Peter Simms – Afghanistan – In these rooms, women had power

27 Mar

After three years, with these five latest CBECs, Children in Crisis has been able to help women become conscious of their identity, of their society. Some will accept that world, some will contest it, and some, or the daughters of some, will slowly, gradually, change it.

This month, classes at Children in Crisis’ current five Community Based Education Centres (CBECs) project in Afghanistan, came to an end. We are now working on opening Centres within other communities that need their support.

Every community project comes to an end and interventions, however long, can never be permanent. These five latest Education Centres run by Children in Crisis have been incredibly successful, helping women and children to access basic education. 300 children, mostly girls, from some of the poorest communities in Kabul have been able to gain a full primary education despite never having previously been to school. In addition, over 1,000 women from these communities have learned to read, write, and develop other critical skills at the CBECs.

The girls and women who came to our five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

The girls and women who came to our five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

For the girls who came to these Centres they will be half as likely to marry before their 16th birthday, and far less likely to be a mother before the age of 15. The women will be twice as likely to have their own children live past the age of five, and for every year of schooling will have a 20 per cent increase in household earnings.

However, the benefits of these centres go beyond statistics. The girls and women who came to these five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

From extensive research done around the world, we know that girls who learn to read and write will be more likely to work, to support their families, and to be economically independent. But the realities of life here in Afghanistan pose an added barrier to this empowerment. The lack of access to education for girls in Afghanistan was always a symptom of broader gender inequalities and reflected deep social norms inhibiting their participation in not only schools, but also in society and communities as a whole.

Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak.

Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak.

Reducing education to its rate of return is simply inadequate as a measure of impact in Afghanistan. Instead we need to look closer, to look harder at what education actually means to children and women of these communities. Paolo Freire showed how education allows people to be able to read the world – to describe, and then define, their contexts – to be truly conscious.

As I spoke to women in the CBECs it was clear that, despite progress made, their world is still not one of open opportunity.  However, the Community Education Centres offered something more – ‘A place to gather’ was the most common response; ‘a chance to leave the house’; ‘to be outside’. Many said it was where they could share experiences with other women. Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak. In these rooms women had power, and through shared experience they could develop resilience.

One Community Education Centre is not going to break the deep-rooted structures of gender inequality in Afghanistan, but it can begin a process and encourage dialogue where women have a space to assert themselves and develop their own identities. The skills of reading and writing can then empower that identity, allowing someone to use a telephone, read a medicine box, or help a child with their homework.

Children in Crisis' latest Education Centres have been incredibly successful, helping women and children (mainly girls) to access basic education.

Children in Crisis’ latest Education Centres have been incredibly successful, helping women and children (mainly girls) to access basic education.

Children in Crisis will be opening new CBECs in other marginalised communities over the coming year, taking a model that we know works and expanding it to reach even more women and children. We will work in areas where others don’t go, meaning the challenges will be greater and the achievements relative to just how deprived these communities are.

After three years, with these five latest CBECs, Children in Crisis has been able to help women become conscious of their identity, of their society. Some will accept that world, some will contest it, and some, or the daughters of some, will slowly, gradually, change it.

Children in Crisis has currently been able to find support for two new Community Based Education Centres. We are still seeking funding to help us open the remaining three Centres within communities whose children and women need assistance. If you, your company or Charitable Foundation think you could help, please email Peter on peters@childrenincrisis.org

Amy Parker – DR Congo – Picture this

30 Jan

Picture this.

Harvest time is the only time of the year when you have a bit of spare cash. One of your children falls sick, but it is in September before the January potato harvest. You have no money to pay for medical fees. He dies.

Night falls at 6.30pm and the sun rises again at 5.30am year-round. You are in absolute darkness.

Your husband has complete control over you and your family’s life.

You had four children. Three of them died. You’re not sure what of, but they were constantly hungry. Your only surviving daughter is 15 but has never set foot into a school.  

You are bored. There’s nothing to do and no reason to work. You’ll always be poor.

You are a widow with seven children. You are completely isolated from your neighbours who view you and your family as a lost cause.

