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Millions Flee Conflict and Violence

Many people escaping violence in Syria and other countries come through the Serbia-Croatia border, where Terre des Hommes-Lausanne has set up tents where families can rest. Photos from TDH-Lausanne.

Many people escaping violence in Syria and other countries come through the Serbia-Croatia border, where Swedish children’s aid organization Terre des Hommes-Lausanne has set up tents where families can rest. Photo from TDH-Lausanne.

By Lynda Perry, ChildFund Staff Writer

Many of us have seen the headlines coming from Europe and the Middle East, as millions of people seek refuge from violence. Families and children have left everything they know to face an uncertain future, often traveling by night on rough roads, facing armed guards and rebel gunfire. More than half of the nearly 60 million people displaced by war today are children, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. They come from Syria more than any other country; more than 200,000 people have died in civil war there.

As of Nov. 23, 3,519 people have perished this year alone trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to safety in Europe. Their numbers grow every day, according to the International Organization for Migration.

As winter approaches and the plight of exhausted families on the road worsens, ChildFund is supporting a Swiss children’s aid organization, Terre des Hommes-Lausanne, to provide respite to families on the run. Now on the ground in Serbia and Macedonia, TDH offers families support and protection at all hours of the day or night, greeting them with warm clothes and blankets, personal hygiene supplies, maps, reliable information and help in connecting with families and friends. For mothers, there’s a private place to feed their children; for children, a safe place to play and, perhaps, feel like children again. Distressed families can also receive psychological support as well as health assessments and referrals.

Donate and help make fleeing children and their family members more comfortable and safe as they face a winter of uncertainty.

For more information about the refugee crisis:

BBC: Background on the conflict in Syria

BBC: Experience the dilemmas of those fleeing Syria.

International Organization for Migration: Missing Migrants Project tracks casualties in the Mediterranean with frequent updates.

New York Times: “I met several children who had arrived in Europe on their own. The youngest of them, Reza Mohammadi, was just 7 at the time. He was separated from his parents in a forest in Macedonia,” writes Katrin Bennhold.


Flavia Crosses the Gorge

Photos and reporting from Gelina Fontaine, ChildFund Caribbean

As you may have read in her two-part diary, Flavia Lanuedoc was scared of crossing the 250-foot river gorge near her home in Boetica, Dominica, where flooding has caused great damage. Late this week, we heard that she crossed the gorge. Here are a few pictures. We wish Flavia and her neighbors well, as they recover from Tropical Storm Erika.

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Moving People by Helicopter and Pulley in Dominica

Photos and story by Flavia Lanuedoc, ChildFund Caribbean

Flavia Lanuedoc works as a sponsor relations officer for one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in Dominica. She lives in Boetica, a village that was cut off from help after flooding from Tropical Storm Erika in late August. This is the second of two parts of her story. Read part one here


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Having filled some of the most basic needs, village leaders soon decided that we needed an emergency route in case someone needed to be taken out of the village for medical reasons.

More than 50 years ago, people had built a path across a 250-foot gorge with rocks and dirt, connecting Boetica and Laplaine. Now, it needed to be tackled and tamed once more. Villagers placed a rope over one side of the cliff, then scaled the cliff and climbed up the other side.

During the next few days, helicopters brought in much-needed supplies, and we decided at a meeting that we needed to get the sick and elderly out. Eight people were airlifted, and soon, children and youth who attended school and college in town were airlifted too. Firefighters helped us bring in supplies with a pulley over the gorge once helicopters were no longer available.

A century-old villager died, and his coffin was pulled across the gorge to its resting place. Electricity returned almost two weeks after the storm, so I was able to receive and send emails. I visited several of the ChildFund-enrolled children’s families in Delices (though the road remained dangerous, especially when wet), helped in village cleanups, distributed relief supplies and assisted in any other way I could.

Getting out of the northern section of Boetica to the rest of the island is no easy feat; neither is it for the weak nor faint-hearted. I dared not climb the ladder or crawl down a cliff using a rope, and I didn’t walk along cliff edges or on the deserted beach, either.

