ChildFund International Blog

On the Migrants’ Trail: In Search of a New Life

Afghan refugees in Greece

A group of Afghan migrants take a moment to breathe after reaching Greece by boat. Julien spoke with Hamid, who wears a red jacket, and Mehdi, second from left. 

By Julien Anseau, ChildFund Global Communications Manager

Julien, who has worked with ChildFund in Asia and specializes in emergency communications, joined our assessment team as they traveled through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia earlier this year to take stock of needs of migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, particularly children. This is the first of Julien’s reports from the field. 

Thousands of Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians are fleeing their war-torn countries and embarking on a perilous journey to Europe seeking refuge and a better life. In Izmir, a western port city of more than 2 million people in Turkey, many throng the streets, desperate to get to Greece — the entrance to the European Union.

Izmir, Turkey

Lifejackets for sale in the streets of Izmir, Turkey, the starting point for the journey by boat to Greece.

It’s an anxious and fearful time for many. The most dangerous point of the journey to Europe is the illegal boat crossing from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands.

According to the International Organization for Migration’s last update on Feb. 19, 413 people — including children — have died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016. Migrants pay smugglers anything between $500 and $1,200 and take their chances aboard unseaworthy rubber boats in a desperate bid to reach Europe.

Around Izmir’s Basmane Station, shops sell everything migrants may need, as well as things they don’t. Merchants do a brisk trade in lifejackets, which cost about $25 each and are sometimes useless. This is just one of many examples of people making a quick profit on migrants’ desperation.


A few days later, in Athens, Greece, we see many more migrants, but this time, the mood is of elation and relief. They’ve made it to Europe. In Victoria Square, a central meeting space in the city, I met a group of young Afghans taking their first steps on European soil.

“Thank God!”


Hamid, who says he is 20 years old but looks younger and may in fact still be a minor, describes his harrowing ordeal on the boat from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.

“I’d been trying for three weeks to reach Greece,” he says in English. “I was losing hope, and then one night at 4 a.m., the smuggler came and said it was now or never. I grabbed my bag and followed him to the beach. Forty-seven of us piled up on a small rubber boat. The smuggler stayed on the beach and told one of us to steer the boat straight towards the lights on the island in the far distance. What was supposed to be a one-hour journey took five hours.

“A Syrian guy steered the boat into the darkness of the night,” Hamid continues. “None of us had ever driven a boat before, but he was brave. The high waves were crashing against the boat, and I was cold and wet through. Everyone was afraid, screaming and crying because we thought we were going to turn over. Some people were praying together. I can’t swim, and I thought I was going to die. When we arrived on shore, I was exhausted and lay down for a while, too tired to realize I made it.”

I can’t swim, and I thought I was going to die. When we arrived on shore, I was exhausted and lay down for a while, too tired to realize I made it.

Mehdi, another young Afghan man whom Hamid met earlier in the journey, jumps in: “We tried a few times to cross by boat. When the weather is bad and the sea is rough, smugglers drop the price. But we didn’t want to risk our life. We know some boats never make it. This time we were lucky. I’ve met some people on this journey who have lost friends and family at sea.”

Just that morning, as the city of Athens woke up, came news of yet another boat that didn’t make it to Greece. The boat capsized, killing several people, including children.

For most people seeking asylum in Europe, Germany is the destination of choice. Usually people have friends or relatives already living there, and the government has been welcoming of migrants fleeing political turmoil.

Ali, a man in his early 30s from Bamyan Province in central Afghanistan, says he hoped to complete his studies so he could rebuild his life away from the pervasive violence of his homeland. He was anxious to recharge his phone so he could tell his family that he was safe and learn the latest news on the migrant crisis.

The port in Athens, Greece, is where numerous migrants take their first steps on European land.

The port in Athens, Greece, is where numerous migrants take their first steps on European land.

“There are a lot of rumors and hearsay,” he says. “I heard that countries are closing their borders. I want to check online for myself.” Ali has kept in touch with friends further along the route to Germany, who relay practical information and advice.

Reaching Germany takes a great deal of planning and money, as well as procedures to protect migrants from losing their savings to dishonest smugglers.

Instead of paying smugglers directly along the route, Ali keeps his money in trust with a middleman back in Afghanistan. After hearing from Ali, this man released a payment to the smuggler who got Ali to Greece and made arrangements with the next smuggler along the route to Germany. If Ali had not reached Greece, the smuggler would have had to keep trying, or he wouldn’t have been paid.

The expense and trouble are worth it to Ali. “The insecurity in Afghanistan drove me out of my home,” he explains. “It’s a war zone. There is no education, no jobs, no safety, nothing. I am sad to leave my parents behind, but I have to save my life. This is not my first attempt to leave Afghanistan for a better life. The first time, I was caught without papers by police in Iran. I was beaten and sent back. This time I made it through.”

