines for their children. The huts that they are currently living in are small and flimsy and offer little protection. Better shelter would help to protect children from mosquitoes and the elements.

Clean water is a significant challenge. The camp is reliant on trucked water. If a truck breaks down or if it doesn’t make it through for other reasons there is no water. Items we take for granted are missing for these families, things like medicine, soap, diapers and other toiletries.

The mother’s stressed they are concerned that their older children will lose a year of schooling and that there are few safe places for their younger children to play. I was happy to be able to tell them that Save the Children would soon be launching a new education and protection program in the camp to help alleviate their concerns. We will be opening four child friendly spaces to give young children a safe place where their parents can leave them while they deal with the day to day needs of providing for their families. Child Friendly Spaces also provide psycho social support for children traumatized by their experiences. We will also be establishing 17 Temporary Learning Centres so that children can go back to their studies.

Later today or tomorrow I will share my experiences visiting the Kaya District Hospital where Save the Children is supporting nutrition programming for malnourished children.

Please share this story of these families who have so touched me with their determination and bravery. 

From the Horn to the Sahel

From the Horn to the Sahel

Patricia Erb, President and CEO, Save the Children 

Yesterday I arrived in Ouagadougou the capital of Burkina Faso in the West Sahel region of Africa. I have come to see Save the Children’s response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region. About this time last year I was visiting Kenya to see the humanitarian response for the drought in that region. Here in the West Sahel failure of crops for a number of years, further complicated by conflict and economic shocks has meant that there now is food insecurity for millions of children.

Like last year I will be visiting a refugee camp. When I was in Kenya, I visited the Dadaab camp, home to Somali refugees fleeing conflict and the affects of drought. This year I will be visiting the Gandafabou camp, home to a growing number of Malian refugees who have left Mali for very comparable reasons.

From the east to the west coast of Africa across the centre of the continent countries have been experiencing reduced rainfall.. This climate cycle has had a particularly devastating impact on the most vulnerable communities. That said, drought is only one of the reasons why more than one million children are facing severe and life-threatening malnutrition in the Sahel region.

Even during a “non-crisis” year, roughly 645,000 children die in the Sahel from preventable and treatable causes directly linked to malnutrition. There is food in these countries. The issue is that the drought along with other factors, like the global economic downturn and conflict in the region has meant there has been an alarming rise in prices for the food that is available.

Our nutrition program in Kaya which I will also visit this week has shifted from “non-crisis” programming to address the growing number of children with severe acute malnutrition.

I will also be going to the Gandafabou refugee camp where we will soon be launching education and child protection programs for the Mali children who have fled conflict at home.

Save the Children has been raising awareness about and responding to the Sahel crisis for months doing our best with limited funds to do our part to try and avert the worst. Last year, in spite of early warnings from the UN and humanitarian agencies including Save the Children, there were dangerous delays in the global response to the Horn of Africa crisis. Thousands died who might have been saved.

I worry that while the humanitarian response began earlier in the Sahel, media attention, which drives donor response has been lacking. While the Canadian government should be commended for providing $41 million early in the crisis more is needed and the crisis is growing as the “lean season” is upon us.

I will be reporting on what I am seeing on the ground this week and hope that you will donate to support these efforts and perhaps more importantly you will share the story of the children of the Sahel with your family and friends.

Burkina Faso: Despite all Odds

Burkina Faso: Despite all Odds

Monique Morazain, Program Officer, Humanitarian and Emergency Response

The trip from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, to the town of Kaya takes only a few hours - but it instantly feels like a world away. The bustling streets and air-conditioning in the office quickly gives way to barren fields where I see a woman carrying a baby on her back under the scorching sun. I am heading into the rural area near the town of Kaya in Burkina Faso to visit one of the health clinics that Save the Children has been supporting.

Normally based in Toronto, I have joined the long-standing Save the Children team here for a few weeks to help respond to the food crisis. It really is all hands on deck, as we submit requests for vital funding, and start to scale up our work to match the increased needs.

It is early morning but the clinic is buzzing with activity; mothers are talking between them, while health staff are monitoring the nutritional status of children and providing mothers with their weekly rations of ready-to-use therapeutic food. As I talk to the mothers it becomes clear that they have felt the brunt of this year’s poor rainy season as they express their concern about not having enough food to provide to their family.

I met a woman named Aguirata, she is 30 years old and has four children. Aguirata’s story emphasised to me the dedication of a mother, despite all odds to keep her child alive.

Aguirata’s son is 15 months old and was identified as malnourished by one of Save the Children’s community health worker(s) during a screening. The first thing she told me was how worried she was when she learnt that her son was malnourished – often children’s stomachs swell when they are malnourished, leaving many mothers unaware that they are suffering from debilitating malnutrition. This diagnosis came as a shock.

Once Aguirata had learnt of her son’s condition, she took him weekly to the local nutrition centre, where he was weighed and his appetite checked. However, her little son was only able to swallow small amount of food and after a few weeks, he fell sick. He was instantly referred to the hospital in Kaya. There he was treated for pneumonia and spent 11 days in the intensive unit of the nutrition centre.

Thankfully he pulled through and Aguirata returned from Kaya and continued to visit the nutrition programme.

Hearing how Aguirata struggles to feed her four children and herself and yet still managed to leave her home and family and make it to the hospital with her incredible sick child was humbling. Aguirata’s problems began last year when her family harvested only a small amount of crops, because of the poor rain. Left with no food, she was forced to look to the markets. However, with no food to sell for income, she found it increasingly hard to find money to buy enough for her family. Add to that, the soaring prices of staple foods like millet and sorghum, and I realise it is down to her strength of will that her children are alive and her son survived.

Aguirata’s hope is that her baby will become stronger and healthy enough to avoid severe illness. She knows that Save the Children’s nutrition program is helping him to do just that.

Burkina Faso: Day 3

Burkina Faso: Day 3


The little girl lying on a matress on the floor, at Kaya District Hospital, is called Mamounata Sore. Her grandmother gave her the name while a team from Save the Children visited her. The grandmother, or the young woman‘s mother in law, is Lamoussa Oudrago. The motheer ’ s name is Zalissa Sawadogo.

Zalissa  was taken to hospital in an ambulance from her town, Pissila, 35 km away, 11 days ago. When they reached the hospital the doctors performed a cesarian section. They believe the baby was about 7 months old but because there is no checking of a girl’s period, there is no way to know. Under normal circumstances, the child should have been given a name on the seventh day or within the first week, but in this case, since they weren ’t sure if the child would make it, they waited until the 11th day in the little girl ’ s life. Mamounata is the first child of Zalissa who is 19 years old.

The family did not lack food. This is not a malnutriton case but Save the Children pays for the treatment of the infant and the mother. Mamounata will be at the hospital until she starts to put on weight. Save the Children treats all children under five that are brought to the hospital, as well as treating all malnutrition cases. Due to widespread poverty and failed crops, many families in the area can‘t afford buying medicine or food for their children.

"I was sitting in the ambulance and I thought he was going to die on the way to the hospital, so it gives me a lot of joy to see him now, standing. I am worried though that he‘ll get sick again when we go home.“

The Save the Children nutrition expert then reminded her of the health centres in the community where she can take him and where she should take him for regular follow-ups.

Asked how old she was, Poguilga said that she had no concept of time, „I don‘t know how old I am“. 

At the Save the Children Education Centre in Kaya, Poguilga has learned about making meals that are nutrtious for her grandson. Before she used to feed him with tó, a product of maize and millet, but that is too heavy for young children, especially if they are malnourished.

Now she has learned to cook with lighter cereals, adding vegatables, nuts and beans. 

”I‘ll try hard to apply what I‘ve learned once I‘m home, because it‘s important for the health of Irissa. But for severals reasons, it‘s hard to. The stock for the year is finished so we are having to buy all our food at the market. To do that, I have to depend on my children, they have to buy food at the market, and at the market the availability is not what it used to be“, Poguilga explains.

Background info: Irissa is born out of a wedlock. When his mother‘s husband found out that Irissa wasn‘t his child, he forced her to abandon him. He was then given to his biological father whose mother, Poguilga, is now the primary caregiver.

Syria: the impact of displacement

Syria: the impact of displacement

Hedinn Halldorsson, Emergency Communication Manager

“We came here to be able to go back. When I woke up, there were soldiers in my bedroom. We had to leave my sisters wheelchair behind when we escaped. How am I supposed to pay my rent and put food on the table for my children? I used to go to school but I don’t do that anymore.” These are the voices that echo in my head. I’ve been at the Syrian border for two days now and all the Syrians tell the same story; of hardship and suffering.

I have met women and children that escaped the violence in their home country. Some have been here for months, others just arrived. People that ran for their lives and left everything behind. In one of Save the Children’s Child Friendly Spaces, we get the chance to meet with a group of women. Nearly all of them have lost relatives in past months. Families have been separated and in many cases, they don’t know about the whereabouts of their loved ones. - And these are the lucky ones because they got out. At the Save the Children centres, the Syrian people can express their feelings freely, get support and possibly some news from across the border.

The general feeling I sense is anger. Not so much desperation or sorrow; just anger. And I also sense pessimism. No one talks of the peace plan. Qassim, 6 years old, from Dara’a, the Syrian town just across the border, tells me about his escape; that he was inside his house when it was burnt down eight days ago, and was later bulldozed. No child should ever have to endure what Qassim has. He is now in safety in the Jordanian border town of Ramtha, with his mother and seven siblings.

It is getting tougher to get out of Syria. We keep hearing reports that Syrians have been shot at, while trying to cross the border. And some areas have been mined. That is why one of Save the Children‘s activities is mine risk education and distribution of flyers on the Syrian side of the border, with information on mines and unexploed ordnances. At the same time, the number of those crossing illegally to Jordan, is rising drastically. Women and children are also the majority of those that have fled, or manage to flee. The men stay behind in Syria. For them, it is nearly impossible to get out.

All in all, it is believed that around 100.000 Syrians that fled their homes are now staying in Jordan, due to the crisis. An even higher number is internally displaced in Syria. Most of the Syrians in Jordan are staying in and around the two Northern towns of Ramtha and Mafraq, just south of the border.

Mafraq is also the town where Save the Children is preparing to store prepositioned stocks. That means that when access into Syria will be granted, be it in a week or in one year, Save the Children will be ready with first aid kits, blankets, hygiene kits, water purifying tablets and material for running a health clinic. 

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Mauritania: the underlying causes of the impending food crisis

The underlying causes of the impending crisis in Mauritania

Iñaki Olazabal Otero, Projects Officer in Mauritania


It’s happening again. Once again Mauritania is facing the risk of suffering a food crisis in the coming months. According to Oxfam, whom Save the Children is working with on the ground, more than a quarter of the population, (700, 000 people) are at risk of food insecurity. Mauritania has been plagued by regular crises - namely in 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2010. With each crisis, families’ resilience has been eroded and children and women are the most affected.

Mauritania is a good example of a country dependent on external factors- over 70% of the food consumed is imported. According to the UN’S Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), global food prices increased in March for the third month in a row, due to a multitude of reasons including speculation, the rising price of oil and other products that comes from it, such fertilizers. In addition, due to this year’s poor harvest, prices have increased compared to last year: millet 50%, corn 60% and sorghum 100%. Families have not grown enough food to eat, and they are also now unable to afford the food in the market.

Save the Children and Oxfam’s Charter to End Extreme Hunger stressed that it is possible to prevent this kind of crisis, regardless of the climate conditions. It simply is not true that there is not enough food at low prices to meet the world’s needs.

According to the FAO, over 80% of Mauritania’s agricultural land is not cultivated. However, scientific progress in production and new cultivation techniques, along with the accumulated experience in the Senegal River area during the last decades (some with good results), could triple the fields’ production capacity.

Many problems have been linked to the focus on mono-culture, especially rice, which cannot compete with imported rice. Some programs are focused on exporting food to foreign countries. These initiatives require large investments but are not aimed at alleviating the problems of subsistence of the Mauritanian population. In addition, incomes are uncertain and highly dependent on international markets. Other initiatives have sought to change traditional forms of exploitation of agro-resources at a stroke. They have not been successful.

Both the government and the international organizations have spent months preparing a response to the impending crisis. The Mauritanian government has created several hundred warehouses that store basic subsidized products, such as rice, oil, sugar, wheat and pasta. These products are sold in shops at discounted prices between 40% and 60% relative to their market price. This measure has benefited only a small part of the population and is not sustainable in the long term. Prices are still too high to ensure the right of Mauritanians to food. These abrupt changes in prices hinder any kind of planning or long-term investment.

Mauritania is a small country with no more than three and a half million people occupying an area twice that of Spain. Rural development policies have attended too foreign markets and have sought solutions to macro level forgetting small farmers.

How can we prevent this recurring situation?


The recurrent food crises that many countries, such as Mauritania, experience could be avoided with the relevant and appropriate political decisions made in the country and in other parts of the world.

We must demand our leaders end the speculation on food to stabilize prices. While this is not so, we must work to promote small-scale local markets and traditional activities with domestic demand. We must demand our leaders support good governance of agricultural that encourage diversification, biodiversity and local production, the empowerment of farmers’ organizations, access to rural credit, and that they ensure the right to food through access to land, water, and resources in a sustainable way.

While there is no clear and unanimous consensus on these issues, the work on each crisis will be focused on mitigating the impact and saving lives. Response and coordination procedures will continue to improve, but these food crises will keep occurring.

Please support our West Africa Appeal. | Read more about our response to the crisis unfolding across West Africa.

Niger: A narrow margin of survival

Niger: A narrow margin of survival

Save the Children worker, Niger


It was a relief to enter the shade of the health clinic and leave the scorching Niger sun. As I’m shown around, the doctor tells me there are three phases in this clinic – each reflects a stage in a child’s recovery from malnutrition and any accompanying illnesses.

I wandered into phase one – this is where the children are most critical. Most lie there listlessly, mothers sitting in a daze by their bedside. It was almost unbearable to stay. I continued into phase two, where the children that survived phase one have started on their road to recovery.

That was when my eyes fell on Soueba who had just finished feeding her baby, Mansour. I crouched down with her on the plastic mat on the floor and introduced myself.

The room was hot but I noticed how clean and calm it was – I realised this must be a world away from the dusty villages that surround the clinic.

Soueba and Mansour

Soueba began her story, and as I learnt about the ordeal she had been through in the last two weeks, her positivity and appreciation for the assistance she had received became more and more remarkable.

“We’ve been here for 12 days but it’s the first time we’ve been here. We’re from a village a long way from here. Mansour was ill with diarrhea for three days so we took him to the local health centre where we received some medicine.

“After three more days he was still ill in spite of the medicines so my mother took him back to the health centre which is a two-hour walk from our village. The health centre called for a Save the Children car to transfer Mansour to the clinic in Aguie. My grandmother went with him and I came later.”

The lucky one

This tale of prolonged sickness and the struggle to reach health facilities is one often heard in these remote, desert regions of Niger, but as Soueba continues her story I start to realise the severity of the situation she faced.

“The other child that came with us from the village who had the same problem died when he arrived. When we came here Mansour was almost dead, now he can crawl and has made a recovery we thank God for this. We’re very happy with the help we have had here.”

Mansour survived, the other child didn’t. The margin of survival is that narrow.



Soueba with her son Mansour, two, at our clinic. Mansour had suffered from diarrhea for a long time and was close to death when he arrived.

Root causes

As the other mothers gather around us, Soueba explains the root cause of the problem.

“Our main worry is food, there’s not enough in the village and this year the harvest is much worse than last year – there has been an insect infestation. Children are hungry in our village – we don’t have meat or beans to give to them – they eat mainly millet.”

Growing up on such a limited diet often results in stunting, which can have a life-long impact.

Soueba’s bright smile and abundant appreciation continues right until the end of our time together in the clinic. Her final words highlight just how thankful she is for the help she has received.

“I want Mansour to grow up and go to school so he can become a health worker and be able to help other children who have the same kind of problems.”

Please support our Sahel Appeal today.

Read more about the growing crisis in Niger and the Sahel.

Kenya: children discuss drought

Kenya: children discuss drought

Faris Kasim, Information & Communications Officer, Global Emergency Response team


“There is lack of water, shortage of food and pasture for animals. Our animals are dying because of lack of pasture and others are dying because of diseases. Little children have died because of lack of water. Some also died because of cholera, typhoid and other diseases.”

So said 12-year-old Shamsa Adan, a student at Wajir Girls Primary School. I met Shamsa and other students at the school on my last day in Wajir. Out of the school’s 905 students, Shamsa is one of the 360 lucky ones who has lodging in the school, visiting her family at the weekend.

A typical rural school

It is a typical rural state school, poorly funded by the government but heavily supported by several NGOs. There is stationery from UNICEF, classrooms from Islamic Relief, and water and sanitation facilities from Save the Children.

Every student shared unique insights about the difficult period they had lived through following last year’s drought.

“I come from an orphan family of 11 children,” said Habon Ahmed, student of Class 7. “My father passed away when I was in Class 1 and left my mother to take care of us. We survived the drought by moving in with relatives and also received food rations.”

Habon’s classmate, Zeinab, said, “My family hardly has enough to eat. Sometimes we even sleep without eating anything. Many children also drop out because of the lack of food.”

15-year-old Zamzam shared, “There are 12 people in my family and there was never enough water last year. Water shortage is the major problem because without water nobody can live in this world. Malaria afflicted many people in my village. It is very dangerous, especially for pregnant mothers and newborn babies.”


Zamzam, student in Class 8 at Wajir Girls Primary School.

Responding to drought

Other school children also shared the well-known consequences of droughts and their long-term effects.

These are globally recognised and discussed at important summits, roundtables and conferences across the world.Yet there is still limited work on the ground to help people find new ways of making a living, to improve public services and infrastructure, or to enhance people’s ability to cope with recurring climate disasters.

As the plane took off from Wajir, I gazed at the sparsely populated arid terrain below, dotted with greenery thanks to the November-December rains last year.

I had met only a handful of people in Wajir, and wondered how many more families  had lived through the thirst and hunger. How many people were pushed below the poverty line? How many had lost family members? How many children were orphaned?

I could not help wonder that this is a sad testament to the present world order, that we live under what the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano describes as “twin totalitarianisms: the dictatorships of consumer society and obligatory injustice”.

That for every dollar spent on humanitarian aid, twenty are spent on making guns and bombs.

That billions are flushed out for bailing out corrupt financial institutions yet eyebrows are raised when humanitarian agencies report lack of sufficient funds to feed starving people.

That privileged people like me take for granted the luxuries we enjoy – more food than we can eat, abundant clean water for drinking and washing, the best medical services, education and employment opportunities to live a better life with a healthy bank balance.

That even as we unlock the mysteries of subatomic particles and take tourists into space, one in four of the world’s children are still malnourished and 2.6 million children die of hunger each year: one child every 12 seconds.

Please support our East Africa appeal.

Read more about the crisis in East Africa.

Mauritania: Supporting families in uncertain times

Supporting families in uncertain times

Clara Bajo, Regional Emergency Coordinator for Africa


I work for Save the Children’s Humanitarian Team as Regional Emergencies Coordinator for Africa. Last week I returned to Madrid (where I live) from Mauritania where for the past two weeks I have been looking into the possibility of Save the Children establishing a program in Kaedi, Southern province of Mauritania which borders Senegal.

Families in the area I visited are facing uncertain futures due to drought which has affected not just Mauritania but the wider Sahel region, including Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. The rainy season in 2011 was very poor and new rains are not expected until later this year. Typically in the time between the rainy seasons, families will survive on crops they have stored from the previous harvest and to try and get a balanced diet they will make small purchases from local markets. But, in what should have been the rainy season, there was almost no rain, crops failed, livestock died and this means that many families have virtually no food stored.

Mauritania produces only 30% of cereals for domestic consumption; the rest is imported from Senegal or Mali. But as the crisis in the Sahel has also affected neighboring countries there is little food across the region and what food there is available is expensive because of increased fuel prices. In addition to the drought and food shortage, there is insecurity in northern Mali (where thousands of people have been uprooted by fighting between Government forces and rebel groups).

People cannot just go out and look for a job either to bring in money. It is not an easy to task to find work in Mauritania. In the area I visited people make their money from agriculture and grazing animals, but both these economic generating activities have been severely affected by the drought this has been particularly devastating in Kaedi as this area is one of the poorest in the country. This has meant that people have less money to buy additional foods to supplement their diet.

In an area that already has very high chronic malnutrition levels, the lack of food and money to buy food is a serious problem that demands urgent help before hunger has devastating consequences on children’s health. Our focus is on children and my work during those weeks away was to identify the needs of children in this food crisis as the long term effects of malnutrition are especially dangerous in children, above all in those under 5 years old. And this is what our program would try to stop.

Save the Children has worked in Mauritania for many years, implementing protection and education projects. Due to the country's urgent need we’re about to start projects that will help people protect their livelihood in this case, livestock and agriculture, this will ensure a minimum purchasing power to the poorest families so they can buy the food they need and accompany them in the next rainy season, when hopefully they will not be failed again.

Please support our Sahel Appeal today.

Read more about the growing crisis in the Sahel.


North Lebanon: Syrian refugees residing in shelters and schools

My first visit to Wadi Khaled, North Lebanon

Mona, Communication and Advocacy Officer, Save the Children in Lebanon


I was born in Lebanon, in the Chouf Mountains, and have lived in Beirut my entire life with frequent travels outside the country mostly for work and holidays. Yet there were some places in my country that I still hadn't been to, including Wadi Khaled, which is one of the largest areas in North Lebanon with about 20 different villages.

Safe spaces for children

In July 2011, I joined Save the Children team in Al Makassed School in Al Bireh in Wadi Khaled to organize a kermes (a series of games for children to play and win lots of gifts and presents) for Syrian children who have fled with their families inside Lebanon following the uprising in Syria.

It was the first time for me to go up there; I remember myself asking if we still were on the Lebanese territory as it took us about 4 hours to get to Wadi Khaled. People living in this remote area were in very difficult conditions with no proper access to schools, hospitals, food, clothing, heating, etc. There wasn’t enough focus given to the population of Wadi Khaled.

However, July 15, 2011, was an unforgettable day for children in a place where there were no activity targeting children and no safe space for them to play. Save the Children was expecting 200 Syrian children to participate in the kermes activities but the team ended up welcoming more than 500. I was in charge of registering the names of the children who were coming; other staff were explaining what the games were, distributing refreshments, presents, coupons and others. We were all so happy to see how excited the children were.

We could hear them laughing and chatting and see them running around, jumping, competing and enjoying themselves and the presents each one of them won. Games were very varied with a focus on children’s rights in addition to drawing, racing, playing with balloons, etc. It was such a rewarding experience and we all - children, parents, volunteers and staff - enjoyed our time.

“I don’t remember when was the last time I played and had so much fun,” said a 7 year old boy who participated in the kermes.

Returning to Wadi Khaled

When I visited Wadi Khaled the first time, I did not think that I would come back again to this same area to find more than 7000 Syrian refugees residing in shelters and schools. I have been there many times now and every time I see something new, sad and touching.

During my return visit, I met four Syrian children who are attending remedial classes provided by Save the Children in Machta Hammoud village in Wadi Khaled. When I arrived to the centre, I was very happy to see that Lebanese and Syrian children were studying together and helping each other. Many of them have become very close friends.

Teachers were supporting Syrian children to learn French and be able to follow in school as all courses were taught in French when they were taught in English back in Syria. So I sat there watching children study Arabic grammar and spell French letters and words, waiting for their break to meet and talk to them.

Shhab's ambition

That’s when I sat with Shhab, who is 12 years old. He comes from Tal Kalakh and entered Lebanon through crossing a river at the Syrian Lebanese border. I learned from Shhab and his friends that he is at the top of his class. Although he did not know French, and other children were making fun of him at school, he managed with the support of his teachers in remedial classes and his parents at home to excel. What really impressed me about Shhab was his great ambition to achieve more and his belief that he can improve and reach his goal through hard work and determination.