However, with families to serve and community mobilizers to support, my task would have been impossible without the village heroes. I am able to function effectively as a sponsor relations officer (despite being cut off) because villagers climb the ladder and ropes and help me carry letters and other documents from the area offices to ChildFund Caribbean’s national office.  Thanks also to the staff members who supported me in so many ways.

My experience is overwhelming evidence that the local people are the first responders. They have the skills and experience of traversing this terrain and, most importantly, the resolve to create the means of survival in times of disaster.

Read more about Dominica’s flooding and support ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund, which helps us react quickly to disasters and provide help to children and families in the immediate aftermath.

Community Support Makes a Difference in Flooded Dominica

Damage from Tropical Storm Erika.

Damage from Tropical Storm Erika.

By Flavia Lanuedoc, ChildFund Caribbean

Flavia Lanuedoc works as a sponsor relations officer for one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in Dominica. She lives in Boetica, a village that was cut off from help after flooding from Tropical Storm Erika in late August. Despite spending her whole life in the area, Flavia had never seen anything approaching a disaster of this magnitude. Here’s part one of her story. We’ll post the second part tomorrow.

Flavia's yard became a river.

Flavia’s yard became a river.

The early hours of Aug. 27 had brought with it torrential rains, so I peeped outside to survey what damage had been done. To my disbelief, the yard of the house where I had lived all my life had turned into a raging river.

As I turned from the window, I saw that water and mud were rushing in through the other door. I screamed and ran to wake up my children. Within a split second, water was gushing into the house, bringing with it thick mud. It soon became obvious that our efforts to prevent the water from entering were futile. We gave up, and our focus now turned to saving the items that were at floor level.

Soon, seven men barged into our yard. Every community has “village champions” who carry out search-and-rescue efforts, even if they have little or no training.

These men were bearing news of hope as well as horror. Their tidings still resonate as if it was yesterday: “Give thanks, all of you. Say praises to the Lord, because if that road in the corner did not break, all of you would be dead.” And without even pausing, they entered the house and began assisting us. It took all of us over an hour to clear the mud from inside the house and then pour buckets of water to clean it off. They quickly moved on in search of another family in trouble.

Flavia sweeps mud out of her home.

Flavia sweeps mud out of her home.

After the rain ceased, it was time to survey the village. I was amazed at the devastation. We were blocked from the nearby village of Delices, on the southern end, and the main bridge on the northern end linking us to the rest of the island was gone. There was rubble and debris all over.  We were trapped in the village without water, electricity and means of communication.

Dominica has been identified as the island in the Caribbean with the highest number of cell phones per capita, but that meant little for our village and our ability to reach the outside world at a time when it mattered most. Going from one village to another was dangerous, as one had to go through huge mudslides, boulders and rocks. Before long, a villager discovered one little spot with cell reception, and it became the meeting place where villagers would gather to contact their loved ones and transact business via phone. Those from the neighboring village who were cut off by a landslide braved the dangerous journey to that little spot to communicate with the outside world as well.

With no electricity in the village, it was hard to keep phones charged. But as luck would have it, a shopkeeper had a small generator, so villagers were able to recharge their cell phones there.  Meanwhile, the owner of the village shop had to begin rationing his stock to ensure that everyone was able to have some food and drinking water.

The days that followed were hard on my children. My 17-year-old son refused to sleep in the bedroom and chose rather to sleep on a chair so he could keep an eye on the door to see if water was again coming in.

Tomorrow, making contact with the outside world.

Selamawit Is Not a Cliché

Ethiopia food crisisSelamawit, 5, is suffering in Ethiopia’s food crisis. She and her brother have kwashiorkor, a protein-energy malnutrition disorder.

By Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Content Manager

Happy World Food Day! There are starving children in Africa.

At how many dinner tables in how many homes have finicky children been scolded that way to get them to eat their dinners?

Or maybe it was India — “There are starving children in India. Eat your meatloaf.”

And how many children have rolled their eyes at their admonishing parents? How many of those parents really were speaking from a place of gut knowledge about what it means for a child to starve?

Clichés come to be clichés because they’re true. There are, and ever have been, starving children in Asia and in Africa. They are also in South America and in North America — right here in our back yard. All over the world.