Over the last eight months we have been running a pilot project with our partners, Eben Ezer Ministry International, on the Uvira mid and high Plateau region of South Kivu, eastern DR Congo. Pamoja (meaning ‘together’ in Kiswahili), is a savings and credit programme that supports groups of 20 – 30 community members to meet regularly, save and then access small sums of money from these savings. These debts are then paid back over three months, with interest, back into the group’s cash box. After 12-months the total amount is shared out amongst members in ratio to the amount they have saved.

I spent time in September last year and last week visiting different groups and talking to members about their experiences and the above scenarios are all real-life testimonies from people I met. They describe major problems encountered by people in this isolated region.

So how is Pamoja helping?

Futina

Futina

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save their children’s lives between harvests. Futina, a member of the same group, spoke of how she has used a credit to buy and sell sugar and oil. With some of the profits she has bought torches and batteries so that her family now have light in the long evenings.

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save to improve their children’s lives between harvests.

Members from Tujenge group in Butumba village told me that the fact they now have the possibility of accessing small credits means that they can now save their children’s lives between harvests.

Women from Mandeleo group in Kahololo village told me of the small but significant changes happening in their lives. As members of the saving group, they are now able to contribute money to their families’ affairs and as a result, their husbands are starting to include them in discussions and decisions about the running of their households for the first time.

Rose, a member of Tujenge group, has used credit to pay for school fees for her one remaining daughter to start primary school. She hopes that this will mean her daughter has a brighter future. Members from groups in Butumba and Gitigarawa spoke to me of finally having something to aim for. Before Pamoja, many villagers would sit idly all day long with nothing to do. Having to save every other week means group members are now actively looking for work so that they can go to meetings.

Notiya

Notiya

Cultural expectations in this region require people to be able to provide visitors with tea and food. Neighbours stopped visiting Notiya soon after her husband died as she couldn’t afford any refreshments for them. For years she has been ignored, struggling to keep her children alive. Notiya told me that being a member of her savings group has meant she is now able to receive visitors as she should. Her fellow savers have become her family, she is no longer the poor, shunned widow. She is once again a valued member of society.

As a result of being able to contribute money to their families' affairs, women are, for the first time, being included in discussions and decisions about the running of their households.

As a result of being able to contribute money to their families’ affairs, women are, for the first time, being included in discussions and decisions about the running of their households.

 

Pamoja is an example of what poor communities are capable of with technical and moral support. We have six months left of the current project, and we will continue to work hard with our groups and track progress and challenges. It has made me absolutely determined to ensure that we are able to widen the programme to other communities on the Plateau, as well as staying with these original groups so that they can carry on taking charge of their own and their families’ futures.

Pete Simms – Afghanistan – Children’s voices

1 Dec

I especially enjoy talking to children, who seem able to stay optimistic, to dream big, and have real, genuine hope for the future. 

2014 has been a critical year for Afghanistan with elections and troop withdrawal characterising a change in the direction of the country. There is now a new President, one who promises to end the corruption that permeates so much of Afghan politics, and the national military have now taken over responsibility for security from NATO. But what does this change mean for the average person and what does it mean for organisations like Children in Crisis who are trying to bring the right to education to some of the most underprivileged children in the country?

The first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history was an incredible achievement. Democracy only works if people believe in it, and during the election thousands of Afghans defied the threats of the Taliban, the distance to the voting booth, and the corruption of the political system to cast their vote and have their voice heard.

The challenges to building a stable, peaceful nation are still enormous, but people are now demanding that they be heard, that their voice be listened to. This is a significant step along the path to meeting basic human rights and of building a pluralistic society that values the role of all.

Much of the focus on the election was on the involvement of women, and for somewhere that has systematically and structurally undermined the concept of gender equality, the 38% of voters who were women should be celebrated.

At Children in Crisis we believe that everyone’s voices should be heard and that a society should listen to its most vulnerable as much as its most powerful. I spend a lot of my time talking to the people we work with, listening to their stories and to their hopes for the future. I especially enjoy talking to children, who seem able to stay optimistic, to dream big, and have real, genuine hope for the future. Adults can be cynical, sceptical of change and distrustful of those offering it, but children are not.

