By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines
“Daddy, play outside?” little Yvo asked his father. The louvers at the foot of the door allowed in gusts of water spray that only excited the 1-year-old more. He struggled out of his clothes down to his underwear, as if he were about to go for an innocent swim.
His father, Yves, braced himself against the door, fearing it would blow open under the sheer force of Typhoon Haiyan’s winds. But he calmly turned to his son and tried to explain the difference between a super typhoon and a light morning rain shower. Yvo did not understand the gravity of the situation, but he knew to trust and obey his father, and he contented himself with dancing from one foot to another, stamping at the puddles of water building at his feet. Yves, however, kept watch at the door, fearful for his family’s safety and praying that the typhoon would disappear.
Suddenly it did. As quickly as the winds picked up at around 8 that morning, the whole of Ormoc City fell calm. The skies cleared, and it was as bright a noon as they were used to. Yves and his family ran outside the public school classroom where they’d sought shelter. People bumped into each other, walking around, arms outstretched and gazes fixed on the sky. Some laughed, showing their expressions of relief and disbelief and hugging each other. It was almost too good to be true.
Something told Yves it was. He spun around where he stood, surveying the horizon. Long fingers of clouds clawed at the very periphery of the entire Ormoc skyline. Then, to his horror, Yves remembered a lesson from his childhood. He picked Yvo up and ran, shouting and waving at his fellow evacuees, “Turn back! Turn back! It’s not over! It’s just the eye of the storm,” he gasped.
Typhoon Haiyan was merciless when it resumed its battery of Ormoc. Even the shelter of the concrete classroom felt frail amid winds that this time blew in the opposite direction. Glass shattered, and corrugated iron wailed inhuman cries as sheets tumbled in the wind and crumpled like paper. “I tried to film the carnage with my camera phone, but I relented, fearing the wind would tear my phone from my grip,” Yves said.
Hours later, it was truly over. Typhoon Haiyan had now crossed the island of Leyte and was now wreaking havoc on the islands of central and western Philippines. There were no cheers and celebration this time, however. In the fading daylight, even young Yvo seemed to understand. Typhoon Haiyan had devastated Ormoc City.
The first 24 hours were challenging. Yves found that the home his family rented had been largely ruined in the typhoon. Some sections of roofing remained intact but not enough to lend any comfort or shelter from the elements. His family would continue to reside at Linao Elementary School, where they had sought shelter during the typhoon.
The ensuing power and communications blackout covering the whole island of Leyte did not prevent word from reaching Ormoc of other towns and cities struck by Typhoon Haiyan: Palo and Tolosa were severely devastated, and Tacloban City had fallen. Death, hunger and the overwhelming number of requests to the local government had driven people past desperation in Tacloban, and there were safety and security concerns.
ChildFund was one of the first international organizations to reach Ormoc after the typhoon. “Residents feared Ormoc would become the next Tacloban, if the situation became more desperate,” said Philippines Rapid Response Team leader Erwin Galido.
Despite these apprehensions, or perhaps specifically because of what was at stake, ChildFund committed to assist all of the residents of Ormoc City — not just the sponsored children and families supported through the local partner organization.
ChildFund’s Rapid Response Team — carrying tents, sleeping bags and other provisions for survival — proceeded into Ormoc, located the local partner staff members and their flooded office. ChildFund’s team needed a new base to establish a supply chain of food and essential non-food aid. It turned out that Yves was able to help.
Yves’ workplace, a small hotel where he was night manager, had survived the typhoon. Yves has two jobs, both as a manager and teaching hotel and restaurant management, a degree he achieved thanks to his sponsorship through ChildFund. Despite his city’s grim circumstances, Yves reported for work.
Yves learned that other Ormoc residents, government officials, small vendors and entrepreneurs decided to report for work too. He also heard that a few aid organizations and nongovernmental organizations had landed in Ormoc and was sure that ChildFund was among them. No sooner had he hoped to hear word then he ran into ChildFund’s Response Team, right in the hotel lobby. It was a happy reunion between ChildFund staff and a former sponsored child, despite the circumstances.