Please sign our petition calling for full, unfettered access for humanitarian groups to deliver aid in Syria.

Read more about Save the Children's work helping Syrian refugees and the host community in North Lebanon.
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Syria: children in desperate need of help

Syria: children in desperate need of help


For the past month, on still nights, the Syrian refugees in the Lebanese district of Wadi Khaled have drifted to sleep to the sound of distant explosions. As the conflict in Syria rolls ever closer to the border, booming and crackling its way through villages and towns, it has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.

Some have made it to Lebanon. There are almost 500 Syrian refugee families living in Wadi Khaled. Many of them arrived before the recent shelling of Homs, cutting their losses before the situation spiralled out of control and they could not escape.

Those who have arrived speak of a perilous journey, of braving freezing temperatures and ongoing conflict to reach the border. Some families report being shot at along the way, while others have lost their relatives in the chaos and spend their days in the limbo of dread, not wanting to fear the worst, not daring to hope for the best.

For children it is particularly hard. They arrive, hungry, cold and terrified, in a strange country where they don't know anyone. Their parents are deeply stressed, and they may have nowhere to go. Some have been through unimaginably traumatic experiences. When they arrive they need help.

Save the Children is there to provide that help. On arrival, new children are invited to play areas, where specialists monitor them for signs of distress. They are encouraged to make friends, to draw, to take part in group activities and to learn about Lebanon. For many, it is the first time they have had fun in months.

Most bounce back quickly, and are enrolled in local schools. The aim is to build a routine and make a deeply abnormal situation as normal as possible. Some children are more deeply affected - so Save the Children arranges for them to receive more specialist attention.

Those who have made it to Lebanon are the lucky ones. There are tens of thousands more who are still in Syria, in desperate need of help.

We're prepared to deliver aid to anyone who needs it if we are granted access.

That's why last week we launched our campaign for full, unfettered access for humanitarian groups to deliver aid in Syria.

We know that children in Syria are in urgent need of assistance.

By signing our petition, you can help us do all that we can to reach them.

Read more about Save the Children's work helping Syrian refugees and the host community in North Lebanon.


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Japan: one year on

New nursery schools providing the chance to learn and play for years to come

Annie Bodmer-Roy, Save the Children's Media and Communications Manager

Japan one year on Japan one year on Japan one year onPhotos: Annie Bodmer-Roy/Save the Children.

It’s February in the coastal town of Higashimatsushima, and the winds are so strong that despite my thermal shirt, fleece, sweatshirt, jacket and scarf, I feel the cold almost to my bones. Being Canadian, I often tend to think I can hack it, but this really is the coldest I can remember feeling in years.

We’ve travelled to Higashimatsushima to gather footage for our film, showing the wreckage that remains almost one year after the earthquake and tsunami struck the coast of Japan. My colleague tells me about a nursery school nearby, and after spending time among the ruins of old houses; we pile back into the car, grateful for the momentary warmth as we drive through the rubble and head to the nursery.

When we arrive, the car goes silent. I don’t say anything, I can’t say anything, as I step out of the car and take it in. The children were at school when the tsunami struck, and I find out how the children and their teachers ran to the road nearby to find quick passage to escape the tides of water storming in.

Today, almost one year later, the place is deserted. I walk into the school grounds and make my way through what used to be the schoolyard, the children’s play area. Lying amongst the debris scattered across the length and width of the yard, I see a child’s doll, peeking out from under what looks like a cupboard door. I go in to take a closer look, and the doll has a small smile on its face, sitting next to a stuffed animal, I think a monkey. This doll used to belong to a child, probably less than five years old. Where is that child today? Have they enrolled into a new nursery school, moved into a new home, left for a different town to start their life anew?

Walking up to the front of the school, I peer through the shattered window and take a look inside. My eyes fall on a set of children’s building blocks, the bright red and green a strong contrast to the browns and greys of mud and cement from collapsed walls that today cover the floor. In the corner, a turquoise shelf has fallen from where it used to stand, and now sits at an angle in front of a large piano. All traces of music and song are long gone and today only the sound of the wind whistles through the empty halls, bringing the occasional sound of curtains flapping against the shards of glass that remain of the windows.

I make my way to the other side of the building and on the way I pass a toy action figure. It looks like some variation of Spiderman, reminding me of a young boy I met a week ago who played with his action figure the whole afternoon. I wondered if this was another boy’s favourite and whether he missed it today. In the panic of trying to get to safe ground, he might have dropped it when running, or just not had the time to find it from among his things and take it with him for the journey.

Turning the corner of the building, I look into a new window, opening up into a different classroom. Here there are sleeping mats and blankets, and a cupboard door lies open, revealing two brightly coloured dolls. My colleague will later explain to me that these dolls are brought out every year on March 3rd, to celebrate the day of the girls in Japan. When the earthquake and tsunami hit on March 11th, no one had time to take these dolls with them, and now they sit, alone, in the ruins of the classroom.

Just next to the window lies the main entrance, where the children used to come in and take their shoes or boots off before putting on the traditional Japanese slippers worn inside. The cubbies are still standing today, with nametags labelling the different cubbyholes where each child neatly stored their shoes before going into the hall and into their classroom.
Moving past the entrance and around to the other side, the door to a last classroom has been removed. Inside, children’s books lie scattered across the floor at the entrance. In the middle of the room, a miniature piano for children stands with the cover still open, dirt caking the white keys. In this room, some of the windows survived, and white paper snowflakes still stick on the glass, long after their makers have left. Outside the room, tiny chairs lie on a slab of cement next to shards of glass that had been gathered and piled into small mountains.

Everywhere I look there are vivid reminders of the fun and learning had at this school by so many children. The books, the dolls, the action figures, the snowflakes and the child-sized chairs are all proof. But today the children have moved on, and here’s the happy ending. They made it out. They have gone on to learn and play with new friends made in new schools.
Over the past year, children in Higashimatsushima have been welcomed into those nursery schools that made it through the disaster – and in the longer run, will have a new nursery school of their own. Save the Children is working to build a new, permanent nursery school in Higashimatsushima, where 120 of the town’s youngest children will have the chance to learn and play for years to come.

Download our one year report, 'Fukushima Families'.

Donate to the Children's Emergency Fund.

Mozambique: local markets are a lifeline

Mozambique floods: local markets are a lifeline

Isabelle Pelly, Cash Program Coordinator in Save the Children's Humanitarian department


“Will the outcome of this conversation be like seeds thrown in dry sand, or like seeds planted in moist soil”?

These were the closing words from a villager in rural Gaza province, Mozambique, as we left his village. It’s a pertinent question here in the Limpopo river basin, an area prone to cyclical disasters including floods, cyclones and drought.

Assessing people’s needs

I am here to assess needs following cyclone Dando, which hit Mozambique in January this year. We are focusing on three districts of Gaza province (Chibuto, Guija and Mabalane) which were most severely hit.

Our aim is to understand how people have been affected by the cyclone and floods, and to evaluate the most appropriate way of meeting their needs. Ideally we want to look at the capacity of the local market to provide for people’s needs so that we can help them directly through cash transfers.

Crops destroyed

The impact of the cyclone is not devastating to the naked eye, but in every community we visited, people told us that up to 100% of their crops had been destroyed – a disaster which will affect them for up to a year.

Families are already reducing their meal sizes by 80%, whilst trying to salvage what is left of their crops, wading in water waist high. Children are dropping out of school because their parents can’t afford the fees; cholera, malaria and diarrhea are sky high due to the stagnant water.

Injecting cash into the local economy

Access to rural communities is difficult here, and many roads have been blocked off by the floods. But people are resourceful, and most of the food they now need to buy is available locally, at stable prices.

And although they may not have the cash to purchase this food, 70% of them have mobile phones – another sign of the potential of these communities.

We now need to work hard to find the political will and the funding to support these families and their children, enabling them to buy the food they need locally, supporting the local economy, and to sow their own seeds for recovery.

Niger: a responsibility to protect

A Responsibility to Protect

Jean Valea, Save the Children Field Manager in Zinder, Niger


Iwas in the bush of my home country, Burkina Faso, working as a health program coordinator when I first heard of Save the Children. In that remote part of the world, Save the Children provided health support to people in need.

I could tell the charity held strong values and I was immediately drawn to them. Since that day I’ve worked with Save the Children across the Sahel region and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’ve been working for them for over 15 years.

Barefoot and hungry

Right now, a food crisis is affecting the people of Niger and I’m here to manage one of our three bases – Zinder, a sprawling region bordering the neighbouring Nigeria.

I’m already seeing signs of the distress in the population here – not only are more children arriving in our health centres, but children are arriving barefoot into the town from the surrounding villages.

Begging, looking for work and food and vulnerable to exploitation – the outlook for these children is bleak. I worry all the time about the neglect and abuse these children may face.

A motivating thought

I originally came to Niger for just this purpose – I arrived in Zinder in the midst of a food crisis in 2010. Starting any new job is a challenge, but arriving when millions of children are facing hunger was in a whole new league.

Two years on and my days are still never-ending. I’m at work at 6am and don’t leave until 12 hours later. We have about 60 staff members here all working flat-out to reach children in need.

It’s extremely important not to be behind – a missed report, briefing or phone call can impact on our staff’s security and our ability to help children.

Everything must be done now, today, not tomorrow.

I have a responsibility to protect these children. You cannot see children suffering, know you can help and not do anything. That thought motivates me everyday.

Please donate to our Sahel Appeal today.

Ethiopia: Food for Thought

Food for thought in Ethiopia

Flora Alexander, Parliamentary and Advocacy Adviser, Save the Children


Ethiopia has made good progress in cutting its child mortality rate by half over the past 20 years. But 12% of children still die before their fifth birthday and a shocking 44% are stunted. Population growth and unreliable rainfall combine to pose challenges almost unequalled worldwide.

In Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, booming economic growth is evident in a proliferation of construction, but the poverty that blights so many lives is also apparent in sprawling, unsanitary slums and barefoot children begging for food.

“Without Save the Children, many, many children here would be dead”

We drove north-east into the Afar region and saw vegetation thinning and livestock becoming more sparse and thinner. Eventually we arrived at the Kumame Health Post, where hundreds of families were waiting.

Save the Children’s nurse, Sara, was carefully weighing and measuring children to check their progress. I was particularly struck by one baby, slumped against her mother’s thin chest, who was so severely malnourished that she looked lifeless.

Sara helped the mother feed her baby with high-energy peanut paste, whilst proudly explaining that no children have died at this project. A man from the local government informed us, “Without Save the Children, many, many children here would be dead”.

“Now we can stay healthy because we can wash our hands”

Next stop on our trip was South Wollo in the Amhara region, where over 70% of schools have no water supply and over a quarter of schools have no sanitation facilities at all. As a result, many children defecate in the open on school grounds and many others, particularly girls, avoid attending school because of the lack of privacy when going to the toilet.

An estimated 20% of child deaths in Ethiopia are due to diarrheal diseases caused by a lack of clean water, sanitation and hygiene services.

We visited a school in Wogdi where Save the Children has built water and sanitation facilities, and met Yordanos, 11, who told us, “Now we can stay healthy because we can wash our hands. Also, girls’ school attendance has improved because now we have our own latrines.”

Building resilience in Jarsa village

Our final port of call was the North Wollo area, where famine struck in 1972, prompting Save the Children to open its first Ethiopian programs.

In Woldiya, we’re building the resilience of the community to help them survive future food crises. We saw an innovative irrigation project, and met a group of farmers who told us it helped them to conserve more water during the rainy seasons and produce more food.

Struggle to survive

All in all, it was an eye-opening trip. I experienced privation I wasn’t used to – a lack of running water, basic and unhygienic toilet facilities, a total power blackout, a multitude of mosquito bites and a hideous stomach bug that wiped me out for four days.

And yet I experienced nothing like the hardship of millions of poor Ethiopians, who face a constant struggle to feed their families and survive.

I left Ethiopia feeling enormous pride to work for Save the Children and more equipped than ever to make the case for governments increasing life-saving aid budgets.

South Sudan: hoping for peace

We wait and hope there will be peace

Yvonne Agengo, Child Protection Emergency Response Personnel

 Child Protection worker plays with a separated child, 3-year-old Ulu, at his relatives' home in Juba, South Sudan Child Protection worker plays with a separated child, 3-year-old Ulu, at his relatives' home in Juba, South Sudan Child Protection worker plays with a separated child, 3-year-old Ulu, at his relatives' home in Juba, South Sudan

Left: Child Protection ERP Yvonne Agengo plays with a separated child, 3-year-old Ulu, at his relatives' home in Juba, South Sudan. Yvonne and other Save the Children staff in Pibor are working to locate Ulu's mother and send him back home. Centre: Displaced mother and child outside of their tukul (mud and thatch homes), which was burnt down in Likuangole, Pibor County. Right: Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR) volunteers are trained by Save the Children. Photos by  Jenn Warren (left) and Yvonne Agengo / Save the Children.

Yvonne is a Child Protection Emergency Response Personnel working in South Sudan. Right before Yvonne was sent to the field for a routine assessment, violence broke out in Jonglei State. She was redirected to Pibor County, to assist with the emergency response and help reunite children that had been separated from families.

On landing in Pibor I saw that the food distribution point near the airstrip was flooded with people – children and women waiting in line for food under the hot sun, or pushing wheelbarrows with their food. Save the Children staff member Sulafa came to meet me – it was nice to see a familiar face.

An area in ruin

The areas affected are Pibor town, Gumuruk and Likuangole, which was completely burnt down, with not even water pumps spared. People are reported to have fled to Fertait and Labrap.

Families ran in all directions. Some were killed, others abducted, and many separated.

Our response

Save the Children is mainly focusing on Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR) of the many children who have been separated from their parents due to the conflict.

We have trained staff and volunteers in Pibor supporting the work of the Ministry, to register all missing, separated or unaccompanied children in order to reunify them with their caregivers.

This work requires patience and empathy to talk with the children during registration process. The children have been on the run and are now back in their villages, and cannot find their parents or relatives.

Reuniting families and children

Save the Children teams go out everyday, talking to families and registering cases, and hopefully some caregivers will be found soon.

We have put up messages to encourage parents to check with Save the Children staff or local authorities on cases of missing or separated children.

Communities are also encouraged to teach their children, especially young ones, the names of their parents and villages as one step towards preventing separation.

Found children

I remember going out with our staff and finding a child who had been separated. On enquiring how she was coping and with whom she was staying, the child began to cry. Obviously the memory of the attack, of missing her parents and still not knowing their whereabouts, is very fresh in her mind and will remain so for a long time.

Before I even arrived in Pibor, an unaccompanied child was found alone near the airstrip in Likuangole, after the first wave of violence, and was brought to the Save the Children office in Juba with the last group of evacuated UN staff.

The three-year-old boy had witnessed his father and grandparents die in the violence. Now, he is staying with a relative in Juba while our staff in Pibor try to locate his relatives. It’s heartbreaking hearing him ask for his mother, and I hope we can find her.


The biggest challenge in finding all the families for these missing children is mainly due to population movement.

Most of the people are still living in fear, and have not returned to their homes. Some are reported to be living in the bush, while others have gone to look for missing relatives.

In an area where phone communication and movement is difficult, and with populations scattered and in hiding, it is not easy to reunify children with their caregivers.

We wait and hope there will be peace.

Donate to our Children's Emergency Fund today.

Libya: a rollercoaster journey

Libya: a rollercoaster journey

Sarah Boland, Save the Children Logistics Emergency Response Personnel


My work with Save the Children has taken me to a number of countries in Africa, and I often remind myself how lucky I am to meet so many people, experience different cultures and see some fantastic places.

I have just returned from Libya and feel truly privileged to have spent time in a country that is going through such an exciting period of change. I was based in Tripoli where I was helping build the capacity of a fantastic team.

Logistical challenges

It has been one of the most interesting places to work. Logistically the challenges are quite different. In Tripoli we had electricity, running water, nice houses, internet… facilities that just don’t exist in many of the places where we work.

But until March 2011, when Save the Children and other INGOs arrived to provide assistance during the revolution, there were no NGOs working in Libya. This means that no one understands the concept of an NGO – who we are and what we do. Suppliers in particular are baffled by the way we work, documentation is a mystery. As a nation they are very loyal people and commitments are made by their ‘word’. Once you have someone’s word they will deliver and there is no need for paperwork.

What is ‘the new way’?

The government is also trying to re-establish itself so there is a lot of confusion surrounding rules; there is the old way, but what is the new way? As an outsider, it appeared to me no one really knows the new way and so rules change on a daily basis, in particular rules regarding visas and customs!

Protecting children

Save the Children’s work in Libya focuses on Child Protection and Education. Libya’s young people have been on a rollercoaster journey throughout 2011, experiencing the highs and lows of a revolution: overthrowing a dictator, continual fighting and hardship. Systems will take time to rebuild and there is a huge need for support for teenagers and children.

Donate to our Children's Emergency Fund today.

Niger: A call for help

A Call for Help from Niger

Mitchell G. Boutin, Newborn and Child Survival Campaign and Advocacy Officer, Save the Children in Niger

Food crisis in Niger Food crisis in Niger Food crisis in Niger
In previous crises, Save the Children has supported stabilization centres where plumpynut and therapeutic milk were used to treat malnourished children. Photos by Tugela Ridley (left) and Rachel Palmer / Save the Children. Please donate to our Sahel Appeal today.


For all its hardship and struggle, Niger is truly an incredible place. I have been living in Niger on and off since 2003, when I first came here as a college student on study abroad. I still remember my awe at the sights, sounds and smells upon my arrival in Niamey, Niger’s capital. What hooked me on this country forever though, were the people.

In Niger family and community mean everything. And, in the beautiful African sense of it, family is an expanding, open idea, where friends and neighbours are soon considered to be brothers, sisters and cousins. Within months of my arrival, I had established my own Nigerien family.

Family is everything

Since my arrival in Niger there have been three periods of food crisis – 2005, 2010 and now, in 2012. This year nearly 6 million people are judged at risk. The fact is, however, that life is always a struggle in Niger. It’s the second poorest country on Earth.

This is why family and community are so important for Nigeriens. When times are good, individuals, families and communities share everything they have. When times are tough, as they are now, Nigeriens continue to share everything they have, whether it be with their family, village or nationwide.

A call for help

This year, however, families and communities have reached their limit.

The Nigerien government has, commendably, committed resources and energy to helping families survive this crisis. Despite their effort, however, they do not have the resources to make sure that the millions of children at risk make it through this period in good health.

During the 2010 crisis, members of my own Nigerien family benefited from the work of organizations like Save the Children, who saved our youngest cousins from severe malnutrition. While Save the Children is working hard to respond to the current crisis, we also run projects to help communities make some revenue and improve their prospects.

Things like new gardening methods; distributing livestock, improved seeds and fertilizer and credit schemes for farmers can all help people in the long term.

Please donate to our Sahel Appeal today.

New Zealand: Journey of Hope

A Journey of Hope for Kids in Christchurch, New Zealand

Olivia Zinzan, Save the Children's Emergency Communications Team


One year ago today, Christchurch, New Zealand, was hit by a powerful earthquake, the second large quake in six months.

I was in New Zealand at the time and was as shocked as everyone else to see the unfolding catastrophe and images of devastation on the lunchtime news. My 97 year old grandmother couldn’t bear to watch. She was taken back to the devastating earthquake that struck Napier in 1931.

Loss of life

Whilst, almost unbelievably, nobody was killed when the first earthquake hit, in September 2010, sadly, the February 2011 quake claimed the lives of 185 people and wreaked much more damage.

The first quake hit in the middle of the night, the second at lunchtime, as children were at school and parents at home or work. You can imagine the panic and frantic calls both between family members in the city and from around the country and world as people tried to find out whether their loved ones were safe.

Living in fear

Wherever in the world such a natural disaster strikes, children will be frightened and in need of help quickly from people they trust.

And speaking to friends and family who live in Christchurch, that fear has not gone away. Aftershocks continue to shake the city but, as one friend tells me, you start to sleep through the small ones, not leaping from your bed at every small quiver of the earth.

One year on, many children in the city are still feeling the psychological after-effects of living through a large-scale natural disaster. They are scared of sleeping or being alone, they constantly worry about family members and they are unable to talk about how they feel.

Journey of Hope

Our Journey of Hope program, run with partner organizations in New Zealand, is helping children and their families to rebuild their lives. Skilled local psychologists and therapists work with children to help them cope with their stress, as well as teaching them ways to keep safe during potential future earthquakes.

And it’s having an amazing impact. One child who took part in the program was then able to sleep in their own bed for the first time in six months – just one success story from the 500 children and families who have completed the Journey of Hope to date.

Today, as we remember those who lost their lives in the earthquake, we also remember that wherever in the world such devastation occurs, children and their families will struggle to rebuild their lives and try and get back to a sense of normality.

Please donate to our Children's Emergency Fund today.

Find out more about the Journey of Hope program.

Hunger: The Silent Killer Affecting Half a Billion

Hunger: The Silent Killer Affecting Half a Billion

Dr Stanley Zlotkin and Dr Joy Lawn

This article first appeared on February 15, 2012 on the Huffington Post.


It was in Africa in the 1970s that the reality of child hunger, malnutrition, and starvation confronted us both and shaped our lives. One of us was nearly a doctor working in northern Nigeria, a young man on a global health mission during a medical school elective, catalyzing a lifetime commitment to nutritional innovations.

The other was a teenage girl, living in a Northern Ugandan famine zone, with her family who ran a feeding program for malnourished children and a long term development program; a childhood that inspired her entry into pediatric medicine and who is now addressing global newborn health and survival.

Together, we want to draw attention to Save the Children and the launch of their new global report, "A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Malnutrition to Save Children's Lives." On the cover of the report is a child from South Sudan, right next door to to Northern Uganda. Three decades after our formative experiences in Africa, the reality we saw and felt remains too common still.

We both saw the "in your face" fundamental importance of nutrition to the health and lives of children. We felt the paucity of food especially at the end of the dry ("hungry") season. We saw how undernourished children were more susceptible to illness and how common illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhea killed children who were stunted. How the poorest were most affected. We realized that to invest in prevention would save on treatment.

Too often an extreme hunger crisis is reported as if it were an accident of nature. Chronic malnutrition, or a lack of proper nutrition over time, is actually far more widespread than the acute malnutrition that can result from illness and lack of food in emergency situations. We know there is enough food to feed the world. The fact that some are malnourished is often a result of global and local policies.

Too often policies do not factor in the reality of the poorest and most marginalized. Policies dealing with agriculture trade and even humanitarian and foreign aid are not sufficiently robust to provide immediate assistance when needed, nor help to foster long-term self-reliance, and sustainable poverty reduction.

Early warning signs were not heeded in East Africa with the result that 13 million East Africans were affected, millions of them children, thousands of whom died needlessly. The fate of a chronically malnourished child rapidly slides from bad to worse in an emergency setting and undercuts any progress made.

Newborns born too early or too small start life with much higher risks. An example of a proven practice that can be supported by policies that would save hundreds of thousands of lives is the promotion of early exclusive breastfeeding. Under-nutrition in the first crucial 1,000 days of life during pregnancy to two years of age doesn't just mean missing calories, but nutrients including mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

Vitamin A, zinc, and iron are critical to building a strong immune system -- something that becomes increasingly important when food shortages mean children face increased vulnerability to infectious diseases. The effects of under-nutrition can last a lifetime, and having an impact upon growth, development, learning, and even earning power later.

Fortification has been identified as an innovative solution such as micronutrient powders that can be directly "sprinkled" and mixed into a variety of complementary foods, traditional foods, as well as food rations; these fortifications have shown great promise in both emergency settings and developmental settings to reach children between six-24 months of age.

Our fundamental message is that solutions are already well known and include the 13 cost-effective interventions identified by world nutrition experts in a 2008 series in the medical journal, The Lancet. Interventions including promoting breastfeeding and improving complementary feeding of children six-24 months of age; micronutrient interventions especially targeted towards infants, children, pregnant, and breastfeeding mothers; hygiene interventions and therapeutic feeding with special foods for children with severe acute malnutrition.

