by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO
Anne is in Kenya this week, where more than 3.5 million people need food aid as the worst drought in 60 years spreads across the Horn of Africa. One of the most affected areas is the Turkana region, where ChildFund is responding.
It’s a dusty and bumpy drive to Lokitaung in northern Kenya. You can taste the dust in the air. It’s early in the morning and already the heat is unbearable. Without water, nothing grows in this hostile environment.
We stop at a health tent. “Thirty-seven percent of children under 5 are malnourished here,” a local nurse tells me as she weighs a young girl. “Eight percent are severely malnourished. That’s a sharp increase compared to last year.”
In times of food shortage, children under 5 are the most vulnerable to malnutrition. Inadequate food intake in young children has lifelong growth and development implications. That’s why ChildFund is focusing its relief efforts on providing food to those 5 and younger, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers. We are using existing structures we have in place on the ground, including health facilities and Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) centers, to deliver food and water.
At the ECCD in Lokitaung, it’s just past 11 a.m., and the children are crying and hungry. They line up to receive a bowl of unimix – a nutrient-rich porridge. This is their first meal of the day. Since ChildFund started providing supplementary food, the number of children coming to the ECCD has soared. Mothers tell me they have carried their children for more than 5 kilometers, walking in the blistering heat to reach the ECCD center this morning.
Back at the health tent, Emuria, a 5-year-old boy, is having his mid-upper arm circumference measured. He looks frail. ChildFund’s health interventions include monitoring child growth to spot malnutrition at the early stages, providing vitamin A and iron supplements, deworming, vaccinating against measles and polio and also treating minor illnesses.
Mothers I speak to complain about eye irritations because of the dry and dusty conditions. Children are coughing. Today, we’re also testing mothers for HIV/AIDS. Luckily, all have tested negative.
In the afternoon, we visit the remote village of Kariburi. The road is even bumpier and dustier than the one we traveled this morning. Everywhere you look is the same landscape — dust fields. We drive through one dry riverbed after another. Turkana really is the epicenter of the drought in Kenya.
The situation in Kariburi is dire. Malnutrition levels far exceed emergency thresholds. In the local ECCD center, the young children are calm and quiet. They lack the energy to play. A combination of food insecurity, falling nutrition levels and poor access to health and water facilities has left children in need of urgent support. Immunization coverage is extremely low, which puts the under-five population at risk.
ChildFund is distributing relief food (maize, legumes and beans) to families today. Women line up and carry bags away on their heads. They have come far distances.
I’m happy to see that local women are involved in the relief distribution. The more you can involve the community, the better. ChildFund has also trucked in drinking water. A large crowd has gathered around the tap. Women have brought their containers to carry water back to their homes. ChildFund is also providing training on hygiene and sanitation practices. It’s in times of food shortage that people become weak and more vulnerable to disease outbreak.
Our help is needed most desperately. Thank you for your support.
Based in Ethiopia, Isam Ghanim, ChildFund’s executive vice president for Global Programs, answers questions about the cause and impact of the drought in East Africa. Read the full interview with Isam on ChildFund’s website.
What has led to this food crisis?
It’s a situation that we refer to as a slow-onset emergency. This was caused by two consecutive rainy seasons failing, and the short rainy seasons in Kenya and Ethiopia also failed. This has led to an increase in food prices. There is also high inflation in all of these countries. And there is violence in Somalia. A significant number of Somalians have moved to established camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Families entered this crisis with depleted assets and very poor physical conditions. For almost two years now, they have been affected by food shortages. They are suffering from nutritional stress. There is only so long you can cope before you fall into acute malnutrition. The environmental conditions and the health conditions take their toll.
What is the current situation?
More than 11.5 million people are affected. In the areas where ChildFund works, we estimate 660,000 people are affected, with 7,000 children facing life-threatening conditions. This is a very serious situation. Stress indicators are reaching the levels that you see in the middle of a famine. Without immediate intervention, children will die.
What impacts of the drought are we seeing?