Yves offered to move ChildFund’s operations into the small, modest hotel. It had a generator, which operates at key hours of the day, allowing the team members to charge equipment and keep in touch with the response center established in neighboring Cebu Island. ChildFund also immediately established Child-Centered Spaces, which offer activities for children and youths to help them understand and recover from the psychological trauma of the destructive storm. UNICEF noted that ChildFund was the first international organization on the scene to establish these psychosocial support activities in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
Child-Centered Spaces are also the entry point for child protection activities in evacuation camps. The density of displaced populations, along with the lack of privacy and sharing of common latrines, place many children at risk during times of emergency. ChildFund staff members and volunteers make sure that referral and child-protection mechanisms are in place and that people know how to employ them.
One such Child-Centered Space was set up at the Linao Elementary School, where Yves and his family are sheltered. ChildFund staff members and trained volunteers from the local partner gathered children sheltered there to play, draw and express their emotions. Infants, children, and youth are grouped separately, and little Yvo gets to join the below-5 age group.
“Daddy, play outside!” Yvo shouts when it’s time for Child-Centered Space activities. This time, Yves knows it’s safe.
By Julien Anseau, Asia Region Communications Manager
Julien, who has joined ChildFund’s emergency response team on the ground in the Philippines, provides a firsthand view of the damage wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in Ormoc, 60 miles southwest of Tacloban, where ChildFund have been working with children for many years and is now focusing its response.
As the ferry from Cebu pulls into Ormoc, the devastation before me is unbelievable. Buildings and houses have been flattened, electricity pylons blown down, cars turned over, palm trees ripped apart. As I disembark, people walk toward me holding out their hands and asking for food. I note the long lines of people desperate to board the ferry back to Cebu, as many try to leave this hard-hit island.
My first destination is the coastal community of Naungan. Children are on the streets, fetching water, looking for food or just hanging around doing nothing. I meet Sunny, a barefoot 13-year-boy who is sponsored through ChildFund. “I was in the school (evacuation center) with my family when the storm hit,” he tells me. “The wind was furious and howling. The noise was deafening. It went on for hours. It was dark outside and the school was shaking. I was very scared. Everyone was screaming and crying and praying. I could hear houses being smashed away and I thought the school would be next. When the storm ended, we went outside and could not believe the destruction. It was the end of the world. We’re lucky to be alive.”
As in other parts of Ormoc, 90 percent of the houses in this coastal community have been completely blown away. There is no electricity, and we’re hearing that power likely will not be restored for four months. All schools are closed and are in use as evacuation centers for the thousands who no longer have homes to return to. Everywhere I go, people are going hungry and asking for food. There is a huge need for rice, a staple of the Filipino diet. Noodles and canned food are also needed. Food aid is only just reaching Ormoc, and it’s only trickling in.
I head back into town. There are long lines of people waiting for fuel and food, adding to the chaos. As I walk along the crowded main street littered with debris, a voice calls out, “Hey, ChildFund.” I turn to see a young woman. It turns out she recognized my green T-shirt. Michelle, 18, is also sponsored through ChildFund. She tells a similar story to Sunny’s. Her house has been badly destroyed and her dad is desperately looking for construction materials to fix it. There is a huge need for roof tarpaulins and plastic sheeting in Ormoc, as the rain continues to come down, making living conditions miserable. Pneumonia and flu are already major concerns, particularly among children.
Next, I meet Manny, 21, who participates in ChildFund’s youth programs. He shows me his house in the area of San Isidro, where ChildFund serves 144 children. “This is my house,” he says when we arrive. “This is how I found it after the storm. Everything is lost, everything!”
As ChildFund responds in Ormoc, we know that children are particularly vulnerable in disaster situations. Many children are wondering the streets unaccompanied, while their parents look for food and water. Children who have survived this typhoon have lost their sense of security; their world has been turned upside down. The need for psychosocial support is great.
