By Anne Lynam Goddard,
President and CEO of ChildFund International
In a country ravaged by conflict over many years, Afghanistan’s citizens will hold a historic election today to help determine their future. More than 40 candidates are vying to become president. Putting politics aside, the future of the children of Afghanistan is at stake – war turns everyone’s lives upside down, but none more so than children. At ChildFund International we strive to create environments in Afghanistan where children can learn, play and grow. We want them to have as safe, stable and normal a childhood as possible and to grow up in communities where they can become leaders of positive, enduring change that will help bring peace and security to their country.
Children in Afghanistan currently face many issues that impact their future. Infant, children under 5 and maternal mortality rates are among the world’s highest. Twenty-five percent of children die before they turn 5. Stunted growth affects more than half of all children. Much of the country’s population lacks access to safe drinking water, which leads to diseases that threaten public health. Afghanistan also has a disproportionally high percent of people under the age of 20 – the average age of Afghan residents is 17.7, compared to 36.7 in the U.S. The life expectancy in Afghanistan is 44.6 years, compared to 78.1 here at home.
We are working in this country to fight these problems and to help ensure children have a brighter future. We have trained parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize and manage child protection issues; supported community-based literacy classes for children; trained teachers; provided children with recreational areas in which to play; and developed health services that include training health workers to diagnose and treat illnesses. All told, we have assisted more than half a million Afghan children and family members.
While many news reports focus on military developments, corruption and what will happen with this election, we must not forget about the children there. Childhood is a one-time opportunity. Now is time for Afghan children to get back on their feet and move in a positive direction. It is the children who will determine Afghanistan’s future – a future in which we all share a stake.
By David Hylton of ChildFund International
and Jacqui Ooi of ChildFund Australia
Six years ago today, the ChildFund International family lost two of its staff members in Baghdad. An attack on the Canal Hotel in the Iraqi capital on Aug. 19, 2003, claimed the lives of 22 people, including ChildFund staff members Jill Clark, Child Protection specialist, and Omar Al Orfali, a driver/interpreter.
Today, the inaugural World Humanitarian Day commemorates those individuals, such as Jill and Omar, who have risked – and lost – their lives while carrying out their work to help others.
In November 2008, we lost a staff member in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber attacked a passing military vehicle. Mohamad Shar, 52, was riding his bicycle in the area when the bomb exploded, receiving lethal shrapnel wounds. He left behind a wife and six children.
“This senseless tragedy reminds us all of the challenging circumstances faced daily by so many people around the world,” ChildFund International President and CEO Anne Lynam Goddard said following the attack.
“While ChildFund recognizes all those who contribute to making a difference in the lives of others, we pay our utmost respect to those courageous individuals who work on the ground in crisis situations and put their lives on the line,” says Nigel Spence, CEO of ChildFund Australia, a partner organization of ChildFund International.
The United Nations decided in December 2008 to designate Aug. 19 as World Humanitarian Day. This inaugural year, the focus will be primarily on commemorating those whose lives have been lost while engaged in humanitarian operations, but emphasis will also be placed on current humanitarian needs and challenges, and increasing public awareness about humanitarian assistance activities.