Children and their parents are malnourished and at increased risk of disease due to poor hygiene because of the shortage of water. They are suffering from physical and emotional stress. People are moving from their homes.
The most grievously affected are women and children. They have less capability to move. For young children, there is a permanent impact on their health — stunting, wasting, mental development. If the mother is breastfeeding, she won’t have enough milk. When parents are under significant stress, the normal care and support for children will be minimized.
What is ChildFund doing to help?
ChildFund is addressing the immediate life-threatening conditions affecting children — providing food, water and basic health services, as well as supplemental feeding through early childhood care and development centers to ensure babies and young children will not fall into acute malnutrition.
In addition, ChildFund is working to help families stay in their own communities so that when the rains come in September they are there to plant crops and cultivate their farms. If they don’t plant, they will lose another harvest and experience another year without food.
There is also a need to address child protection issues. Parents are too weak to care for their children. They have no roof over their head. Providing support is critical so that families don’t deplete their resources as part of their coping mechanism.
by Martin Hayes, ChildFund Child Protection Specialist
Reporting from Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Relative calm has been restored to the towns and villages surrounding Mount Merapi. Evacuees are leaving internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and returning home. In many cases, parents are leaving their children with families and friends in the camps so that they can begin cleaning their homes and clearing the debris.
I traveled to two of the villages about 4 kilometers (2 miles) south of the volcano. The roads were covered with an inch of gray powdery ash. In some spots, rain water has combined with the ash to solidify like concrete. Most village residents are farmers. They depend on the rice and vegetables that they grow. The hardened ash has caused many of the crops to die. For now these farmers are living on handouts delivered to the village by volunteers.
I spoke with a few villagers who have returned home. One young mother explained to me, “We don’t have seeds for next season…we’re worried about what we’ll do.” In this part of Indonesia, farmers plant regularly and are able to harvest every few months. They sell part of their harvest and consume the rest. Their subsistence is a delicate balance contingent on the cyclical harvests.
Despite the crop problem, residents are happy to be home. I spoke with a few young children about their experiences over the past few weeks. One 10-year-old girl named Wanyu explained the events immediately after the volcanic eruption. “I felt so scared… I cried. All the lights went out. We looked at the mountain and we saw red lights coming from the top.”
Wanyu fled with her parents to a shelter in the nearest town about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away. “I didn’t like the shelter because it was too hot.” But she explained that she did like meeting new children living at the shelter and learning new traditional games with them. Nonetheless, she’s glad to be back home and eager to return to her fourth-grade classroom. However, the school has not reopened. The students are helping some of the teachers who have returned to clean the school.
Wanyu’s mother is also happy to be home. However, she is noticeably anxious. “I’m worried about Merapi erupting again. I’m also worried about our future as all our vegetables have died.”
by Julien Anseau, ChildFund Asia Regional Communications Manager
Reporting from the field
Each of the 963 ChildFund-sponsored children in Magelang and Boyolali districts have been found staying in evacuation camps or with relatives. All are in good health, although some are complaining of eye irritation caused from ash and sand rain.
“We worked with our local partners and an experienced team of volunteers to locate the children,” says Kuntum, a ChildFund staff member. “We visited camps in Magelang and Boyolali to find them. We spoke to village leaders, family members and neighbors to find out if they knew where the children were staying. Phone connection has been limited in remote areas following the first eruption so we visited every camp on a daily basis.”
Approximately 280,000 people have been forced to leave their homes for temporary evacuation shelters, following Mount Merapi’s most violent eruption in 140 years. Conditions in most of the camps are cramped with poor sanitary conditions.
In emergency situations, children need a safe space in which to play and reestablish a sense of normalcy. ChildFund is opening child-centered spaces to provide educational and recreational activities for children.
“Children take part in drawing, singing, dancing, playing and storytelling, which allow emotional expression,” says Susana, a ChildFund staff member in Indonesia. In our child-centered space in Gunungpring camp we are exhibiting children’s drawings. Children are happy about this, and we hope it helps restore their confidence.”
