By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Regional Communication and Administration Manager, Africa
A few years ago I traveled to the Boset Borchota woreda, or district, a place where it was very green and fertile. As we visited homes throughout the community, I took great pleasure in seeing the bountiful harvest of grains, vegetables and fruits. The livestock appeared plump and healthy. Proud farmers invited us to taste their fruits and grains.
What a different sight met me on my recent visit from our office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. There had been no harvest, and the livestock were cruelly thin. Once-fertile lands were now dry and filled with dust. The dust was everywhere — I couldn’t even see the vehicle in front of us.
I could barely take it in; the difference was so profound.
With great heaviness in my heart, I visited some homes and talked with families and children. One mother of seven, Sequare, spoke to me at length. (See pictures of Sequare and her children in the slideshow below.)
“How can we cope without rain?” she asked. “We are farmers and depend on agriculture, but life seems to have turned its face against us these years.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Now I don’t even know what we are,” she said. “I can’t call us farmers anymore, because we are not farming. Our days are spent walking in search of water. The river is drying, and if this river dries we won’t know what we can do, as the next one is 30 kilometers [roughly 19 miles] away. There is no way we can walk 30 kilometers and come back here.”
Of her seven children, four attend school. Because she no longer can feed her children from what her farm produces, she prepares their meals from government distributions of corn and oil, and supplementary food provided by ChildFund.
“They eat less,” Sequare said. And what they do eat is not as nutritious as the varied diet of dairy, meat, vegetables and lentils they once enjoyed. One of her children tends toward sickliness and misses school at times. She worries this child’s health will worsen.
“I am tired,” Sequare said. “Every morning we wake up and look for the rain to come, but it is dry here in Borchota.” She said if the drought continued like this, they would migrate to the city in search of food.
“We can’t sit here and wait for our children to die.”
The drought and resulting food shortage in Ethiopia are expected to continue for up to a year. A strong El Niño weather phenomenon caused greatly diminished rainfall in the brief rainy season of spring, known as belg. Farmers in the Oromia region, where Sequare’s home is located, depend on the belg rains for their crops and livestock fodder. But the drought’s effects are more widespread than this region. The government of Ethiopia recently expanded its estimate of the number of people needing food assistance to 10.1 million people.
ChildFund International, which has worked here for more than 40 years and is deeply committed to the progress made for children’s rights and well-being in Ethiopia, is responding with emergency relief in the form of supplementary food — sacks of Famix, a high-protein, ready-to-eat mix of whole roasted corn and soy flour. In recent years, the Ethiopian government has worked hard to build the nation’s economy and infrastructure. We are committed to providing help now, so that Ethiopia can continue this progress in the future.
On our way back from visiting with families, we saw ChildFund staff distributing supplementary food for the children. The parents seemed happy to receive it. Yet when I’d left the homes of those I’d visited earlier in the day, their faces had been sad. They hadn’t been able to share their harvest with me as they had in times past.
May the help we provide today enable our friends to weather this crisis and enjoy many fruitful harvests in the years ahead.
By Karifa Kamara, ChildFund Sierra Leone
At an awards ceremony Dec. 18 in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, President Ernest Bai Koroma recognized ChildFund Sierra Leone’s work in the fight against the deadly Ebola epidemic.
Billy Abimbilla, national director of ChildFund’s offices in Sierra Leone and Liberia, was on hand to accept the bronze medal and certificate “in recognition of its support to the government and people of Sierra Leone during the outbreak of Ebola disease, especially in the operation of Observation Interim Care Centers and donation of food and non-food items to communities.”
ChildFund was among 199 organizations and individuals honored at the State House in Freetown for their work against Ebola, which claimed 3,955 lives in Sierra Leone during 2014 and 2015. Abimbilla and Davidson Jonah, ChildFund’s field operations support director, were instrumental in opening Interim Care Centers in Liberia and Sierra Leone last year during the height of the epidemic.
Children who were exposed to the deadly virus stayed in ICCs during their 21-day quarantine period and were cared for and observed for signs of Ebola by trained health workers, many of whom had survived the virus and were immune to it. For many children who had lost loved ones to the disease, ICCs were safe havens where they could play, receive nourishing meals and sleep comfortably.