We're calling for national and international action on six key steps, as set out in the new report, to tackle the global malnutrition crisis head on. First we must make malnutrition visible. Chronic malnutrition is a hidden killer and doesn't appear on death certificates. In order to make governments accountable and to prevent these deaths, there must be agreed global targets.

Second, there is a need to invest in proven, cost effective direct interventions: The cost of scaling up the "Lancet package" of 13 interventions, including fortification, is $10-12 billion a year. Shared between developing and donor governments, this sum is, we believe, affordable and could save two million lives.

Third, we must fill the health worker gap to address the critical shortage of at least 3.5 million doctors, nurses, midwives, and community health workers who are vital for delivering key interventions that can improve nutrition.

Fourth, protecting families from poverty with effective social policies that reach vulnerable families in some of the poorest countries has been shown to be critical in tackling malnutrition, particularly programs that focus on pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children under two years of age.

Fifth, agriculture must be specifically harnessed to tackle malnutrition. This can be accomplished by supporting small farmers, particularly female farmers, and ensuring that crops are planned to improve children's diet.

Lastl, political leadership must be galvanized. We commend the Canadian government and citizens for playing an increasing leadership role in global health and especially nutrition. But more action and innovation is urgently needed. The U.S. G8, the Mexican G20 in 2012, and the UK G8 in 2013 all offer major opportunities for progress as food, nutrition, and social protection are likely to be on the agenda.

Canada can work with these other leaders to ensure an ambitious action plan that aligns institutional reform with new resources. With the support of the international community, countries with high malnutrition burdens should exhibit the leadership and commitment needed to eliminate malnutrition.

Together we can and must make sure that millions of children do not lose their childhood and their lives to hunger and malnutrition.

Dr Zlotkin MD, PhD is a professor of Paediatrics, Public Health Sciences and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto. Dr. Zlotkin and his Program, the Sprinkles Global Health Initiative, has focused on research and advocacy to control micronutrient malnutrition in children.

Dr Joy Lawn is an African-born paediatrician and perinatal epidemiologist. She has 20 years experience in newborn health especially in Africa, including 4 years as a lecturer and neonatalogist in Ghana. She works with governments and partners to integrate, scale up and evaluate newborn care, particularly in Africa.

Niger: A passion to help people

Niger: A passion to help people

Abdou Malam Dodo, Food Security and Livelihoods Coordinator,  Niger


My name is Abdou Malam Dodo and I am the Food Security and Livelihoods Coordinator for Save the Children Niger.

This basically means I oversee and plan how Save the Children provides families with access to food and/or an income. This is crucial in a country like Niger where people are either subsistence farmers or depend on the market to access their food and income.

Sadly this is not the first time I have seen a food crisis in Niger. I first started working for Save the Children in 2005 when we responded to a food crisis. But in my opinion, the crisis is very different this time. Back then the situation was much more affected by food prices and people controlling the price of grain.

A personal passion

My job is technical and specific – and I love it. I assess why people are vulnerable, how they are vulnerable and how they are coping on their own.

In fact Save the Children is very innovative in this approach — we call it the ‘household economy approach’ — meaning we literally work out the economy of each household and how they manage their budgets.

This approach is my passion — I’m working with the United Nations to make sure everyone else is using it too! It is so efficient and truly assesses the situation of people affected. With that in-depth knowledge we can really make sure we give the right help to the right people. To me, that is the ultimate job satisfaction.

Following my dream

It was always my dream to work for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Niger. I am Nigerien and have always wanted to help my people and I saw how NGOs helped people very directly. I followed this dream to university where I chose to study agronomy — agriculture and how it is used.

By 2005 I was working for Save the Children. In fact this is my third job with Save the Children — I started in my home town, Zinder, as a Nutrition Supervisor six years ago and have slowly worked my way up to my current job.

So now I am working on what I know best — planning and running food security and livelihoods programs in this emergency. We are using all the information gathered from the household assessment information and distributing support and food to the most vulnerable families. This support means helping families to buy the food and items they need to earn a living, for example, tools to farm their land.

I hope my work will really make a difference to the people affected by this crisis in 2012.

Please donate to our Sahel appeal today.

Niger: Leading the Response

Niger: Leading the response

Michelle Brown, Emergency Adviser

Food crisis in Niger Food crisis in Niger Food crisis in NigerIn previous crises, Save the Children has supported stabilization centres where plumpynut and therapeutic milk were used to treat malnourished children. Photos by Tugela Ridley (left) and Rachel Palmer / Save the Children.


I knew there was no time to lose when I received the first reports of a looming food crisis in Niger. Having led our response to the food crisis in 2010, the memories are still fresh in my mind. I know the earlier we respond, the more lives we can save.

I’ve worked on emergency responses for over a decade — from the earthquake in Haiti, to civil war in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. After years living and working in conflict zones, I’m currently based in our head office in London and advise our teams in West Africa. In times of emergency, I fly out to lead the response — as I’m doing now in Niger.

Never a quiet moment

As Team Leader my days are always busy — often ten hours a day, seven days a week — it’s a demanding role.
The first step is for teams on the ground to meet with communities and assess the situation, asking questions such as ‘How many meals are you eating?’, ‘Are you having to work longer hours to meet your survival needs?’.
Once we have that information, I set about planning our response and securing funding.

I have regular meetings with high-level donors where I explain our plans and ability to respond to the crisis. I assess how many staff we’ll need and when, make sure we have a good supply of vital medicines and food, and ensure our staff are always safe. There are a lot of moving parts to get right!

This year our advocacy department published a new report – A Dangerous De201201 HOA Dangerous Delay Briefinglay – calling for early funding to stave off food crises before they peak. This has already been mentioned by some key donors and is helping us to raise the money desperately needed to help save lives.

Already a crisis

Over the years I have seen first-hand how vulnerable communities are in Niger. Families often depend on their crops for survival and their limited diet means many children grow up malnourished — stunting their development and making them vulnerable to disease.

Now that the rains have failed, insects have destroyed some of the crops and prices are rising — over five million people are facing hunger.

Parents are being forced to migrate in search of food and work, leaving children alone and vulnerable. There are reports of children withdrawing from school to help their parents earn money or farm the land and our health workers are expecting to see an increase in children suffering from severe malnutrition.

I hope that now we have raised the alarm, the international community will respond with early action to stave off this crisis before it’s too late.

Please donate to our Sahel appeal today.

Read more about the developing crisis in the Sahel.

Thailand: Stories from Upstream

Thailand Children Day: Stories from Upstream

Thailand - Children's Day Thailand - Children's Day Thailand - Children's DayPhotos by Emilia McElvenney / Save the Children.


Despite the recent flood crisis in Thailand, Save the Children decided to organize something special for children affected by the flood to mark national children’s day.

Originally it was meant to be a drawing competition but the event evolved into an art therapy workshop entitled The Stories from Upstream (in Thai “เรื่องเล่าหลังน้ำลด”).Save the Children invited children and teachers from schools in the most severely affected provinces of Chainat, Ayutthaya, Bangkok and Pathumthani. Some local celebrities even popped by to open workshops.

A safe environment to share memories and experiences

During the emergency, Save the Children in Thailand set up Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) in several provinces, official evacuation centres, schools and communities in provinces affected by the flood with local partners. Children had so many stories to tell from their experiences with the floods and these were often reflected in their CFS activities.

As our operations moved to the recovery phase, the CFSs started to close. Save the Children decided to recreate the safe environment of the Child Friendly Spaces on National Children’s Day to give children the possibility of sharing their stories and memories.

Art therapy to recover from the flood

The event had two main objectives. The first one was to provide a stage for children to express, communicate and reflect their thoughts through artworks. The second one was to raise awareness in Thai society about children’s needs in the aftermath of an emergency.

For the event, Save the Children invited local partners and volunteers from Thammasat University to facilitate an art workshop and conduct creative ice-breakergames for children. Children were divided into groups and provided with posters, colors and other art equipment to paint anything they would like to tell about the flood. Children recreated in their drawings what happened during the flood. Their drawings showed relief supplies brought by boat; crocodiles in the water; mountains with no trees (showing children’s concern for environmental destruction); helicopters and also a man standing on the roof calling for help.

Somalia: A grandmother's love

A grandmother’s love

Henry Enunu, Nutrition Coordinator, Puntland


It is 8am. I am finally at our feeding site in Bosasso, Somalia. It is already crowded – malnourished pregnant and breast-feeding women, children and grandparents acting as carers fill the place.

Our dedicated team (two nurses, two nutrition assistants, a community nutrition volunteer and a nutrition educator) are gearing up for another busy day. They will be taking the weight, height and middle upper arm circumference (MUAC) to determine the nutritional status of both the mothers and the children.

The only goal is to survive

The women sit in the sun waiting for their turn, and their faces tell a story of endurance and fortitude.

Most of them are migrants from the south, who came to Bosasso in search of a better life. Some fled the insecurity, while others came looking for employment in the busy Bosasso port.

The lure of the city life buzzing with activity and flourishing businesses offers a ray of hope to their frustrated existence. However, as is common to urban areas, unemployment is high for both skilled and unskilled labour.

They are reduced to living from hand to mouth. In this battle, the only goal is to survive.

A chance to live

An elderly woman holds her grandchild in her frail arms as she waits for her turn. She is not eligible to receive rations at the centre, but her grandson is all she cares about at the moment.

She has lived a long and difficult life, but lived nonetheless. She would like to see her grandson get a chance to do the same.

“His name is Mohamed”

She arrived at the centre at the crack of dawn and, after three long hours, she finally hands over her grandson to our nurse. He breaks into a loud cry.

“His name is Mohamed,” she tells the nurse, who quickly scribbles his name on a card before reading his weight on the machine. His distended stomach, thin hair and swollen legs tell the story of the scale of food insecurity facing the country.

After 20 minutes, the assessments are complete and Mohamed is admitted to our program. A look of contentment fills his grandmother’s face as she watches him take his first bite of life-saving high-nutrient peanut paste.

The community nutrition volunteer tells her that Mohamed will need to take it for the next three months or until he is better. She thanks him as she walks out of the centre, satisfied that she has accomplished her mission for the day.

Pakistan: Children paying the price

Children paying the price in Pakistan

Huzan Waqar, Media and Communications Officer, Sindh


Travelling in a flood-affected area of Badin, I saw a young girl working beside her mother in the cotton fields. It was difficult to say how old she was; my guess was that she was no more than 8 or 9. She had a very serious and solemn expression on her face, almost a reflection of her mother’s.

I ventured out into what remains of the crops after the devastating rains to talk to the young cotton picker and her mother. As I walked closer, I could see that she was even younger than I had first thought.

Buying books and school uniform

They looked at me, straightened their backs and let their hands fall to their side and waited for me to speak. I greeted them with salaam and asked the name of the village she belonged to. She answered me in Urdu, which made me curious. Urdu could only be learnt if you went to school. She told me that she was working with her mother in the landlord’s fields and whatever she earned she spent on books and school clothes.

Never known childhood

A few days earlier, another six-year-old girl I met told me she knows that she will never be able to attend school because as the eldest daughter, she has to look after her younger siblings and help her mother with household chores.

These girls have never known a true childhood; they have all had to grow up very quickly. They know that their parents don’t have enough money to send them to schools, buy them new clothes or even feed them three meals a day.

Every misery, from hunger, poverty, lack of shelter, child abuse, child labour, illiteracy and disease takes its toll on their young lives.

Too busy trying to survive

Thousands of children in the flood-affected areas of Sindh don’t have enough time to be kids; they’re too busy trying to survive. They grow up malnourished and uneducated as they work on the land of the feudal landlords and serve them throughout their lives.

They get married at a young age, in most cases while they are still in their early teens. They have on average between six and eight children before they themselves reach the age of 25. The cycle then continues the way it has for centuries.

Hope for change

I can only hope that good quality care and education can be made available to them soon. This is the only way to protect their childhood and their future.

Ethiopia: Bringing education to pastoralist children

Bringing education to pastoralist children

Elin Martinez, Education Advocacy Adviser


I had the great opportunity to travel out to Babile, a strip of land that divides the Somali and the Oromia regions of Ethiopia. This land has been hit by ongoing drought for over a year now. It’s also home to thousands of pastoralist families, who are surviving drought and harsh weather. Water is extremely scarce here; so people need to move according to water availability.

I was keen to find out how the weather has affected children’s experiences and their access to education.

Schooling against many challenges

I visited a school and spoke to children of all ages, their teacher and community members. The school has three grades and caters for children from as young as three, as well as their older siblings up to the age of 21.

This used to be one of our project areas under Bridges, a DFID-funded programme involving a system of ‘networked’ and mobile schools that cater for children’s pastoralist lifestyles, ensuring that school moves with them.

Bedria is the eldest of her siblings. Bedria’s only experience of education was a month in school, many years ago. Now she looks after her family and often takes care of the cattle. She wishes she could go to school, but then, who would feed her family? Bedria doesn’t want to marry and told us she will resist any attempt.

School drop-outs

The only teacher in this school has been teaching for many years, often teaching under trees until the local government built the existing school.

The teacher said that once children have gone away for a few days to fetch water, the likelihood of them ever going back to school is reduced. Some would come back, some would get involved in other activities, while girls over 14 years old might get married.

He was very clear that the drop-out rate is about to increase and that Babile has not yet seen the worst effects of migration to other areas with more water.

What do children want?

Children’s education in this very dry region tests parents’ willingness to prioritise education when children are needed to support the family with essential house chores or cattle rearing.

All the children I spoke to want to stay in school and they want their friends who have dropped out to return to school. They want a well or other source of water to reach them soon, so that they don’t have to keep moving and can stay in this school.

Speak up for education

While the ongoing crisis in East Africa means that other life-saving work has more prominence than education, it is still essential that we hear more about what education means for the region’s children. Missing out on education will have a big impact on their lives, as well as on their resilience and development, so we need to speak up.

East Africa: Heed the Warning

Food crisis in East Africa: Heed the Warning

Juliano Fiori, Save the Children

Ethiopia Ethiopia Crisis in East Africa (Jan Grarup)
Photos (Ethiopia) by Jan Grarup / Save the Children.

I imagine you would feel pretty outraged if you went to your doctor complaining of chest pains and wheeziness, only to be ushered out the door and told to await cardiac arrest before doing anything about it.

You’d probably find this particularly disturbing if you or your family members had a history of cardiac vulnerability. And you would presumably see it as standard and sensible practice if, instead, the doctor prescribed you with appropriate medication and offered you a set of dietary and lifestyle recommendations to reduce the risk of a heart attack.

While in such circumstances preventative measures and prompt intervention are considered the norm, expectations for response to early warnings of food crises are lamentably lower.

The Horn of Africa is currently experiencing the most severe food crisis so far this century – 13 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are affected, hundreds of thousands are at risk of starvation, and some estimates place the death toll at 50,000-100,000.

There were warning signs as early as August 2010 but almost across the board they were not significantly acted upon until well into 2011, despite East Africa’s longstanding propensity to drought and food insecurity.

So how was this allowed to happen?

In January, Save the Children and Oxfam launched a joint report, A Dangerous Delay: the cost of late response to early warnings.

It examines the factors that resulted in a drought developing into a full-blown hunger and livelihoods disaster, which include: a failure among national governments to declare an emergency; and, on the part of the international community, a collective risk aversion and fear that intervention could undermine local systems.

It also proposes measures (in line with the Charter to End Extreme Hunger) to prevent the worst effects of such crises in the future.

The report calls for national governments, donors and aid agencies to accept the premise of uncertainty and unpredictability in the onset of emergencies and manage the risks rather than the crisis. Greater investment in early warning systems will enhance risk management but will be insufficient without improved action.

What does improved action look like?

It must be two-fold. On the one hand, it means addressing chronic vulnerability and building local and national resilience to deal with the challenges of uncertainty. But it also means more effective national and international emergency response mechanisms.

This dual focus must be used to break down the artificial divide between humanitarian and development programming.

It is long-term programs that are often best placed to respond to forecasts of crisis but flexibility must be built into these so they can adapt, accommodate a humanitarian surge and respond to deteriorating food insecurity.

Mobilizing decision-makers and civil society

Perhaps one of the most significant obstacles to early action is the slow mobilization of decision-makers, as well as donor and national populations. Gaining traction among these constituencies is often extremely difficult until a crisis is in full flow.

Since governmental response to a crisis involves the investment of significant political capital, decision-makers are more likely to take early action if they have a stake in it, if conscious and mobilized populations hold them accountable, and if they are presented with a convincing economic case for preventing the escalation of food and livelihoods crises. Ultimately, committed and visionary moral leadership is what will make a difference here.

Changing aid culture

As aid agencies, we cannot hang about waiting for this to emerge. We should be seeking to set the agenda, shape policy and, I believe, fundamentally change aid culture. Popular mobilization (and the fundraising efforts upon which aid programming so relies) is currently driven by appeals to empathy and charity.

‘Aid fatigue’ inevitably sets in and interest in supporting nameless starving children drops off, until confronted with images and footage of another raging disaster. We should instead seek to develop a new language of collective responsibility.

This is not beyond our imaginations. Clearly, there are plenty of practical challenges. But the building of a conscious internationalism and a sense of cosmopolitan responsibility is our starting point. Aid agencies must play a part in this.

Please support our East Africa appeal.

Niger: Early Warning Signs

Early Warning Signs in Niger

Katie Seaborne, Information and Communications Emergency Response personnel, Save the Children

 Food crisis in Niger Food crisis in Niger Food Crisis in Niger

Save the Children's work includes providing supplies such as plumpynut and therapeutic milk to treat malnourished children. Photos by Tugela Ridley (left) and Rachel Palmer / Save the Children.


Niger is facing a potentially deadly food crisis. Rainfall has been limited and crops are failing. Families are struggling to feed themselves and the early warning signs are signalling a looming food crisis.

Children are always the most vulnerable – with children under five suffering the most from a lack of nutritious food.

Thousands of children already pass through our health centres in Niger every year. Some need immediate life-saving help and our staff expect to see an increase in these cases if immediate action is not taken.

Two-year-old Aouta

Two-year-old Aouta was one of these childen. Weighing a third of the weight he should have been and showing signs of a life-threatening infection, he was immediately rushed to hospital by Save the Children.

Aouta’s father is a farmer and his family were already living on the edge of survival. When Aouta suffered from acute diarrhea and vomiting, his family were unable to access medical care. Instead, his mother took him to a local healer who used counterfeit medicine, a common problem here.

Unsurprisingly, Aouta did not get better but deteriorated rapidly. For two months he fought sickness and lost weight. By the time one of our health workers found Aouta, his mother thought he would die.

Life-saving health workers

Trained by Save the Children, our community health worker instantly diagnosed Aouta as severely malnourished. He was taken to hospital, where our team of doctors and nurses quickly stabilized him. He has now recovered and is back at home.

Aouta was found just in time. Without our network of community health workers, his story may have had a different ending.

We are rapidly scaling up our health programs to cope with the rise in malnutrition amongst the children of Niger. But we can’t do this alone. Unless the international community acts now on the looming crisis, our team will see more cases like Aouta.

Donate to our Children's Emergency Fund.

Read more about the situation in Niger.

Mozambique: Health Workers Saving Lives

Community Case Management: Saving Lives in Rural Mozambique


José Chapalia, Community Health Worker, Mozambique

In the Nataleia Mesa community in Malema District of Nampula Province, mothers and children are sitting in the shade patiently waiting to be attended by the local community health worker. It is 8 o’clock in the morning and José Chapalia, the community health worker (pictured right), has already attended five mothers and their sick children. Most of the children have fever, cough, or diarrhea. Fever and cough are symptoms of malaria and pneumonia, two of the most common killers of young children in Mozambique.

José Chapalia is one of the 326 community health workers (CHWs) who have been trained by Save the Children’s Community Case Management (CCM) project, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. Through community health workers, CCM increases access to treatment for pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea in remote communities with poor access to health clinics. Treatment of these childhood diseases by CHWs is known to significantly improve the chances of child survival in these hard-to-reach areas and is an important contribution to the EVERY ONE Campaign here in Mozambique.

While examining 3-month old Cristina Agostinho, her mother explains that the child has had a fever for three days. José does a malaria test and takes the child’s temperature. The malaria test is negative, but since Cristina’s mother says she has had a fever, José refers her to the nearest health center just to be sure.

Cristina’s mother explains, “I came to the CHW because my child is sick. I had heard from many of my fellow community members that he is very helpful and since his health post is much closer than the hospital I came here. If the CHW says my child needs more medical attention, then I can make the long journey to the hospital. Having a CHW in our community has improved our lives because we cannot always walk the long distance or pay for transport to the hospital. But knowing that Mr. Chapalia is here, we can bring our children to him and they have a better chance of getting better again”.

Having a CHW in distant communities has increased access to life-saving health services in Mozambique. Not only are the distances that people have to travel for health care significantly reduced, they have a trusted community member to whom they can turn when their child is sick. CCM is a community based initiative that is saving the lives of young children every day in rural Mozambique. It only takes one CHW to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of children.

Read more about our work in Mozambique.

Aid planes, mudslides and war: 2011 in review

Aid planes, mudslides and war: 2011 in review

Cat Carter, Communications Manager, Save the Children's Emergencies team


2011 has been the busiest year for Save the Children’s Humanitarian Emergencies team in our 90-year history: 45 emergency responses, in 38 different countries. We’re really very tired.

But the first few days of an emergency are critical. It’s simple. It’s life and death. The faster we respond, the more lives we save.

This year we flew aid planes into conflict zones, faced a nuclear threat in Japan, and launched responses in the aftermath of countless floods, droughts and earthquakes.

On the frontline

We are still working quietly but steadily under the radar but on the front line, in war-torn countries around the world. We’ve reached 3.3 million children in emergencies so far, and we’re still counting.

We used rickety boats to deliver life-saving aid to families in Sri Lanka, where the worst rains in nearly 100 years had forced people from their homes. We were able to respond immediately – distributing food packs and essential supplies to over 4,000 people.

Only days later Brazil suffered extremely heavy rains, which caused terrifying mudslides – claiming the lives of around 500 people and leaving homes and schools inaccessible. We supported over 9,000 children and helped them to recover.


Fierce fighting in Libya then placed thousands of children in danger, and left families without fuel, water or electricity.

A small rapid emergency response team entered Libya at extreme personal risk and distributed essential supplies to families, and helped terrified children, unable to escape the scenes of violence and death. Maps of Libya plastered the walls of the office, and we kept a close eye on the rapidly shifting battle lines.


In March a major earthquake hit the east coast of Japan, followed by a massive tsunami and multiple aftershocks – resulting in a death toll of over 15,000.

The destruction left hundreds of thousands of children and their families without shelter – and children separated from families in the panic and chaos. We launched into action immediately – with an appeal that helped us reach nearly 5,000 children.

Ivory Coast

Large swathes of Ivory Coast then descended into violence and hundreds of thousands of children found themselves in grave danger – thousands were trapped in their homes, too scared to leave.

We urgently flew in aid to help thousands of children and adults – distributing food, soap, sleeping mats and blankets. Our staff worked tirelessly throughout the conflict, helping to reunify families and support yet more children.

East Africa

Millions of children faced starvation after a devastating drought in East Africa. Save the Children was already on the ground, saving lives.

The world’s media started reporting in June – we had been responding months before it hit the headlines. The number of people at risk increased dramatically – from 7 million people in June, to over 13 million people now. It was our biggest ever emergency appeal and response in our 90 year history.

Without the ready-to-go funds from our Emergency Fund we would be forced to wait for the world’s media to report crises, to wait for often-sluggish donors to respond. But we don’t have to wait to save lives in an emergency. We are already there.

Donate to our Children's Emergency Fund today.

South Sudan: What do children really need?

What do children really need in South Sudan?

Lisa Deters, Emergencies Response Personnel Education Officer


Children are fleeing their homes in Sudan’s Blue Nile state, seeking safety from bombs and violence.

