ChildFund’s response to Ebola continues, as the number of diagnosed cases nears 9,000, with 4,493 deaths recorded. For the next five days (until Oct. 20), you can listen to a BBC interview (go to the 44-minute mark) with Billy Abimbilla, national director of Liberia and Sierra Leone, and Ebola survivor and volunteer Decontee Davis about the Interim Care Center started for Liberian children affected by the deadly virus. It’s a remarkable story, and Billy reports that Liberians are volunteering to foster and adopt children orphaned by Ebola. You can read more and help our efforts in West Africa through the Ebola Response Fund.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Home from an afternoon at the beach, my brothers, sisters, cousins and I would sit crowded on the front porch, still in our swimsuits with our feet crusted in sand, eating ice cream made with heavy cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla and fresh peaches. My first summer living in Senegal, I found a cast-off barrel freezer, bought mangoes from the market and a block of ice and sea salt from the local fishery, then invited my friends to an ice cream party, which brought back those memories from the beach.
Food is far more than just nutrition; it’s also a universal symbol of hospitality. Sharing a meal creates community. Food comforts us when its scent or flavor triggers emotion and memory.
Comfort food is generational as well as geographical. Senegalese children take comfort in a knobby green fruit called corossol, with flesh the color, flavor and texture of custard. Ugandan children scoping out street food choose kabalagala, a deep-fried doughnut made of sweet fingerling bananas and cassava flour. And children in Guinea suck on small bags of frozen bissap, gingembre or pain de singe – hibiscus, ginger or baobab fruit juices.
Food shortages throw families and communities into crisis, and it’s mainly a distribution problem because we have enough food to feed everyone. Food shortages result from climate change, waste or spoilage, poor infrastructure, unstable markets, conflicts, politics and disease.
We rarely consider disease as a factor in hunger, but epidemics dramatically affect food availability. HIV and AIDS, by primarily killing adults between ages 25 and 45, leave the back-breaking labor of farming to the children and elderly. Annual bouts of malaria reduce a farmer’s capacity to plant and harvest. And the Ebola outbreak in western Africa threatens food security through human response.
Ebola spread as people moved freely around the Western Guinean Lowland Forest that spans southern Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This shared ecosystem is home to ethnic groups whose family members extend across all three countries. Borders in the rainforest are unofficial and permeable. Initially, Ebola cases clustered in the triangle where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet. But in time, as the infected sought treatment elsewhere, Ebola was transmitted to every district in Sierra Leone and to all but two of Liberia’s southernmost districts.
An early approach to limiting Ebola involved closing land borders. This tactic threatened thousands with starvation because more than three-quarters of Liberia’s produce comes from Guinea. Sierra Leone cannot cultivate enough crops to feed its population, either, and relies on trade with Guinea.
Also, Liberia quarantined towns and Sierra Leone locked down the country for a time. Because many western Africans lack a reliable source of electricity, they have no refrigeration and must purchase food daily. Otherwise, it perishes.
In October, the blog is focusing on the harvest and traditional foods. Stay tuned this month for recipes from some of the countries where we work.
ChildFund’s emergency management unit provided a status report late last week on the spread of the Ebola virus in our program areas in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Senegal, which has reported only one case so far. Read more here about Guinea, too. To help, you can make a gift to our Ebola Response Fund, which will help ChildFund support local efforts to control the virus’ spread and provide information and resources to communities.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Ebola, a deadly and extremely painful virus, has broken out in western Africa. We asked Meg, who worked in Uganda during a previous outbreak, to share her impressions of Ebola and how it’s spread.
In Guinea’s Forest Region, where the world’s latest Ebola outbreak began, a bat is considered a delicacy — unless it’s your totem animal. If your family name is Guemou, Gbilimou, Gamamou, Balamou or Kolamou, you won’t eat bats, dogs or snakes.
You’ll also be at slightly less risk of contracting Ebola. Researchers believe that one in three West African bats carries Ebola antibodies. Even animals with no sign of illness can infect humans through blood or body fluids.
Every Ebola outbreak begins with a single animal-to-human transmission, then spreads from human to human through direct contact with blood, saliva, perspiration, urine, feces, organs, even semen. After an incubation period of two to 21 days, those infected pass Ebola on — often to family members and health care workers.