CBEC pupils 1

I recently spoke to a young girl called Sabera. She had moved to Kabul with her family five years earlier to escape the conflict that still continues in much of the country. Her family was extremely poor and, like most girls in Afghanistan, Sabera had never been to school before Children in Crisis opened a Community Based Education Centre (CBEC) near to her home. Her father is a day labourer and she and her brothers and sisters all work to make sure there is enough food every day.

When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up she said she wants to be a teacher. She wants to help other children go to school. What impressed me so much about this 12 year old girl’s answer was how she immediately, unquestioningly, wanted to help others. Her hope and dream was to make sure other children receive their basic right to education.

When I asked Sabera about what she wanted for Afghanistan her answers were a mix of the deeply personal and the universal. She wanted a home of her own, an understandable dream for someone who lives in a temporary shelter and who craves a foundation, a structure to an otherwise temperamental existence. She wanted peace – more than anything she talked about security, about an end to her constant fear. She said she wanted people in Afghanistan to be friends with each other.

Afghanistan has certainly improved in the 13 years since the removal of the Taliban regime. However the decision to draw down the international military support and to reduce the humanitarian and development aid to the country is far too premature. The gains made in bringing quality education to the first ever generation of Afghan children should be celebrated, but while more than half of school-aged children are still denied access and are required to work to help feed their families there should be no thought of turning back.

Group of kids - 700 pixels wide

In one of our CBECs in Kabul I sat with a group of children enjoying the last few days of the autumn, the snow already visible on the line of mountains that snakes around the capital. Rafi told me he wanted to be a pilot, or a football player, and that he hoped that in the future Afghanistan would be like other countries. He listed off the names of the main international contributors – the US, Germany, the UK – these far away countries that he has heard so much about. He said he wanted the different ethnic groups to live together; a pertinent point for this divided country. Nazifa, a bright and precocious young girl who, in line with her dream of one day being a judge, said she wanted the new President to bring justice, to help poor people, and to build more hospitals.

two boys - 700 pixels wide

All of the children talked of their wish for the fighting to stop. They talked about ending the sounds of war – the bombs, the guns, the explosions. Sara wanted to be a doctor when she grows up so that she can help her community. When I asked her what she wanted most of all, what she dreamed of, she said to end the violence against girls like her and against women like her mother.

As the troops are pulled out it is more important than ever to step up our work in Afghanistan. We cannot allow the situation to slip backwards. Incredible achievements have been made; people have started to imagine a future of optimism – we have a responsibility to try and make that a reality.

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.

 

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Joseph Kamara – Sierra Leone – A tribute to a friend

10 Nov

We have lost an outstanding character in the medical profession, full of humour and ready to serve humanity at any time.

All of us at Children in Crisis, and within our partner organisations, feel compelled to acknowledge the heroism of the local health workers who are treating Ebola infected patients in West Africa.  We also wish to pay tribute to nearly 200 health workers who have died from Ebola as a result of their selfless service and desire to help.

Joseph Kamara our Project Officer in Kambia asked that we post a tribute to his close friend Dr. Godfrey Alexandra Jonathan George who became the fifth Doctor who has died of Ebola in Sierra Leone. Our prayers and good wishes are with his family and the families of the other health workers who have lost a loved one. They are national heroes who are an inspiration to us all.

 

Dr. Godfrey Alexandra Jonathan George

Dr. Godfrey Alexandra Jonathan George

 

I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family and relatives of the Late Dr. Godfrey Alexandra Jonathan George, former Medical Superintendent of the Kambia Government Hospital who passed away on Monday November 3, 2014 at the Hastings Ebola Treatment Centre.

Over the years that I have had the privilege of working with Dr George in the Church I attended, I came to admire his humanity. Our relationship became one of brothers.

I am saddened by his death. The late man was an extremely determined and courageous doctor who cared deeply for his patients. His work and dedication have been greatly appreciated by the community of Kambia and will be for many years.