A few weeks after I met Ali, Hamid and Mehdi, the situation suddenly changed for Afghan migrants, who are no longer allowed to travel through Macedonia. Many are now stranded in Greece.

Stay tuned for more blog posts from Julien, and also check out Richmond Times-Dispatch staff writer Zachary Reid’s reports from his time spent shadowing ChildFund’s needs-assessment team in Europe. 

To find out more about the children and families undertaking this journey — and to help — read more on ChildFund’s website

A Closer Look at The Gambia

Feb. 18 is the 51st anniversary of independence in The Gambia, a small nation on Africa’s west coast that mainly relies on tourism for revenue. Its borders (other than the western coast) are surrounded by the much larger nation of Senegal. ChildFund has worked here since 1984. Our current focus is on early childhood development, training teachers and improving schools, and helping youth become prepared for successful careers. Below are a few pictures of Gambian people, and you can read more about their nation at the following links:


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A Bottleneck in Europe for Families Fleeing Violence

family at Serbian border

A family at the Serbia-Macedonia border, where families from Syria and other countries in strife are attempting to cross to freedom and safety. Photo courtesy of Terre des Hommes-Lausanne. 

In January and early February, Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch reporter Zachary Reid traveled through Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Macedonia and Hungary with ChildFund staff members, as we took stock of the situation facing refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries. Reid’s first story, published Feb. 14, shows the complex situation families face as they enter ports in Greece, the first stop in the European Union for many.  

As months of news reports have shown us, the journey to Europe can be arduous and dangerous, especially for children, but the risks don’t end there. For several months, ChildFund has worked with Terre des Hommes-Lausanne, a group of Swiss non-governmental organizations focused on child protection, as its staff helps families passing through Serbia and Macedonia. Many are vulnerable to traffickers, and the majority need clean clothes and other basics. 

The numbers continue to grow, with no end in sight. 

“Last year, 853,650 refugees arrived in Greece by sea, mostly from Turkey, according to the International Organization for Migration,” Reid writes. “That was a 1,075 percent increase from 2014, when 72,632 people arrived. An additional 68,778 people arrived from Jan. 1 to Feb. 3 this year, despite bad weather and rough seas for much of that period.”

During the next two Sundays, Reid’s stories will focus on the promise of better lives in Europe, and ChildFund’s expanding mission to protect children in global emergencies. Stay tuned! 


An Entrepreneurial Sisterhood in Ecuador

Ecuador girls with chickens

Photo from ChildFund Ecuador.

Maria Angelina, María Beatriz and María Fatima are triplets who live in Ecuador‘s Carchi Province and participate in their community’s social and financial project, which is supported by ChildFund. Through this program, they have begun raising and selling chickens. The sisters say they’re saving money for university, so they can one day find professional work and help support their family. Ecuadorean youth ages 13 to 18 receive financial training through the Aflateen program, and explore concepts such as self-esteem, their rights, gender issues, drug abuse prevention, the environment and job-seeking skills.

Let’s Get Cooking!

Pique Macho Bolivia

In Bolivia, Pique Macho (meat, vegetables and hard-boiled eggs over French fries) is a favorite dish.

This week on our website, we have favorite recipes from our national offices in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guinea, Honduras, India, Uganda and the United States. We hope you’ll give them a try, and we have a few more recipes below for dishes suggested by ChildFund staff members around the world. You may need to visit a specialty or international grocery store, or order an ingredient online, but don’t let that deter you. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite dish or learn something you didn’t know about your sponsored child’s home cuisine. Post a picture on our Facebook page if you decide to cook a new dish, and happy eating!

From Bolivia: Pique Macho, as seen in the picture.

From Sri Lanka: Semolina and Coconut Rock (sweet); Deviled Potatoes

From Timor-Leste: Koto, or Red Bean Soup, is akin to a familiar Portuguese soup and Brazil’s national dish, feijoada. Portuguese is spoken in Timor-Leste and Brazil, so it’s not surprising that the same recipes would pass through their populations, too, with adjustments for taste and ingredients’ availability. Because red (or kidney) beans are more common than black beans in Timor-Leste, cooks use them in their soup, and pork or beef can replace chorizo.

From Uganda: Beef and Groundnut (Peanut) Stew; Katogo. Katogo is a dish made with tripe or sweetmeats (also known as offal) and matoke, a green and savory banana similar to a plantain. Are you feeling adventurous?


Ethiopia: “Our Children Are Suffering Because of the Drought”

Ethiopia food shortage

Three-month-old Fentale is weighed at a health center in Ethiopia. He has been diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition.

