Archive | September, 2014

Amanda Jones: Ebola, my friends and colleagues in Sierra Leone

26 Sep

“During the war we kept running from one place to the other.  Some people went to Guinea and other countries.  But now where can one go?  You can hear gun shots or know that the rebels are coming and run.  But with Ebola you don’t even know who is infected and where can we run to?”

More and more articles and blogs have been surfacing in recent days about the unprecedented outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.  There are terrifying stories about the potential trajectory of the disease, heart-breaking personal testimonies of losing loved ones, and devastating accounts of the impact Ebola has had on the everyday lives of whole nations of people.  These stories are absolutely imperative and I greatly appreciate the attention that is focussed on those suffering as a result of this disease.

As the Children in Crisis Programme Manager for Sierra Leone, I have worked in the country for two years now and, though currently in London, want to share my personal account of the unfolding crisis and the impact it is having on my colleagues and friends.

I last returned from Sierra Leone on 6th June this year.  At this point, there were stories of Ebola reaching Freetown (the capital), but it wasn’t yet confirmed and there was certainly no sense that the outbreak could escalate as it has.  We primarily work in Kambia, a rural district on the border with Guinea, where Ebola cases were first reported, and so we’d face mock-stigmatisation when travelling to the larger cities.

‘I’m not shaking your hand, you’ve come from the provinces’, ‘Are you feeling unwell?’

It was said light-heartedly, with a smile, perhaps with a vein of concern but certainly not fear.  Looking back, I can’t help but feel guilty about the disrespect we showed the disease in the early stages.  It feels as though Ebola heard us, and decided to show us who is boss.  And now, my day is engulfed with Ebola and its impacts – I spend almost all my time getting updates from the teams in-country (my colleagues from local partner organisations FAWE and WESOFOD), researching national-level developments, trying to get to grips with the international response, all in the context of a situation that feels like it is changing by the minute.

My colleague and friend, Ann-Marie Kandeh, FAWE,CiC Programme Manager in a rice field planted by parents working with our project.

My colleague and friend, Ann-Marie Kandeh, FAWE,CiC Programme Manager in a rice field planted by parents working with our project.

It is constant uncertainty, constant lack of surety, constantly feeling the need for more information, which in reality, may not exist yet.    From our office in the UK, I am in daily contact with my Sierra Leonean colleagues in country, supporting them to develop and implement a response programme, which aims to keep people in Kambia safe from the disease, whilst trying to understand and reduce the impact of the outbreak on our work to improve education for vulnerable children; work that I was so proud of but now seems a million miles away.  Outside work, I speak to my colleagues and friends about the wider impact of Ebola on their lives, their use of public transport, the cost of food, how they feel.   A few weeks ago, Ann-Marie Kandeh (the FAWE/Children in Crisis Programme Manager) told me that the situation was scarier than the rebel war:

“During the war we kept running from one place to the other.  Some people went to Guinea and other countries.  But now where can one go?  You can hear gun shots or know that the rebels are coming and run.  But with Ebola you don’t even know who is infected and where can we run to?”

And this was before the World Health Organisation projected 20,000 cases by November.  Now the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) is projecting worst case scenarios of 550,000 – 1.4 million cases in Sierra Leone and Liberia alone by January if the current trajectory is not stemmed.  When that report popped onto my computer screen, I just stared – 1.4 million people is just under a quarter of the population of Sierra Leone.  How can this be happening?

The good news is that these figures are anything but inevitable, and they seem to have spurred the international community into heightened action, but it is terrifying nonetheless.   For now, it feels as though people will be lucky to not contract Ebola (rather than unlucky to become ill) and I’m just waiting for the whatsapp message to come through saying ‘Junior is sick’, ‘Auntie B is in quarantine’, ‘Joseph has tested positive’.  These are my colleagues, my friends: people whose families I’ve spent time with, with whom I socialise, who I care about.

My dear and inspiring colleagues and friends at WESOFOD, a disabled persons organisation based in Kambia

My dear and inspiring colleagues and friends at WESOFOD, a disabled persons organisation based in Kambia.

Knowing they were going into a three-day lock down last week was worrying, but they had two weeks to prepare; to get food and water and (thankfully) they have salaries that enabled them to stock up (unlike millions of people in the country).  But today (25/09/2014) I woke up to messages saying that the government has announced a lock-down of ‘hot-spots’… with immediate effect… until further notice.  My gut tells me that people just won’t be so willing to comply with these orders.  It’s a bleak outlook but at the moment it feels realistic (I’m definitely in need for an injection of positive thinking).