They have few personal belongings, except a small portion of food to sustain them on the long trek to Upper Nile state in South Sudan.

Seeking safety

In Doro refugee camp, 60% of the 23,000 inhabitants are children. This already alarming statistic continues to grow as refugees arrive daily in Doro. Countless groups of children sit in the shade, playing with twigs and long grass. The large number of children is obvious while walking around the camp.

They roam around in search of something to eat such as a dug up root, carrying and soothing the younger ones, or spend hours standing in line waiting for enough water to drink but unfortunately not enough to wash.

Food, water, shelter, school

Our team assessed the critical needs of children and how we could best support them.

Their basic needs were obvious and confirmed in discussions with village leaders and community members – food, water and shelter.

In our discussions with children they requested balls, jump ropes and swings, and to go back to school.

Sharing the same dream

“I am not happy to see kids go without an education. I dream for children to go to school when they are very little,” said a local village chief.

The needs for both the refugees and returnees are countless and urgent; every child has the right to food, water, shelter, recreation and education.

We’re dedicated to upholding the rights of all children in South Sudan.

We share the same dream for all children to be healthy and have the opportunity to play and go to school.

Ethiopia: Attracting girls in Afar

Attracting girls in Afar

Cat Carter, Communications Manager in Save the Children's Emergencies team

Abdu Ahamed, EthiopiaIn a remote village in Ethiopia’s Afar region, a teenage boy, Abdu Ahamed, walks next to me, peppering me with questions in broken English. I sit down and talk to him, partly in English, mostly in Amharic, with the help of a translator.

I ask about his school. “I am learning five subjects – English, Amharic, Science, Maths and Afar language. I go to school in the mornings and I stay for a few hours, and then I herd the goats and cattle for my family. I do not have to walk so far now, as we have special pasture close by”.

He gestures beyond the small circle of huts and begins talking about his cattle. “I enjoy herding. I like to be outside in the sun. I have grown up with these cattle, and I enjoy walking with them. I was taught how to herd by my father, and one day I would like to teach my children how to herd too”.

Big city dreams

Abdu Ahamed is clutching a long stick, a traditional herding tool. He has big plans for the future, and wonders aloud if he should work in Chifra town one day.

His distinctive hair sets him apart from the other boys in his village and he assures me that he would cut it off if he went to work in Chifra. Laughingly telling me that he “did it to attract girls, but I do not think I will be able to work in an office with it!”

Tough times

I ask about the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), the ‘safety net’ programme run by Save the Children and the government in the area, and we talk about what life was like before the PSNP.

“It was bad here a few years ago [before the PSNP]. At one point we were chopping down trees to feed cattle leaves from the tops. Because of the drought reserves and the food given to us by Save the Children we have not needed to move for a few years”.

Food for work

I ask if I can take a photo of him and he beams at me and strikes a very traditional portrait pose. He shrieks with laughter when he sees the photo, and the other children gather round to join in.

Soon they are all laughing and pointing at him and teasing him about his hair. I find myself hoping that he won’t need to cut it off when he goes to work in the city.

The Productive Safety Net Programme provides monthly food rations in return for 5 days work in activities such as repair and maintenance of school and health facilities as well as construction of public water and hygiene facilities.

Safety net

It provides a figurative ‘safety net’ to stop families falling into the food crisis, and being forced to sell their last animals to survive. It also provides education to help the community thrive – education for children and adults, focusing on new ways to farm, and also supports livelihoods projects.

Abdu Ahamed’s family receives the PSNP and also benefits from the pasture reserve areas, where his animals graze in the dry season.

Philippines: Jeric's journey to rebuild his life

Philippines: Jeric's journey to rebuild his life

Ariel Balofiños, Save the Children

Jeric, Philippines Jee Anne, Philippines Evacuation centre, Philippines

Left: Jeric, 6, having a laugh with his friends at an evacuation centre managed by a church in Cagayan de Oro City. Middle: Jee Anne, 5 years old, will be spending the holiday season in an evacuation centre in San Lorenzo Parish in Iligan City. Right: An evacuation centre in Iligan City. Nearly 2000 families are reported by local authorities to be living in just 16 evacuation centres across the city there. Photos by Ariel Balofiños, Save the Children.

It was a typical sight in the city of Cagayan de Oro; a group of young boys sitting together, laughing heartily as they exchanged jokes.

But just days ago, they experienced one of the most horrible disasters of their young lives. Tropical depression Washi hit the southern Philippines in the middle of the night, catching thousands of families off guard and killing over a thousand people.  Local authorities have reported that about 350,000 people have been affected by the flash floods resulting from the storm.

Washi struck just as six-year-old Jeric was preparing for his annual Christmas party at school.  “I was very excited when I saw my teachers preparing gifts for us,” he said. “There were dolls for girls and toy robots for boys.”

“But the party has been cancelled because of the floods,” he added.

Jeric may not receive a toy robot from his teachers this year, but he is still having fun with his friends, even though  disasters like Washi usually affect children deeply, requiring psychosocial assistance to help them cope with the sudden changes to their lives.

Jeric is one of thousands of children in the Philippines who will be spending the holiday season in an evacuation centre in Cagayan de Oro. it’s a small space, currently occupied by more than 600 people who have been displaced by the flash floods.  The government estimates that about 6,600 families in this city are crowded into 19 such evacuation centres.  The most immediate needs of children and their families are food, water and sanitation items.  In the longer term, they will require assistance to rebuild their homes, schools and livelihoods.

Jeric and his family have been staying in an evacuation center managed by Save the Children, and its emergency response team  is helping children and their families cope in the aftermath of the disaster. As so many of their belongings have been swept away, Save the Children will be providing basic hygiene items like soaps, shampoos and toothbrushes, as well as freshwater supplies.

Child-friendly spaces will also be established to provide children with a safe, supervised  place to play, giving their parents the opportunity to return to their home and start to rebuild their lives.

The support that Jeric receives at the evacuation centre is just the beginning  of his journey to  rebuild his life. The floods have swept away all of his belongings, including his books, pens and other school materials.

“I can no longer go to school next year since I no longer have my school stuff,” he said.

Ethiopia: Soothing conflict with schooling

Ethiopia: Soothing conflict with schooling

Cat Carter,Communications Manager,  Save the Children's Emergencies team

Ethiopia: Mujahid Ethiopia: School in Andrkello Ethiopia: children learning

Left: Mujahid, Village Leader, stands in front of the hut he built himself and tells me his story. Centre: Children and adults learn side by side in the new school we helped to build. Right: The school is so popular that there are now too many children to fit inside and classes frequently take place under nearby trees. Photos by Cat Carter / Save the Children.

“We have seen a lot of things here. There has been badness in the past. This village [Anderkello, Ethiopia] is prone to conflict.

“There is a lot of fighting – especially when we do not have enough food. Women and children suffer a lot when this happens.”

I crouch on the dusty floor next to Mujahid, the Village Leader, listening to him speak. He stares at me intently, willing me to listen.

Mujahid, Village Leader, stands in front of the hut he built himself and tells me his story. Small and thoughtful, Mujahid pauses often, his eyes on mine.

Proud of his education and keen to demonstrate his leadership of the small village, he is emphatic when telling me about the new school that we helped to build.

“Because I am a leader I must learn.”

“As the Village Leader I settle conflicts peacefully. I use my education to help me.”

He touches the hut we’re crouched next to. It’s intricately woven, but strong.

“I built this hut myself – it took me two years. It will take much longer to build this village to be strong but we have begun.”

We’re operating a project in Mujahid’s village, which provides monthly food rations in return for five days work (usually repairing schools and health facilities, or constructing water points).

This creates a ‘safety net’ to help families survive emergencies, like the current crisis in East Africa, and being forced to sell their last animals to survive.

Mujahid grabs me by the hand to show me the new school we helped build. The school is so popular that there are now too many children to fit inside and classes frequently take place under nearby trees.

“I am very proud of our school.”

“The community paid 50% and Save the Children’s project provided the other 50%.

“Our adults are studying alongside the children. I am learning English, maths and different farming techniques.

“It was the first school here. Before the children would all be herding the animals, fetching water, begging for food. Now our children are fed, and they can go to school,” says Mujahid.

Thirst for learning

Under the trees outside more children are gathered, learning Afar – the local language. The children are enthusiastic and clamour to be the first to answer questions. Children and adults learn side by side in the new school we helped to build.

Mujahid whispers in my ear, trying not to distract the children.

“Before, if a drought came we had to sell all of our animals. There would be nothing left to breed, nothing to milk or sell. The drought has affected us this year – look at the landscape. The rivers have dried. Animals are dying in other places.”

Lasting solutions

“But this project has meant that we did not have to sell our last animals – they will give us milk all through this drought. And they will breed again next year. We will be well in this drought. We have enough to eat and sell, and we all will continue to go to school, for tomorrow.”

You can help us support families today and in the future.

Donate now to our East Africa appeal.

Philippines: the next few days are critical

Philippines: the next few days are critical

Anna Lindenfors, Save the Children's Country Director, Philippines

Flooding in the Philippines Flooding in the Philippines Flooding in the Philippines

Photos of Acacia St. Carmen, Cagayan de Oro, by Eduardo Umali / Save the Children.

It must have been terrifying. Flash floods create a fast moving body of water, sweeping away everything in its path. Cars, trees, people.

Yesterday morning (night-time in the Philippines) very heavy rainfall caused rivers to burst their banks and flood the area – killing hundreds and leaving thousands more stranded, without food or shelter, in the middle of the night.

Save the Children’s team on the ground launched into action immediately – assessing the damage on the most vulnerable children and their families.

Travelling along the highway you can see bodies lined up – waiting to be identified. Of the hundreds of dead, there are only a few injured. This is not unusual in a flood. Very few people caught up in the path of a flash flood will survive. Most of the dead were children, again not a surprise. Children are smaller, lighter and less likely to know where to go in an emergency. Those that survived will be cold, exhausted and terrified. Some will have been separated from their parents in the chaos.

Several of Save the Children’s team are coping with personal tragedy while responding to the flooding. One tells me their family didn’t survive intact. The debris of a destroyed house fell on top of a relative, killing her. Another tells me that water levels are so high their home is completely uninhabitable. They are worried about electrocution, so can’t return home. Yet another reports that they have run out of coffins in the town, and he doesn’t know what will happen.

The team carries on anyway, urgently struggling through debris and floodwater to reach the victims of the crisis. Several had been on the phone through the night, trying to comfort those stranded on rooftops of houses.

The next few days are critical. Children are always the most vulnerable during emergencies – and in the aftermath. Stagnant water and tainted supplies can cause disease. Longer term children will face hunger and malnutrition – in a country where 30% of the population already live beneath the poverty line, lost food stocks and lost income can push families over the brink.

50,000 children have been caught up in the flash flooding, and we’re working around the clock to reach vulnerable children and adults before it is too late.

Save the Children is launching an emergency response to help victims of the flooding. Our experts are on the ground to distribute drinking water and essential items to families affected by the disaster. 

Donate to our Children's Emergency Fund today.

Cambodia: "I have no choice but to go into deeper debt"

"I have no choice but to go into deeper debt in order to recover”

Cambodia flooding Cambodia flooding Cambodia flooding

Sitting amongst other villagers  in a relief distribution centre, waiting  to receive Save the Children food parcels and non-food items , Mrs. Tay, a mother of 4 is one of the more than 1 million people who have been  affected by the worst flooding in Cambodia in over a decade. Both short-term and long-term food security is a major concern for millions of Cambodians.

She told us that while she is relieved to receive food, she is worried about the ability to provide for her family in the future in particular the ability to pay back loans that her family relies on.  “My family will have hygiene water to drink and food to eat at least for one month, but how I am going to pay for the loan?”

Mrs. Tay had borrowed 2 million riels (about $500) from a bank ahead of the planting period in order to buy seeds, fertilizers and pay for labour by securing her land title. She was planning to pay back this money after this year’s  harvest , but now that her two hectares of rice crops have been  damaged by the floods she does not have the money to pay back the loan. 

Mrs. Tay, 44, her husband and 4 children live in the province of Prey Veng. They are among the 1.6 million populations affected by the floods that began in August 2011. The floods displaced thousands of families, killed 250 people , damaged about 10% of Cambodia’s annual rice crop and inundated  roads, schools and health centres in 18 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces.   

The water rose to floor level at Tay’s wooden old house built 2 meters above the ground on stilts in Pnov 2 village in Prey Veng province. Tay says, “The floods had inundated my village for about two months. We could not go anywhere besides fishing for food. My children could not go to school as it was closed. My 2 hectares of rice field and the cassava plants behind my house were destroyed by the floods.”

According to Pnov 2 village’s chief, more than 250 families in the village have been affected by the floods, most of them are farmers. More than 400 hectares of rice and other subsidiary crops were damaged. 

Struggling with  food shortage and worried about paying back the loan, Tay’s husband left to look for work at a rubber plantation. He could earn 20,000 riels (about $5) a day to support his own living over there and the family here. However this is not enough particularly to pay for the debt and interest rates that seem to fluctuate every day. Mrs. Tay is pinning her hopes  that her elder son, who is 22, and who has worked for nearly a year as a factory worker in Thailand and her elder daughter, 18, working as a maid in Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh will be able to send some money home. Tay says, “My children told me that in the cities they have to spend a lot, but they try to save some for me to pay for my debt every month.”

In parts of Cambodia,  where land has dried up as water receded, villagers should now be   planting their dry season rice. But they do not have the rice seeds or the money; and they  cannot  borrow any more money from the bank since they have not paid off their outstanding  debt. For many, the answer is to borrow money from a moneylender with high interest rates of about 10 percent per month.

Mrs. Tay is planning to borrow 1 million riels (about US$250) from such a money lender to replant  rice. “I have no choice but to accept it or I will miss planting time that is hoped to provide good yield for us to recover step by step.”

Save the Children will begin to provide unconditional cash delivery and cash for work to over 13,000 vulnerable families in the two provinces for livelihood recovery and small scale rehabilitation of water, sanitation and hygiene rehabilitation in the communities as water recedes. Save the Children’s goal is  to improve livelihood activities to enable families to provide appropriate care for their children, send them to school and ensure that they are healthy and well nourished.

Ethiopia: the people behind the statistics

Ethiopia: the people behind the statistics

Ingrid Lund, Save the Children


I have been in Ethiopia for ten weeks now. All this time I have followed the statistics on the refugee population in Dollo Ado with great interest. Several times a week, I have been checking how many new people have arrived in Ethiopia to escape from the drought, hunger and violence in Somalia since the last time I read the statistics. Now, after I have visited the Dollo Ado camps myself, these statistics will never be the same. I have started to put faces to the numbers.

Currently, 139,143 Somali refugees are living in the five camps in Dollo Ado. I didn’t use to think this way, but every single one of those 139,143 persons have a remarkable story to tell. Personally I only met a more or less random selection of the Somali refugees when I visited the camps last week. Still their stories are really getting to me; I will never forget the people I met in Dollo Ado.

A foster family for Isak

I will always remember Isak (12) who had fled Somalia all by himself. Now he is being looked after by Save the Children, which is in the process of finding him a foster family. When I met Isak, he had just been in a fight with another boy, who had bit him. I will also remember Farhan (3), a malnourished, apathetic little boy with a very swollen knee and sad eyes who stood all alone outside his foster family’s tent. And I’ll never forget all the Save the Children volunteers that walk back and forth in the enormous refugee camps looking for relatives of the children that are alone without any family members in the camps. Nor will I forget the happy children that were enjoying our school and early childhood care and development activities. Or the two ladies that stirred the largest kettles I’ve ever seen to make porridge to the 1,500 hungry children up to ten years old that each day receive two hot, nutritious meals from Save the Children at the transit centre.

Farhia: a responsibility I can't imagine

But the first person I will always see in my head whenever anyone mentions Dollo Ado is Farhia. She is 15 years old. That is less than half my own age. Still, Farhia is taking a responsibility I can’t start to imagine. She is the foster mother for her 5 year old niece and her 13 years old nephew. When the last of their parents died in Somalia, Farhia brought with her the two children and started the long, gruelling journey to Ethiopia. I have heard so many refugees tell horror stories about the flight from Somalia that I did not have the heart to ask Farhia to re-live that journey in order to tell me any details. But I do know that the three children sat huddled together on the back of a truck for several days without any food or water – all they got was whatever the other refugees could give them.

Farhia calls her nephew and niece her children. She says she will never get married until they have grown up. And she is working around the clock with collecting and selling firewood as well as keeping the tent in order to make sure that they get food, water and clothes to wear. Yes, she receives support from Save the Children – things like mattresses, mosquito nets, clothes, shoes, milk and sugar. And the woman in the neighbouring tent is doing her best to help the child-headed household. But it is Farhia who is there for her niece and nephew every single day. It is the 15 year old girl who puts her own life on hold to help the orphaned siblings. She told me that she will not get married until after the children have grown up. Neither will she take the opportunity to go to Save the Children’s school.     

Farhia has never gone to school. She doesn’t know how to read or write. She would have liked to learn these skills, but is adamant that she don’t have the time to go to school. She is devoting her life to raise her niece and nephew. She wants to do everything within her power to make sure they get a good education and the possibility that she herself never have had to build a good future and get a job.

Her life is harder than I can imagine, yet Farhia does not complain. On the contrary, she says she has never lived in such a nice, good place as Kobe refugee camp. She feels safe there because there is no violence in the camp and Save the Children and the neighbours are helping her. So Farhia is happy. Even though she lives in a tent in a refugee camp with hardly any belongings, no outlook of an education, a decent job or what spoiled Westerners like me would think of as a good future. So  even though Farhia is only 15 years old, she is more mature than me. And she has made an everlasting impression.      

Kenya: a silent emergency

Kenya: a silent emergency

Waithera Kuria, Information and Communications Coordinator, Save the Children


The long-awaited rains have finally come. The clouds that were taunting me the last time I was here look like they finally reached a consensus to pour.

Indeed it pours, to at least cover the scorching sun, to cool the baking earth, to temporarily calm a distressed mother nature who has for the last three years unleashed her wrath on the animals, plants and overpowered their custodian, man.

Puddles have formed; the near-dead shrubs sprout to prove their resilience.

Grass is growing again and the herders gather at daybreak for their livestock to come and feast, and give a cupful of milk.

Behind the façade

The greenery goes beyond and into the horizon, an endless, beautiful scene; but the beauty is just a façade.

The pool of dirty water is incubating malaria-ridden mosquitoes, hiding in the shrubs by day and biting at night.

The dirty water seeps its way into the uncovered shallow wells leaving a trail of sick children.

A mother’s hope

Each day, children and desperate mothers are referred to our stabilisation centres to be treated.

As a new patient gets connected to the oxygen mask, another extremely dehydrated one is having her veins checked for a canula to restore lost fluids and we hope that it shall revive her mother’s hope that there’s a tomorrow.

Her mother silently prays that her little child will live to see another day.

A silent emergency

Just when I thought the drought was over, I am now staring at the silent face of the emergency.

Ethiopia: School and the dream of flying

Ethiopia: School and the dream of flying

Ingrid Lund, Save the Children

School Children, Kobe refugee camp, Ethiopia Flooded road, Ethiopia

Photos by Ingrid Lund / Save the Children.

This was a special day for the children attending Save the Children’s school in Kobe refugee camp in Dollo Ado in Ethiopia’s southern Somali district. When they came to our child-friendly centre (containing both a school and a pre-school, a counselling tent and a play area) this morning, the yard was filed up with old-fashioned wooden desks.

To me the desks looked rather simple and crude made out of untreated wood as they were. To be honest, I would worry about getting splinters. But for most of the children, this was a very exciting moment indeed. The majority of them have never seen a desk before in their lives, so there were big, happy smiles to be seen everywhere – even though four of them had to sit close together and share each desk.

Only 116 of the 3,292 children that are enrolled in Save the Children’s emergency school in Kobe are in grade 2, the rest are in grade 1. That means that 97 percent of the Somali children living in this refugee camp have never been to school before. Youth up to 14-15 years old are sitting side by side with children half their age. The amazing thing is that they all seem so enthusiastic and eager to learn - regardless of their age.   

When I ask them what they want to do as they grow up, most of them answer teacher or doctor with a glimmer of hope in their eyes. One young boy with a bright smile on the first row replied pilot. Wonder where he has ever seen a plane!

Normally when people think of emergency relief, they think of shelter, food, water, medicines and sanitation. These are really important things, of course, things that are essential for people to survive and an obvious part of an emergency response like this. But it is equally important not to forget the children and their special needs.

Kobe camp is huge; it’s the home of almost 25,900 people. When you are standing in the middle of it, there are rows of white tents as far as the eye can see. There are sand and thorny bushes everywhere and the wind frequently whirls up the sand and covers everything with fine dust. And when it rains, everything quickly turns to mud.

For children to live in such conditions is hard to imagine. I would never last a whole night in one of those tents with no floors or proper beds, no way to escape the heat and swarms of mosquitoes. Add to that the tough, scary memories from the conflict and drought in Somalia and the exhausting journey the children had to endure to come to Ethiopia, and it become obvious that it is really important for the children’s welfare that they get an opportunity to learn, play, and relax together with other children in a safe, child-friendly place. The emergency education Save the Children provides the children in Kobe give them that important daily break from their unbelievable though lives – a place not only to learn the skills to get a job and to build a future, but also to get the necessary psycho-social support to overcome the traumas of war and life in a refugee camp.  

All of a sudden I understand the enthusiasm of the more than 100 students that are huddled together at the new desks in the classroom. Even though life is hard, there is hope for the future after all. And maybe, just maybe that boy with the big grin might become a pilot in the end.

Afghanistan: Sakila the life-saver

Afghanistan: Sakila the life-saver

Community Health Worker, Afghanistan

This is Sakila. Fourteen years ago she nearly died giving birth to her son.

“I was giving birth at home, there were complications and I fell unconscious. Eventually my family found a way to get me to a doctor. I was lucky I survived.”

Sakila was fortunate. Over the past fourteen years many thousands of mothers in Afghanistan have not been so lucky. But a new survey released today shows this is changing – the number of children and mothers dying in Afghanistan has fallen significantly.

It is women like Sakila that are to thank. Sakila is now a community health worker: “My experience motivated me to serve my community. I want to work to support other women and their children.”

Sakila is one of a growing force of community based life-savers in Afghanistan. There are now 22,000 trained community health workers across the country, from just 2,500 in 2004. They are men and women that serve their communities, unpaid, to save lives every day.

Community health workers treat illnesses like pneumonia or diarrhoea, which can otherwise be deadly, and play a critical role in promoting healthy lifestyles and encouraging their community to make best use of the health facilities.

By bringing care closer to the community, we are seeing mothers and children’s lives changing, yet the survey shows more attention needs to be given to the plight of newborns. While the rate of children dying under the age of five has halved, it has fallen by only one third for newborns.

Sakila is part of an innovative pilot project, run by Save the Children, in a district outside Kabul, that trains and supports community health workers to provide specific support to mothers and newborn babies.

“We register pregnant women, and visit them to explain why it is so important to go to a clinic and have a skilled birth attendant with you when giving birth. Then we check up on them and their new baby to make sure they are healthy,” Sakila continued.

Many women that become community health workers aren’t able to read or write, so the project uses pictures and visuals in learning materials. The approach is working. In a country in which only one third of women give birth in a health facility, in the area where the project is taking place, only a quarter of women still give birth at home.

Fourteen years ago, Sakila nearly lost her life. Now Sakila is one of many women that have brought care to the doorsteps of their neighbours. The news today shows that engaging communities to save lives works. Now, women like Sakila are ready to take on the next challenge – to bring a new focus to saving the lives of newborns.  

Thailand: The floods have only made matters worse

The floods have only made matters worse for poor communities

Lynette Lim, Asia Media Manager


The poverty in this slum-like area of Rangsit, Pathum Thani in Thailand was apparent. It was nightfall by the time our aid distribution truck arrived, and I found myself standing in front of two wooden thatched houses, a beam of light shining on them just enough for me to find my way around. Each block had about eight tiny rooms, and each of those rooms provided shelter for an entire family.