In Guinea, doctors initially mistook Ebola for Lassa, another viral hemorrhagic fever that accounts for about one in seven hospital admissions across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Hospitals there often lack laboratories equipped to distinguish one virus from another.
Rats excrete the Lassa virus in their urine. It disperses during the daily sweeping of dirt floors, and then humans inhale it. Lassa, like malaria, requires vector control. Ebola’s transmission, on the other hand, plays into religion and culture; greetings, hospitality, caring for the sick, personal hygiene and funeral preparations all can cause its transmission.
I lived in Uganda in 2007 when a new strain of Ebola surfaced on its border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Guinea’s virus is also a new strain, very closely related to the type from the DRC. Back in 2007, an infected doctor seeking treatment in Uganda’s capital brought Ebola to Kampala. This March, an infected doctor brought Ebola to Guinea’s capital, Conakry.
In 2007, Uganda threatened to close Entebbe International Airport. Now, Senegal has closed its land border with Guinea, The Gambia cancelled flights into Conakry, and other passengers must undergo health screening at arrival and departure. Saudi Arabia has even suspended visas for the haj, meaning that Guineans and Liberians won’t be among the pilgrims to Mecca this October. Muslims save money for decades to make pilgrimages on behalf of their families. Upon return, they bless all who shake their hands.
Ebola twists, knots and adorns itself in filaments. It is one of the most lethal pathogens on earth, and the U.S. has classified it under bioterrorism. There’s no vaccine, cure or treatment. If your immune system can’t fight it off, the virus bores holes in your blood vessels. Ebola kills most of its human hosts. Since it’s rare for Guineans and Liberians to ever touch a microscope or see germs, many still attribute sudden death caused by Ebola to sorcery.
No child should have to watch her mother die alone, touched only by doctors encased in protective armor. No father should suffer the agony of having infected his child. And those who recover don’t deserve stigma. Please help us counter fear with education and hygiene interventions.
One hundred days have passed since Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, leaving 6,201 people dead and more than 1 million homes either damaged or destroyed. ChildFund has been on the ground since the immediate aftermath, assisting with food and water distribution, setting up Child-Centered Spaces and helping families rebuild homes and livelihoods. And yet, the people of Capiz, Leyte, Cebu and Bantayan islands still need your help as they try to get back on their feet. Consider making a donation to ChildFund’s Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund.
“It is a war against hunger and disease. It is a war against negative coping strategies families feel forced to adopt. It is a war against thirst, and it is a war against international news cycles and ambivalence,” says Isaac Evans, ChildFund’s director for global safety and security.
I’ve been in the Philippines nearly a month now, supporting our emergency response to Super Typhoon Haiyan. I’ve learned a lot on this trip, but one thing I will carry with me is being able to count to eight in Cebuano. I did not learn it because I read it in a book or used language-learning software. I learned it by placing eight bags of dried noodles into larger plastic bags – hundreds and hundreds of times: Ousa, duha, tolo, opat, lima, unum, pito, walo.
The eight bags of noodles, combined with other food items, were enough to feed a family of five for five days.
The other day, I went to Sacred Heart Church here in Cebu, where staff and volunteers have been packing food and non-food items nearly every day for the last month. I’ve stopped in before, but this time I wanted to thank them and help with packing, to experience what they were doing for us. Of course, I had no idea what I was in for. The labor – packing and moving combined food items weighing about 90 kilos (200 lb.) – is especially tough here, where the temperature and humidity are high. Sheets of sweat ran down my face within minutes.
My colleagues, Joel and Martin, were with me that day, and after an hour or so of heavy lifting, we settled into other work: packing rice, sardines or noodles into the bags. Eventually we found our niche, taking noodles from boxes (thousands of boxes!) and placing eight bags into a small plastic bag. Joel and I worked as a team – as a machine, really – while Martin packed canned sardines into other bags. We were moving quickly, so we counted aloud to make sure we were putting the right number in each bag.