Late last week, ChildFund has opened its first Child-Centered Space in Ormoc. These are safe havens for children to come together, take part in structured activities and, for a few hours, forget the typhoon and just enjoy being children again. I learn that 114 children of all ages have come to play, draw and sing. For the first time since the typhoon hit, smiles appear on their faces. These activities help children deal with trauma and restore some normal routines to their lives. ChildFund also provides food to the children.
As we look ahead to the long-term needs in the Philippine islands battered by the storm, we see a huge need for rebuilding homes and restoring livelihoods. Yet, local officials and communities fear Ormoc will be overlooked and that aid will bypass them because of pressing needs in nearby Tacloban.
On the day of my visit, it continues to rain and it’s getting dark, hampering relief operations. The people of Ormoc are bracing themselves for another uncomfortable night. For thousands of young people like Sunny, Michelle and Manny, it means going to bed hungry, sleeping in damp conditions and reliving the nightmare of one week ago when the storm struck.
ChildFund has launched the Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund to respond to both immediate and long-term needs in the Philippines. Relief-phase interventions will include distribution of food and non-food items, responding to immediate health needs and establishing Child-Centered Spaces. The recovery phase will include restoring livelihoods and focusing on education, health and nutrition of children, while strengthening community-based child protection systems and conducting disaster risk reduction and emergency response training and capacity building.
Learn more about ChildFund’s response and how you can help.
Reporting by ChildFund Philippines staff
As we begin to understand the scope of Typhoon Haiyan’s toll on the Philippines, ChildFund staff members and our local partner organizations are in the devastated communities, distributing aid and assessing needs. You can assist by making a donation to our Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund. Here is the most recent report from our Philippines colleagues:
ChildFund has started to implement its emergency response in these priority areas: Ormoc City, Roxas City and Tacloban City. An operations center has been established in Cebu City as the staging point for logistics and personnel deployment to Tacloban and other Eastern Visayas provinces. Procurement of relief goods (food packs and non-food items) is ongoing simultaneously in Manila and Cebu City.
Below is a summary of the results of the rapid assessment done by our staff on the field:
Ormoc City, Leyte: The entire population of about 100,000 families has been affected. Food and potable water are their most urgent needs. Only 35 of the 110 barangays (districts) have received food packs, which are good for two days only. There are no local suppliers. There is also no electricity. Although there is a water supply, not all water is potable. At this time, 90 percent of roads and bridges are passable. Public buildings have sustained major damage. The local government can arrange for the transportation to deliver supplies from Cebu City.
Our local partner has accounted for all 271 enrolled children. Most of them have damaged houses. Meanwhile, the office of our local partner is severely damaged.
Roxas City, Capiz: The entire city sustained heavy damage from the typhoon, affecting 12,123 people, or 2,499 households. Nearly 5,000 children are affected. More than 10,000 people have left their homes and are currently living with relatives, in makeshift tents or at designated evacuation centers. ChildFund staff has determined the presence of 450 families in 20 evacuation centers. There is no electricity in the entire city, but cell phone network coverage has been restored. There is a potable water supply, but it is running low.
ChildFund operates in 13 of the 47 barangays in Roxas City. ChildFund is in close coordination with the city’s Social Welfare and Development Office. So far, ChildFund is the only nongovernmental organization present in the area. ChildFund has initially distributed 200 units of 6-liter bottled water. Food and non-food items are still being packaged and will be ready for distribution shortly. The staff is in the process of setting up a Child-Centered Space in Culasi, one of the hardest hit barangays. The staff members have conducted a preliminary session for 30 children. More sessions will take place in the following days.
Iloilo City, Iloilio: Our local partner has initially conducted activities for children and distributed 200 units of bottled water at one evacuation center. Based on the assessment of the ChildFund team, the municipality of Estancia is being recommended as another area for response since it is the hardest-hit municipality in the province.
Tacloban City, Leyte: Its population of 220,000 people bore the brunt of the typhoon, with the death toll being placed so far at 1,774 by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. There are 13 evacuation centers hosting about 15,000 people. Although we do not have programs in Tacloban, ChildFund has an assessment team standing by.