A family showed me around their home. I saw a quilt on the ground used as a mattress for a family of four to sleep on, a small closet against the wall, and a small kitchen set-up with a rice pot over a makeshift gas cooker. A stain about 30 centimetres high formed a strip across the wall, marking where floodwaters had peaked. Within seconds of entering the room, I could feel mosquitoes biting my ankles.

There are some 75,000 Burmese migrants in Pathum Thani, an industrial suburb north of Bangkok hard hit by the floods. They settled here to work in the factories making cars, electronic parts and clothes.

Floodwaters have receded from this area, but patches of stagnant water are still everywhere where mosquitoes can breed and spread diseases like malaria and dengue fever. "There are a lot more mosquitoes now," one resident told me. "But we do not have any mosquito nets to protect us at night." The man asked not to be named.

Many migrants here are afraid to give their real names since they do not have the necessary documents. In 2009, the government had offered two million migrants amnesty and documents if they registered by February of last year. However, employers are required to fill in the forms and sponsor their employees' visa, many weren't unwilling to do so. As a result, many migrants working in factories and markets remain undocumented and risk repatriation if caught.

As news of our distribution spread the crowd began to press in, anxious to receive hand-outs of much needed aid. One person told me in Burmese that the community has lots of needs since no one has jobs after the factories closed because of the floods. "What Save the Children is giving us today fits our needs at a time like this," he said as he collected a hygiene kit – containing items like soap, shampoo, sanitary napkins and towels – and food basket for himself and his family. "But we need longer-term support because we would have lost at least two months of salary by the time the factories reopen."

Even though much of the water in this area has receded, their livelihoods is yet to be restored. The UN estimates that over 13 million people have been affected since the floods began in late July, with many families struggling to survive after the disaster struck. Even if factories reopen, there are still concerns that they may not operate at full capacity for a few months as they will need to clean up, repair machines and acquire raw materials. Many Burmese migrants, according to residents I met, have gone home because of this reason. But many others have remained.

These families not only have to cope with loss of income, they face rising food prices as well. A family told me that garlic that used to cost between 20 to 25 baht (less than US$1) has doubled in price during the peak of the floods. "The prices have gone down since the water receded, but they have not yet dropped to pre-flood prices," the husband said.

They are now concerned about malnutrition in children, whom they say are underdeveloped and not growing as they should. I saw children around the compound, and spoke to a young girl named Anwajan, who was six years older than she looked. While they are still able to afford their usual two meals a day they are used to, their diets have had to change to accommodate the rising food prices and loss of income.

Anwajan told me that she usually has rice with fish and vegetables daily, but only had rice with stir-fried mushrooms that day. This means that while families still have the means to feed themselves, their children may be missing out on proteins important for physical growth.

Save the Children's food baskets include canned fish and other dried or canned foods. The children's charity hopes that by providing some these staples, families will be able to budget for more proteins and vegetables for their children. At least until their lives are back on track.

For Anwajan, the poverty cycle looks set to continue, as her family is unable to afford her education. Many families who have been working towards a better life have been set back due to loss in income, rising food prices and the repair work needed in their homes. "We are too poor to send her to school," Anwajan's father said. "The floods have only made matters worse."

Thailand: “I’ll need to find a hospital soon... If not, I fear the worst”

Wei Oo Ko, 2 years 7 months, with his father. Wei Oo Ko had been suffering from severe diarrhea for two days when Save the Children visited his community in Rangsit, Bangkok.Right: Wei Oo Ko, 2 years 7 months, with his father. Wei Oo Ko had been suffering from severe diarrhea for two days when Save the Children visited his community in Rangsit, Bangkok. Save the Children is one of the leading NGOs responding to the flood emergency in Thailand, distributing life-saving food, hygiene and infant baskets to children and their families. We have reached 23,200 beneficiaries with aid distribution, child-friendly spaces and child protection messages so far. Photo: Lynette Lim / Save the Children.

Rangsit was once a bustling 300,000-strong industrial district just north of Bangkok housing dozens of car, electronics and textile factories, which are now closed. As our tiny boat inched its way along the flooded streets, we saw convenient stores with broken windows and empty shelves and deserted market places, past endless rows of empty houses.

We were carrying Save the Children emergency food baskets and hygiene kits – which had soaps, shampoo, sanitary napkins and towels – but the boat had no engines so volunteers had to push us along with water up to their waists. The stench was unbearable and some areas smelled of rancid food and decomposing rubbish while others stank of leaking sewers.

The filthy water did not prevent children from playing everywhere, splashing and swimming in the floodwater. It took twenty minutes to cover just a couple hundred metres up to a small house where a migrant family from Myanmar lived.

Other families had gathered there for the day, without anything else to do and no jobs to go to since the factories were closed. The father, who refused to be named – many migrants are undocumented because employers fail to process their paperwork – was extremely worried about his son, 30-month-old child, Wei Oo Koo. The young boy had been suffering from diarrhea ever since he went into the water. “He was playing in the floodwaters one morning and that same evening he started suffering diarrhea. He is in a lot of pain,” the father explained.

He added that he does not know where to look for a doctor to help treat his son. In the meantime, he is using rehydration salts and other traditional Thai remedies supposed to help with abdominal pain, indigestion and diarrhea but they have been of little help, and is worried that he will need something else. “I don’t know what to do. I will need to find a hospital for my son soon if he doesn’t get better. If not, I fear the worst.” he said.

Many people living in Rangsit were evacuated in the floods, and some migrant families have returned to Myanmar and other neighbouring countries. They are fleeing the worst floods Thailand has faced in half a century, affecting more than a fifth of the country’s 64 million population since July and leaving more than 600 people dead, with 17 out of 77 provinces still underwater.

Food prices have also risen sharply. A dozen eggs for example used to cost 30-35 baht (US$1) before the floods, but have doubled since then. Most of the several hundred factories in four industrial estates have been damaged and shut in this province alone, so with little work available and dwindling savings, those who have remained behind have little hope for the future.

To make matters worse, many public services have been affected as health workers and teachers cannot go to work. Schools, hospitals and clinics remain closed in many areas, according to authorities, putting 1.3 million children at risk of diseases such as severe diarrhea and skin infections due to the stagnant water, and unclean water supplies for cooking and drinking.

Kenya: from relief to resilience

Kenya: from relief to resilience

Will Postma, Programs Director, Save the Children Canada

Children at Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya Families at Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya

Scenes from Dadaab refugee camp. Photos by Helle Kjaersgaard.

I am just back from a visit to Kenya, where Save the Children’s emergency work is ongoing in response to the drought and food crisis.

Against a backdrop of tensions in the region, our teams face immense challenges in trying to help children in vastly overcrowded refugee camps, such as the Dadaab camp.

The precarious and uncertain environment has been one of the key factors in slowing down our work in child protection and education, both key for the protection of children’s rights in emergency contexts. Our teams are also striving to find ways to reach those children and families who do not make it to the camps, distribution points and child friendly spaces.

Despite the challenges, we are working creatively to help children and the most vulnerable. We have been able to address immediate and long-term needs in a variety of ways including:

  • promotion of innovative programs distributing fresh food, meat and rice vouchers
  • distribution of blankets, food, water purification tablets, clothing and household goods
  • chlorination of shallow wells and boreholes
  • training of community health workers and nurses
  • providing health education messages on dengue fever, cholera, acute watery diarrhea and malaria prevention   

Our emergency work in Kenya (as well as in Ethiopia and Somalia) builds on our long-standing presence here. We are scaling up our programs to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, saving children’s lives in the short-term as well as ensuring longer term recovery, adaptation, resilience and risk reduction.

In Kenya, we support a growing number and diversity of projects: from education to HIV/AIDS, child protection, child rights governance, school health and nutrition, and corporate social responsibility, where a Nairobi based foundation has its employees increasingly engaged in project support activities. We are also building on our training and education work with HIV affected communities to develop a livelihoods program, allowing for continued work with our target communities but with new and innovative resources for development.

Libya: Democracy and tea breaks

Democracy and tea breaks: Training teachers in Tripoli


Speech, discussion and debate. The right to freedom of expression was fully exercised during a week-long teacher training programme for master trainers in Tripoli, facilitated by Save the Children in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.

Democracy and tea breaks

In their enthusiasm for newly gained rights, participants took it upon themselves to vote for a participant president during the training programme. One of the president’s responsibilities was the negotiation of tea breaks – not surprisingly with a majority in favour of longer ones.

Although it was a symbolic exercise, it provided an opportunity for participants to try out a classroom activity about the transfer of citizenship rights. There was even a peaceful re-election mid-week.


Training is seen as critical by the Ministry of Education, with the role of teachers and the school playing an important healing role within the community.

The Ministry is keen to provide teacher training that focuses on the wellbeing of the teacher and the student, is grounded in children’s rights, and that incorporates aspects of positive discipline, active learning and inclusive education.

This training of master trainers will then cascade down to the training of teachers and is being fast-tracked to reach as many teachers as possible before the beginning of the new school year in January 2012.


During one session participants were asked for definitions of who or what a teacher is. One participant responded, “A candle that burns to light up other people.” A lively discussion ensued about how teachers and their families are coping themselves in the post-conflict context, let alone providing psychosocial support to students to help them overcome traumatic experiences.

Participants shared stories that pointed to the needs, but that also highlighted the strengths and resilience of Libyans – anecdotes to build on. During the last day, when participants had an opportunity to exhibit what they have learned, they skillfully adapted sessions to fit their context and classrooms.

Working together

In the coming months and years, the Ministry of Education will make key decisions on curriculum development and will continue strengthening education systems. Many new topics are likely to come into teacher training.

Save the Children aims to work in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, contributing our global experience and resources to develop training that supports Libya’s teachers to be brightly burning candles.

Ethiopia: the eighth wonder of the world

Ethiopia: the eighth wonder of the world

Lucy Thomas, Save the Children


It’s a bank holiday weekend so four of us from the office grab the opportunity to visit Lalibela in the north of Ethiopia.

After a sweltering plane flight and a not-for-the-faint-hearted mountain track drive, we arrive in the beautiful hillside town.

The views are breathtaking.

There is an atmosphere of celebration here.

Pilgrims (plus a few tourists) have come to the town to visit the ancient rock-hewn churches.

These twelfth century churches, painstakingly and impressively carved into the rock, are talked of as the eighth wonder of the world but don’t get the recognition, or indeed the conservation, they deserve.

It’s amazing to see somewhere like this so unspoilt by tourism, and we practically have the place to ourselves.

Celebratory prayer, ceremony, music and singing go on all weekend and we feel privileged to be there and be welcomed with endless ‘happy new year’ greetings.

All too soon it’s time to head back to the city to get back to work.

Child marriage

I’m attending a conference on child marriage. As communications writer, I find myself as note taker for the day, and event organiser.

The event is a success and was attended by the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs and numerous NGOs from across the country.

It’s clear that the call for an end to child marriage is strong but the complexity and deep-rooted traditions in Ethiopia present a huge challenge to being completely eradicated.

Child marriage is a hugely prevalent issue in many countries, much more than I realised, and has massive repercussions not only on the girls but also hinders development out of poverty as young married girls get no education and their health is severely impeded.

The best insight, if you have ten minutes, is to watch this video.

It’s an issue which is backed by the Elders – an independent global body of leaders headed up by Nelson Mandela.

Desmond Tutu wrote an address for our conference. It’s humbling to be part of the same movement.

Communicating Save the Children

There’s so much going on across the different sectors we work in (health, nutrition, child protection, education etc) that it can be difficult to sum it all up into something tangible, succinct and easily understandable.

I’m really enjoying my time here, it’s a world away from life in Hampshire, and I can’t believe nearly a month has gone already.

Kenya: rising to the water challenge

Kenya: rising to the water challenge

Rania Ali, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Advisor, Kenya


The rains have arrived in Kenya.

You may be thinking that spells the end of the drought that has been devastating parts of Kenya throughout 2011.

Think again.

The rains have either been insufficient and sporadic, or have fallen in deluges, raising the risk of water-borne diseases.

Daily water shortages

The crisis here is not over yet and it’s my job to work out how, why and when we should respond to the desperate water and sanitation needs in this country — no small task!

My day never stops — communicating with the staff on the ground, coordinating with our partners, ensuring we take risk reduction measures after the drought, and highlighting the urgent issues in the worst affected areas.

Visiting the communities who live in a landscape scarred by no rain, who face daily water shortages, makes me realise how important our role is.

It’s during these trips that I meet the people incapacitated through lack of water who spur me on to work harder.

Meeting Hassan

On a recent trip to Wajir East, I met twelve-year-old Hassan.

Hassan had suffered from acute watery diarrhoea for a week after drinking contaminated water — something we see regularly in north-east Kenya after the rains.

Save the Children is distributing water purification sachets in our hygiene kits to ensure people treat the water before drinking it.

Hassan can now fill the child-sized jerry can that the team gave him with safe, treated water.

Risk of disease

Now the rains have arrived, water is no longer in short supply.

However, this does not mean water is safely and securely stored — it’s quite the opposite.

Rainwater needs to be captured and treated otherwise there is a great risk of disease as children drink and play in the water.


Already prepared

The Save the Children team in Nairobi predicted the rains would arrive.

We knew we would have to harvest the water and protect people against the increased risk of water-born diseases.

As a result we have been working hard to install systems that would do just that.

Storing and treating water is not a complicated process, but one that can save lives.

In Kenya our team are working to install rainwater harvesting systems, that are comprised of gutters and tanks that catch and store the water.

We’re doing this in schools and hospitals to ensure the water is accessible to children and the community — not just selected families.

A huge challenge

I have worked in emergency responses in Darfur, Sudan, Somalia and Pakistan but this emergency is different because of the natural challenges here.

The distances between villages can be up to 100 km, which makes transporting water a lot harder.

This crisis is not going to be solved soon — but the water and sanitation team in Kenya will continue to work around the clock to try to meet the crucial water needs of those affected.

Cambodia: Cooperation is crucial to aid children

Cooperation is crucial to aid children affected by the floods

Jasmine Whitbread, CEO, Save the Children International


Some 800,000 children have been affected by the recent floods in Cambodia, the worst environmental disaster witnessed in the country in over a decade. The total number of people affected is 1.6 million, but children are the most vulnerable in emergencies as their families struggle to cope with the loss of houses, crops and livelihoods – and in some cases beloved family members.

Flood-affected children and their families now face serious risks as hundreds of health clinics are inaccessible and more than a thousand schools are closed.  Every day a child is absent from school increases the risk of the child dropping out in the long term. Making matters worse, when waters start to recede, stagnant water combined with poor sanitation and hygiene is likely to breed diseases to which children are particularly vulnerable. Also increased poverty and the loss of family income may also force children to work to support their families, not only taking them out of school but also putting them at risk of exploitation and trafficking.

The damage from the floods to other crucial infrastructure is currently unknown. What we do know is that it will require significant time and resources for things to return to normal. Meantime it is crucial to explore alternative and innovative approaches building on cooperation to address the needs and reduce the risks faced by children.

This can only be done effectively by continuing to build on the support and cooperation between non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the United Nations, the government and donors that we have seen so far. By working together, pooling our resources and jointly sharing crucial information we will be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Thanks to this close cooperation, Save the Children has been able to distribute rice and other crucial items to 33,700 people in Kampong Cham and Prey Veng. This has been possible thanks to the financial support of our members, USAID and rice donations from the UN World Food Programme.

Additionally, Save the Children has established over 300 (and counting) temporary schools in community buildings and other village houses, run by teachers that are currently unable to access their flooded or destroyed schools.  All this is the result of our partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and their provincial counterparts, which has enabled more than 10,000 children to return to school. By doing this, not only are we helping children’s education but we are also restoring some sense of normality to their daily lives while helping parents focus on the recovery work ahead.

Recovery from a disaster of this magnitude will take time and the effects will be felt long after the land has dried up. Low cost, innovative solutions can benefit a large population.  Save the Children looks forward to continue to strengthen its cooperation with the government, NGOs, the UN and the donor community to reduce the risks and improve the prospects for the flood-affected children and their families. That is the only way forward.

Thailand: Children falling ill as flooding reaches capital

Thailand: Children falling ill as flooding reaches capital

Rachel Crome, Save the Children

As reports come in on flooding now entering central Bangkok, children are falling ill from diseases such as severe diarrhea, with thousands more at risk as exposure from filthy floodwaters is on the rise.

Our assessment teams have found that running water has been completely cut off from some areas. Even in some evacuation centres where some families have fled to there is no access to clean water.

“Families with young children staying at makeshift evacuation centres are facing serious health concerns with little access to clean water,” said Stephen McDonald, Save the Children’s emergency director in Bangkok.


“One family of fourteen we spoke to said that all but one of them has had serious diarrhoea for several days in a row. Nai, 19 months old, has such severe diarrhea that he can no longer walk.

“I have two young children of my own, and I would be heartbroken if they were subject to these conditions,” added McDonald.

While floodwaters in some parts of the city are clearly unclean – with teams having seen rubbish and even excrement floating in floodwaters – children continue to wade through and play in the flooded streets and alleys.

Snakes and crocodiles

Making matters worse, there has been an increase in reports of snakes and crocodiles lurking in filthy floodwater.  

Thailand is facing its worst flood crisis in half a century, with standing water covering much of the north of the country, and an estimated 800,000 children directly affected even before Central Bangkok started to be flooded.

We’ve been conducting assessments and operations in Bangkok and in other parts of Thailand since mid-October and are reporting that health risks are of major concern as access to clean water for these families has been extremely limited.

Providing supplies

We’re  providing supplies for the hardest to reach families in Thailand, and our teams are working flat out to support families in evacuations centres, whilst also providing essential hygiene items to help prevent the spread of disease.

“Funding is proving to be difficult, and the needs are vast. Unless we get support soon, then children and families in Thailand will likely suffer for months to come,” said McDonald.

Somalia: Every single person we help to survive is a precious life saved.

“Every single person we help to survive is a precious life saved.”

Katie Seaborne, Regional Information and Communications Coordinator, East Africa

 Rows of women and children wait outside a Save the Children health centre for check-ups in Mogadishu, Somalia. Somalia: Nasteha, two was suffering from severe malnutrition. Nasteha was admitted to a Save the Children feeding programme and is now recovering very well. Save the Children and CPD’s WASH project in Sigale camp, Mogadishu, Somalia.

From L-R: Rows of women and children wait outside a Save the Children health centre for check-ups in Mogadishu; Nasteha, two, pictured with her mother Suban. Natesha was suffering from severe malnutrition. Nasteha was admitted to a Save the Children feeding programme and is now recovering very well; Save the Children and CPD’s WASH project in Sigale camp, Mogadishu. Photos: Cat Carter / Save the Children.

The crisis in Somalia has not yet peaked and Save the Children staff out here are all too aware of it. The pace and complexity of our work is not letting up. Constant meetings, phone calls and updates continue as we strive to reach those in need and meet the increasing needs in Somalia. The situation in Somalia was already horrifying — the worst child malnutrition rate in the world, thousands going without food and water, and overcrowded impromptu camps forming on the outskirts of Mogadishu.

Floods bring filthy water

Now the rains have arrived and instead of providing relief, the camps are flooded, and people are living in inches of filthy water without proper shelter. Families who have left their homes with nothing are now facing the terrifying prospect of disease outbreaks and further flash flooding.

Our team knows the world will see many more deaths in this already weakened population. Against this backdrop it would be foolish to say our work is easy. Expanding and continuing our life-saving work in Somalia is not without its challenges. However, it is possible.

Life-saving work

It is now the fourth month of our response to this disaster. We’ve tripled our work in south-central Somalia, reaching over 63,000 people displaced from their homes.

Last week we urgently flew in two planes with aid for 4,500 families exposed to the rains (the entire population of one of the camps).

We distributed 9,000 plastic sheets, soap, rope and other essential items.

We  provided vital health services to 2,000 children last week alone.

We’re feeding 100,000 children under five and pregnant mums this month.

No wonder we’re exhausted!

Our mantra

So despite the constant meetings, challenges, increasing need and the exhaustion of our team, we have one mantra:

“Every single person we help to survive is a precious life saved.”

Pakistan: “It was like the world had come to an end”

“It was like the world had come to an end.”  

Alfonso Daniels, Emergency Media Manager, from Lower Sindh (southern Pakistan)

 Children playing at the Save the Children run ChildFriendly Space near Kamokhas, Pakistan Children playing at the Save the Children run ChildFriendly Space near Kamokhas, Pakistan Children playing at the Save the Children run ChildFriendly Space near Kamokhas, Pakistan

Children playing at the Save The Children run Child Friendly Space near Kamokhas.To date, Child Protection interventions have supported a total of 4,733 children through 8 static and 2 mobile Child Friendly Spaces, helping children relax, have fun, and cope with stress following an emergency. Photo credits: Eduardo Diaz / Save the Children.

The first signs of destruction are visible just two hours’ drive away from Karachi as you enter the low-lying province of Lower Sindh in southern Pakistan. Abandoned shells of poultry farms stretch on both sides of the road next to deserted wheat fields while roofs of larger buildings have collapsed in what appears to be the aftermath of a war.

“It was like the world had come to an end,” a man later told me, recounting the terrifying moments two months ago when unprecedented torrential monsoon rains quickly flooded this whole region, uprooting more than five million people from their homes. Many of them still live in miserable makeshift tents along elevated roads and levies unable to cultivate these flooded lands.

They are everywhere. In one camp in Badin district, one of the hardest hit areas, some 50 families lived right at the edge of the road, so close that passing cars often swerved to avoid hitting children. They were crammed under plastic sheets held by wooden poles, sleeping next to the few possessions they could save: bundles of clothes, a few pots and pans and the occasional straw bed.

“Children here are weak and malnourished, you can see this with your own eyes,” said Samjho, a 22-year-old mother living there. She explained that her son got sick and died soon after the floods and was buried in the water since there was nowhere else to lay him to rest.  

“Children’s throats get soar after drinking contaminated water from the nearby canal. We have nothing left in this world; there’s no hope for us,” she added, staring at the surrounding flooded fields, pointing at the distance to the rooftops of the wooden shacks popping out of the water, the place they used to live.

Many hospitals have been destroyed, and most schools are either occupied by internally displaced people or were wiped away. The UN warns that food and medicine stocks are running out, while diseases like malaria and acute diarrhoea are increasing sharply partly due to stagnant floodwaters, putting hundreds of thousands of children at risk.

I found some of them at emergency nutrition units run by Save the Children. The images of emaciated children waiting to be treated keep coming to my mind days after having left the area. I had seen similar scenes in Kenya and Somalia during the recent East Africa crisis, a disaster that got the world’s attention. But the world does not seem to have noticed this crisis at all. Only 22 percent of the US$357 million UN emergency appeal has been received so far.

But even here there is some room for hope. At a child friendly space also run by Save the Children, groups of children were engrossed in a game called carrom board, a mix between billiards and table shuffleboard.

Others meanwhile carefully drew colorful pictures of peacocks and birds. “Before they used to draw only water, fish and confused lines; many were traumatized,” a social worker told me. “Look at them now. They’re happily drawing other images,” he said, adding with a smile that there is one thing though they keep drawing: candles. That will continue, he thought, until the electricity comes back.

Central America: Silent Emergencies

Silent Emergencies: Flooding in Central America

Sophie Stokes, Save the Children


I recently returned to my university for a weekend, and what I found there surprised me so much I decided to make it the topic of my next blog.

A lot of my friends wanted to know what I had been doing here at Save the Children, and I told them much the same as I wrote in my first blog, and gave some examples.

I was shocked that many people had no idea of some of the disasters I was taking about- the extensive flooding in Central America for example!

Severe flooding

Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico are experiencing severe flooding affecting more than a million people in total.

The flooding has been caused by a tropical depression- a weather system which causes a lot of rain. The problem with a depression, as opposed to a typhoon or a tsunami, is that it is not very dramatic.

