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.
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.
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.
“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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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!!!!
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.
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.
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.”
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
At the end of the year in the San Francisco Bay area, where I live, the lines to buy cinema tickets are as long as the waits to see Santa. We’re not only at theaters for Hollywood’s latest blockbusters; this is home to more than 50 annual film festivals. Screenings of documentaries, experimental films and cinema from all around the world routinely sell out.
This year, between Christmas and New Year’s, I had a film festival of my very own as I took one last look at entries from ChildFund’s second annual community video challenge: 35 short films, each telling the story of a child’s success. In 2015 our contestants represented 12 countries across all three regions where we work: Africa, the Americas and Asia.
Despite shoestring budgets and novice filmmakers – sponsored children among them – these videos share many qualities with the competition at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. And for pure authenticity, they beat the professionals hands down.
What makes a winning video? While technical aspects like camera steadiness, smooth transitions and spell-checked captions can certainly make a difference, the best videos tell a story. We all make sense of our experiences through stories. And the most human stories tell of young heroes who, with help from wise adults, overcame enormous odds to achieve their dreams.
Stories develop their characters, present conflicts, portray life’s trajectories and appeal to the audience’s awe, excitement or amusement. They also are, above all, authentic. That’s a lot to accomplish in less than 3 minutes, the limit given our contestants.
Each year, our winners receive small cash awards to help with the purchase of training or equipment, including cameras, tripods, microphones and video-editing products.
In 2015, our judges came from ChildFund’s global communications and sponsorship divisions.
Just as folks don’t always agree with the outcomes of the Oscars, we weren’t unanimous in our choices. But we were all captivated by a video from La Paz, Bolivia, which showed us how a young woman named Andreina rose above her circumstances and is helping others. Rather than filming a traditional video, her community gathered a series of photos documenting her daily activities, adding captions and a soundtrack that made us feel as if we were in the middle of her life.
Here are the best of our 2015 video submissions. Congratulations, and thanks to everyone who entered.
Also, watch the 2014 community video winner from Zambia, featuring 10-year-old Tinashe.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Maybe you’re a new sponsor or a supporter of ChildFund’s programs. Or maybe you’ve been with us a while but want to know more about the country where your sponsored child lives.
You have options! ChildFund’s digital team recently redesigned the Stories & News section of our website, where you can find interviews and pictures of sponsored children, their family members, ChildFund alumni and more. We also have current articles about issues affecting people in the communities where we work, including Ethiopia’s food shortage, early marriage and preparing for natural disasters. Once you’ve looked through the story files, you may want to know even more, which is where our Knowledge Center comes in handy. Publications, research and financial reports are all housed there, going back several years. Thanks for being part of ChildFund’s family, and let’s all have a happy new year!
These are some of 2015’s most memorable photos taken by ChildFund staff members, local partner organizations’ employees and others — most notably Jake Lyell, a Richmond, Virginia-based photographer and videographer who lived for several years in Uganda and has traveled to numerous countries, including disaster zones, to provide ChildFund with video and photo documentation of our work. We appreciate everyone’s efforts. Read about some of the year’s most memorable people and stories here.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
As editor of ChildFund’s blog, I’m taking a look back at a few of the past year’s highlights that reflect the triumphs and struggles in communities where we work. See some of the year’s most memorable photos here.
As 2015 began, ChildFund staff members and local partner organizations were fully engaged in starting and running Interim Care Centers (ICCs) in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the worst recorded outbreak of Ebola was killing thousands and leaving children orphaned and vulnerable to neglect, sickness and abuse.
ChildFund’s ICCs — staffed by survivors of Ebola, in many cases — helped children who had lost parents and other caregivers by giving them safe spaces to stay during the required 21-day quarantine period while they were observed for symptoms. The governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone recently recognized ChildFund’s work to educate children and family members and protect them from the further spread of Ebola.
This year, we’ve heard many personal stories of survivors and children touched by the deadly virus. You can read many of them here, but Arthur Tokpah’s interview with Ebola survivor Facinet Bangoura was particularly memorable for me. A young man from Guinea, Facinet contracted Ebola after performing traditional burial rituals for a relative who had died from the virus. He survived, but he explained to us how misinformation led many friends to shun him after he returned to his community. Today, Facinet is on a mission to prevent a further outbreak of Ebola.
Another of ChildFund’s heroes is Flavia Lanuedoc, a longtime staff member of our local partner organization in Dominica, which was hit with massive floods in August. A couple of months later, she shared with us her personal struggle after her house had been cut off from the mainland. Read how Flavia managed to do her job amid great adversity.
We also can’t forget Momodou Bah, the ChildFund alumnus from The Gambia who is now his nation’s youngest elected official and a 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow, an honor bestowed on young African leaders annually by the White House. Momodou is a remarkable person who is doing a lot of good in his country, despite impoverished beginnings, and now he is back in contact with his former sponsor, Debbie Gautreau.
I also want to pay tribute to all of the people — especially the youngest ones — who spoke up about violence and the importance of giving children safe schools, homes and neighborhoods so they can grow up and achieve their potential. Their numbers are great, and some spoke out in spite of personal risk. Children performing short dramas about corporal abuse in Timor-Leste, a Brazilian girl traveling thousands of miles to speak about violence at a U.N. panel, Bolivian teens drawing maps where gang activity occurs in their community, children across Africa marching against forced marriage — all are examples of amazing commitment that demand respect and attention.
On a global level, ChildFund Alliance’s Free From Violence campaign joined the voices of many people and organizations worldwide to advocate for the United Nations’ inclusion of a measure to end violence against children in its post-2015 agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals. This effort was successful, as child protection was prominently included in several goals adopted in September. We all hope to see a great deal of progress over the next 15 years and are ready to pitch in wherever we can.
Thank you for your support during 2015, and we wish you a wonderful new year.
We wish you a peaceful, happy and healthy holiday season!