Reporting by ChildFund staff

Halko, 28, is the mother of 3-month-old Fentale, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a condition that can lead to brain damage and death. A two-year drought in Ethiopia has caused a serious food shortage, leaving millions without enough to eat. Halko, who is married and has three more children, eats only a diet of maize flour and is unable to produce enough milk to feed Fentale.

After a health extension officer from the government of Ethiopia identified the possibility of severe malnutrition, Halko took the baby to a health post in their village, where a health worker referred them to the health center. Halko spoke to us recently about the drought and the food shortage affecting her family.  

Ethiopia health center

Halko with Fentale at a health center.

Due to the absence of rain, the conditions here are so hot and dry. It’s difficult to live in this village. The trees give no shade. The drought is really affecting us. It started two years ago. There’s been no change. It is the same. If the rain comes, the situation will be different.

We are facing a problem. The livestock are not able to produce milk. If the livestock can’t give milk and I can’t add milk to our porridge, then we face problems. We eat only maize porridge without milk. Our livestock have no pastures to graze because there’s been no rain. They don’t have grass to eat. Because of this drought, we have a food crisis. Our children also suffer because of the drought. They don’t get any curd or milk. In the past, we’d add different things like onions or rice – and we may have gotten tomato or oil sometimes. Now we eat only maize. We can’t even get oil to cook with.

The land is dry and it produces no crops. There’s been two years of no rain, and we haven’t been able to harvest crops.  We planted maize and white teff [an important food grain used to make staple food injera], but since there was no moisture, the seeds did not germinate. During normal times, we used to buy cabbage and potatoes from the market, and we cooked it together with the maize, but there’s no more now.

The distance to the water point is two hours from here, one way. If we go in the morning, we return back here by noon. My, how we travel.

Fentale is 3 months old. We took him to the health center, and they measured him. They told me yesterday he will be admitted and treated there, and I have to stay there with him. It started after he was born; now he’s 3 months old. There’s been no improvement or growth, and he cries the whole night. If he’s not able to get milk, he cries all night. He cries and kicks all night.

Ethiopia family

Halko’s family eats a diet of maize.

He started coughing after he was born. After coughing, he would cry all day. Especially in the hot weather, he’d cough and cough.

If I’m able to give him some milk, he’s better. If he gets some milk, he’ll sleep. But if he can’t get milk from my breast, he won’t sleep and will just cry. When he first started crying, we took him to the health center. They identified his problem and advised me to eat different foods, not just maize, and to drink enough pure water. They said to try to breastfeed him more often.

I fear for the future. I don’t know whether Fentale will pass through this situation. We are hoping he’ll recover his health and grow to be a man. We don’t know if this will happen, and he’s not able to speak and tell us his problem. The whole night I sit with him, and this week is somewhat better.

What we need right now is teff. Wheat is not good. Maize doesn’t really have any benefits.

A balanced diet is important for my family. For their physical well-being, they need pure water and milk too.

If God gives us rain, we will try to plant crops. If our child recovers, I will be thankful. We need food. That’s our most serious problem.

You can help families like Halko’s by making a donation to our Ethiopia emergency fund.


Try Ecuador’s Quinoa and Cheese Soup

Quinoa and Cheese Soup, garnished with a bay leaf.
Quinoa and Cheese Soup, garnished with bay leaves.

Recipe from Veronica Travez, ChildFund Ecuador

Quinoa originated in the Andean region of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. It was an important crop for the Inca Empire, known as “the mother of all grains,” and was first cultivated more than 5,000 years ago. Most people assume quinoa is a grain, but it is actually a seed that provides essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that help regulate the digestive system. It does not contain any gluten. At 8 grams a cup, it is high in protein and is considered a complete protein because it contains all 9 essential amino acids.

The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) declared 2013 the International Year of the Quinoa to raise awareness of how this crop provides good nutrition and increases food security.

Here’s a recipe for Quinoa and Cheese Soup, plus pictures of some of the ingredients. Please enjoy, and find more recipes to try here!


1 cup dry quinoa

1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced

½ cup green onion, finely chopped

¼ cup diced carrot

1 tablespoon annatto seed oil

4 cups water

1 cup milk

1 cup queso fresco, crumbled or broken into pieces

Salt and cumin, to taste

Parsley or cilantro, to garnish



Rinse the quinoa to remove its natural coating, saponin, which can taste bitter. Let it rest in some water for 15 minutes before draining. In a pot, heat the annatto (achiote) seed oil and the onions for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Pour in the 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Then, add quinoa and carrot, and cook until the quinoa opens or thickens. Add the potatoes and cook until they are soft. Add the milk and the cheese and cook for 3 minutes, being careful not to scald the milk. Season with salt and cumin to taste. Garnish with parsley or cilantro. Serves 4.