A truth devolves into a cliché through overuse. We become numb to the idea.

The whole world has become numb to the idea of starving children. That’s why fundraising for a slow-onset crisis like a drought is so challenging, much more so than for a splashy, sudden typhoon or a devastating earthquake.

But 5-year-old Selamawit is not a cliché. She’s a little girl who lives in Ethiopia, where 8.2 million people right now are suffering through a food crisis.

Selamawit became so malnourished that her condition tipped into kwashiorkor, or protein-energy malnutrition, which causes loss of muscle mass, irritation, fatigue, skin issues, diarrhea, liver damage, failure to grow and more. Kwashiorkor is behind the round bellies we see in the now-clichéd photos of starving children in developing countries; the lack of protein causes fluid to collect in the abdomen and elsewhere.

Selamawit is in treatment now, but she will likely never reach her full height. Her brain development may have been irreparably disrupted — time will tell. (Another cliché.)

And time will tell for Ethiopia, but we know what to expect for the coming months: The drought that has decimated the harvest nationwide is expected to continue well into 2016, thanks to what some are calling the strongest El Niño event on record. In a country where 86 percent of the population depends on subsistence farming, the failed harvest means that families must instead purchase all their food, and prices are rising. Poorer families can’t afford the food they need, so they reduce their intake dangerously.

It happens slowly and quietly. And it silences children.

You can help by donating to our Ethiopia food crisis response here.

And you can take the opportunity of this World Food Day to tell your friends and networks what’s happening in Ethiopia. Tell them about Selamawit, and about her brother, 7-year-old Temesgen.

Every day after that, keep an eye on the crisis, and encourage those around you to do so, too. You’ll have to look for it in the media, because it’s not a typhoon or an earthquake. We’ll keep you posted here.

In Dominica, Resilience in the Face of Destruction

By Federico Diaz-Albertini, Americas Region Program Manager

Federico traveled to Dominica following Tropical Storm Erika. Flooding and landslides have caused major damage to the entire country, and at least 11 people lost their lives. Nineteen more people are missing and presumed dead. Authorities there say it’s the worst disaster to hit Dominica in 30 years. Read more about the storm’s aftermath on ChildFund’s emergency updates page.

Willma shows ChildFund staff her home, which was devastated by a mudslide.

Willma shows ChildFund staff her home, which was devastated by a mudslide.

On Aug. 27, a tropical storm decided to visit the island of Dominica. Unlike many of the storms that pass by this tranquil Caribbean nation, Erika parked itself above the island and deposited approximately 12 inches of rain during 12 hours.

The after-effects included widespread damage to infrastructure, water systems, crops, houses and, most importantly, people’s lives.  Approximately 300 families were moved to shelters; many others were cut off from access roads. At least one community, Petite Savant, has been declared too risky to rebuild houses there. Most of the population has been touched in one way or other by the disaster.

While it is easy to see the general damage, one can only get the real feel and emotion of the situation while visiting families that have been most severely hurt by the storm. This became evident a little while after we arrived to the community of Marigot on the northeastern side of Dominica.

What we found at first was a smiling lady, Willma Stevenson, and her mother welcoming us.  As we made small talk and told jokes, we did not anticipate what we would encounter when visiting her house. The house had been devastated by the force of a mudslide from a cliff behind it. This area had never really seemed at risk of such destruction, but the heavy rains dramatically changed that.

In an instant, a home for a family of five, including three sponsored children, was uninhabitable, a structure that contained only the memories and personal effects of its members.

Luckily, Willma and the children were able to escape the house uninjured and are living with relatives. The children are doing well but are still affected by the sound of rain and the memories of the mudslide that took their house. Willma says she is grateful for her job in a nearby town, and she looks forward to establishing her family in a place where another natural disaster will not uproot them.

Your donations to ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund help families recover from natural disasters.

In Sierra Leone, a Battle Against Ebola’s Stigma

OICC staff/volunteers in Sierra Leone.

Interim Care Center volunteers from Sierra Leone share their stories from the Ebola outbreak, which claimed many lives.