Tegar, 10 years old, says, “I drew a picture of a volcano because I still remember what happened. My house was destroyed. I am very afraid.”
Susana explains that the vast majority of children initially drew volcanoes, but in more recent days, they are drawing the crater, without the volcanic eruption. “Some of the girls are drawing flowers. This is an important sign in post-trauma healing. Child-centered spaces help in this respect.”
In Deyangan camp, 9-year-old Arif says he likes the child-centered space. “For some time I can forget about what has happened. But when I go back to my parents sitting there in the camp, I only think about the eruption. I am scared at night.”
Although children may be living in evacuee camps, they still have a right to education, says Hurmiyati, a teacher in one of ChildFund’s child-centered spaces. “They will sit a national examination in May next year; they can’t fall behind.”
ChildFund is partnering with psychologists who, by interacting with children in the child-centered spaces, can better understand the trauma children are going through. Children have told ChildFund staff that they are afraid because they have had to leave their village and make new friends.
In Maguwo camp, the largest camp where more than 20,000 people have taken refuge, the popular child-centered space is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is well stocked with books and toys. Children come to spend some time to forget about their painful experience, under the supervision of trained volunteers.
ChildFund is providing age-appropriate activities for younger children, but there is a need for materials for older children. Sugeng, a volunteer, says, “There is nothing for teenagers to do in the camp. They are bored and don’t know how long they are going to be here.”
Sugeng is also concerned that the children have a balanced diet. Children eat rice or noodles every day. They need fruit and vegetables. So ChildFund staff and volunteers are involving children in the activity of making a fruit salad, and then partaking.
Overcrowding is a problem in the child-centered spaces. In Gunungpring, more than 100 children are attending activities during the course of the day, but the room is too small to accommodate everyone. More space is needed.
With your support, ChildFund will be able to open additional child-centered spaces for the children whose families have fled the volcano. Thank you for considering a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund to help improve conditions for children in Indonesia.
by Julien Anseau, ChildFund Asia Regional Communications Manager
Reporting from the field
Continued eruptions of the Mt. Merapi volcano in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, during the last two weeks has forced 280,000 people into temporary shelters at schools, village halls and makeshift camps. Indonesia’s president has declared the situation a national disaster.
Camps are overcrowded, with a reported combined capacity of only 40,000.
Yet in the districts of Magelang and Boyolali alone, where ChildFund is focusing its emergency response efforts, displaced persons total more than 150,000.
Children and parents have told ChildFund staff that sanitary conditions in the camps are poor. ChildFund is distributing some 1,250 hygiene kits (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes and diapers) to evacuated families staying in shelters. We are also providing food for breastfeeding mothers as well as food, clothing, mattresses and blankets.
Three-year-old David, one of ChildFund’s sponsored children, is staying in Deyangan camp in the Magelang district with his family. His mother, Wanti, says that her family’s village is located only 5 km (3.1 miles) from the mountain’s peak. “We want to go home, but we don’t know when that will be. I don’t know what state our house will be in when we return. My husband sometimes ventures up Merapi’s slopes to check on our cattle and goats, but I tell him it’s probably best not to check on the house or he will cry.”
People living on Merapi’s slopes depend on cattle for their livelihoods. Thus, many evacuees, stressed over the safety of their livestock, are entering the restricted zone to check on their cattle, goats, ducks and chickens. In an effort to prevent residents from returning to their homes to feed livestock, volunteers and military personnel have evacuated animals within a 20 kilometer radius of Merapi’s peak.
“We want our normal life back,” Wanti says. “But I am worried about the future. Our paddy fields have been left unattended. Our crops are ruined.”
Children also are in shock and confused. The loss of educational materials and toys, separation from home and play areas and a general lack of security is traumatic. Schools in affected areas remain closed and a lack of activities for children in the camps is causing children to be restless, anxious and noncommunicative.
As parents worry about their livelihood and the potential loss of property and livestock, they are often unable to adequately provide the care and attention needed by children.