There are no shocking videos like of buildings being washed away in a matter of minutes in Japan, or flying debris in hurricanes.

Little exposure

It is less interesting to the media, or to people like us, wrapped up in our own lives, submitting coursework like my peers, planning Christmas or enjoying some November sunshine on another continent.

For the 1.2million people affected this is no consolation. Thousands of hectares of farmland are flooded or rinsed of crops, leaving people with reduced food for the coming winter and no source of sustenance for their livelihoods.

Schools are damaged so childrens’ education is affected, and damaged or flooded hospitals reduce access to healthcare just when, for some, it is needed most. Now that the flood waters are beginning to subside, there are further concerns.

Helping tens of thousands

Soft, saturated soil provides little support for highways and bridges, and provides a poor bed for crops and new seeds to grow in. Diseases breed in the dirty water and shelter is a concern for many with winter not far away.

Nobody is really to blame for the lack of knowledge about such events. Fortunately, organisations such as Save the Children are specially prepared, with our own emergency fund, so that we can at least provide some help to the worst affected.

So far we have helped around 41,000 men, women and children in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. We are distributing rations of food and clear water and hygiene kits, besides other essential aid to affected communities.

Somalia: The power of information

Somalia: The power of information

Katie Drew, Save the Children


The team in Bossaso, Puntland, have been hosting two visitors this week from Info As Aid  who have been providing guidance, training and advice to Save the Children’s staff.

With Info As Aid, we are implementing a small pilot project to improve our communications with the communities we work in – and to ensure we listen to what they have to say.

Over the past week I have held community meetings with elders and families from a number of the  camps for people forced to leave their homes, where we work.

Arrived with nothing

Many of the families on these camps have recently arrived from drought affected areas of south central Somalia and most arrived into Bossaso with nothing.

For many new arrivals life on the crowded camps is confusing, and the living conditions dangerous.

During these meetings mothers told me they had limited access to information by radio, phone or face to face and that they needed more information on child health and nutrition.

Information is power

I know that many people will ask “why is this important”? Because Information is Power – the access to the right information, at the right time can save lives.

One of my colleague’s sons was very sick this week with vomiting and diarrhoea. At only 8 months he had lost 800g (nearly a tenth of his body weight).

Luckily, he has recovered now after being nursed by his parents, who knew to keep him well hydrated, to continue breastfeeding and how to provide complementary foods.

High mortality rates

This story wouldn’t have been the same for many children in Somalia – a country with one of the highest under 5 mortality rates in the world.

What if families don’t know that they should continue breastfeeding a child who is sick? Or, how to prevent the dangerous disease from being transmitted to other family members?

How can a child be taken to a doctor, to see a nurse or admitted to hospital if a family doesn’t know if or where these services are available?


Save the Children has a team of community mobilizers working across all 31 camps in Bossaso. Over the next few months The Info As Aid project will strengthen this outreach network and work with mothers in the camps to improve the communications flow.

This project will ensure that families have the knowledge and support they need to keep their children as healthy as possible – and to know where to turn for help if needed. Communication is Aid.

Ethiopia: Home alone in Gode, a forgotten village

Ethiopia: Home alone in Gode, a forgotten village

Euan Crawshaw, Save the Children


Gode, in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, is dusty and windy, and in the middle of the desert. It’s a forgotten village. There is no phone network and no internet. The roads are tracks.

The rains haven’t come here – locals tell me that there has been maybe a week of rain all year. I am the only ‘Ferenji’ (white person) here with Save the Children, and most of my days are characterised by crackly conversations over the radio with the our base and our teams in the field, all in the searing heat.

Camel milk is generally considered the best way to start a day, so I start by swallowing that down, swiftly followed by highly sweetened tea, before walking the short distance from my portacabin (which I’m sharing with a monk) to the office.

It’s mating season for the donkeys, so I keep a beady eye on them as I walk past.

Security is tight, and the team travel in convoy everywhere, so the first task of the day is to plan our movements. I meet with other organisations shortly after to co-ordinate who is doing what where.

Daily work

An update on the situation here is given from OCHA (who co-ordinate humanitarian affairs) – there are many displaced persons in the area, and more expected to come.

We deliver programmes to the displaced people on the border with Somalia (about 50km away) as well as the local pastoralist populations.

We’re doing a wide range of work – water and sanitation (providing clean water, rehabilitating water sources, making sure school and health centres have a water supply and building latrines).

Child protection (putting in place a system for tracing unaccompanied children and family reunification) and livelihoods (feeding animals, vaccinating and some cash for work) are also priorities.

 It’s great work – but exhausting.

I have lunch in the town (wearing a scarf to protect myself from the dust) and meet the owner, practise my Somali, and sit down to a meal of Injera and tibs (local kind of pancake and unidentified meat with a spicy sauce).

Timing issues

Full from lunch and suffering in the heat, I have a meeting with a water trucking owner to agree delivery of clean water to the villages.

I got my timings wrong as the Ethiopian clock here is confusingly 6 hours behind. So the guy thought I was meeting him at 4 pm Ethiopian time, which is 10pm European time.

Everyone has a good laugh about the time difference (this happens on a daily basis) and eventually we agree that actually I meant 10am Ethiopian time.


We show them how to chlorinate the water from the borehole, and finally the water trucking contract is signed and the truck is on its way.

At the end of the day I shower in river-water and scrub my feet again – they have been permanently dyed orange from the dust. I go to bed exhausted.

Somalia: Witnessing Severe Malnutrition Close Up

Somalia: Witnessing severe malnutrition close up

Catherine Carter, Emergency Communications Manager, Save the Children

Lul and Salat (5, male) at the local hospital in Mogadishu. A bog of antibiotics and medicines given to Lul for Salat, five.

Lul and Salat (5, male) at the local hospital in Mogadishu. A Save the Children staff member found Lul and Salat in Sigale Camp, recognized the signs of severe malnutrition and immediately put them both in a car to the local hospital for treatment. Salat is now receiving urgent medical attention. Photo credit: Cat Carter / Save the Children.

I walk through Sigale camp in Mogadishu, talking to the curious crowd that gathers around me.

One woman tugs at my arm to follow her. I am pulled towards a small hut, set far back from the main camp.

It is dark inside, but I can make out two figures. The shapes shift and I have to stifle a gasp. The mother inside is holding a severely malnourished child.

He is so thin that I can see all of his bones, and his head is being held tenderly by his mother – he is too weak to lift it himself.

His eyelashes curl delicately, and silent tears run down his face .

Severe malnutrition

The mother is looking at me questioningly. I ask her name, and her child’s name and age. The tiny boy is five years old. He is as fragile as a bird.

I ask her how long he has been like this, and why.

She answers slowly, as if she is uncertain of the answers.

“We have had nothing to eat for several days. I have not eaten anything proper for two weeks now. We have been drinking water, but it is not safe.

“Salat is sick. He is not strong enough to even hold his head up. It is too heavy.

Waiting for death

I do not think that Salat will get better. I have other children so I cannot walk to take him to hospital. It feels as though I am waiting for him to die,” she says.

She continues her story, eyes intent on mine.

“A little while ago, I don’t remember how long, he started to vomit and became weaker.

“I could not get him to keep any food down so I have been giving him water. But he is growing weaker and weaker. It is not just the food, there is something else wrong. He is sick”.

To the hospital

The rest of the team arrive and we urgently confer. We know he is too weak for us to wait another moment for help.

We ask the mother, Lul, if we can take them both to the hospital now. She agrees and we rush to our car.

We gently place them in the back and race towards the hospital. I leave them in the care of a doctor, and promise to return shortly.

Medical complications

An hour later we return to the hospital. Lul is propped up on the bed with Salat sleeping beside her.

The doctor has seen them both and given him medicine, but the child is so sick the prognosis isn’t good.

The doctor tells me that the severe malnutrition has caused dangerous medical complications.

Scaling up the emergency response

Save the Children is urgently scaling up its emergency response in Somalia – including nutrition. But there are thousands of children facing starvation.

Lul tells me that she feels better in the hospital, but she is still terrified for her child, and does not believe he will live.

“He is too weak. There is not enough food in the camps for our children to be strong”.

Somalia: Working with pain this raw is a dangerous privilege

Blog from Mogadishu, Somalia

Cat Carter, Emergency Communications Manager, Save the Children

Photos: Cat Carter / Save the Children

After the floods had caused a second emergency in Mogadishu, we decided that I should go in. Comms plays a crucial role in emergencies – I often think of it as truthful story-telling, or bearing witness. I speak to communities and ask about their experiences, their lives, their hopes and fears for the future. I ask if they would like me to share their story with the world, to raise awareness of the reality of their lives, their daily struggle to survive. To date, no-one has ever said no. Yesterday was my first day in Mogadishu and I spoke to Jamila, a quiet woman resting her young daughter on her hip. I ask about the rains last week – was she here? What does she remember? Her unexpected and tragic story will stay with me for the rest of my life.

“Yes I remember” she said. “I lost my daughter, my wonderful daughter Maryama”. I am immediately gentler in my approach – working with pain this raw is a dangerous privilege, and I’m suddenly very aware that I may be intruding on a private grief. Jamila speaks softly, and assures me that she wants to tell me about her daughter and that night.

“She was just four years old. Maryama was already very weak – we had not eaten for some time.

The rains were very scary. It came so suddenly. It even rose above my knees. It was night-time and suddenly we all woke up, we were already under water a bit. The water level rose too fast. I did not know what to do, I had never seen water do that before. I saw my daughter Maryama trying to help her younger sister Aliyow – trying to raise her head above the water”. Jamila pauses, and shifts the small child on her hip – it is Aliyow. She smiles down at the baby and then continues.

“It was chaos. Our hut was torn with the rain, pieces were being ripped away. The water rose inside. I tried to find my other children but all around me people were pushing and running away from the water. Suddenly Maryama went under the water. I saw the water rush through her nostrils and her mouth and then she was gone. The water was rushing so fast it carried her body away. I screamed and tried to run after her. The last thing I saw of her was as her body hit the fence on the side of the camp”.

A translator is sat next to me, clearly moved by what he is hearing. For several minutes neither of us can speak. I am listening all the while, nodding encouragement and asking gentle points of clarification from Jamila, who begun slowly, remembering, then gathered pace. The scene is so emotionally charged that I can’t bear to leave. I ask her what she remembers most about Maryama.

Jamila smiles. “She would sit and play with her sister and then when she saw me she would cry out for me to join them in the games. She was always smiling and running around”. She pauses, and her face falls again. “I have nothing to remind me of her. Everything was lost with the rains. All that I can see now is her body hitting the fence as she was swept away”.


Save the Children has urgently flown in containers of medicine and shelter kits for families. Last week alone we reached over 25,000 people in South Central Somalia with healthcare and food – and are aiming to reach another 9,000 families – that’s 63,000 people – affected by the flashfloods.

We have already sent in enough supplies to support 10,000 people for 3 months in Mogadishu, including specialist medicines and equipment for waterborne diseases, and 4,000 mosquito kits. We are urgently dispatching further supplies to support another 10,000 people during the dangerous rainy season, including cholera kits.

We are currently providing over 24,000 people with safe water in Mogadishu – since the beginning of the response we have reached nearly 100,000 people with water across Somalia. We are working to repair existing wells and boreholes too, but the immediate need is for safe drinking water.

Kenya: the drought affects people

The drought affects people: update on Baby Umi (Kenya)

Daniel Wayoike, therapeutic outreach nurse

Daniel Wayoike, a therapeutic outreach nurse, works in North Eastern Province in the Wajir South District. He took care of three-month-old Umi when her mother Amina brought her to the Save the Children-supported health clinic. Umi was malnourished, dehydrated, and suffering from bronchial pneumonia. Umi's mother was also suffering from malnutrition. Daniel referred her to the Habaswein District Hospital. Three months later, Umi is no longer an image of hunger and drought; she is now a healthy, plump, and smiling six-month-old baby girl.

Baby Umi and her mother Baby Umi Baby Umi and her mother

Three months later, Umi is now a healthy, plump, and smiling six-month-old baby girl. Photos: Colin Crowley / Save the Children.

Umi’s mother says:

“You know well that my daughter was so sick that day that she was almost dying, so you can only imagine how
unhappy and how said I was as a mother. But today I have a healthy daughter and I’m so happy. You cannot
even compare the joy I feel today to the sadness I felt three months ago - it is just not comparable.”

Umi had a very quick recovery and according to the health workers at the Wajir District hospital stabilization
centre, Umi is among the few malnourished children with medical complications to come out after only a few
days of in patient care.

“She was already exhibiting a very bright face within 3 days”, said one of the health workers. Baby Umi and her
mother left Wajir District hospital stabilization centre having stayed there for barely 5 days.

Save the Children facilitated her transport back to Habaswein town where both her father and the mother
were briefly accommodated by a relative. During this time, the Save the Children nutritionist and community
mobiliser visited them daily conveying nutrition education messages, mainly focusing on the need for exclusive
breastfeeding given that Umi is only 3 months old; this therefore becomes the only sure way of ensuring Umi
does not relapse.

Like most women in this region, Umi’s mother was initially quite reluctant to do exclusive breastfeeding and
instead wondered whether she could give Umi some goat milk. Fortunately our nutritionist convinced her of
the benefits of breast milk and the need to breastfeed her baby more frequently.

Day after day for six weeks since she had been discharged from the hospital, Save the Children’s therapeutic
food ration of high nutruient peanut paste has been helping her gain weight; stay nourished, and come back to

Thailand: Emergency Response update

Update - Emergency Response to flooding in Thailand

Annie Bodmer-Roy, Save the Children


Save the Children is prioritizing children’s protection in the first days and weeks of the emergency, working to provide children with a safe place to play with friends, ensuring they can regain a sense of normalcy as well as be given a chance to just be children amidst the stress and anxiety that comes with displacement and disaster. Photos: Annie Bodmer-Roy/Save the Children.

Just got into the office this morning and reading up on the latest news hitting Thailand, where some of the worst flooding for half a century is hitting the country, putting hundreds of thousands of children at risk. Our biggest concern today is the rapidly changing situation in the north of Bangkok as the government rushes to stop flood-waters swamping the city. While they’ve been doing a great job to respond to immediate needs of many, we’re increasingly concerned that capacity is stretched to the limit, and without assistance, many children and their families will not be reached.

Save the Children is on the ground responding, working with government and civil society to meet urgent needs of children and their families hardest hit by the floods. We’ve been distributing food by boat in some areas where the water levels are just too high for regular road use.  Meanwhile our protection teams are working to keep children from being separated from their families by raising awareness of simple steps to take like holding hands when on the move; keeping together in a group; and making sure children have their parents’ contact information on hand at all times in the event they get lost or separated.

We’re also working to keep children safe and help relieve some of the stress and anxiety they’ve faced in the past weeks by organizing safe spaces specifically for children at the evacuation centres, where they can play together, unwind, and just get a chance to be kids again. Games played in child friendly spaces also help children become more aware of warning signs of potential risks to them and actions they can take to stay safe.

One of the things that we’re worried about this morning is that reports are coming in of people being evacuated from one of the main centres in Pathum Tani just north of Bangkok, as water levels are rising even higher and areas where families have gone to seek shelter might not be safe anymore. This is horrible news for children as it turns their world even more upside down, exacerbating uncertainty and stress. One boy I spoke to yesterday, Yassin, had already been to two different centers in one week, if he ends up having to leave the center he was at when I saw him yesterday, this will mean having been displaced three times over in just over one week – after already having to abandon his home, to be separated from friends, and even losing one close friend who sadly lost his life in the floods. This boy Yassin is already having nightmares – children like him desperately need support, need someone to talk to and a sense of normalcy, and this is something we’re working to provide.

The main challenge we face today is the lack of funds for the floods response. Government capacity is stretched as flood-waters continue to rise, now ever closer to Bangkok, and children desperately need help. We need more funds to help these kids and right now we’re struggling to get the resources we need.

Annie Bodmer-Roy writes from Bangkok, Thailand, as part of Save the Children’s emergency response to the widespread flooding hitting the country.

Somalia: responding to a triple calamity

Somalia: responding to a triple calamity

Catherine Carter, Emergency Communications Manager, Save the Children


The rains have started. In a country parched with collective thirst, where thousands of people and livestock have died in the drought, you would think that this is the best news we could hear.

And the Somalia office is a hive of activity – but not because we’re all celebrating.

While the rain will be welcome in many areas across the region, in Mogadishu we’re urgently mounting another response – to the rains and the subsequent flooding.

Triple calamity

The walls of our office were already covered with maps of Somalia and access routes. Our team leader is surviving on a diet of cigarettes, and I’m on my fourth cup of coffee.

Everyone is knackered. It’s a triple calamity – drought, then flooding, on top of the seemingly endless warfare.

And it’s the people in the camps that are teetering on the edge of survival.


The camps in Mogadishu are known as IDP camps – internally displaced persons. These people have fled their homes, fearing for their safety or desperate to find something to eat, or, most worryingly – both.

The families come to Mogadishu, hoping to find something – a little food, some clean water, a safe place to survive.

The good land there is already taken – there are buildings, homes, makeshift shops. There is other land nearby, less desirable land, but that’s taken too – by those that can’t afford the buildings, homes and shops.

Prone to flooding

The only space left to live is where no-one else wants to. It could be lowland and prone to flooding, or it could be on the outskirts of a settlement and dangerous.

Or it could be all of the above – like Sigale camp. But you’re desperate, so it will have to do.

Now the rains have come, and they’ve created a flash food through the camp. It’s a swirling torrent of mud and water, and worse.

Overflowing latrines

Latrines have overflowed, and everything is dirty. Your children are still playing, because they are children, but they are playing in filthy water that will make them sick.

You have nowhere to wash your hands, make food, wash your clothes. It’s dangerous and it’s undignified. And it will happen for a month – because that’s how long the rainy season lasts here.

It’s only a matter of time before waterborne diseases spread and the death toll rises. It’s fertile ground for it – wet, filthy and overcrowded.


Children are already weak from lack of food, susceptible to disease. There are things that we can do – try and divert the flow of water, help to drain it away, bring in huge medical supplies to respond to disease when the inevitable occurs.

All the while continuing to respond to the food crisis which has left so many people close to death across Somalia, struggling to deliver life-saving aid in a city which has been labelled the “one of the most dangerous places on earth”.

Kenya: the work ahead is for us to keep them smiling

The work ahead is for us to keep them smiling

Waithera Kuria, Save the Children


With the rest of the day’s starting off at day break to give time for travel, today begins slightly after noon since we need an hour to travel to Bishara’s village in Kenya.

Bishara is the second girl whose little footsteps I shall be following for some time to build a story of the transformation of her life and the impact of our assistance.

While Bisahra’s story on one hand tells a tale of the strong grandmothers of Africa, the other shows you how one little girl clothed in nothing but a strong persona fought adversity.

Search for water

The search for water and pasture for their herd is what drove Bishara’s mum and dad miles away from their home.

Hoping that the neighboring land would after a few days, maybe weeks restore some milk to feed their children.

They went for several days without food let alone water to drink , and as if to protect their mother back at home and contain her worry in her frail age, the parents kept Bishara’s failing health a secret.

Word only got to her grandmother when she was too emaciated and she made plans to get her. On her departure, she did not carry promises of a better place away from the drought, but Bishara’s life.

She was later brought to the Wajir hospital after which our outreach teams singled her out in our emergency response and put her in our stablization centre for days.

Upon recovery, she later graduated to the blanket supplementary feeding programme (BSF) where she’s now receiving a bi-weekly ration and medical assessment to keep her going.

We found her resting on her grandma’s laps and you can tell the bond goes beyond simple playmates.

On seeing the camera, she hides and cries asking to be picked up and perhaps taken into the house for the much needed afternoon nap.

After a while, she loosens up and walks to a group of children swinging at a nearby tree for some fun but when she looks around and realizes her grandma is out of sight, she comes back running.

They now pull to a sitting position and engage in some form of play which they both seem to understand best.

I try to reach to her to shake my hand but again, she retracts and buries herself in her grandma’s flowing attire as if sending the signal that we have overstayed.

It is at this point I discover how hard a communicator’s job is. As the person charged with telling the story I have to negotiate my way through everything but sometimes walls are built before I introduce myself the cameras instil fear and my pen and paper look intimidating.

I walk away, bid my goodbyes and can see her sigh with relief as she finally sticks her sticks her small hand out of her hideout and perhaps silently sigh with relief that am finally out of her comfort zone.

Thailand: On the road to Ayutthaya

On the road to Ayutthaya – assessing needs in flood-hit Thailand

Brian Jungwiwattanaporn, Regional Crossborder Programme Information Coordinator, Save the Children

Thousands of families have been taking shelter at the Thammasat University campus in Pathum Tani, currently housing one of the largest evacuation centres in the country. Flooding has increased in the area in the past day, with water levels visibly rising against the campus walls. Photos: Annie Bodmer-Roy/Save the Children.

9:00 AM The main evacuation center at Thammasat University is crowded. Some people are lining up at registration tables; others are receiving cooked meals. In the main hall, mattresses and blankets are laid across the floor – we’re told many people sleep here but exact numbers are hard to get. We travel across the university campus to a large football stadium where some 200 migrant workers and their families are taking shelter – the floods have served to further marginalize migrant workers and their families. Save the Children is working with local partners to ensure all families affected – including migrants – receive equal treatment during this emergency.

10: 30 AM Heading further north to Ayutthaya, we drive by men standing in the middle of the submerged road, casting their fishing nets while trucks splash by in the opposite lane. Looking from the window I see families steering their narrow boats closer and closer to the highway, while trucks crowded with food supplies and volunteers push steadily through the water to the evacuation centers. Driving past the few dry patches along the highway, we see makeshift dwellings and tents housing evacuees who haven’t made it to the centers.

11:30 AM Now at another center in Ayutthaya, the smells of curry waft through the air as volunteers ladle food into bags, serving a long line of families waiting for their meal. People who do not live in the evacuation centers arrive by boat, daily, to the food distribution center to get food supplies to take back to the village. The government is making huge efforts to deliver dry foods to flood-affected areas through trucks and air-drops. Save the Children is helping to fill the gaps by providing food by boat to reach families unable to get to the centers. A government official we speak to says the evacuation center will be open for at least the coming month. He explains that they are trying to address the needs of mothers and small children affected by the floods. People who need help are encouraged to call government hotlines – but with electricity down in many areas, communications have become increasingly difficult for people used to relying on their mobile phones.

1:00 PM We meet one older evacuee who tells us of having to move all his belongings to the second floor of his building. Living in the center of Ayutthaya, he expected some seasonal flooding but with minimal impact. He was surprised when the sandbags didn’t hold and Ayutthaya flooded to his chest. He has been at the evacuation center for four days, and doesn’t know when he’ll return. Sleeping outside, he tells us “I don’t want to burden the government,” as he waits to see if his home and belongings have survived the flood.

Another government official we meet with relates challenges they’re facing: there aren’t enough floating toilets to meet demand, or enough boats and life jackets for villagers in submerged areas. They’re having trouble accessing some of the more flooded areas like Wat Chujit temple, where 800 – 1,000 people have taken shelter. Earlier in the day we also heard of temples and centers in Ang Thong province where a large number of unaccompanied children are staying even before the flooding. The road to Ang Thong is currently un-passable.

2:30 PM We cross the street to an adjacent evacuation center, an unfinished three story building where an estimated 3,200 people are staying. Several local corporations and businesses have set up tents to provide food and other services. There are also activities and games for being run for younger children. The kids we speak to have been having fun playing games, but miss their home and their friends. 7 year-old Farm tells us “I miss home, but I can’t go home.” She has been at the evacuation center for over a week. Pond, an 8 year-old boy, says: “I have been here 3 days, I don’t know when I will go home. School will open soon, I don’t know if I can go to school or not.”

Save the Children is working to provide some normalcy for children like Pond who have been plunged into an unfamiliar environment, without their friends and regular activities, like going to school.

Written 16 October 2011 after a field visit on October 15.