This week, the World Health Organization declared that for the first time in a year, Sierra Leone had no confirmed, active cases of the Ebola virus. If none are reported between now and Oct. 5, 42 days after the last case, the country will be considered free of Ebola. 

By Karifa Kamara, ChildFund Sierra Leone

At the peak of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, ChildFund started Interim Care Centers throughout Sierra Leone to help children who found themselves at risk, living in households where they had been exposed to the virus. Often, they had lost parents to the disease and did not have reliable care or protection. Ultimately, ChildFund set up seven centers nationwide and served 343 children.

We checked in recently with some of the children and volunteer workers at the centers to see how they were doing.

Mariatu, who was at an Interim Care Center in Sierra Leone, received food and other necessities after going home.

Mariatu, who was at an Interim Care Center, received food and other necessities after going home.

Of the 343 children served between July 2014 and this past July, 75 percent are orphaned, 15 percent have one parent, and 10 percent were reunited with both parents. In recent months, 330 children have been reunited with parents or other family members.

ChildFund’s assistance, supported by donors to the Ebola emergency response fund, didn’t end there. We provided clothes and bedding to children whose belongings had to be burned to avoid spreading the virus.

We’ve also provided Cash Grant Livelihood Support packages of $300 each to 120 families, who used the funds for school uniforms, books and writing materials, or for household expenses. Staff members at ChildFund Sierra Leone’s national office also continue to visit children who have been reunited with their parents or caregivers, giving them further financial and emotional support as they cope with the trauma of losing loved ones to Ebola. We expect to stay in contact with these families well into the future.

Children were not the only people who suffered in the outbreak.

About 90 percent of the volunteer staffers at interim care centers are Ebola survivors who initially suffered some form of stigmatization from relatives or the general public. Due to ignorance of the disease, people were scared to come near Ebola survivors, despite the fact that they were no longer contagious or even vulnerable to catching the disease a second time. Survivors lost their jobs and homes as a result, and many have shared their sad stories with ChildFund staff members.

ChildFund Regional Director Jumbe Sebunya signs a guest book at an Interim Care Center in Sierra Leone.

ChildFund Regional Director Jumbe Sebunya signs a guest book at an Interim Care Center in Sierra Leone.

Even children who survived Ebola or were merely under observation for symptoms were not welcome in relatives’ homes after leaving the interim care centers. It took many appeals and negotiations for some of these children to be accepted in their communities.

According to an Ebola survivor, Theresa, whose two sons also fell sick and recovered, “When I was discharged from the clinic, I used to feel very ashamed. My neighbors’ attitude made things worse for me. I could not even use the apartment building’s toilet without fearing that someone would attack or abuse me.” Ultimately, the family left their apartment and now live elsewhere.

But people in Sierra Leone are becoming more aware of the truth about Ebola through an anti-stigmatization publicity campaign led by the federal government and assisted by ChildFund. Also, community members in areas with interim care centers have seen with their own eyes how Ebola survivors have helped many children.

“When the ICCs were established, survivors were still being stigmatized,” says Ebola survivor and center volunteer Mohamed Swarray, who helped track down exposed children’s family members so they could be reunited. “Since the centers were dealing with children from quarantined homes, it was difficult for them to get nurses and caregivers. It was decided that it is us — the survivors — who can do the job well. So, that is how my status as a survivor actually gave me a job.”

Community members started to view survivors differently and appreciate their work. Many of the volunteers, who received stipends for their work, say they’re grateful for ChildFund’s support and are proud of working with children affected by Ebola. Today, they stand by, ready to work if they’re needed again.

Read more about the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak, including how youth spread awareness throughout West Africa and a Guinea man’s survival story.

In West Africa, Youth Take Charge in Raising Ebola Awareness

Youth in Sierra Leone raising awareness of Ebola and how to avoid it.

At the height of the outbreak, youth in Sierra Leone used megaphones to raise awareness of Ebola and how to avoid it.

Reporting by Emmanuel Ford of ChildFund Liberia, Karifa Kamara of ChildFund Sierra Leone and Arthur Tokpah of ChildFund Guinea

We are taking a look back at the height of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Read about a young man who survived Ebola in Guinea, and stay tuned for more stories.