ChildFund is establishing child-centered spaces where children can engage in normalizing activities such as drawing, singing, dancing and storytelling to enable emotional expression.
“Child-centered spaces provide protection and psychosocial support for children who have been affected by emergencies. They also provide a safe, physical space for children to gather in an unstable environment,” says Sharon Thangadurai, ChildFund national director in Indonesia.
Yuni, 12, is staying at Deyangan camp in Magelang. “I have to help my mom with washing clothes and taking care of my younger brother,” she says. She is happy to have the opportunity to play with other children at the child-centered space. “I enjoy it here. It helps me to be strong because I want to be strong for my mom.”
Additional child-centered spaces are urgently needed. To help ChildFund respond to the Mt. Merapi disaster, please consider a donation to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.
More than eight months after an earthquake devastated Haiti, ChildFund’s support for the country’s most vulnerable children continues apace.
In our work through CBM and the Centre d’Education Speciale (CES), we are seeing signs of progress as children return to school and families adapt new routines. Much work remains amid Haiti’s decimated infrastructure.
Yet, there are bright spots. Day care centers for children with injuries and disabilities are operating in six hard-hit areas around Port-Au-Prince. Children attending the centers now have access to therapy, follow-up care and referrals to other health professionals when needed.
Continuing care is especially important for children with epilepsy to ensure regular access to medication. Since last March, a pediatrician and a neurologist have visited one of the centers once a week. Since May a speech therapist has been available twice a week.
In addition, CES has been able to open its doors to other children without disabilities yet in need of a safe haven. Six-year-old Lovely was a student of the College Mixte Evangelique d’Haiti, which collapsed during the earthquake. She lost many friends.
Lovely’s mother Evna reports that her daughter has made academic progress at the CES center despite the sad circumstances following the earthquake. During those terrifying moments, Evna and Lovely ran out of the house and spent all day in the street.
Lovely’s father used to have a little shop, but all of his merchandise was stolen after the quake. Evna, who had worked as a street vendor, had to stop her commerce activities and devote all of her time to taking care of her three children.
The opening of the child center has provided a safe place for the children to play and learn while Evna and her husband find work and earn money for food and necessities.
It is a hard existence but Lovely and her family have hope for better days.
It’s been a year of extremes for Guatemala. Just a few months ago, the country was in the midst of severe drought that had destroyed crops and caused many vulnerable children to suffer malnutrition. Then Tropical Storm Agatha hit in May, flooding families from their homes, washing out bridges and damaging the country’s infrastructure.
Now additional rains have brought more flooding and life-threatening landslides. Alvaro Colom, the country’s president, has characterized the situation as a “national tragedy.” The president declared a state of emergency and told citizens to stay off the nation’s highways due to the number of landslides.
ChildFund projects are affected in Estrella Del Mar, Futor De Ninos and Pequeno Paraiso. The most critical needs are food and water, clothes and medicine.
Floods have led to the use of schools and churches as temporary shelters, which is affecting school attendance in some communities. Another concern is an increase in waterborne diseases.
What has become Guatemala’s worst rainy season in years is endangering new crops, putting the country’s food supply in danger once again.
In an interview filmed prior to the flood-producing rains, Mario Lima, national director for ChildFund Guatemala reflected on ChildFund’s efforts to provide better nutrition to Guatemala’s children and their families. These efforts must now be redoubled.
To help families in Guatemala, please give to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.
by Mary Moran, Senior Program Specialist, Early Childhood Development
There is great energy here in New York United Nations and nongovernmental agency circles this week with the launch of new materials from the Interagency Network on Education in Emergencies.
Four new or revised publications are being released: “Minimum Standards Handbook,” “Pocket Guide to Gender,” “Reference Guide on External Education Financing” and “Guidance Notes on Teaching and Learning.” On hand for the launch were agency staff as well as UN representatives from developing countries.