Joel soon fell into his native Cebuano, and a game of sorts was afoot. Soon enough, I would learn to count in Cebuano, but only to eight. There were many laughs as I tried to first remember, then sound the words out and slowly develop mastery. After a couple of hours, Martin said it was time for me to go; the others had already worked well past quitting time but would not leave as long as I was there.
Sorry and a bit embarrassed, I got up slowly. The work was harder and more monotonous and dirtier than I had thought. But now I can count to eight in Cebuano, and the story of how I learned to do it is one more memory that helps restore me when the work of providing relief gets me down.
When I think of 2013, I see great waves of floodwater. Over the past year, a typhoon and a cyclone struck communities in India and the Philippines, causing great devastation to families we serve, as well as our local partner organizations and national office staff. Yet these disasters also gave us the opportunity to show the best of our human spirit, whether it was through donations or assistance on the ground.
Here’s a look back at some of ChildFund’s highlights in 2013.
In November, Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm to hit the Philippines in many years, blew through several communities that ChildFund serves. Nationwide, more than 6,000 people died, and 550,000 homes were destroyed. We are still collecting donations to help those who lost their homes and belongings, as well as giving psychosocial support to children and families who were traumatized by the storm’s destruction. In October, Cyclone Phailin struck eastern India, causing massive flooding and the destruction of homes and more than a million acres of farmland. Our support there continues.
Our work against exploitative child labor took center stage in mid-June, when we recognized World Day Against Child Labor. We learned how child labor takes many forms, whether it’s in a sugarcane field, a mine or inside the home; sometimes, it’s hard to tell when children and youth are being exploited because of the secrecy surrounding the practice. In fact, a poll we commissioned in June revealed that 73 of Americans surveyed believe that only 1 million children are working in exploitative conditions. Wrong: The actual number is closer to 150 million. It’s important to pay attention to the signs and to make efforts to support industries that are taking a stand against child labor. ChildFund Alliance also launched the Free From Violence and Exploitation petition this year, aiming to make child protection a priority in the United Nations’ post-2015 goals.
In November, the Alliance released the results of its Small Voices, Big Dreams children’s survey, asking children what they would do if they were president of their countries, as well as what they consider the most important issues of the day. As usual, children gave wise and considered responses to our questions.
In September, ChildFund began marking its 75th anniversary, a landmark that our national offices, Alliance members and international office have recognized with numerous events, including meetings and celebrations with staff members, our Alliance countries, board members and, of course, sponsored children. Our 75-post anniversary blog series, which shares historical photos and stories — as well as the views of sponsors, children, Alliance members and staff — continues through the end of March.
As we take a look back at the past, we employ our history to lend perspective to ChildFund’s work and to help determine our future goals. Just as our founder, Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke, declared in October 1938, the well-being of children in need remains at the heart of ChildFund. Thank you for your past and present support, and have a happy and healthy 2014!
The past two months have been filled with challenges for families in parts of the Philippines as they cope with the devastation and loss caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Martin Nañawa, a communications staff member in our Philippines office, has spent this time reporting on the children, youth and adults affected by the typhoon, the worst in recent history in the Philippines. Today we feature a compilation of some of his recent reports. Please consider making a donation to ChildFund’s Philippines Relief and Recovery Fund to help these communities.
As of Dec. 15, Typhoon Haiyan has claimed more than 6,100 lives, with nearly 1,800 missing and almost 28,000 injured. More than 1 million homes were damaged, and 550,000 of these were destroyed. The estimated total cost of damage is $36.6 billion.
Here is a vignette from Martin, reflecting on the storm’s toll:
“Are you sure you don’t want anything?” I asked the young boy. I was suddenly concerned. When I was 10 years old, I wanted a lot of things for Christmas. Justin just looked back at me and said, “I’m alive, Mama and Papa are alive. All three of us are alive.”
Justin and his family were sheltered at the evacuation center at the Special Education Center at Tacloban. Their home had been destroyed in the winds and catastrophic storm surge caused by Typhoon Haiyan.
As ChildFund Philippines’ communications officer, I’ve been on assignment with ChildFund’s Emergency Response Team since Nov. 7, before the typhoon made first landfall. I’ve been with the team through rapid assessments in Leyte communities at Ormoc City, Palo, Tolosa, Tanauan and Tacloban. Other ChildFund teams were in Bantayan in northern Cebu and Capiz, Iloilo and Toboso in the western Visayas.