Last year’s Ebola outbreak in West Africa was a frightening time for everyone in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where more than 11,000 people died from the virus. There are still some isolated cases in all three countries, but the numbers are much lower than last fall — thanks in part to young volunteers who helped spread the word around their communities about stopping the outbreak.

ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard visited the Kipe Junior and Senior High School youth club in May. Club members helped spread the word about Ebola prevention.

ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard visited Guinea’s Kipe Junior and Senior High School youth club in May. Club members helped spread the word about Ebola prevention.

ChildFund’s offices in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone trained teens about Ebola prevention — including regular hand washing and avoidance of burial practices that lead to infection — and they took the message to village markets, homes, schools and other places where the public congregates. Although many of the activities started when the infection rate was higher, young volunteers still are spreading the word in their communities.

“We sometimes went over to villages where the degree of reluctance is high, to let them know that Ebola is real,” says Naby, president of a youth club in Guinea. “We showed people how to use hand-washing kits and told them to report any case of illness to the nearest health post, to avoid unsafe contacts and dangerous burial preparations.”

In another ChildFund-supported club, this one based in a Guinean school, about 30 students in grades 7 through 10 spent a few days last fall receiving training about how the disease is spread. They discussed ways to publicize the prevention techniques, and then set upon their task.

“No room for Ebola here” was the school’s slogan during the outbreak, according to the president of that club. “On the top of our priority list was raising awareness among students to wash their hands in a bleach solution and avoid all contact with sick people and dead bodies. We also targeted environmental hygiene. Though people may wash their hands regularly, if the environment is not clean, there is a high risk of being infected.”

In Liberia, ChildFund trained more than 100 youth volunteers in Lofa, where Liberia saw its first cases. Today, they still conduct door-to-door outreach to prevent another epidemic. They often attend local markets to reach people from many towns and villages, and they distribute posters and T-shirts with prevention messages, plus detergent and disinfectants.

As a result, community members are more aware of how to avoid the virus and are less afraid of reporting possible cases of Ebola, according to ChildFund staff members in Liberia.

In Sierra Leone, during the height of the epidemic last year, ChildFund’s local partner organizations saw the need for a door-to-door campaign to inform community members about Ebola. Teens involved in ChildFund’s activities attended training and then went out to their communities armed with signs and megaphones, an action that created much wider awareness of the disease.

In the northern part of the country, youths even assisted in monitoring the border Sierra Leone shares with Guinea, where some infected people were crossing and spreading the disease from one country to the other.

Because the young volunteers in all three countries are trusted members of their communities, their voices carried the ring of authority, ChildFund President and CEO Anne Goddard noted recently.

“Rumors were a serious problem, including the belief that the government was making up the disease and, early on, that thermometers were spreading the virus,” Goddard said. “Youth educators were effective in helping to dispel such rumors.”

In Guinea, an Ebola Survivor Speaks Out

RS30280_Speaking right on the black board

Facinet Bangoura, in the blue soccer shirt, survived Ebola and is now raising awareness in his community, Kindia, Guinea. 

By Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea

Facinet Bangoura, a young man from Kindia, Guinea, survived Ebola and has taken the lead in raising awareness in his community. He is actively working alongside nongovernmental organizations — including ChildFund Guinea — to spread the word about avoiding Ebola, which is still present in Guinea. Recently, he spoke about his experience with the deadly virus.

I was in Conakry when I received a call that my mother was sick and had been taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, where she was hospitalized, none of the health workers knew that she was suffering from Ebola. I was told that she has been sick since the 28th of August and that she died on Sept. 4.

They wanted to carry the body to the mortuary. But we, the family members, refused and took the body to the village, and we buried her in respect to our tradition.

Very often in Guinea, religion and tradition have great influence on burial ceremonies, including washing the body and taking it to a worship place for prayer before the final burial, during which the closest relatives are asked to place the body in a tomb. This is how Facinet got infected.

I believe I was infected during the burial ceremony, as I was involved in all the activities. After the burial, the family scheduled a religious sacrifice in one week’s time. I returned to Conakry to resume my job. One Thursday evening, I started to feel a headache and fever.