Talking of the need for positive thinking, I certainly do have many sources to draw from.  And none more important that my inspirational colleagues in Kambia.  Frankly, I am dumbfounded at their continued commitment to help communities keep themselves safe at this time.  They have been committed from day-one to respond and not turn their backs on children and communities at this critical time.  They’re attending meetings held by the District Task Force on Ebola every week, getting updates, asking questions, establishing relationships and seeking advice.  All of this has fed into our plans to respond and I could not be more confident that our joint response is relevant and appropriate at this time.

What’s more, our colleagues are determined to travel to communities alongside the health workers so that they can witness themselves the distribution of the hygiene packs  (making sure they get to the right people), and speak directly to their peers in communities, with whom they’ve worked for years, to reassure them and advise them on what to do in case their loved ones fall ill.  It is us, safe in our office in London, who making sure that thorough risk assessments are done, that all possible eventualities are considered and strategies are put in place to reduce the likelihood of risks playing out, or the impact if they do.   We’ve reiterated to our team members that they don’t have to travel to the field and have asked them again and again if they are sure they feel comfortable to go.  Every single time, the response is a resounding yes and it is deeply humbling.

Items to be distributed to enable people in remote rural communities to practice good hygiene

Items to be distributed to enable people in remote rural communities to practice good hygiene.

There is so much more going on in Sierra Leone at the moment, and I urge you to take the time to read about the impacts of this outbreak on people’s access to food, their ability to make money, and the wider impacts on their health given that health provision is so devastatingly overrun trying to deal with Ebola.  We are, of course, highly concerned by the impact on children’s education whilst schools are closed and are, on top of everything else, trying to get a full understanding of the government’s plans to provide lessons through the radio, so that we can support this initiative.  We’ll be sure to update you on this when we can.

For now, please spare a thought for those who cannot run away from Ebola, who are scared to touch even their loved ones, and those who, despite the fear, are determined to do what they can to help others stay safe.

Thank you.

Children in Crisis is delighted to announce that all funds given by the British public between the 3rd September and the 2nd December 2014 will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.

Your support of our work has never been more powerful or important.

Donate button graphic

Koy Thomson – The Angels’ Share

23 Sep

“This is I admit an uncomfortable truth. Humanitarian funding crashes after two years when people judge that the emergency has passed and lives have been duly saved.” 

Our Founder and Life President, Sarah, Duchess of York last week was a guest speaker at the highly prestigious ‘La Part des Anges’, the annual charity cognac auction.  It raised a record amount and was widely covered in the Press. Throughout her speech – which was simultaneously translated into Chinese and Russian – The Duchess spoke most passionately about what motivated her to create Children in Crisis 20 years ago.

During those 20 years the Duchess’s support and championing of Children in Crisis has sustained and grown. The Duchess has been a constant in the organisation, through the ups and downs, the changes in trustees and CEOs, and the triumphs and tragedies in our work. I admire that tenacity and loyalty.

 

Sara, Duchess of York, spoke powerfully at ‘La Part des Anges’ - getting to the core of why she felt compelled to establish Children in Crisis.

Sara, Duchess of York, spoke powerfully at ‘La Part des Anges’ – getting to the core of why she felt compelled to establish Children in Crisis.

 

The Duchess reminded her audience that at the time she set up Children in Crisis, historic changes were taking place in Europe. The impacts of the end of the Cold War, the Chernobyl Disaster, the start of the Bosnian war were all playing out on our doorstep. As closed societies opened up, they revealed many shameful scenes of abused and abandoned orphans; children who were sick, displaced and disabled.  I can hardly believe it when I look through our video and photo archives. It was gut wrenchingly appalling.

I have no doubt – as she told her audience, that as a mother it deeply affected her – I can see that in the photos. The Duchess has often told me how she looked to existing charities for help. Back then I was working for a big international charity, and I remember her visiting, and leaving flowers for our Chief Executive – a nice touch.

While the existing charities were doing great work, they were not really focusing on the issue that the Duchess felt passionately about. She told the Cognac audience that once the cameras turned their attention elsewhere the humanitarian interest and funding waned and support dried up. This is I admit an uncomfortable truth. Humanitarian funding crashes after two years when people judge that the emergency has passed and lives have been duly saved. But it takes decades to repair the effects of major conflicts and emergencies. People are not refugees or displaced for one or two years – the average period is 17 years.