Everywhere I trained my camera lens, it found a unique form of misery: homes flattened for miles around, as if the entire landscape had been carpet-bombed, vehicles strewn about like toy cars and trucks flung about by a now unseen force. Every kilometer or so, I’d find distress messages painted on pavement or concrete. Regrettably, cadavers by the roadside were an even more frequent sight.
I remember shooting dozens of photos in all directions the first time I walked through the Leyte corridor. When I thought I’d captured everything, we’d push on into the next community to find more of the same. It took a while before it sank in that I could fill memory cards and still fail to capture the full extent of the destruction, hunger and misery.
I turned to see the row of young faces lined up next to Justin. Two 9-year-old boys sat with him at a little table. Next to them, there were three more wooden tables lined up, and when the children caught my glance as I scanned the room, they all smiled back at me. The boys were in the middle of an exercise from ChildFund’s psychosocial support modules for emergencies. They were writing and drawing their wishes and thanksgiving for this Christmas.
Soon other children were volunteering the entries they had written. Each time I’d lift my camera to my face, these smiles grew wider, and boys automatically touched their chins with their thumb and forefinger, vying for attention in my viewfinder. After a long day in the field, wading through my countrymen’s anguish, scenes like this at CCS sites have become the respites I look forward to.
I could feel my legs starting to go numb from squatting to talk to the kids. Standing up to stretch, I bumped my head into something hanging from the ceiling. It was a parol, a handmade Filipino Christmas lantern fashioned like the star of Bethlehem. I wasn’t sure who had hung the parol there, but I could see a few more of them dotting the corridor. Despite the circumstances, Christmas had found its way to this small space in Tacloban.
During the relief phase immediately after the typhoon, ChildFund and our local partner organizations assisted in distributing food and non-food necessities, establishing Child-Centered Spaces (CCS) to provide safe places for children to gather and address the trauma they had experienced, providing nourishment for children and mothers and educating children while schools were closed.
During the recovery phase, which is ongoing, ChildFund and its partners help to restore community members’ livelihoods, strengthen child protection mechanisms and build emergency response capacity for future disasters.
In Roxas City, two Child-Centered Spaces continue to operate at a reduced schedule, now that schools there have reopened. In Ormoc City, three CCSs continue to operate, and teachers at an elementary school have received training in psychosocial support to help their students heal from the devastation. The teachers note that this process has been helpful for them, as they too have suffered great losses. Schools have closed for the holidays in many areas.
In Tacloban, Tolosa, Tanauan and Palo on the island of Leyte, seven CCSs continue to operate, and two more spaces, including one funded by Barnfonden (ChildFund Sweden), are in the planning stages. Both are expected to open by the start of 2014. Funding from UNICEF for a nutrition project in Tolosa, Tanauan and Palo was approved Dec. 18, and this project’s staff will coordinate with UNICEF representatives in Tacloban. Food and non-food essentials are still being distributed in this region.
On Bantayan Island (Northern Cebu), day-care workers and other local representatives attended psychosocial training for their work with children who are still feeling the emotional effects of the storm’s devastation. Most participants still show signs of stress (like crying while telling their experiences).
The facilitators provided non-intrusive, practical care and support; assessed needs and concerns; listened to participants without pressuring them to speak or share; comforted them and provided activities to calm them. ChildFund staff members also helped participants connect to appropriate sources of information, services and other social support.
Also in Bantayan, electrical power has been restored, but many children age 5 and under are moderately to severely malnourished. The World Food Program is addressing this problem, as providing the proper nutrition requires special attention.
Please consider making a donation to help children in the Philippines; we are still collecting funds, and they will make a big difference in the lives of thousands. Thank you.
By Martin Nañawa, ChildFund Philippines
In the weeks after Typhoon Haiyan, Martin Nañawa, ChildFund’s communications officer in the Philippines, met many people who suffered fear and uncertainty during the storm. Here are the stories of two young women who work as teachers and are now volunteering in our Child-Centered Spaces to help children in their communities.
