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.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
From ChildFund Japan, one of our ChildFund Alliance partners, comes a touching video about how the seaside city of Ofunato is recovering from the deadly earthquake and tsunami that occurred on March 11, 2011. “The Garland of Smiles,” which focuses on ChildFund’s people-centered approaches to healing and rebuilding, is nearly 22 minutes long, yet if you are interested in seeing what has happened in the aftermath of the tsunami, it’s well worth viewing.
More than 15,000 people in Japan died as a result of the disaster, and as we see in the video, numerous homes and buildings were destroyed, forcing as many as 8,000 people in Ofunato to live in temporary housing. It’s in this makeshift community where we meet ChildFund Japan project manager Yoshikazu Funato, who oversaw many initiatives to bring back some normalcy to children and adults.
ChildFund Japan, which normally assists children and families in the Philippines and Nepal, had to focus its energy inward after the disaster. With financial support from other ChildFund Alliance members, including ChildFund International, ChildFund Japan concentrated its activities in Ofunato because outside support was less available there than in other stricken areas. Beginning its work in the weeks after the earthquake and tsunami with a variety of volunteers and staff, ChildFund completed its projects in March 2013.
In preparation for the rebuilding, Funato and others conducted a door-to-door survey to see what Ofunato’s residents wanted and needed most. Some projects were small — building wooden benches in the temporary communities to promote socializing — while others were more ambitious, like providing grief counseling to preschoolers and creating a collective farm that keeps residents supplied with healthy food.
As a result of ChildFund Japan’s work throughout the past two years, some residents in temporary housing became invested in the improvements, from working at the farm to taking part in a residents’ association.
As you’ll see in the video, Ofunato has undergone a transformation in the past 24 months — not just physically but in attitude as well.
By Mario Lima, National Director, ChildFund Guatemala
Last Nov. 7, Guatemala suffered a strong earthquake. Thanks to the support from ChildFund sponsors and from donors to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund, we were able to bring relief to families and children throughout the affected areas.
ChildFund Guatemala implemented a three-pronged emergency response to support children and their families in the most affected communities:
According to a traditional Mayan saying: “A good planting means a great harvest.”
Thanks for your support.
By Kate Andrews, with reporting from BØRNEfonden
As strife spreads through Mali, ChildFund Alliance partner BØRNEfonden reports that the children they serve will face many hardships in the future.
Groups of rebels have taken over the northern part of Mali and recently moved southwest as far as Diabaly, a rural town previously held by the Malian government. This recent encroachment has increased the urgency for an international response. Last month, the United Nations Security Council authorized a peacekeeping mission, and now the French military, leading an international coalition, is working to defend the North African country from rebels.
The children served by BØRNEfonden, a Danish organization, are in the relatively secure localities of Bougouni, Yanfolila and Diolila in the southernmost Sikasso region of Mali.
Nevertheless, says BØRNEfonden CEO Bolette Christensen, “At the moment many of the families, children and young people who have fled the northern parts of Mali stay with relatives in southern parts of the country. We must support them now and start thinking long term, or we will end up in a vicious spiral that makes it difficult for Mali to get firmly back on its feet.”
BØRNEfonden supports 14,000 children and families in 22 development centers in southern Mali, although the program is now working with more people, given the recent influx of refugees. Since March 2012, more than 300,000 northern Malians have fled to the southern part of the country, and others are refugees in nearby nations.
One of BØRNEfonden’s main objectives is to assist young Malians in creating small farms with irrigation systems; this program will contribute to the country’s long-term food security. BØRNEfonden will also support schoolchildren who have fled from the northern regions by providing textbooks and other teaching materials.
“Long-term development and targeting job creation, food security and education is more important than ever,” Christensen says.
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
Rice, biscuits, canned goods and bottled water sold briskly at the local supermarket in Malita, Philippines, as Typhoon Bopha approached the islands in early December. Food supplies would have to last days, possibly weeks. This, at least, is what panic-buyers reasoned as they crowded the store. Many families could not store much, however, as they would need to haul all their essentials to designated evacuation centers. But time was on their side, as authorities had called for families to evacuate two full days before the typhoon would strike on Dec. 4.
Malita is a town in Davao Oriental, on the eastern seaboard of Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines. No strangers to the tempests that the Pacific Ocean would occasionally send them, the residents of Malita fully understood their vulnerability to typhoons, as well as the flooding and landslides often found in their wake. A 2011 typhoon, Washi, which wreaked considerable harm, was their most recent reminder of this danger, at least until Typhoon Pablo, the local name for Bopha.
The storm was forecast to cross right over northern Mindanao and past the western Visayas island group. Residents in Malita braced for the worst, supported by ChildFund and other humanitarian and government agencies that had helped them create emergency response plans. These efforts toward preparedness saved lives. Early warning systems, successful evacuations and storm shelters all helped ensure that as many people as possible were able to protect themselves from harm.