This irreparable loss brought the township of Kambia and staff of the Kambia hospital in an uneasy calm. The late man happens to be the fifth medical doctor now in the Ebola mortality list of doctors who came across their deaths while trying to save life.

Born on the 9th July 1960, Dr. George attended the Methodist Boys High School in Freetown from 1971 to 1976 where he successfully passed the GCE O-Level exams in 1978, and completed his Sixth Form at the Prince of Wales School that same year. In 1978, he entered Fourah Bay College and graduated with a BSc Honours Chemistry. In 1982 he pursued further studies in Medicine at the University of Lagos, Nigeria and graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He held an internship at the Lagos Teaching Hospital between July 1987 to 1988.

On his return to Sierra Leone, Dr. George was certified and accredited by the Medical and Dental Council of Sierra Leone to practice as Medical Officer, and served briefly at the Nixon Memorial hospital in Segbwema. Dr. George worked at the Connaught Hospital Surgical Unit and Operating Theatre in 1998, posted as Medical Superintendent to the Bo Government hospital in 2006, and later promoted Senior Medical Officer in June 2010 and was posted as the Medical Superintendent of the Kambia Government Hospital until his death.

I share this great loss with the medical team in Kambia. He and many others worked tirelessly in building a health service which provided free health care for many communities to access. Something rare within our neighbours in the Sub region.

Above all, I am cognisant of the wonderful long lasting relationship that Dr George has had with the Church congregation all these years. We have lost an outstanding character in the medical profession, full of humour and ready to serve humanity at any time.

I love you and will ever miss your presence, but God loves you best. May your soul rest in peace.

DR Congo – International Day of Rural Women – Sylvie Lokenze

14 Oct

These women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society. They are abandoned to their lot and have just one hope – that one day things will change.

To mark and celebrate the International Day of Rural Women Children in Crisis would like to introduce to you one woman who we very much admire. Sylvie Lokenze works for our local partner NGO, Eben-Ezer Ministry International (EMI) in DR Congo.  As Programme Manager of our Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) project, Sylvie works hard to give women in remote and rural eastern DR Congo a better life. She is passionately dedicated to ensuring that girls are given the chance to go to school and play a part in improving their region. 

 

(The following is a transcription of a telephone interview recently conducted with Sylvie.)

Tell me a little about you – name, age, family, childhood, studies, work

I am Sylvie Pokeeni Lokenze, 23 years old and firstborn to an un-married couple of a female secondary school student (20) and a teacher (30). They tried to make it work as tradition asked them too, but they didn’t manage. I was born after they separated and lived with my mother’s family until the age of 10. My mother managed to complete her studies after I was born, her family was very proud of her because she was amongst a very small minority of girls who got their secondary school diploma in her village at the time.

I started school in 1995 but the war started very quickly (in 1996) and the security and financial situation of my family deteriorated. My mother therefore decided to take up work as a teacher and eventually taught at my school. I studied more quickly than other children, worked hard at school and everyone said that I took after my mother. I felt loved.

In 2001, my mother remarried and a little later on they moved to a town in North Kivu. I then went to live with my father in Bukavu. On the outskirts of Bukavu there was a technical school, run by the Catholic Church. My father wanted me to go there after primary school. He signed me up but it was a very difficult school and girls were discouraged from attending as there were only technical subjects (mechanics, woodwork, electrical engineering). I managed to finish the 2nd Grade (with difficulty!) after which I was guided to specialise in vehicle mechanics rather than machinery (the latter was my father’s preference).

Sylvie Lokenze

Sylvie Lokenze.

 

Lots of things happened during my 6 years at secondary school. Six years that weren’t really happy, but the worst time was a certain Saturday when I learnt from one of my uncles that my mother was in a very poor state and was waiting for me at my grandma’s. She had come home to give birth to her 3rd child with her husband. The baby wasn’t planned and was born in the same hospital as me. Sadly he died some months later. My mother suffered a lot and at the end she had difficulty in recognising me and my three brothers. At the time of her death I was on a work placement in a garage in Katana village. I was one of the last hear of her death and I arrived 3 days after her funeral in August 2006.