Darlene pressed her cheek against the sheet roofing of her home. She feared that otherwise the wind would tear her from the rooftop. Still, she tilted her face as far upward as she could, and squinting into the lashes of rain, she cried and cried, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’ll be good! I’ll change, I promise!”
If heaven had heard her, it made no sign. Though Darlene could barely hear herself over the roar of wind and rain, she pressed her appeal longer and louder.
Ivy watched the wind rattle her home’s windows and a glass door facing the patio. The tempo picked up so violently, she instinctively moved to brace the windows, if only to keep them in place. Her mother cried, and adrenaline shot through Ivy. Like a great, invisible fist, a gust of wind smashed through her windows and door. She felt time slow to a crawl as slivers of glass hurtled toward her. Her arms felt leaden, refusing to rise fast enough to shield her face. Her mouth opened to scream, but she spat back what she hoped weren’t tiny shards of glass.
Next, a wall of water was rushing into her home, and Iris latched her arms desperately onto a doorway, struggling against the current that threatened to throw her deeper into her house.
Shimmying her way wall to wall, Ivy inched away from the doorway over to her brother, who was further back in the living room behind her. They both lost their footing, and the waves of floodwater threatened to sweep them out of their now absent front door, into a gurgling blender of waves and debris outside.
Just then, Ivy turned to see the family’s refrigerator barreling towards her, top first like a battering ram. She and her brother just barely waded out of the way when the fridge spun lengthwise. The refrigerator then became a form of protection when it barred the doorway, just as Ivy lost her grip and would have been swept outside.
Days later, Darlene looked up at the clear Leyte sky and wiped the perspiration from her brow. Above her, stone angels peered calmly back at her from the cathedral’s steeple. She traced the cathedral’s silhouette with her eyes, checking how many angels survived the typhoon. From where she stood on the ground, Palo Cathedral seemed largely intact. Though rooftops were ripped clean off, the angels stood calmly in place.
Darlene followed the angels’ gaze to the edge of the cathedral’s yard. Freshly turned earth marked the final resting place of 300 men, women and children. The mass grave was a grim reminder of the fate so many suffered during Typhoon Haiyan’s path through Leyte and the Visayas. Also, it was a personal reminder of the fate Darlene was spared when she clung for life on her rooftop. “I promised to be good,” she reminded herself.
The sound of children’s laughter roused Darlene from her reverie. Two young girls ran past her while chasing a ball. Then a line of giggling children hemmed her inside a small circle. One of the girls walked up to her, having just retrieved the ball that had gone astray. Darlene turned to address the young faces ringed around her; she announced the next game.
It was Darlene’s first day as a Child-Centered Space volunteer with ChildFund. She got the call for volunteers from a sister at the academy where Darlene is a teacher. Though fresh out of college, Darlene has had much experience working with children — and she promised she’d help out.
Friends and peers from St. Mary’s Academy similarly volunteered to work with ChildFund as it set up Child-Centered Spaces, or CCS for short, across Palo and Tolosa towns, just outside Tacloban City, which was hit particularly hard by the typhoon.
In a large green-and-white tent in the shadow of Palo Cathedral, ChildFund staff members and volunteers assigned young people in groups according to age — infants, children and adolescents — play games appropriate for each group. These weren’t just games for the sake of fun. The children’s world had just been hammered into ruin, and the CCS was perhaps the one place in Palo where children could be children for at least a few hours a day.
Ivy’s CCS group assembled at the cathedral’s parking lot, not far from Darlene’s group. Just like Darlene, Ivy signed up as a CCS volunteer, and they were both so overwhelmed by the turnout of children, they had to spread their groups beyond the tent and across the cathedral’s lot. Like Darlene, Ivy is a teacher. Classes remain suspended in devastated areas of Leyte, but she regards her service as a CCS volunteer a fit expression of gratitude for having survived the typhoon.
The volunteers received an orientation in using the CCS modules to help children overcome the trauma, which were designed in consultation with a leading wellness center. Dozens of children come to these spaces every day on the cathedral grounds. Both Ivy and Darlene understand the commitment it will take to see CCS activities through the holidays and into 2014.