Clearly moved, the Duchess told the high profile audience that worldwide today some 57 million children are denied an education, and half of these live in countries affected by conflict.  From its humanitarian roots, the mission of Children in Crisis now focuses on children and their communities in conflict affected countries. Even in these countries we make an effort to reach more remote communities, and children who are excluded or discriminated against because of gender, ethnicity or disability. Our approach, as the Duchess emphasised, has to be to build on peoples’ capacity to solve their own problems – including their ability to persuade their weak governments to assume their responsibilities. Education and child protection is not only what families and children desire, but can be the most cost effective and strategic actions in a conflict affected context.

The Duchess explained that Children in Crisis has reached nearly 1.4 million children and their families in many countries worldwide, and today we work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burundi and Afghanistan. As I said, not only did she found the charity, but she has been the constant in Children in Crisis, and can rightly take a huge slice of credit for this achievement.

The Duchess told the guests about a young woman, Felecia, she had met on a previous visit to a Children in Crisis programme in Liberia. I was with her at the time, and we were reflecting on the whole issue of children affected by war.  The Duchess recounted this in her speech, noting that the children of war are now young men and women who had missed out on education, and had their future chances diminished. Felecia was too old to return to school, but her children’s prospects depended upon her somehow filling that gap. Children in Crisis’s programme of support enrolled Felecia into adult literacy and vocational training classes. It was an added delight therefore that we were having this conversation over tea and cake that we had bought in Felecia’s bright blue painted shop ‘Sis Felecia’s tea shop’. As Felicia told us, both her, and her children’s futures were considerably brighter.

 

Felecia with her daughter outside of her tea shop in Liberia.

Felecia with her daughter outside of her tea shop in Liberia.

 

What I particularly liked about what the Duchess said was that it was not the typical speech that is all about how great the charity is. She cut to the core of the matter which is about how great our supporters are.  Children in Crisis could not have achieved all it had without the support of all its donors and supporters. As the Duchess said, “We are nothing without the vision and heart of supporters to make the world a better place: our supporters desire to reach out to the neediest children and to bring lasting change.  It is your desire to help all children lead full and happy lives and break free from endless cycles of poverty and war that is the engine of change.”

Finally, she invited the guests to be part of the charity’s ambition to double the number of children we reach over the next few years. I hope they will be inspired. I was.

 

Children in Crisis is delighted to announce that all funds given by the British public between the 3rd September and the 2nd December 2014 will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.

Your support of our work has never been more powerful or important.

 

Donate button graphic

All our work is powered by children’s voices

10 Sep

 

“You expect us to confront difficulty and to stay with children until the job is done.”

 

In the second of a series of blogs, Koy Thomson our CEO introduces the 21st anniversary campaign ‘A Chance to learn, a chance in life’ and explains how your support could change the lives of twice as many children.

 

Talking to the women of RiverCess County, Liberia, Feb 2013

Talking to the women of RiverCess County, Liberia, Feb 2013

 

In my previous blog, I looked back over the last two decades and the incredible work that Children in Crisis has been able to achieve, with the amazing help of our donors and supporters.

This year, we are very proud to launch ‘A chance to learn, a chance in life’ (#ChanceToLearn). We’re so proud we even put out a press release about it to tell a many people as possible.

The campaign celebrates the 21st Anniversary of Children in Crisis. This coming of age reflects a confidence and maturity in our mission.  We know that you our supporters want us to stick with challenges of countries affected by conflict, because this is where the need is greatest. You expect us to confront difficulty and to stay with children until the job is done. You want us to help families and children help themselves, because this is how to generate long term sustainable changes.

Over the last 20 years, we have achieved so much, but we want to go so much further, which is why we are appealing for more resources.

We want to double the number of children who can benefit from our programmes to offer them protection and a quality education.

In order to do this, we plan to invest in local research so that we can continue reaching the most vulnerable communities where children have been most forgotten.

And we will make a real difference by refining and delivering sustainable models of change.

 

Batwa children playing in Burundi. Children in Crisis reaches out to the most marginalised communities.

Batwa children playing in Burundi. Children in Crisis reaches out to the most marginalised communities.

 

Pupils of RiverCess County, Liberia

Pupils of RiverCess County, Liberia

 

– Imagine a child who has lived through war, and very likely lost members of their family along with hope for a better future.

– Imagine a child who has been abandoned or marginalised by her community because of disability, race or gender.