When it was getting serious, I called a doctor from Matam Community Health Center. At the health center, I was told to go to an Ebola treatment center for examination. There, I was informed that I was positive for Ebola. I was completely desperate and did not know what to do. Immediately, I was placed in treatment. However, I still felt that I would come out from there.

One moment that I will never forget in my life was the moment when Dr. Mary entered the room where I was lying. I was scared when she entered. My eyes were wide open and staring at her, but she spoke to me with a smile on her face.

“Bangoura, tomorrow you are leaving this place,” she said. “You are healed.” I could not believe my ears. Though I had lost six relatives from my family of 15, I was still overjoyed because I was healed.

But things fell apart for Facinet when he came out of the treatment center. Life was no longer the same for him.

All my friends refused to accept me. Even my boss refused to let me continue my job. I was obliged to return to my village, where even old friends and relatives stayed away from me.

I was alone in the house and was completely isolated from others.

The end of his isolation began when ChildFund staff arrived in his village, creating greater awareness of how Ebola is spread and that its survivors are no longer contagious.

The day ChildFund and the local government federation staff members came to my village was the beginning of new hope for me. They spent time giving me courage and also sensitizing my neighbors and the rest of the people to accept me, telling them that I was totally healed and that I could live among people without any risk of infection.

They continue to support me and the orphaned children in my community with clothing, food and cash transfers to enable us begin new lives. I am grateful for their support of me and the many orphaned children in my community.

Stay tuned for more blog posts looking back at the peak of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. 

An Uphill Battle for Kindergartners in Vanuatu


Celina Amos, the head teacher of a village kindergarten in Efate, Vanuatu, plays with Paloma, 5, (left) and Luisa, 3. The kindergarten was destroyed by Cyclone Pam on March 13. Photos by Vlad Sokhin/Panos Pictures.

By ChildFund Australia staff, with reporting from Live & Learn Vanuatu

Schools officially reopened in Vanuatu at the end of March, just weeks after the destructive Cyclone Pam wiped out homes and schools across the Pacific island nation on March 13. But for thousands of younger children, school is still out of session because Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education does not fund kindergartens. ChildFund Australia and its local partner Live & Learn Vanuatu are working to rebuild two of them.

Kindergartens are generally funded though school fees and small-scale fundraising by local communities. However, fundraising at a time when many families are rebuilding their homes, gardens and livelihoods is extremely difficult, and raising fees is likely to result in fewer children attending class, leaving younger children most vulnerable.

ChildFund Australia, our Alliance partner, is working with Live & Learn Vanuatu to help rebuild two destroyed kindergartens on the outskirts of Port Vila. The schools are being constructed using cyclone-resistant architectural design and will include rainwater systems and toilets so children have access to safe water and sanitation. Both kindergartens will also be wheelchair accessible.

vanuatu kindergarten

Progress on a new kindergarten in Port Vila.

“The project goal is to rebuild both kindergartens to get the children back into a normal and stable learning environment within four months of Cyclone Pam, without placing further financial burden on the communities or parents,” says Anjali Nelson, team leader of Live & Learn Vanuatu.

Live & Learn has engaged a team of local professional builders to support the reconstruction effort, as well as volunteer workers from the two communities. On one of the sites, a group of volunteer builders from New Zealand also pitched in for 10 days.

The project is on track, but a shortage of construction materials and a severe lack of water have caused problems.

“The biggest issue so far has been the acute shortage of water in the area,” Nelson says. “Although we have had a period of heavy rain, we couldn’t collect sufficient quantities of water for the concrete mix, mainly due to the shortage of water tanks and drums, which were destroyed in the cyclone. Instead, we had to truck in water, which has slowed down the rebuilding process.”

Still, working together with the community, and with patience and a lot of improvising, the team has managed to keep the project on schedule, and at this stage the kindergartens are due for completion by mid-July.

Together with Live & Learn, ChildFund Australia plans to support families of the kindergartners by providing chickens, poultry management training and seedlings for home gardens.

You can help us be prepared for emergencies like this by donating to our Emergency Action Fund

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