Toboso, Negros Occidental: All barangays of this municipality were affected. Some 1,256 families or 5,213 people are in evacuation centers. There is no electricity in the municipality, and it most likely will not be restored until December. Food and non-food items are the priority needs.
ChildFund is coordinating with the Social Welfare Office and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. So far, ChildFund is the only organization coordinating with the local government unit, which can provide transportation for the relief goods. Community Watch groups, barangay officials and teachers also can be mobilized for relief operations.
San Carlos City, Negros Occidental: ChildFund works in six of the 17 barangays in San Carlos. The entire city, home to more than 13,000 people, was affected. The local government, which through the Social Welfare office provided relief goods in the evacuation centers during the typhoon, now is giving priority only to families whose houses are totally damaged. There is no electricity. Food and non-food items (mats, blankets, mosquito nets) are needed. ChildFund is coordinating with the Social Welfare Office and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Bacolod City, Negros Occidental: No reports of storm damage. Our local partner has accounted for the 2,560 enrolled children in Roxas City, Iloilo and Bacolod.
ChildFund, along with our partners in the ChildFund Alliance, has launched an appeal for $10 million for immediate relief and long-term recovery for children and families affected by Typhoon Haiyan, which slammed into the Philippines over the weekend.
We have identified three priority areas for our emergency response efforts: Ormoc City and Roxas City, where we have programs and sponsored children, and Tacloban City, a non-program area that is also identified by United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination as among the hardest-hit localities.
Our immediate goals:
Establish Child-Centered Spaces in Ormoc, Roxas and Tacloban – two centers in each city.
Distribute food packs (rice, noodles and canned goods) for 3,000 families.
Distribute non-food items (bath soap, children’s underwear, sanitary supplies, baby diapers and laundry soap) to 3,000 families.
The contents of the food packs are based on government recommendations for relief items. For the non-food items, ChildFund chose a selection of basic necessities to fill gaps in the standard packs provided by the government and other entities, thereby getting a broader selection of essentials to families.
We are also in the process of setting up an operations center in Cebu, which has been declared by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to be the staging point for any logistics and personnel going to Tacloban and other eastern provinces. Cebu is the closest city to the hard-hit areas, and we have approval from a university to use a large space in its complex for staging.
Updates on ChildFund-Supported Communities
Iloilo: ChildFund’s local partner organization there is providing support to an evacuation center in the city. The local government has declared a state of calamity and is seeking help from nongovernmental organizations. The local partner plans to establish a Child-Centered Space and distribute bottled water and food packs.
Ormoc: We have yet to reconnect communications with our local partner in Ormoc City. Many towns and communities in Leyte province still cannot be reached. A small response team is seeking to reach the area by ferry, but security is a high concern. Ormoc remains largely unreached by relief efforts.
Negros Occidental: Our local partner with the Child Labor Project in Negros is still assessing damage and accounting for children and families. The community has been declared a disaster area, with immediate needs for food and shelter. Our local partner is coordinating with the Provincial Department of Social Welfare and Development to address these needs.
Bacolod City: No reports of storm damage.
Update on Vietnam
Typhoon Haiyan weakened to a tropical depression on Monday as it crossed into Vietnam. Based on initial reports, no significant damage was expected in the inland communities where ChildFund works. These program areas include Bac Kan, Hoa Binh and Cao Bang, and they are located in the remote, mountainous regions of the north. There have been reports of strong winds and rain in coastal areas, and some damage to trees and rooftops in Hanoi, where schools have been closed. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.
You can help families in the Philippines with a donation to our Emergency Action Fund, and this video featuring Philippines National Director Katherine Manik has up-to-date information about what ChildFund is doing to help families in typhoon-stricken areas:
ChildFund is closely following the path and impact of Super Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda), which made landfall in Leyte, in the Philippines, Nov. 8, and is pushing west-northwest over the northern tip of Cebu Island in the Visayas as it makes it way to the South China Sea. Nearly 13 million people could potentially be affected by the storm.