ChildFund has been working in Malita for 28 years now and deeply understands the local community’s geographical risks. ChildFund’s local partner organization is staffed almost entirely by former sponsored children who grew up there. Partner organization manager Maribel says, “The Malita River makes the community vulnerable to flooding and landslides. Malita is also vulnerable to tsunamis from the Pacific.”
These risk factors are why ChildFund has been working with local authorities to improve disaster preparedness. ChildFund supports and complements government programs, directing efforts and resources toward supporting these measures. ChildFund’s youth association in Malita also joined a local group associated with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. There they were trained in first aid, evacuation plans, water safety and rescue. Parents of sponsored children also signed up at the barangay (village) office to assist with distributing relief supplies.
Thelma Oros, a disaster risk reduction management (DRRM) officer for Malita, says the local disaster plan is strong. “Residents of coastal communities evacuated early enough, and there was sufficient pre-positioning of food packs and medicines,” she says.
Typhoon Pablo did strike hard on Dec. 4, leaving more than 1,000 dead, 800 still missing and tens of thousands homeless, mostly in the Surigao and Compostela Valley provinces. In Malita, the conditions were not as treacherous as predicted.
“Half of ChildFund’s 26 local partners stood either directly or adjacent to the path of Typhoon Pablo, but most made it through without loss, damage or injury,” ChildFund program officer Erwin Galido says. “They prepared and they braced, but I suppose the least consolation we can draw, after surveying the damage Typhoon Pablo caused in northern Mindanao, is that our communities and partners have been spared.
By Mario Lima, ChildFund Guatemala National Director
After an event such as a major earthquake, it is very easy to see the dramatic effects of the disaster. Damaged or destroyed homes, collapsed roads, no electricity, no phones; the devastation is a silent witness of what people went through.
Having experienced a major earthquake as a child, I know there is underlying damage that is not as obvious to the naked eye. The fear, anxiety and the possibility of losing your loved ones, or even your own life, is really scary. Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur after seeing or experiencing a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death.
In the aftermath of Guatemala’s earthquake on Nov. 7, ChildFund, through its ChildAlert Emergency Fund, began providing psychosocial support to thousands of children. Our goal was to bring happiness back to children as soon as possible.
The school year is over in Guatemala (it runs from January to October). However, after the earthquake, children are coming back to schools to play and have fun as they address their fears. A group of trained community volunteers, led by ChildFund’s team members, gather to provide children with a day full of fun and learning games.
Within the space of the familiar community school, we’ve set up a series of workstations designed by a team of five psychologists from ChildFund’s local partners. The stations are designed similarly to stands at local fairs. Children walk through and spend time at each station, experiencing different moments, from telling their own stories during the earthquake, to playing musical instruments to engaging with puppets to discussing a movie to playing logic games.
The ChildFund team had a pleasant but challenging surprise, as the back-to-happiness activities took place. A large group of unanticipated participants came – mothers. They wanted to know how they could further help their children at home. So we opened a new station to teach moms how they could help their own children.
All told, ChildFund is providing psychosocial support in 25 schools reaching more than 12,000 children affected by the earthquake. All these activities have been designed with one objective in mind: kick fear out and invite happiness back!
Reporting by ChildFund Guatemala
On Nov. 7, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake shook the highlands of Guatemala, hitting the communities of San Marcos, Sololá, Huehuetenango and Quetzaltenango especially hard. Thousands were injured, 44 were killed, homes crumbled and power and water services were suspended. Esdras, a 12-year-old boy, who lives in a ChildFund-supported community, recalls the day.
“We just saw that everything was moving around,” says Esdras, who lives with his parents and three siblings in San Andrés Chapil, part of San Marco. When the earthquake occurred, part of his house fell down.
He also recalls a small tragedy: “A hen was getting ready to lay an egg when the earthquake occurred, and she died,” Esdras says.
“I am afraid of another earthquake,” he adds. “I felt every earthquake since the first day. When the strong earthquake hit, my mother and I were here inside the house. We just saw that everything was moving around. I was worried for my family, because there was no phone signal, no water and no power. Many houses near mine fell down, too,” he says.
Because he loves to draw, Esdras dreams of becoming a designer of houses and other buildings. Lately, he’s been drawing objects moving as he thinks about the earthquake and its aftershocks. “I wish that we do not have more earthquakes. They say in the news that there have been almost 200 aftershocks since Nov. 7, and I’m very afraid,” he says.
To support victims of the earthquake like Esdras, ChildFund Guatemala has committed up to US$250,000 to help rebuild the houses of 550 families who lost their homes. In addition, ChildFund plans to provide psychosocial support to more than 12,500 affected children in the Guatemalan states of Sololá, Quetzaltenango and San Marcos.