ChildFund participated in the updating of the “Minimum Standards Handbook,” which provides benchmarks for accountability for quality education in emergency preparedness, response and recovery. ChildFund also co-convenes a task team that was instrumental in getting early childhood development (ECD) issues mainstreamed throughout the standards.
In New York, considerable discussion focused on the application of ECD standards in Haiti. Members of the audience raised questions about the extent of community involvement in ECD response following the earthquake six months ago. UNICEF and Plan representatives affirmed that communities were involved in choosing sites for ECD Centers and other safe havens for children. They acknowledged that interagency coordination was imperfect. The new standards position interagency coordination as a foundational cornerstone — absolutely crucial to agency preparedness and good response during emergencies.
At the launch, a number of workshops offered simulations and hands-on exercises employing the new materials including a case study of Iraq, gender-awareness issues among children and adults and emergency funding strategies.
Improving coordination among various agencies and partners, ensuring community participation, focusing on outcomes for children and increasing response quality were hot topics.
Although the new standards do not cover every aspect of emergencies as completely as desired, agency representatives applaud the new areas addressed within the standards, including ECD and gender topics.
Going forward, emergency coordination among all sectors needs more emphasis. Yet, in the field, things need to be short and concise to be useful.
by Virginia Sowers
Our three-part series on recovery efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami concludes today with an update from India.
ChildFund India’s tsunami recovery and rehabilitation programs were aimed at protecting children coping with the loss of homes, parents and family members, reports Ilango Balu, child protection specialist in the India National Office.
Working in 35 villages, ChildFund India set up child-centered spaces, where children were given health care, nutrition and other creative activities to provide psychosocial support.
In the past five years, ChildFund India has established support groups for children, adolescent girls and youth, as well as community Child Well-Being Committees. They’ve also provided child-protection training for parents and
communities, life-skills training for girls, employment skills training for youth and psychosocial support training for teachers. Resources have also been allocated to economic recovery efforts, such as fishing boat repair, fishing net replacement and small-business startups.
Tsunami recovery efforts by ChildFund and its community partners have focused on sustainability. Ilango estimates that about 75 percent of the people affected by the storm regained normalcy as they received shelter and were able to continue their regular occupations. Yet, 25 percent of the affected population continues to struggle with recovery even five years on.
Many lessons have been learned in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami. ChildFund has recently responded to the typhoons in the Philippines and the earthquake in Sumatra, and we have also begun implementing child-led Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) training in communities where we work.
The goal of DRR training is to further mitigate the vulnerability of children and their families in the face of large-scale or smaller emergencies, by helping children increase their positive coping strategies should a disaster occur.
And, of course, the services ChildFund provides in 31 countries around the world would not be possible without the support of child sponsors, major donors and others who respond to the call with generosity in times of incredible, unforeseen need.
by Virginia Sowers
Our three-part series on recovery efforts following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami continues with an update from Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka, ChildFund National Director Guru Naik recalls 70 staff being redeployed and 1,000 community volunteers being mobilized to handle the humanitarian crisis five years ago. In the first three days following the tsunami, assistance was provided to 102,000 children and 12,000 adults who spontaneously gathered in makeshift shelters in the surrounding countryside.
Early childhood development activities, health and nutrition programs and child-centered spaces were top priorities.
In the five intervening years, the effort has shifted to reconstruction and rehabilitation activities, and reassessing the needs of the most vulnerable, still mostly children and women.
To augment recovery, ChildFund Sri Lanka focused on civic work projects, micro-enterprise development to help communities reestablish their livelihoods and vocational training for youth in high-demand skills such as three-wheeler repair, cell phone repair, electrical wiring installation and pottery and Batik painting.
Today, the areas in which ChildFund Sri Lanka works have regained some degree of normalcy, Guru says. “Communities are happy and carry on their activities freely, and children enjoy the facilities now extended to them in a good environment.”
Tomorrow: Working in 35 villages, ChildFund India set up child-centered spaces, where children were given health care, nutrition and other creative activities to provide psychosocial support.