Haiyan is currently packing 268 kph (166 mph) winds, making it the strongest typhoon to take aim at the Philippines all year. Meteorologists describe Haiyan as more powerful than last December’s Typhoon Bopha, which leveled villages in Mindanao, flattening homes and trees alike.
National and local government authorities began making emergency preparations earlier this week, and communities identified as directly in the typhoon’s path were issued pre-emptive evacuation warnings. Nearly a million people evacuated as the storm bore down on the islands.
ChildFund is participating in coordinated response and needs-assessment planning with the government and other NGOs. We are coordinating closely with our local partner organizations in potentially affected areas. Emergency response teams prepositioned supplies, including emergency kits and tents, and made arrangements with local suppliers to access food and non-food relief supplies. We are also preparing for the setup of Child Centered Spaces in the storm’s aftermath so that children will have a safe haven.
View this video update from Katherine Manik, national director for ChildFund Philippines.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
He had only heard about stories of big typhoons, but 11-year-old Loknath experienced a devastating storm for himself on Oct. 12, when Cyclone Phailin struck the shores of the eastern Indian state of Odisha.
Loknath, who is enrolled in ChildFund programs, was among a dozen children seeking shelter at a nearby school before the storm, which brought heavy rains and 124 mph winds, causing enormous damage to homes and farmland in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
“I was not very sure what was going to happen,” Loknath recalls. “Though there was no electricity, we had some kerosene lamps in the hall. We cooked our food inside the hall and started singing and talking to each other to pass time.
“Gradually, the wind began to blow with a moaning sound. And soon it became louder and louder. I felt as if the wind would blow the building away and we would all be thrown into the River Daya, which was just 50 meters away,” he added.
At the height of the storm, “we held each other’s hands and started praying to God for our safety till the winds weaken early in the morning,” Loknath said while staring at his broken house and a damaged rack where he used to keep his study materials and books. They were swept away in the storm.
“I don’t know how I will be able to buy all those materials,” Loknath said.
His mother, Rashmita, added that all of their belongings were either blown away or destroyed in the cyclone, and some lie scattered on the village’s roads now. However, she was thankful to the ChildFund staff for convincing them to leave the house before the cyclone arrived.
“Initially we thought that nothing would happen to our house,” she said. “But the project people came and forced us to leave the house as soon as possible. Thank God that we adhered to their advice. Otherwise, who knows what would have happened to us.”
Chabi, Loknath’s father, works hard to feed his six-member family, which includes his 65-year-old mother, whose foot was injured by a falling brick. He is now hoping for a house-repair aid fund from the Indian government, which was announced recently.
In the villages served by ChildFund India’s local partner Nilachal Seva Pratisthan, four houses were severely damaged and others were partially damaged. The partner organization serves 724 ChildFund-enrolled children, including 484 sponsored children, in 14 villages.
Sudhansu Maharath, the partner organization’s project manager, said that he and his staff coordinated with the government to provide tarps to families whose houses were damaged, providing some protection from the elements, and helped them arrange for immediate shelter. “We are also exploring ways for some long-term measures to strengthen the communities’ livelihood means, which primarily include farming and pisciculture,” Maharath adds.
According to the latest estimate by the government and other agencies, more than 1.7 million people in 1,706 villages in Puri District were affected, and 105,000 houses have been damaged in the cyclone.
A joint team from ChildFund India and International Medical Corps have visited several villages in the district to conduct a needs assessment and are discussing long-term interventions in the region.
Families affected by natural disasters need immediate help, and ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund allows us to act quickly when a disaster occurs in a country we serve. Please consider making a donation today.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
“It was past midnight. I woke up to the alarmed voice of my wife shouting, ’The house is cracking!’ We came out of our house, and it came shattering down just in front of us,” says a terrified Sangram, 45, whose thatched house collapsed on the night of Oct. 12, when Cyclone Phailin struck coastal Odisha State in India. The storm brought 124 mph winds and heavy rains.