While setting up the space, ChildFund staff members held a workshop to help CCS volunteers manage their own emotions. Ivy, Darlene and their peers had just survived what could be the strongest typhoon in recorded history.
“It sounds childish, and I couldn’t say I’ve been bad before, but bargaining seemed to be all I could do as I clung to that rooftop,” Darlene said.
“These children and I have been through the same experience,” Ivy added, “and when I help them overcome their fears, I feel myself making peace with mine.”
To help children in Palo and other communities devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, please consider making a donation to ChildFund’s Relief and Recovery Fund for the Philippines.
By Julien Anseau, Asia Region Communications Manager
As you approach Tambulilid school, the singing and laughter of children gets louder and louder. It’s great to hear children having fun and being children again.
Nearly one month after Typhoon Haiyan struck islands in the Philippines, ravaged communities are slowly getting back on their feet. In the devastated city of Ormoc, ChildFund is addressing the immediate needs of impacted families by distributing food packs and essential items including hygiene kits, roofing materials and cooking utensils.
ChildFund is also focusing on providing psychosocial support to children. In disaster situations, children are particularly vulnerable. While parents are out looking for shelter, food, water and emergency assistance, children are often left unsupervised, increasing their susceptibility to abuse, exploitation and harassment. Children are often separated from loved ones and exposed to levels of destruction that have long-term effects on their psychological and physical development.
ChildFund was quick to establish Child-Centered Spaces immediately following Typhoon Haiyan to provide a safe haven for children to play, socialize, learn and express themselves in a caring and supportive environment. At Tambulilid school, where ChildFund established its first CCS after the typhoon, a young mother, Rein, says: “I leave my daughter here while I stand in the long distribution line for food. She is only 5 years old. It is important she has a safe place to play under supervision.”
At a CCS, children take part in activities that help them overcome the traumatic experience they went through. It is also a place where children can be children again.
“For a few hours every day, I can forget what happened and play with friends,” says a smiling Angel, age 7. Marcela, a local ChildFund staff member, explains: “Children take part in drawing, singing, dancing, playing and storytelling, which allow emotional expression.”
Today, children are drawing. They are enjoying themselves. Marcela adds: “At first, most children drew pictures of the typhoon and the destruction, but in more recent days, they are drawing their family and friends. This is an important sign in post-trauma healing. Child-centered spaces help in this respect.”
More than 300 children participate daily at Tambulilid, one of three CCSs run by ChildFund in Ormoc. “We conduct separate sessions for different age groups, where we provide age-appropriate structured activities,” Marcela says. “Many youths are trained facilitators and have volunteered to conduct sessions for younger children, because they want to be active in the community’s recovery. We have also mobilized many volunteers. ChildFund has worked in Ormoc through a local partner organization for many years, and we have a strong relationship with the local community. We train our volunteers to provide basic support to children dealing with distress and shock from their situations, and to recognize children who need to be referred for more specialized services.”
Although food aid has arrived in Ormoc, malnutrition is still an issue as a number of children appear to be underweight. ChildFund provides food to children at the CCS. Marcela says: “The first day we opened the CCS, we served pancit (a type of Filipino noodles). It was the first time children ate a cooked meal since the typhoon struck. They were extremely hungry. They ate everything up quickly and they had a smile back on their faces. The second day we served pandesal (a popular bread roll in the Philippines made of flour, eggs, yeast, sugar, and salt).” Today, it is spaghetti with tomato sauce. It makes a nice change from the rice and canned sardines they eat every day in the evacuation centers.
While the situation in Ormoc is improving, basic survival resources — food, drinking water, shelter and access to medical treatment — are still needed. Schools were expected to reopen sometime this month, but with school buildings extensively damaged, this is unlikely. Schools are in need of major repair to be safely occupied, and learning and teaching materials need to be replaced if classes are to resume as intended. There is still no date for the restart of pre-school and day care activities at this time — highlighting the critical importance of ChildFund’s Child-Centered Spaces.
ChildFund has opened 13 CCSs impacted areas in the Philippines, but thousands of children still require psychosocial support to overcome trauma from the typhoon. With your support, ChildFund will be able to open more spaces for affected children.