In 2007, my father found another job in Uvira. I stayed with my uncle so I could finish my mechanical studies – I only had one year left. I had work placements in mechanics and I also followed an office management course. I managed to get lots of temporary work at the ICRC (International Red Cross) as their mechanic to earn some money. I started an undergraduate degree in IT Maintenance in Bujumbura. On returning to Uvira, I started working as an IT trainer and got an internship with a microfinance organisation and eventually I became Client Manager. At this time I signed up to an MA in IT and Management – I developed excellent competences in financial and client management.

I then applied to the post of VSLA manager at EMI and I was selected. I was so happy, as this opened the door to my dreams: to work in the development and humanitarian sector, to participate in intercommunity development, to be involved in peaceful resolution and to fight for the rights of the most vulnerable, especially Congolese women.

The remote, beautiful Plateau of eastern DR Congo

The remote, beautiful Plateau of eastern DR Congo.

 

Tell me a little about the Plateau – describe the landscape, the climate, the distances etc

Formed by many magnificent hills and peaks, covered by a carpet of velvet grass and wild flowers – once you have reached the summit, you have the sense that the world has transformed – you breathe a pure and unique air.

Often watered by heavy rains, a gentle and dry wind blows constantly, the Plateau temperatures are much lower than in the lowlands. On the Plateau, everyone knows each other and are incredibly loyal which means that they welcome a stranger as one of their own.

The only thing is that it is an isolated zone, as if cut off from the rest of the country. Its people have little access to humanitarian assistance or to development opportunities.

Dependent on a ‘local’ administration 100km away, the Plateau hardly ever benefits from governmental assistance and is classed as an obscurity by the State. Road access is nigh-on impossible for the majority of the year, and besides, the roads only cover a small part of the Plateau. This has resulted in very slow development and accentuates the physical and ‘emotional’ distances between Plateau and lowland dwellers.

A playground for rebel groups, the Plateau has suffered crises of war and intercommunity cohesion is still fragile and at risk due to interethnic conflict that still exists in this region.

Whilst houses in the same village are physically close, even if socially there is a gap, between villages there are huge distances and you have to walk for hours to reach them.

Plateau women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society.

Plateau women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society.

 

Tell me a little about the women of the Plateau – their lives, opportunities, challenges and hopes.

Daily life for women on the Plateau is difficult due to the role they play in the household. Domestic chores vary from the easy like washing up to the more complex and arduous such as collecting firewood – and they are not able to complain.

The work in the fields that they do, which is a constant, is the principle means of food survival in the household but their integration into the management of their income is not automatic.

Plateau women are in their majority illiterate and they find themselves excluded from socio-professional development. Even though they have the intellectual capacity and a huge socio-economic potential, they are not included in decision-making which has created an inferiority complex leading them to be unaware of their capacities and strengths.

These women fight for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their family but have very few opportunities to reach their goals. They want to have and enjoy their rights, but how to get there? When even the most fundamental of rights, like the right to education and/or male-female equality are a long way from being understood and honoured?

These women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society. They are abandoned to their lot and have just one hope – that one day things will change.

Are there tasks that are just for women – which ones and why?

Yes!

For example, rendering the houses, collecting firewood and fetching water, finding food for the family, cooking, washing up, laundering clothes. Making sure the house and children and clean and the hardest of all work – fieldwork (cultivating, seeding, weeding, transporting seeds to and produce from fields…). To the good question ‘why’, perhaps an inappropriate response is ‘because these tasks are deemed to be easy’ – and that in the eyes of men.

We have to compare ‘male’ work such as looking after and milking cows and cutting the grass in the fields before the women come and hoe, plant and weed them.

How is fieldwork? At what age do girls start to work the fields?