Post-traumatic stress is one of the most devastating impacts of an earthquake on children. By providing emotional support and safe places to gather and play, ChildFund helps children cope with post-traumatic stress, address their fears and recover the confidence needed to go on with their daily lives.
To assist children like Esdras and their families get back on their feet and rebuild their houses, please consider a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.
Reporting by ChildFund The Gambia
The distribution took place during three days in the 32 communities where ChildFund has operations. All families received 50 kg of rice and 3 liters of cooking oil. We expect to continue support for affected families through October, when we anticipate food security for the region will improve.
“My family and I are indeed very thankful for ChildFund’s intervention because there is no longer a fear of food shortage,” says Mai, mother of a sponsored child in Siffoe. “We can now enjoy the pleasures of having three meals per day.”
ChildFund New Zealand, a member of the ChildFund Alliance, as well as corporate and individual donations are helping fund the emergency food supplies.
By Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer
In recent months, more than 62 percent of U.S. states have experienced moderate to exceptional drought, and the children and families in our Oklahoma program areas are feeling the heat.
Crops like soy beans, wheat and corn have withered or died, producing low yields and forcing farmers to sell off livestock they can no longer afford to feed; while seasonal farm hands go without work. “Families who earn income in the summer months by helping with harvesting of hay and crops did not have jobs this summer,” says Linda Ehrhardt, ChildFund’s southern plains area manager.
With an already limited income, families in our Oklahoma program areas are bracing for what experts are predicting to be a nationwide surge in food prices. “Many of our families live on fixed incomes and receive assistance to help them feed their families,” Ehrhardt says. “The amount of that help does not increase every time the prices of groceries increase – leaving our families hungry by the end of the month.”
As ChildFund works with its local partners to monitor the situation and identify ways to support hard-hit families on the home front, we are reminded of the extreme hardships that millions of children and families in our programs in Africa have been experiencing since 2011. The severe drought that began last year in the Horn of Africa is mirrored in the Sahel region and continues to claim lives and destroy crops, livestock and families’ way of life.
of individuals experiencing food insecurity grew to more than 3.75 million. With the help of ChildFund, local NGOs and government agencies, families living in those areas received clean drinking water and food assistance to help feed their children. For many, this was the kind of hope and opportunity needed to rebuild their broken communities, but, today, dry conditions are back.
This year, with the short rains failing and the long rains coming late, once again crop yields have been low in eastern and western Africa. Food prices have spiked and families are in trouble.
This month, known as the lean season, Kenya will see food insecurity reach its peak. In Ethiopia, more than 3.76 million people will require food assistance until December. And in the Gambia, many children will be at risk for malnourishment or worse. Families who have planted crops are out of food and are depending on the small number of crops that will survive the drought. They will scramble for extra scraps and may even eat the seeds they had planned to plant next year. From now until October, food, milk and water will be hard to find.
Focusing our attention on the suffering in both eastern and western Africa, ChildFund will provide the necessary assistance to help families and children endure the drought season. It is paramount that we continue to provide access to clean water, sanitation and assistance with agricultural tools and activities but remedying food insecurity is even more pressing. ChildFund will provide food distributions, nutritional support and monitoring, as well as psychosocial support to help those experiencing the realities of drought.
For more information on how you can help children and families dealing with drought in our program areas, visit http://www.childfund.org/emergency_updates/ and help change a life.
Reporting from ChildFund Uganda
An outbreak of the Ebola virus, which has claimed the lives of at least 16 people in Uganda since late July, now appears to be under control, according to the World Health Organization.
Although the epicenter of the outbreak is in the Kibaale district, more than 230 suspected cases have been identified and are being monitored by the Ministry of Health. Although the bulk of these cases are in Kibaale and surrounding districts, a few are reported in three districts where ChildFund has operations: Kiboga, Amuria and Kampala. To date, there are no Ebola cases involving children and families in ChildFund’s program areas.
ChildFund Uganda, which has been monitoring the situation since the onset, mounted a response plan in Kiboga, which is closest to the epicenter. All other ChildFund programs are on alert, with preparedness plans in place, should the situation change.
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a deadly disease caused by the Ebola virus first identified in Africa in the mid-1970s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the incubation period for Ebola ranges from 2 to 21 days. The onset of illness is abrupt and is characterized by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash, red eyes, hiccups and internal and external bleeding may be seen in some patients. Up to 90 percent of people who are infected with Ebola die from it, according to the National Institutes of Health.
ChildFund is collaborating with Uganda’s Ministry of Health in all of its preparedness and response activities that include
Since the first cases were reported, Uganda’s Ministry of Health has helped the Kiboga district set up a surveillance and response team to quickly identify and isolate cases of the disease. The Ministry of Health is also providing continuous medical education sessions on Ebola for the Kiboga hospital staff.
Although the outbreak appears to be now traced to its source and contained, ChildFund Uganda remains on alert.