Pakistan: Lower Sindh Flood Response

Pakistan: Lower Sindh Flood Response

Faris Kasim, Information and Communications Coordinator, Save the Children


“It takes me an hour to reach the only functional water pump in our area. I have to struggle with the large crowd of people there to fill my bucket. I then carry it back to our tent and have one roti (chappati) for breakfast. Later, I go out to help my brothers and father in picking cotton from the farm, which is flooded with two feet of water. We are trying to salvage as much of the cotton as possible, otherwise we will have much more debt to repay in the years to come. In the evening, I work for four to five hours in a tea shop near Mirpur Khas city, where I can make 50 rupees ($.57) every day.”

These are the words of a 12-year-old boy in village Dasmeel of district Mirpur Khas. Even before the floods, the communities in worst affected areas of Lower Sindh were deprived of the even basic necessities such as proper housing, sufficient quantities of food, clean drinking water, education and healthcare.

This coastal belt of Sindh often experiences minor floods and was also affected by the massive riverine floods last year but what I have seen in the past few days is beyond belief. It seemed as if I had landed on another planet. What used to be farmlands resemble vast lakes touching the horizon while rows after rows of thatched shelters are pitched up along the only road spared by the floods.

Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless; those who were lucky to find room in government school buildings were pushed out when floodwaters rose to more than six feet. As men scrounge for work and fill forms to get relief supplies, women and children queue in long rows to collect water at hand pumps and trucks distributing clean water. Children walk up to their knees or swim in stagnant water.

The long term risks are alarming – peoples’ savings are invested in cattle and the surviving animals are becoming weaker due to the scarcity of food. “I am forced to sell our goats at half price before they die,” said one farmer, “and this is the only cash I have to support my family till spring crops are harvested next year. That’s why my children have to work in the city.” This means boys as young as six dropping out of schools and working in hazardous informal setups, including auto workshops, tea houses, bus stands and labor work at construction sites.

After a lackluster response from the international community and national media, interest in this emergency is slowly picking up. BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera, as well as national electronic and print networks are now covering the real-life stories of families struggling to survive. They need to continue sharing the details of the crisis with the world before it is too late.

Somalia: Visiting an endless camp

Anonymous from Somalia: Visiting an endless camp


The first thing I noticed as I continued travelling through south central Somalia was that there were only two women on our plane – the rest were men.

There wasn’t much conversation on the flight to my destination. It could have been that we were all deep in thought about what lay ahead, but perhaps it was more to do with the fact that it was very, very early.

On leaving the airport, the armed guards that accompanied us jumped in an open pick-up  – I didn’t even realise that we were being followed by another car with guards in until I turned around to see them trailing behind. I was handed a bullet proof vest in the car and told to wear it.

Ghost town

The streets were dusty, as I had expected. Streams of women were walking down the streets, dressed in exotically bright dresses and scarves.

Children played on the rubble, and women wound their way through the remnants of the buildings, chatting to each other all the while.

Our driver told me that previously this area had been a ghost-town, that people were too scared to come here. Now people are hesitantly starting to return.


There were rumours that a large market might reopen nearby, which would breathe new life into the local economy, and encourage more people to return.

Our local teams tell me how proud they are to be working for Save the Children, proud of what we are working towards. The IDP (internally displaced persons) camp stretches out as far as the eye can see.

It’s not clear when exactly the camp begins – it just starts springing up each side of the main road. We ask the community there questions – each one says the same thing. We need food and water.

Begging for food

Some agencies have set up operations there, but the efforts appear haphazard. Some sections of the camp receive food aid, others don’t. Those that don’t go to beg those that do for food.

One young girl sticks in my mind, even today. We met her as she was collecting water, and she carried a baby around her waist. We asked her age – 14 or 15 she said, I’m not sure.

Yes, the baby is mine. I think he might be sick. We have not eaten yet today. She was a beautiful girl, and she smiled the whole time – even while telling me that she had not eaten. She welcomed me to Somalia, without a trace of irony.

Raw aloe vera

I speak to another woman, and ask how she makes her money. She looks at me blankly. I try again. And again. It’s going nowhere. She makes no money. I ask if she has ever made any money – did she work, before?

It takes a long time to explain what I mean – she cannot conceive of a time before now, where there was money to be earned. Eventually I establish that she used to wash clothes for money. Now there is no money, and no-one to wash clothes for.

One man insists on showing me what he and his family eat – it is raw aloe vera.

We travel to what are known locally as ‘extensions’ – or additions to the camps, for people who arrived later. These have no, or limited, food aid.

Few men

I’m introduced to the chief of one of the extension camps – a formidable woman, she wants to show me her immaculately kept list of new arrivals, and tells me proudly that she knows exactly how many people are in her extension camp – 538 households – well over 3,000 individuals.

So many of the women I spoke to told me that they were alone with their children – their men have left, or died. There are so many single mothers here.

Others tell me that they want desperately to go home. But there is nothing to go home to. There are no seeds to plant, and nothing to harvest.

This post has been written by a member of our emergencies team in south central Somalia who has to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Kenya: Fill a truck - voyage to save a child

Fill a truck: voyage to save a child

Waithera Kuria, Save the Children

A Save the Children truck is loaded with high nutrient peanut paste at a warehouse in Nairobi on 28 September 2011. The truck will deliver its load throughout Kenya and will stop first in Habaswein, South Wajir.  A Save the Children truck is loaded with high nutrient peanut paste at a warehouse in Nairobi on 28 September 2011. The truck will deliver its load throughout Kenya and will stop first in Habaswein, South Wajir.  A Save the Children truck is loaded with high nutrient peanut paste at a warehouse in Nairobi on 28 September 2011. The truck will deliver its load throughout Kenya and will stop first in Habaswein, South Wajir.

A Save the Children truck is loaded with high nutrient peanut paste at a warehouse in Nairobi on 28 September 2011. The truck will deliver its load throughout Kenya and will stop first in Habaswein, South Wajir. Photos: Colin Crowley / Save the Children.

Day 1: Thursday 29 September 2011

My journey to deliver the truck load carrying a lifeline to thousands of children facing starvation in Kenya begins on a sunny Thursday morning at slightly after 1000hrs.

I’m travelling with Colin, our multimedia officer, to capture the truck’s journey. I’ll be depending on his camera-clicking prowess to capture moments that I shall put together to tell the story of our journey to save thousands of children’s lives.

I was just as eager to see what surprises the journey might hold and what it would be like in reality. Until now the closest I had got to Kenya’s North Eastern Province was courtesy of heart-wrenching images in the media.

I consider myself Nairobi-City-phobic by virtue of residing in the village and, by an equal stroke of luck, because I work outside the city centre. It had been quite a while since I last took a trip down Thika Road – now proudly the Nairobi superhighway.   

The start of our road trip

I can’t help but imagine how better life shall become with the completion of the road circuit. Silently, I hope that the same way I’ll tell my daughter tales of a nightmarish city full of traffic jams, shall be same way the children in north-eastern Kenya and the rest of Africa shall hear of starvation.

Life-saving cargo

Along with the October rains holding up for an unknown time before pouring, the clouds equally seem to have reached a consensus not be seen together. It’s a long time before a cloud cluster gathers to shield the harsh rays of the sun, worsened by the industrial fumes of Thika Town.

We take a break to recharge and cool off and I take some time to engage the driver who is new residence has become the truck that has been ferrying relief supplies since the drought began at the beginning of the year.

With such long and draining journeys, you’d expect him to wear a long face and to be waiting with bated breath for the end so that he can drive back home to his family. But, on the contrary, he tells me he derives tons of pleasure on such trips since he knows every time that many lives are dependent on his cargo.

We drive through the small town of Mwingi on the Garissa road exactly at school breaktime. We see hundreds of children on their way back home. Barefeet and scorched by the an unforgiving  sun, I imagine how much effort they each put in at school in the hope of improving their lives and, subsequently, of the next generation.

A child’s life

With another 98km to Garissa town, we make a stopover to capture some of the sights and sounds that mark the end of the day. I share a pack of sugarcane with some children who stop by asking for the inevitable mbao (20 shillings).

Another bunch of children play a round of hopscotch, gathering a  final layer of dirt just before making up a story for their mothers at bath time. I watch another child rolling on a rock and chanting a happy song – maybe that the weekend’s just about the corner when he can play all he wants.

Watching all these children, one can’t help but notice the simplicity that characterises their life. Come out of school tired, get dirty and head home, expecting everything to be ready for them, which I believe should be every child’s life.

With all these images as a backdrop to my thinking and writing, I have a deep conviction that if every one of us committed to make at least one child’s life better it would be very achievable.

It’s now getting dark and the only sign of life are the stars, which I never get to see because of the city lights, so I take in as much I can, evoking memories of nights during my primary school years when I’d try to identify the constellations taught in a science class.

Just a thought: You and I have no other way to change the world but by saving each child at a time.

Waithera Kuria is the Information and Communications Coordinator for Save the Children's program in Kenya.

Kenya: I saw them arrive in a wheelbarrow

I saw them arrive in a wheelbarrow (Kenya)

Lourdes Collado, Save the Children

Save the Children staff member Lourdes Collado shares the experiences of people in the refugee camp in Dadaab

I saw them arrive on a wheelbarrow. A young man was pushing it carrying a strikingly beautiful woman on top, like most Somali women I've met here. She was extremely thin and was holding a child in her arms. They queued for food while waiting to be registered in the refugee camp. Meantime the dad was pretending to lift the wheelbarrow to make his child laugh – a small game and a huge smile in the midst of such tragedy. I could not help asking about their story. They had spent fifteen days walking past carcasses of dead animals, fifteen days pushing a wheelbarrow to bring his wife, who has no mobility in her legs, and their two-year-old baby to Dadaab.

Hubi arrived with her six children. She lost two others in only one month in the village used to live in, so decided to flee from the drought and hunger. Her husband is an old man and was not able to complete the journey. He was forced to stay in one of the villages they passed along the way and hopes he will join them soon. Fortunately she's not alone – in the Dadaab outskirts she found some relatives who will help her build a hut where she can sleep with her children until she can get registered in one of the three refugee camps. This process used to take two weeks but now takes four due to the increase in the number of refugees arriving here every day.

In this corner of the Horn of Africa, each of the 16,000 refugees waiting on the outskirts to be registered have a sad story to tell. Nathifa for example is 26 years old and arrived with her husband and her four children after the younger one died along the way. Faduma lost her husband in Somalia and had to travel by herself and her seven children. Two of them never made it to Dadaab. As if this was not enough, they have lost everything: their crops and livestock, their land, their roots. They had to travel during endless days and nights with almost no food or water, and most of them have experienced the tragedy of losing a child on the way, some even after just arriving in Dadaab thinking that the worse was over.

When you sit next to them on the ochre-coloured earth listening to their stories, you cannot cry. Somehow it is as if you have no right to do so because they do not cry. In their eyes you can see a deep sadness but also a great determination. They have to be strong for the sake of their other children who cling to them looking for a refuge, the same they have come to Dadaab to try to find.

Somalia: Two of my children died on the way. I have nothing left.

Two of my children died on the way. I have nothing left.

Alfonso Daniels, Save the Children

Save the Chidlren staff member Alfonso Daniel is on the ground in Puntland, Somalia.

A throng of women holding small children surges towards a shack in the middle of a dusty wasteland while a man wearing a Barcelona FC football shirt struggles to keep order at the gate. Inside hundreds queue patiently for their malnourished children to be weighed in a plastic scale before being registered, while yet more pour into this feeding centre in the heart of Tawakal, one of 31 Internally Displaced People or IDP camps scattered in the city of Bosasso, the commercial capital of Puntland in northern Somalia.

“Five months ago we saw the animals beginning to die one by one, so we decided to flee with my husband and four children since we thought I would be safer here,” says Saharo Mohamed Ali, 24, who arrived here just two months ago from a small village near Mogadishu. 

“The truck driver demanded $40 which we didn't have. We pleaded with him to allow us to hitch a ride but he refused, so some of the other passengers contributed money towards our trip,” she adds. “I had to beg for food and water, two of my children died on the way. I have nothing left.”

Several thousand people live in this camp alone which, like all the others in this city, has no latrines, running water or electricity. Here most regard themselves as fortunate if they eat one meal a day, generally consisting of maize or rice without any meat or vegetables, which they cook next to their miserable cardboard shacks held up by wooden sticks alongside narrow filthy alleyways where they live.

Abdikadir Ore Ahmed, the local director of Save the Children, one of the few international NGOs in the area, says that most people seeking help have arrived from south-central Somalia escaping the drought after days travelling in crammed trucks, often robbed by bandits on the way. He warns that the number of malnourished children in the 15 feeding centres operating in the camps has nearly doubled from 3,500 to 6,000 in the past two weeks alone.

“We give children high energy food paste that lasts them for a month and provide medicines to the stabilisation clinic where severely malnourished children are treated, but more and more arrive every day and we need more help,” he says. The heat is intense with temperatures reaching 40 degrees. Outside the feeding centre, groups of children roam around as their parents desperately try to find jobs in the city cleaning houses or carrying goods, mostly in vain. 

In Bosasso already more than a third of the city's 192,000-strong population are IDPs and their numbers keep growing by the day, with one in four children being malnourished. Throughout Somalia some 3.7 million people are in need of urgent help, according to the United Nations, a number that reaches more than 11 million in the whole region in what is considered East Africa's worse crisis for a generation. International donors have only given a fraction of the aid needed for the region, warn humanitarian organisations. 

This constant flow of people fleeing the drought is particularly stark in the miserable rural areas away from the main cities, like the remote Karkaar region located three hours away by car south of Bosasso. As a foreigner, one can only travel to this place under heavily armed escort due to the risk of robberies and kidnapping, past mini-IDP camps and the occasional herd of skeletal camels crossing the road.

There I met groups of pastoralist families huddled together in small straw huts under trees and behind some shrubbery. “I came from Dahar around 200 kilometres in the west. I had 400 goats and three camels, life was good until the drought,” says Hamina Jama, 60, who recently arrived here with her daughter and son-in-law and their seven children. “Problems started six months ago, every day 10 goats would die, the next day 10 more, that's when we realised how bad things were. I was left with 50 goats which isn't enough to survive.”

The family trekked for three days to reach this spot. During past crises they used to move to other regions where things were better, but this time no one has escaped the drought, with some communities losing up to 85% of their livestock.

“Imagine at my age having to walk for so long, holding my grandchildren. We didn't have food and almost no water, the animals were too weak and we had to support them,” she adds while stirring a small pot of rice – the family's only meal of the day. “Our children are getting thinner every day. I feel as if we were normal people and became blind, can you imagine what it would be like for someone who has suddenly turned blind? There’s no future here for our children, nothing.”

I’ve left my children because I can’t stay and watch them die

I’ve left my children because I can’t stay and watch them die

Sonia Zambakides, Emergencies Manager in Save the Children’s Somalia/Somaliland Program


The situation in Somalia was already very difficult before this crisis. Year in year out we’re dealing with a situation where it’s a daily struggle to meet the humanitarian needs of people living here.
Their resilience is already low and people have already struggled through 20 years of conflict. With the failed rains they’re suffering even more.

We’re witnessing people who have lost everything, who are absolutely desperate and more and more malnourished children coming to our feeding centres. We’re seeing people who’ve gone from having very little to having absolutely nothing.

Rains fail
We knew by January 2011 that the situation in Somalia could be even more critical – the rains had failed at the end of 2010 and crisis was potentially looming.

A part of my job is to raise funds so that Save the Children could increase our response to meet the growing needs and that is what I focused on with my colleagues at this time.

Unfortunately, we are back to the never enough – there were some funds, but not enough to avert the current situation.

It is difficult to fight against the ‘Somalia fatigue’ which I encounter a lot. There are ongoing chronic emergencies in Somalia all the time which we constantly respond to.

Fighting fatigue
So when you try to raise more awareness of an impending crisis, the often asked question is: ‘is this one going to be bigger than usual?’ And we know now that the answer is clearly ‘yes’.

How do I deal with this? I try to make sure that I keep the focus on the children, the people who are suffering. I need to keep that for me and then make sure I keep it at that level for others.  A story told to me by one of our staff I can’t get out of my mind.

I was told that a mother came to our office and said, ‘I’ve come for help. I’ve left my children at home because I can’t stay there and watch them die.’

By the time our staff got to her home two of her children had died. I have been haunted by this ever since I heard it – I’m a mother – I cannot even begin to imagine being in a situation like that.

World Refugee Day: Life after Somalia

 World Refugee Day: Life after Somalia 

Mark Bailey, Humanitarian Advocacy Officer, Save the Children

A combination of ongoing conflict, coupled with the devastating effect of the drought, has meant that thousands of people are fleeing Somalia for Dadaab. By the time they’ve reached the refugee camps they are exhausted, weak and hungry. Most will have made the arduous journey on foot, through boiling hot sand and harsh shrub. Bleeding and sand-covered, they’ve discarded most of their belongings on the way – too heavy to carry in the hot sun. The trek is a desperate measure. Over 350,000 people now live here (making it the fourth largest ‘city’ in Kenya) – crammed into camps built for only 90,000.

Many of the smaller children in the camps have grown up here, and few will have known peace in their lives. As I speak to more and more children, the difference between new arrivals from Somalia and those who have been here a while becomes more marked. At first I put the difference down to personality. One child is silent, suspicious, while another is open and talkative. But then I realise. The children and families fresh from Somalia have been struggling to survive in a brutal, war-torn world. Many of the children seem wild, their language harsh and defensive. Even after 6 months in Dadaab you can see the difference. Children are more relaxed, happy to talk, interested in the world around them.

But Dadaab is not an oasis. Children here are at high risk of assault and exploitation, and many children arrive alone. Sixteen year old Hassain left his home in Somalia just over a week ago. His family told him to leave because the drought had destroyed their farmland, and there was not enough food to survive. Hassain strapped his two year old sister Sareye to his back and climbed on a crowded minibus. He tells me that his father sold everything he had left to pay for the ticket for Hassain and Sareye to get to Somalia on the vehicle. “I was very scared the whole way here. I was scared for myself and for Sareye,” shares Hassain. It took six days to cross the border, and Hassain carried his sister the whole way.

Sareye got sick on the journey, and was diagnosed with malaria and pneumonia when she arrived – both are easily preventable illnesses, but not in Somalia. Pneumonia causes severe coughing, pain and fever. Malaria often manifests in diarrhoea and feverish attacks. The journey must have been hell for both Hassain and Sareye. When they arrived they were referred to Save the Children who helped to reunify them with their Aunt, already living in the camps.

Save the Children works on both sides of the border – Dadaab in Kenya and within Somalia. We are one of the few aid agencies still operating in war-torn Somalia; providing crucial help with food, water, livelihoods and education – and scaling up in response to the drought. It’s a difficult, dangerous context to work in. But the work is urgent – and the humanitarian need is clear. As it is in Dadaab camps. The team here are providing counselling, child protection, family tracing and material support, life skills training and participatory activities which help children adjust to life outside of Somalia. Hassain is still very traumatised, tense and ready to flee. He perches on the edge of his seat, constantly scanning the horizon for threats. Sareye sleeps peacefully, too young to understand.

The journey begins with gunfire

The journey begins with gunfire: Bahn Refugee Camp, Liberia

Mike Sunderland, Save the Children


It rings out over a football pitch where boys play, or over a village where girls braid their hair, or in this case, a classroom where the lesson is underway.

The children have grown up in peaceful times but the teacher knows best. He hurries them out of the classroom, ushering them home to their parents.

When one child makes it home, his parents aren't there. His little sisters are though, crying. "Maybe the farm?" he thinks, grabbing the girls' hands and setting off.

The village is in chaos, the gunshots are getting louder and families are rushing out into the streets. The boy pushes his way through the crowd; he makes it to the farm but his parents are gone.

I met 14-year-old Landry under a makeshift shelter here in Bahn refugee camp, in Liberia. Given what he'd endured to get here, it was a wonder he could tell me his story at all.

Landry doesn't know what happened to his parents. He left home three months ago and hasn't heard word of them since.

He and his sisters trekked along with others for three days through a child's living nightmare. They slept in dark forests and crossed frightening rivers. They walked beneath the hot West African sun; wore no shoes and had nothing to eat.

Stories like Landry's aren't uncommon here. Of the one million people displaced by the fighting in Ivory Coast so far, 500,000 are children. They arrive at the Liberian border every day.

A Save the Children colleague of mine told me about the recent case of a two-year-old girl who came in the arms of a tired woman who had found her screaming at the roadside.

Too young, the girl couldn't speak her name or who her parents were. So, the lady carried her for two days and is still caring for her in Liberia. She has named the girl Carine, and I wonder if Carine will ever see her family again.

In any humanitarian emergency children will be vulnerable, but the way in which many can calmly and bravely speak of their experiences amazes me.

I try to remember how it felt when I got lost as a kid, only to be swept up in my mum's arms a few minutes later.

Some of these children have been lost for months in a strange place miles from their home. And their mums might never come back to make it better.

Cote d’Ivoire: Aid in the midst of increasing violence

Cote d’Ivoire: Aid in the midst of increasing violence

Annie Bodmer-Roy, Save the Children


Having previously lived here, I noticed differences even before arriving into Abidjan, the largest city in Cote d’Ivoire. On the plane from Paris to Abidjan, more than half the seats were empty due to increasing violence and instability caused by the disputed elections in November 2010.

At the Canadian airport I departed from, I happened to run into a very well known Ivorian reggae artist who had just performed in Montreal, my hometown. He’s known for his political views and his calls for the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, to leave his position of power. Like many people I’ve spoken to in the past two weeks back home, he was surprised to hear I was heading back to Abidjan now.

Up to 300,000 people have already fled their homes in Abidjan, with many more planning to go back to their family villages as soon as they can get the means to travel safely out of the city. Once I arrived in Abidjan, our driver sent me to Residence 1 – a house of another colleague deemed safer than my previous home in the city that I’ve been living in for the past two years. In part this is because it’s easier to evacuate staff who are grouped together in a residence, and in part this is because my previous apartment is in a building shared by many staff from the UN mission, which in the past few months has increasingly been targeted by televised broadcasts accusing the UN of siding with a former rebel group.

Driving to the office later that morning, I notice even more checkpoints have been set up around the city, extending to the neighbourhood where our office is located. Indeed, on the road heading into the office, a new checkpoint is being manned by armed men in civilian clothes. It’s not clear if these are security forces in civilian clothing or if they are armed civilians.

Arriving in the office, I met with colleagues who have started distributing basic household and hygiene items to some of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced in the past few weeks due to mounting armed violence.

Overwhelming need

We estimate that there are 70,000 people in the west of the country who have fled their homes, and around 70, 000 have fled across the border to Liberia. The need is overwhelming.

Together with other international humanitarian agencies, we aren’t yet reaching half of the displaced populations in and around Abidjan. Part of this is due to difficulties in identifying those who have fled their homes due to the ongoing conflict and who are now staying with host families. If they are living with families, one of the main obstacles we face is accessing the areas where they are staying.

The security situation remains extremely volatile, with gunshots, mortar shells and exploding grenades heard daily, even from the designated safe area I am currently living and working in.

Just yesterday, six mortar shellings in Abobo killed or maimed up to 100 people according to the UN. Abobo, an area in the city that has seen the heaviest casualties in the past weeks, supports Ouattara, who claimed to have won the 2010 election, and whose claims were internationally recognized, but not accepted by Laurent Gbagbo, precipitating the ongoing crisis. At least 435 people have died so far in the violence.

Children want their normal lives back

So throughout all of the tension, how are children coping? Despite the difficulties in moving around safely Abidjan, we have started responding to the needs of children and their families, and been speaking to children to get an accurate idea of their needs during the current crisis.

The children we’ve spoken to are scared and miss their friends. They want to go back to school and get their normal lives back. One boy told us of how had to travel through a forest in Abidjan to reach safety, because there was too much fighting in his old neighborhood. A seven year-old girl we spoke to walked with her family through the bush to get to safety, carrying her belongings in a bag and her little brother on her back. These families have lost so much. We’re doing whatever we can to make sure they can retain their dignity, keep their children warm and clean, and are able to prepare their own food.