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia’s local partner staff in Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region
Kefyalech, a 30-year-old mother who lives in Ethiopia, stays home to care for her six children while her husband, Derara, seeks work. But Derara often comes home without having found a job, because the coffee crop is suffering just like all the others in the two-year rainfall shortage that has gripped Ethiopia for months now, so the family remains hungry.
Three years ago, Kefyalech worked as a daily laborer and earned 10 birr ($0.47) a day, which covered some of the family’s expenses. But these days, Kefyalech and her children wait each night to see if Derara has earned enough money to buy maize flour, the only food they can afford.
Kefyalech’s family is not alone. Poor rainfall over two growing seasons has limited the number of crops, and El Niño is delaying rainfall now. Experts predict the situation will worsen over the next eight months, and it could take more than a year for Ethiopia to recover.
The drought has damaged Ethiopia’s agriculture-based economy and limited its food supply, and it’s expected to continue well into next year; the Ethiopian government estimates that 10.1 million people will need food assistance in 2016, including 5.75 million children. Save the Children, another non-governmental organization working in Ethiopia, estimates that 400,000 children will be at risk of suffering acute malnutrition next year.
Working with the Ethiopian government, ChildFund and its local partner organizations in seven districts are providing supplementary food and cooking oil for nearly 74,000 children under age 5, pregnant and lactating mothers, and elderly people.
ChildFund and its partners are also working to support the government health office, including the health center in Kefyalech’s community. At a nutrition screening recently held there, her youngest child, 3-year-old daughter Debritu, was diagnosed as moderately malnourished in a nutrition screening held there, so the supplementary food Kefyalech was able to take home — Famix, a maize-and-soybean mixture fortified with vitamins and minerals — was especially welcome.
But Kefyalech says she felt she could not give the extra food to just Debritu and deprive her other children.
“As a mother, I had no choice but to feed the whole family, because there has not been enough food in the house,” she says. “I could not feed the supplementary food to only one of my children while seeing the rest going to sleep on an empty stomach.” As a result, the supplement was gone early, and Debritu remains malnourished.
The little girl also came down with pneumonia recently — no surprise, as malnutrition undermines children’s immunities. She is improving, with the help of prescription medication she received from the health center.
Kefyalech is understandably concerned about her family’s fragile future.
“I’m afraid of tomorrow because I have nothing,” she says. “I’m worried for my daughter. I’m scared. What if I don’t get support from ChildFund? I don’t know what is waiting for me tomorrow.” Kefyalech adds that her older children are not going to school anymore because they can’t spare the expense.
ChildFund’s local partners are also working with the Ethiopian government to provide blankets, sheets and mattresses to help the health centers handle the growing demand as more and more children need treatment. These organizations also are supporting the distribution of Plumpy’Nut, a therapeutic food provided by UNICEF for treating severe acute malnutrition, to government health centers in the areas affected by the food shortage.
Reporting and video by ChildFund Ecuador staff
With its snow-capped peak jutting into the Ecuadorean sky, the Cotopaxi volcano is one of the highest and most famous active volcanoes in South America. Since its most recent eruption in August 2015, it has become a source of growing concern for people living in the Cotopaxi province, where ChildFund works through its local partner FEDECOX.
Currently, the volcanic activity is moderate as Cotopaxi continues to emit steam and ash, and the Ecuadorean government has placed the area on yellow alert – the lowest of three possible safety warnings. FEDECOX has distributed masks and caps to help children and families block out the ash and prevent respiratory and skin diseases. The affected communities are also conducting large drills to prepare for a possible eruption.
The volcano, known to be one of the most dangerous in the world, remains carefully watched. Cotopaxi’s glacier cover multiplies the potential for lahars, which are enormous and devastating mud- and rockslides that can race down a mountain much too fast for people to escape.
ChildFund and its local partner organizations in the area are working to ensure that children and their families are as prepared as they can be, and we remain poised to provide the special help they’ll need in case of emergency.
We will provide further updates as they become available. In the meantime, take a look at this video featuring 7-year-old Leidy, who shows us how she puts on her protective gear – with a smile and plenty of style.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.