– Imagine a child who has started their education, but is now under threat from Ebola or the threat of renewed violence.

 

All our work is powered by children’s voices.  We work with local partners to encourage local leadership and empower the community to help themselves to deliver an appropriate, practical and relevant model for sustainable education.

We want to do more, but some of our projects are under threat which is why we have launched our appeal.

Simply, Ebola in West Africa and political transition in Afghanistan are having a direct impact on our work.  We need to adapt to the circumstances – finding alternative ways of keeping our educational promises to children and supporting parents to keep their livelihoods going. And we will be playing our part in coordinated efforts to provide a preventative and protection response.

But this needs resources and we really need your support.

It’s so important that the UK government’s UK Aid Match Scheme is supporting us between September and December.  Every pound raised from the British public will be doubled AND if you are a UK tax payer, we can benefit from Gift Aid too.  So your donation will work even harder and go even further.

Please help.  It’s really vital.  There is so much we want to do, so much we can do but we need your help.

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to read this and if you can help, your support will go a long, long way to giving a child (and with matched funding, their sibling) a better future.

There are plenty of ways in which you can put your hand up and pledge your support. 

 

Donate button graphic

 

A chance to learn, a chance in life

9 Sep

“Our constant has been a long term commitment to shattered communities after the cameras have left and the emergency aid dries up.”

In the first of a series of blogs about our 21st anniversary campaign, our CEO Koy Thomson highlights some of Children in Crisis’s achievements over the last 20 years.  Achievements only made possible because of the generosity and support of our donors and supporters.  We wanted to take the opportunity to thank you.  

John, a disabled shoemaker in Sierra Leone, Oct 2013

Koy Thomson (left of picture) meets John, a disabled shoemaker in Sierra Leone, Oct 2013

 

We are really excited to launch our 21st anniversary campaign ‘A chance to learn, a chance in life’ (#ChanceToLearn).

21 years is a coming of age, as with every birthday, we thought it’s important to take stock and reflect on what you’ve helped us achieve in the last two decades.

It is thanks to your desire to take a stand and do something in a world that is often chaotic and unfair that we have achieved so much.

With your help we have built more than 48 schools, trained more than 10,500 teachers and educated more than half a million children.

In Sierra Leone, we’ve provided vocational training to nearly 1,000 child soldiers, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo we have improved education for some 57,000 children in 50 schools and in Afghanistan nearly 500 women who missed education because of the war, graduated from vocational training and three-quarters of them have been able to set up livelihoods as a result.

It has been a long journey to our present focus on education and child protection. In the early years, we delivered safe water for 200,000 people in former Yugoslavia, provided medical assistance to 8,000 children in Russia and treated 6,700 children in Poland for cancer and chronic illness.  In Afghanistan, 10,000 children have been protected from abuse and mistreatment and over 100,000 street working and out of school children have receiving accelerated teaching.

Our constant has been a long term commitment to shattered communities after the cameras have left and the emergency aid dries up.  Because resources are scarce the support must be long-lasting. Our aim is to improve the lives of children and their communities in some of the most remote, post-conflict territories by delivering sustainable education.

School children welcoming Children in Crisis in Burundi

School children welcoming Children in Crisis in Burundi

 

The South Kivu Plateau in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The South Kivu Plateau in the Democratic Republic of Congo

 

In total over the past 20 years with your help, we have reached and helped nearly 1.4 million children and their families.

Your support to these children’s education and protection has given them the best start for living a happy and healthy life. I have no doubt that because of you, they face a brighter, better future.

A huge thank you from us and all the children we have helped.  Without our supporters we couldn’t have done all this.

But some of our projects are under threat which is why we have launched an urgent appeal.  Ebola in West Africa and political transition in Afghanistan are having a direct impact on our work.

We need to adapt to the circumstances and play an active role in providing a preventative and protection response.  To fulfil our commitment so that children and communities can fulfil their dreams of receiving a quality education and to create and continue their small business enterprises to support their families.

But this needs resource and we really need your support.

It’s so important that the UK government’s UK Aid Match Scheme is supporting us between September and December.  Every pound raised from the British public will be doubled AND if you are a UK tax payer, we can benefit from Gift Aid too.  So your donation will work even harder and go even further.

Please help.  It’s really vital.

Thank you.

Please pledge your support, so that Children in Crisis can reach out to many more vulnerable children, and give them a chance to learn, a chance in life.

Follow #ChanceToLearn on twitter and facebook.

Donate button graphic