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Extending Relief to Delhi Fire Victims

CF staff

ChildFund India staff members distribute clothing, hygiene materials and kitchen utensils to people affected by a fire in North Delhi, India.

By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India

Samaypur Badli, an urban village in North Delhi where ChildFund India recently started a youth employment training project, suffered a terrible fire Dec. 18 that gutted dozens of homes, displacing more than 100 families. No casualties were reported, but the fire was a significant setback for the residents.

Some families are living in tents temporarily.

Some families are living in tents temporarily.

Firefighters doused the flames, which were caused by a short circuit, according to media reports. ChildFund India staff members, along with our local partner Al Noor Charitable Society, took action a few days later to help the fire victims, which numbered 300 people, including 200 children. Homes in this area are set very close together, so the fire spread quickly.

After a quick assessment of conditions and needs, ChildFund India gave woolen clothes to 200 children to ward off the freezing weather in Delhi. The 100 school-aged children received education kits, and families also were given personal hygiene materials and kitchen utensils to replace belongings lost in the fire.

In partnership with Al Noor Charitable Society, ChildFund India recently initiated the Youth United for Voluntary Action program to provide vocational and livelihood training to help young adults in this community find better jobs. Despite several industrial businesses in this region, many people live in poverty.

“We will enhance our support and intervention to ensure that these families come out of this tragedy and that their lives bounce back to normalcy as soon as possible,” says Neelam Makhijani, ChildFund India’s national director.

They’re Ready for Football

Were you among the millions of people watching NFL football yesterday? The Denver-New England game was thrilling, and the Panthers are going to be formidable opponents for the Broncos. Children in the countries where we work also love playing games, especially football (aka soccer in the United States). Enjoy these pictures from Asia, the Americas and Africa. Goooooal!!!!

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Providing Help After Floods Strike Chennai, India

chennai flood

Massive flooding occurred in India’s Tamil Nadu state in December.

By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India

Heavy rainfall in November and December caused massive flooding in India’s Tamil Nadu state, especially in the region around Chennai. As many as 470 people lost their lives, while thousands more lost their homes and all their belongings. ChildFund India has responded by distributing tarpaulins, hygiene kits, mosquito nets and blankets to 183 families, as well as providing activities for children while schools were closed. We recently spoke with Subramani, a 43-year-old man who had a work-related accident a decade ago and is wheelchair-bound. He was caught in the flood and was unable to leave his home.

Chennai flooding

Subramani at his home, which was flooded.

Subramani lives alone in a small hut with a straw thatched roof. When the heavy rains began, his roof started leaking, and the area surrounding his home became waterlogged. But because his village is next to a small lake, the residents are used to minor flooding.

Assuming this would be a similar scenario, Subramani was relaxed and didn’t take any precautions. “I never expected this much water,” he says. “Every year, if it rains a little heavily, the lake overflows and water enters our area. The flooding is never more than a foot, and that water stays only for a couple of days and eventually recedes. But this time, it was unprecedented.”

To everyone’s shock, within a couple of hours the entire village was swamped by three to five feet of fast-moving water that entered all the houses, damaging the structures and the belongings inside. Everything happened so fast that no one could cope; all they could do was to run for their lives. They could see everything they had floating away in front of them but could do nothing.

Because Subramani cannot walk or even stand up on his own, he got stuck in his flooded house. He called for help while struggling to climb to safety. Everything he owned was underwater, including his small TV and his mobile phone. “My life was at stake. There was no time to think about these things,” Subramani says.

chennai flooding

One of the few things he saved from the flood was his cart, a crucial belonging.

Finally, by 10 p.m., his neighbors and friends managed to enter his house and carry him outside. Along with other community members, Subramani stayed on the platforms of a nearby railway station for several days. Flood victims received water, food and other support items from their local church and other groups, but while Subramani was sleeping on the platform, someone stole these things from him.

After the water receded, Subramani managed to get back to his home. It was filthy from the mud brought in by the flood, but he was glad his tricycle cart was still there.

Somehow, with the help of his friends, he has been able to clean his home and has managed to get back to a normal routine. But pools of stagnant water still sit near Subramani’s home, putting him at risk of mosquito bites. As a result, he was sick after returning home.

But Subramani has now received blankets, tarps and mosquito nets from ChildFund, a welcome bit of respite. Before, he wasn’t sure how he’d afford these necessities.

“After the flood, we were in real need of blankets, tarpaulins and especially mosquito nets,” he says. “ChildFund’s timely support is really helpful. It’s like a surprise New Year gift for us. I’m really touched by the thoughtfulness of ChildFund, which reached us with help.”

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