Aid distributions

We  are starting our third week of aid distributions. As we step up our coordination with other agencies, we’re working to see how we can get the most needed materials – food, blankets, medicines, cooking materials, soap and detergent, and other necessities – to families that have fled their homes. We have reached hundreds of families so far – 258 in Abidjan and around 300 families in the west of the country.

Although there are lots of challenges ahead, it’s great to see our staff out there and working with determination and dedication to meet the needs of these children and their families.

Support our Children’s Emergency Fund, which helps us respond quickly when disaster strikes, and has been vital to us setting up our response in Côte d’Ivoire.

Drought and war: the struggle to survive in Somalia

Drought and war: the struggle to survive in Somalia

Sonia Zambakides, Emergencies Manager in Save the Children’s Somalia/Somaliland Programme

“This drought has left us destitute, and the war has taken what little we had left,” 28-year-old Habiba told me when she arrived in Bosaso in northern Somalia.

Habiba had travelled for eight days in a cramped truck from Mogadishu with two of her children – Mona who is three and Ismael who is just three months old. All of them are severely malnourished – Habiba can no longer feed baby Ismael because her milk has dried up and Ismael has been ill with vomiting and diarrhoea since birth.

Habiba has a third child who was taken by his grandmother to also flee. Habiba last heard from them when they were in a town in central Somalia two weeks ago and has no idea where they are now or if they are OK.


She had managed to scrape together $40 so that they could flee to Bosaso after her husband was killed in Mogadishu and it was no longer safe for them to remain there. Habiba told us that she had spent all of her money on the truck journey, and she had nothing left to buy food for her or her children.

During the journey, the truck would often be stopped by different militia groups and those travelling were robbed of the meagre belongings they had left with them. Every time the truck truck stopped, Habiba would beg people to give her food and water, while knowing she was at risk of being ‘arrested’ or detained.


And then the journey got even worse. When they arrived on the outskirts of Galkayo, a town bordering central Somalia and Puntland, the truck exploded into flames. Habiba showed us the burns all over her right arm and leg – she was caught in the cab of the truck while it was on fire. She has had no treatment for these burns as she cannot afford to pay for a hospital visit or medications. When she arrived in Bosaso, her clothes were burnt and in tatters and she had no clothes for her children.
Sadly, Habiba is just one of many who are arriving from other parts of Somalia utterly destitute, desperate to find somewhere safer for their families. They have lost their crops and livestock and have no money. They are struggling to survive on just one meal a day, or nothing at all.
When they arrive here, things aren’t much better in the refugee camps. People are living in very bad conditions. There are no latrines or washing facilities, many of the dwellings are made from cardboard, pieces of corrugated iron roofing and materials.
Many of the women try to find casual labour as cleaners or cooks, to earn money to feed their families. This means they have to leave their children all day long, the younger ones being looked after by the older ones.
“I’m happy to be in a place where there is peace and no guns or bombs,” said Habiba. ”Now I need to find somewhere to live and income so that I can feed my children.”
Save the Children is feeding 9,000 children at 60 feeding centres across south central Somalia and Puntland, but we desperately want to expand our work to provide food for mothers and their children, shelter and healthcare, and education and protection for those children who are alone all day looking after their siblings.

There are children worse off than me. Help them first

There are children worse off than me. Help them first

Ian Woolverton, Save the Children spokesperson

Despite wearing wet weather gear, layers of warm clothing, thick socks and gloves, today is the coldest I’ve been in years.  To get to children and their families we have traipsed through the thick mud and sludge, climbed over mountains of tsunami debris, and travelled many miles up Japan’s far-north east coast.
Before I am accused of carping on about how cold it is, let me make one thing clear.  I’m drawing attention to the freezing temperatures here to make the point that children with no option but to shelter in schools and hospitals have been forced to seek warmth from tiny kerosene lamps.  I know this because I witnessed it today in Ishinomaki.
I found Asato, 8, and Karen, 6, as well as parents Koichi and Rumi huddled in a second floor classroom of a primary school with only a few blankets and a stove to keep them warm.  Through the single pane windows I could see thick snow falling.  It was a bitterly cold day, but how cold it got at night in this draughty classroom is anybody’s guess.
In the same classroom I met Riku, 12, a most articulate and confident young man who moved me with his kind words for other children affected by the earthquake and tsunami.  As we sat together in the classroom he began to tell me how important it was that the world did not forget the children of Japan, and that people should send help.  But he made a special point of saying and I quote him, “There are children worse off than me.  Help them first.  They need the help more than me.”
I had to choke back the tears.

What Unsettling Site Awaits

What Unsettling Site Awaits

Ian Woolverton, Save the Children spokesperson

The clock in the vehicle says it's 0544, as we pass through a police road block approximately 40kms from Sendai, the city of more than one million people affected by the tsunami and earthquake.

Even though the roads were empty, it took ten hours to drive this far north from Toyko.

We're in a two-vehicle convoy stuffed to the gills with basic essentials such as water, food and toilet paper as well as one van brimming with enough kit to set up a Child Friendly Space.

As the sun starts its slow rise, I make out mountainous silhouettes either side of the road. The outside temperature is close to freezing and there is thick grey fog. Apart from the cold it is a beautiful place.
I wonder though what unsettling sites await us in the coastal areas of Sendai?

Fact is this is my first experience of a disaster in a developed country, and I can't quiet get to grips with the fact that there is mass devastation ahead.

I'm even more perplexed as we pull into the city. Apart from a large group of Japanese engineers in dark blue uniforms and white hard hats congregated in one ultra-modern office block, there are no clues that a major earthquake occurred here last week.

It's not until you leave the city limits and head north-east that the extent of the tsunami damage, triggered by the earthquake, becomes clear.

Entire fields are full of debris including corrugated iron, furniture, toys, up turned cars as well as a bewildering array of bits and pieces. It's possible too that human bodies are buried somewhere beneath the rubble.

The scenes of devastation here remind me of what I witnessed all over Aceh Province following 2004's Boxing Day tsunami.
It's horrible to think that children might have been killed in the tsunami, or that some of them might have become separated from their families during the earthquake and disaster.

Over the coming weeks and months in Japan, Save the Children will provide psycho-social support to children in the form of child friendly spaces in order to help them ward off the possibility of long-term psychological trauma.

Staying on message

Staying on message

Ian Woolverton, Save the Children spokesperson

It's eight thirty on Monday evening. I've been up since 0400, and have had 90 minutes sleep in the last 36hrs. I'm a little frayed.

My day started very early with a taxi tour of Tokyo as I tried to locate a docklands site where world media had set up satellite links in order to facilitate live interviews with aid workers about the Japan quake and tsunami.

A freezing cold morning, I had been invited to go on Australia's high rating Channel Nine Today to talk about Save the Children's response to the earthquake and tsunami.

A four-minute interview, it was the start of a long day of media interviews for broadcasters and newspapers all over the world.

In fact the demand for interviews has not stopped. As I write this blog post my colleague and friend Stephen McDonald, our team leader, is doing a round of interviews for BBC local radio stations in the UK. He's been on the phone for ninety minutes.

The lesson is clear: never under-estimate media's insatiable appetite to report disaster stories from every conceivable angle.

Without doubt though the triple whammy of earthquake, tsunami and two explosions at a nuclear reactor makes the Japanese crisis an incredibly compelling story.

All that said it can be taxing trying to 'stay on message' and to ensure all the pertinent details are imparted during media interviews such as donation hotlines and website addresses not to mention, of course, how we've helped children.

But aid agencies like Save the Children know that media interest is short in covering humanitarian crises, even major ones, and therefore must pounce to ensure community engagement remains high so that we raise the funds needed to help children and families affected by disasters like the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Meeting the needs of children in Japan

Meeting the needs of children in Japan

Ian Woolverton, Save the Children spokesperson 

Landing at Tokyo's International Airport this morning after a long flight from Sydney Australia, I looked up at a television screen to see images of a nuclear reactor with a headline, "Explosion at Fukushima reactor."

Add to that an aftershock or two (there have been 400-500 aftershocks since Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami), and I started to question why I was here.

But as the world's leading child's rights agency, we are in the business of helping children and their families affected by disasters at home and overseas as well as in developed and less developed countries.

By now we've all seen the images of the awesome destructive power of the tsunami that wreaked havoc along the east coast of Japan's most densely populated Honshu island, home to famous cities like Tokyo and for all the wrong reasons, Sendai, the city that was smashed to pieces by the tsunami.

But what's less well reported is the damage caused to other centres of population like Asahi City, where I'm headed now. Here the authorities estimate nearly 19,000 households have been affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Sitting in the back of a Save the Children vehicle on a beautiful spring Sunday morning we speed toward the city.

At this point I could be lulled into a false sense of security. There are no signs that we're headed to a disaster area. I can honestly say I have not seen any earthquake damage to buildings and homes. This is testament to Japan's strict building codes that ensure all buildings are built to withstand even the most severe earthquakes. But no government however wealthy can be expected to prevent, in some areas, ten metre tsunami waves gobbling up everything from articulated trucks to houses, schools and tragically people.
And it is this new reality that I fear will greet us as we draw closer to Asahi City.

So, why have we come here? Why aren't we up north in Sendai? Fact is there has been so much attention on Sendai, and the Japanese authorities are so good at disaster response that we want to focus our attention on meeting the unmet needs of children and their families in other areas that might get overlooked. I'm not suggesting we will put the needs of children in Sendai to one side. Of course we won't since the needs there are massive, but we want to ensure children up and down the east coast get the help they need as well.

Our ambition in tsunami-affected areas is to open what's known as Child Friendly Spaces, effectively a play space where children can play with other children of a similar age under close supervision from responsible adults. The idea is to relieve the stress on parents and to give them a break from childcare duties as they register for emergency assistance.

But there's another reason to run Child Friendly Spaces, and that's to allow children to return to as normal an environment as possible (given the circumstances).

Our experience in decades of disaster response shows us that children must be returned to a normal routine as quickly as possible to help ward off the risk of long-term psychological problems.
Arriving in Asahi it's clear many children and their families need help.

Along the sea front homes have been decimated and become caked in mud. I met people sweeping mud from their homes, without much success is has to be said.

The streets nearest the beach are full of bizarre sights like overturned vehicles wedged in houses or leaning on walls.  I've seen these scenes before in places like Aceh following the Boxing Day tsunami, but I'm always in awe of how brutal mother nature can be.
The most distressing experience for me was meeting Natsumi (10) and Nao (11)Nakazawa who were afraid of the water and desperate to return to school to be with friends they'd not seen since the earthquake and tsunami.

I also met the Takane family who along with hundreds of families had sought shelter in one of 17 classrooms  at IIzuka Primary School. Mum Mariko and her four children Yuto (8), Aika (7), Kanato (1) and newborn Amihi had been living in a small classroom since Friday. At first they were afraid to go home, but once they summoned the courage to return they found there was no water supply leaving them little choice but to return to the school for shelter.

Sadly, I suspect that the Takane's story is one playing out up and down the east coast Japan's most densely populated island.

10 achievements

10 achievements 

Will Postma, Director, Programs

I have had the privilege to visit two of Save the Children’s field sites in the past month – in Haiti and Burkina Faso – and wanted to share five good memories from each of the sites – ten in total. Ten is a good number.

1.    In Léogâne, Haiti, a few kilometres from the epicenter of last year’s earthquake, Save the Children is helping hundreds of families by giving them small bits of paper! As opposed to handing out necessities such as cooking materials, beds, tables and chairs, Save the Children has worked out arrangements with small businesses in Léogâne to accept asset-vouchers from over 600 participants. We provide the asset-vouchers to those most in need and work with the government to ensure the participant list is accurate. Participants can take their asset vouchers and choose where to purchase and what to purchase. This gives the participants the ability to make their own purchase choices and also stimulates local businesses to be more involved in the recovery process. Similar voucher programs have been set up to allow participants to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables from local sellers.

2.    In Banfora, Burkina Faso, in the south-west of the country, Save the Children is responding to school settings where there are vastly more children than classrooms and teachers available. We are turning situation into an opportunity for child participation. We’re helping children meet in small groups of 6-10 and review class lessons, reinforce what they’ve learned, and develop questions for teachers. Sometimes, older students also mentor and tutor younger children. It’s an excellent educational innovation in which an otherwise burdensome (and not very child-friendly) 60:1 teacher-student ratio, and allows teachers to flex their skills as facilitators, guides and counselors.

3.    In Léogâne, Haiti, the Save the Children office has set up an ‘accountability hot-line’. Participants in our health, nutrition, education or water and sanitation programs can call the hot-line with any complaints and concerns they may have about our work – which then are addressed by our staff in the field.

4.    In Banfora, Burkina Faso, primary school students elect a student council of representatives. The responsibilities of these ‘ministers’ are for: health, making sure there is first aid available for children; security, making sure the fences are in good shape and that there is no stealing; and water, making sure the water at the school is drinkable.

5.    In Léogâne, Haiti, just meters from the Save the Children office, there is a large camp of displaced Haitian families whose homes were destroyed. While we are helping more and more of these families to relocate to new homes, we are providing thousands of liters of clean water daily and making sure critical health services are nearby.

6.    In Banfora, Burkina Faso, community members in rural areas write and adopt codes of conduct – some basic principles that affirm the importance of schooling for their children, and if children are working with their parents in the fields, that the work would not be detrimental to their health and well being…and that the work could actually help them become stronger and better able to learn new skills.

7.    In Léogâne, Haiti, we are building safer schools for children – making school buildings and classrooms more hurricane and earthquake resistant.  Special nail plates, bracing and straps have been designed to withstand lateral forces that could make structures collapse. Other agencies, including the Inter American Development Bank in Haiti are eager to learn from our safer school design.

8.    In Banfora, Burkina Faso, the Kagnonce Cooperative has modeled self-sufficiency. With Save the Children support, they were able to purchase a shea nut mill three years ago. With proceeds from selling the products, including shea butter, they were able to purchase two more mills and advertise to women in the area that they could get competitive and guaranteed prices by selling their shea nuts to the Cooperative. 

9.    In Léogâne, Haiti, Save the Children operates two of the three cholera treatment units for the entire area, using internationally-recognized standards of detection, care, stabilization and follow-up. Save the Children works with Ministry of Health officials and Haitian medical staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with ambulances at the ready, all with the intent to quickly respond and minimize contagion. In the last two weeks of January, among all of the 9 cholera treatment units managed by Save the Children in Haiti, there was a 14% reduction in cases, a result of strong awareness raising that we are also promoting in communities.

10. In Banfora, Burkina Faso, cooperative members are running literacy and money-management skills with a combination of their own resources and a small fund from the Government of Burkina Faso. Save the Children is one of a few NGOs in Burkina Faso receiving local government funds with which to build the capacity of local community groups – a testament to Save the Children in Burkina Faso being well respected by the Government and well positioned to work with local partners.

These are just a few achievements in a few communities around the world where Save the Children Canada works.

Gaston Margran camp

Gaston Margran camp

David Morley

When I was here right after the earthquake last February, our greatest fear was that the crowded, chaotic conditions in the camps would lead to uncontrolled epidemics and complete social breakdown.  Children would become even more vulnerable under these dangerous conditions.

I think the good coordination between NGOs and the UN helped prevent this in the camps.  We have worked hard to share resources and coordinated our activities.  Gaston Margran, a camp of 6,000 people crammed into a small plot of land by the teeming suburb of Carrefour, is a good example.  The camp is managed by IOM, a UN agency.  CARE provides the water.  Save the Children runs the health services.

When cholera broke out in the north of the country two months ago we all found ourselves scrambling – first to combat the outbreak where it had started, and then to prepare Port-au-Prince and the cities in the south for the next wave.  We opened Cholera Treatment Units in a number of camps here in Port-au-Prince.  The one at Delmas 56 is crammed between tents in that congested camp, while out here at Gaston Margran there is a bit more space.

The Cholera Treatment Unit is working smoothly.  It has seen about 150 patients since the epidemic began, five of those people have died.  We step in chlorine shoe baths on our way into the Unit and have our hands washed with a high chlorine solution and soap.  The doctor is Haitian, trained in Cuba (I recall the excellent Congolese doctors I worked with in the Congo who had also learned their medicine in Havana).  He talks about the speed with which cholera attacks, how it can quickly dehydrate you.  In the recovery room he introduced me to a patient who is ready to leave.  “Two days ago she was admitted.  She was crying, but she was so dehydrated she couldn’t make any tears.  Now she’s ready to go home.  We know how to beat this disease” he said.

We will need to be vigilant for six months, and this draws resources from the general health clinic we have been running out by the highway at the front of the camp.  We’ve gone from an 8 hour day health post to a 24/7 Cholera Unit – not just here, but in all the camps where we are in charge of health.

But the health clinic continues – the mums and babies are lined up for the well baby clinic, and about 90 patients are treated for common ailments.  “More of our patients come from outside the camp than from the camp itself” our health promoter says.   Here is the answer to our fear that the camps will be centres of disease and illness – health in this tent city is better than in the surrounding community.  Clean water, garbage disposal, the clinic and preventative health measures we are promoting (like wonderfully creative skits to raise awareness of basic hygiene) have all meant that the camp is healthier.

But this is expensive – we don’t know how long we can afford to keep this level of service.  And the eviction notices have started coming, too.  The owners, or the people who say they are the owners of the land on which the camp is located, want their land back and are putting the pressure on the displaced people to leave.  But the people want to stay here, where it is cleaner and healthier.  We know this is an unsustainable situation, and that we need to start working on the transition out of the camps.

But the irony is there.  Back in January and February we feared the camps would be a health hazard.  Now, at least in the well-run camps like this one, people are healthier than in the surrounding “unaffected” areas, and so they don’t want to leave.  Yet another challenge for the poor people of Haiti, and for agencies like ours who are trying to help.

This blog was written by David Morley, former president and CEO.

Return to Haiti

Return to Haiti

David Morley

Going to Haiti is not without its moments of trepidation.  Only bad news seems to escape from this unfortunate country, and yet often when I arrive and get a chance to look more closely I feel more optimistic than I would ever expect.  Community groups are organizing to make things better for their children, some government officials show a commitment to improving the health, education, and protection of Haitian children and our work with other agencies brings even more improvement in children's lives.

But this time, my fourth trip here in the past 16 months, I feel greater concern.  Hurricane Tomas, the cholera outbreak, the political stalemate, have conspired to slow progress in Port-au-Prince and Léogâne where, nearly a year after the earthquake, more than a million people still live in tent cities.  How can it be that so little progress has been made?

Certainly, the issue of land ownership continues to bedevil everyone's work.  I was told by a Haitian official that if you took all the land titles which exist in Haiti and added up all the acreage they claim to represent, you would have a country that is three times bigger than Haiti actually is.  When the political situation is resolved here, the Haitian government will have to address this issue - quickly.

But it is a bit much to expect the government of Haiti to do it all on their own.  After the earthquake people and governments around the world pledged support.  The money from individuals has come in, but only about half of government pledges have been met.  Rebuilding Haiti will be expensive, and it will take time, and it will not be easy.

Look how hard it has been for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast post Katrina. Thousands of people lived in FEMA trailers for several years. The lower ninth ward and many communities, neighbourhoods that used to be home to the working poor and low income renters have yet to be rebuilt over five years later. This in the U.S., one of the richest countries in the world, that has some of the greatest human and engineering resources at its disposal. Can you imagine how difficult the recovery process will be for the poorest country in the western hemisphere?

And last night, sitting with colleagues from Save the Children in Haiti, who have been working so hard to make a difference in the lives of Haiti’s people, I heard the strain in their voices - this is a very difficult place to work.  They are frustrated with how hard it is to work here, how many hurdles there are to overcome.  But they are working hard, and tomorrow I will get to see the changes their efforts are making.

This blog was written by David Morley, former president and CEO.

From Port-au-Prince to Léogâne

From Port-au-Prince to Léogâne 

David Morley 

The drive from Port-au-Prince out to Léogâne, the epicentre of last year’s earthquake, is still one which overwhelms my senses.  But as I look more closely, between the piles of rubble which are still present everywhere, I see that maybe, just maybe, things are getting better.

Better, but not yet good.  There are still far too many tent cities – but a child’s home-made kite flies over one small settlement, and in another, the tarpaulins and plastic sheeting are slowly being replaced with plywood and tin.  Markets have started up and I noticed one tent had put up a sign over the shop “Bienvenue” it said, “Welcome.”

There are more latrines in the camps, and many of them are being cleaned – another good sign, especially with the fear of cholera in the air. Along the main highway there are signs of life – more motor bikes, the markets are more active, things look like they may be coming back to normal for the poorest country in the hemisphere – but then the next block is nothing but rubble, the dead grey stone and dust over everything, with the naked interiors of destroyed houses on display to the passersby; an intimate, almost embarrassing view of one of the countless lives shattered in just 45 seconds one year ago.  Some of the ruins – I can’t fathom why or how – are being covered by a profusion of brilliant purple bougainvillea.

Many of our staff lost loved ones in the earthquake, and Samuel, our Deputy Field manager in Léogâne, is no exception.  His goddaughter was studying nursing at the national nursing school when it collapsed, and she – along with almost all of the nursing students in Haiti - was killed instantly.  The irony in a country that desperately needed nurses before the quake and even more now, had she not been studying she would have been fine - his house was unscathed. Samuel has thrown himself into our programs here in Léogâne, and is leading the work we are doing to transition from emergency into sustainable development. 

More and more, we are working to train local agencies so we can hand over our projects in health and education to them.  And we are shifting our service provision, too.  Where we once used to truck water only to the tent cities in Léogâne we now are taking it to people’s homes, too.  We are also building latrines in the community, too.  Where land ownership has been established, the Red Cross has been building small homes, and  we build the latrines.  Slowly, people are leaving the camps.

I was pleased to see these steps – it is a change from when I was here in the fall, when we were still in the emergency phase.  But the political stalemate and cholera have affected things, too.  Unfortunately, our health clinic staff are having to focus their energy on cholera preparation, and this has slowed down the transfer of the clinics to the control of local agencies.

There are other signs of progress in Léogâne, however.  From the roof of our office in the centre of the city I saw five dump trucks carrying rubble away – back in February, rubble removal was confined to wheelbarrows.  But even so, it will be hard – some estimates say there is enough rubble in Port-au-Prince and Léogâne to fill Toronto’s Rogers Centre seven times.  That is a lot of cement.

As people move back home, or rather, to new homes, we are also helping supply family materials.  We’ve been working with Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity here, too.  They tell us when they’ve finished working on a house, and we provide the residents with vouchers they can use at the local market to get tables, chairs, beds and kitchen supplies – a washtub, glasses, plates and cutlery. 
In one of the smaller communities outside Léogâne, someone has given us a piece of land to build a cholera treatment unit.  As we drive out through green fields and lush forests (I know, not images we usually associate with Haiti, but every time I come here, it finds new ways to confound my preconceived stereotypes) we see a young man brushing his teeth in water from the gutter that runs by the roadside.  No wonder cholera is spreading so easily here; there is a lot of public education that needs to be done – but, of course, if someone wants to brush their teeth, they need to have ready access to good water, too.

The work on the Cholera Unit is proceeding well.  It is nearly finished, and should open tomorrow.  Already the medical staff are here.  Construction was slowed by the holidays, and also because of political demonstrations protesting the presidential election results.  None of the supplies we need – chlorine, plastic sheeting, tubing for water and sanitation – can make it through the blockades between here and Port-au-Prince.

This unresolved political issue remains a thorny one.  “It will take faith, goodwill and trust to solve this situation” Martial, one of our longest-serving and wisest Haitian colleagues, told me.  Here in Léogâne, we are starting to see that resolve – the local agencies that are ready to take over our work, the man who donated the land for the cholera treatment unit to us, the people who are leaving the tents and moving into homes.  We can see it here at the local level – will we see it nationally, too?

This blog was written by David Morley, former president and CEO.

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