“Had it not been for my wife’s dreadful scream, we may not have been alive today,” adds the father of six, whose children were staying in a community center that night. “It was just a matter of few seconds when the roof collapsed after a tree in my back yard fell onto it.” The multi-purpose community center was built by ChildFund India’s local partner organization VARRAT (Voluntary Association for Rural Reconstruction & Appropriate Technology) after the 1999 cyclone that killed more than 10,000 people in Odisha, then known as Orissa.
“I am thankful to the project staff who insisted that I allow my children to go to the community center, but we decided to stay here, as I underestimated the cyclone threat,” Sangram says.
Sangram’s house in Odisha’s Kendrapara district is among the 37 homes damaged by the cyclone in the area VARRAT serves. VARRAT has 827 ChildFund-enrolled children in the region, including 621 who are sponsored. Sangram’s 15-year-old daughter Gurubari is one of the sponsored children. Fortunately, none of the children were hurt, though the houses of a few were damaged.
For Gurubari, the biggest losses after her home were her textbooks, which were washed away by floodwaters that gushed through her house after it collapsed. “I don’t have a single book left,” she says. “I don’t know whether I will be able to get another book set.”
Sangram, who is waiting for government compensation for his broken house, is a fisherman by trade and had returned to the village just two days before the cyclone. Like his 200-some fellow villagers, he was asked by the project staff to move to the community center, but he decided to stay in the house with his wife at the last moment.
“I get goose bumps when I think of that night,” he says.
Before Phailin hit, VARRAT staff members visited all 25 villages where it has programs to make sure everyone was in a safe location.
“All of our field staff members were deployed to ensure that the message of the cyclone reached everyone and that all of them were evacuated ahead of the cyclone that wreaked havoc in coastal Odisha,” says Naba Kishore Mishra, VARRAT’s project manager. “We were informed about the cyclone about a week before, and ChildFund India advised us to take necessary measures to safeguard not only our sponsored children and their families, but also all villagers. And we took measures accordingly.”
History played a role as well, Mishra notes. “Since we had experienced the 1999 cyclone, we had strengthened our disaster response mechanism, and that helped this time around to save all lives, including cattle and other livestock.”
Soon after 1999’s devastating super cyclone, VARRAT took several protection measures, one of which was the construction of multi-purpose community centers — like the one to which Sangram’s children evacuated — in all their program villages. Although they had access to shelter during the recent cyclone, villagers still lost more than 75 percent of their standing paddy crop because of heavy rains. A ChildFund team has visited those villages and found that many of the villages’ roads were destroyed by flooding. Mosquitoes are breeding in the standing water, increasing the risk of malaria, dengue and other vector-borne illness, and villagers are beginning to suffer from waterborne diseases that cause upset stomachs and skin infections.
Education also has been affected because all schools and Early Childhood Development centers are currently serving as makeshift shelters or as bases for relief services. Normally, children receive lunch prepared at school or an ECD center, but this has been suspended during the disaster as well.
Representatives from VARRAT have started distributing water purification tablets and diarrhea medication in some villages, but much still needs to be done. ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund helps us prepare for disasters in the countries we serve, allowing staff and partners on the ground to provide help quickly and also over the long term. Please consider making a donation today.
As you may be aware, India’s eastern state of Odisha was hit last weekend by Cyclone Phailin, with 124 mph winds and heavy rain that damaged or destroyed nearly 250,000 homes and 1.25 million acres of farmland. Children and families whom ChildFund serves were affected, and three families suffered damage to their homes. Our emergency updates page has current information about the storm’s impact and how we are responding to the needs of the families we serve. You can help us stay prepared to respond quickly to the next natural disaster by making a donation to the Emergency Action Fund.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund staff writer
In late August, about a month’s worth of rain fell within a couple of days in Manila, causing massive flooding in communities where ChildFund Philippines works. Some of the families of enrolled children were displaced temporarily, and many are now cleaning and repairing their homes.
Typhoons are a common occurrence in the Philippines, and it’s important for communities to be prepared. That’s where ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund enters the equation. With your contribution, we’ll be able to respond to emergencies faster, bringing aid and protection to children within hours and days of a disaster.
Although we’ve come to expect seasonal flooding in some regions of the world, often a crisis can occur without warning, such as the 2012 earthquake in Guatemala. ChildFund’s many years of experience in the field helps us assess needs, coordinate projects and deliver resources that assist families in dire need. We also have strong partnerships with local governments and other relief organizations.
More than 200 million people are affected by natural disasters each year, and 7.6 million are displaced by conflict or persecution. By making a donation to the Emergency Action Fund, you’ll help us assist children who need immediate help. Here is what the fund will help us do:
Enable ChildFund to mobilize teams of specialists within hours of when a disaster strikes.
Supply food, clean water, blankets, shelter and other emergency aid to children and families as quickly as possible.
Repair and restore homes, schools and vital social infrastructure such as water, sanitation and hygiene systems to prevent disease.
Provide Child-Centered Spaces and psychosocial support to help children cope and recover confidence after an emergency.
In the months after a disaster, ChildFund will remain in the affected communities, doing some of the most important long-term work: helping children regain a feeling of safety and self-esteem. Help these children and their families by making a gift to the Emergency Action Fund.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
What would you take if you were forced to flee your home?
Imagine you’re one of 44 million refugees around the world. With little or no warning, you must leave your home under threat of persecution, conflict or violence. Look around. Everywhere, people are running from all that’s familiar: Nearly one in two refugees is a child; two in five are women. In a single moment, people can lose everything.
In the chaos of war and conflict, children often end up unaccompanied, alone or left behind to experience events no child should ever see — all without the protection of family or the routine of school. Life in exile averages 17 years, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). If you had time to find only one thing to carry with you, what would it be?
Today, on World Refugee Day, we ask you to walk in solidarity beside those children who are still in transit.
Resettlement, Integration, Return
Consider Liberia. Last year the UNHCR completed repatriation of more than 155,000 Liberians scattered throughout West Africa — 23 years after the start of the civil war. ChildFund works in Liberia and also in The Gambia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where Liberian refugees found shelter while the conflict in their country raged from 1989 to 2003.
Even when violence ends and peace and stability are restored, returning home may not be easy. In 2011, when I was teaching at Guinea’s national polytechnic university several of my young colleagues were Liberian refugees. They no longer spoke English — their native country’s official language — having received their entire education in Guinea’s French-speaking schools.
As the U.N. resettled and integrated the final 724 Liberians who had lived in Guinea, uprisings in neighboring Mali spiraled out of control. Displaced Malians scurried to safety in Senegal and Guinea — the same sanctuaries coveted by those escaping Côte d’Ivoire’s (Ivory Coast) election violence in 2011, as well as those fleeing the 2012 military coup in Guinea-Bissau.
Joining Mali on the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) list of current hot spots are Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Where do refugees from these conflicts first seek asylum? They cross the borders into ChildFund countries Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
During 2007, I worked in Busia, a border town split between Uganda and Kenya. Refugees — mainly Somalis, Sudanese and Congolese — comprised 20 percent of Busia’s population on the Uganda side. By the end of that year, election violence in Kenya drove hundreds of thousands across the border at Busia, creating a humanitarian crisis in Uganda. A bitter irony of conflict and disaster in the developing world is that neighboring countries are the least equipped to support an influx of refugees.
The IRC, which resettles more refugees and asylum seekers outside their native lands than any other organization worldwide, maintains a permanent watch list of four countries. Of these, ChildFund works in three: Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines. The IRC considers Sri Lanka vulnerable because of prolonged ethnic conflicts, while Indonesia and the Philippines experience nearly constant and unprecedented natural disasters.
ChildFund believes that a single family torn apart by war or natural disaster is one too many. We invest in disaster preparedness training in the countries we serve. Please take a minute to help us reduce the number of child refugees through a contribution to our emergency fund, ChildAlert.
Before joining ChildFund in 2012, Meg served in the Peace Corps’ health and education programs in Senegal, Uganda and Guinea. Between posts, she designed short-term projects for children and youth in Thailand and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. And stateside, she tutored two young girls whose family sought political asylum here from Iraq.