Fieldwork requires maximum force, getting up before day breaks, working in cold and wet conditions (many times the ground will be rock hard with frost), sometimes you have to walk for hours simply to reach the fields and harvest, you have to transport the products back home and then on to market which are situated many km apart. In brief, a long-term endeavour that necessitates courage and sacrifice and without which survival on the Plateau would not be possible. Girls from around the age of 10 are expected to help their mothers in the fields. There are many cases where girls will have to work before and after school.

Why should rural women and girls be educated? If they are just going to end up in the fields, what is the point?!

Of course!

Educating girls is just as important as educating boys – it is their right and it gives them the opportunity to participate in the transformation of living conditions; not just for women and girls, but for the whole community which is still a long way from being full of rights and development.

Education opens the doors to success in their own life by diversifying their life choices; spending your whole life in the fields is not a choice for all women, rather an obligatory burden that has been put on their shoulders. Further, the community needs their participation in many other spheres to complement men’s participation; so far, man alone has not managed to get very far with the development of the region.

Through attending school, a woman reinforces her intellectual potential and acquires an additional capacity to reflect, a profound understanding of her rights and responsibilities which allow her to fight for respect and consideration within society.

 

Women managing their finances at a Village Savings and Loans Associaiton

Women managing their finances at a Village Savings and Loans Association.

 

Do you think that life on the Plateau is changing? For the good? For the bad?

Yes, I have seen a positive change on the Plateau, even in the short time I have been working there. And I think that a huge amount has changed since Children in Crisis  & EMI started working there.

In effect, the Pamoja (VSLA project – Pamoja means ‘together’) project has given a value to women on the Plateau: Firstly through opening up the possibility for women to lead their groups and secondly giving them the possibility to be a holder of financial capital which is a way to be self-sufficient and to be proud of having a place in society.

Nowadays, a woman can count on her own funds without having to approach her husband for authorisation on how to spend any money coming into the household. She has social assistance from her group if she needs it, hope for her projects and believes in a better future for herself and her household.

What else can I say about the benefits of previous projects? In the past, going to funerals or to the market would mean taking children out of school. Before people didn’t know that they should be sending their girls to school – today it is the opposite. People from different ethnic communities didn’t used to be able to discuss and positively dialogue around differences whereas now they are starting to cohabitate positively…

Generally speaking, life is no longer as it used to be thanks to the effective monitoring of change. Reinforce this change, and the future will be even better.

Sylvie showing off her mean right-foot

Sylvie showing off her mean right-foot.

 

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.

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Joseph Kamara – Sierra Leone – Ebola, another setback for people with disability.

13 Oct

Even before the outbreak life for people with disability was hard. They are the poorest of the poor.

Joseph Alieu Kamara Founder and Director of Welfare Society for the Disabled (WESOFOD) in Kambia, Sierra Leone talks about how Ebola is especially impacting people with disabilities, making them vulnerable.

We are facing an outbreak of Ebola virus disease which is said to be the most severe reported outbreak since the discovery of the virus in 1976. In order to curb the spread of this deadly virus, the national government has declared a state of public health emergency. This has greatly affected the normal way of life. People are having to cope with all sorts of changes such as no handshakes, no public gatherings, no social meetings, no travel for people in some parts of the country, and no going to hospitals for usual illness such as malaria or diarrhoea for fear of being diagnosed with or catching Ebola. People are constantly washing their hands, either with ordinary soap and water or, if you can afford it, with chlorine.

Ebola is also hurting the country’s economy in no small measure. Many businesses have closed down, national and international markets have been closed and it has become very difficult for business men to travel. In Kambia district specifically, the international market at Bamoi Luma has been closed. This means that for many in Kambia their main source of income and means of survival has been cut off. Prices of commodities, including food, are rising on a daily basis. Life on the whole has become very miserable for people.  I fear that with Kambia district being one of the poorest and most deprived districts in Sierra Leone, an outbreak will be hard to bear.

 

Joseph (back row, second from left) & children at WESOFOD's home for children with Disabilities

Joseph (back row, second from left) & children at WESOFOD’s home for children with Disabilities

 

Though every Sierra Leonean is affected in one way or the other, I strongly believe that Sierra Leoneans with disability are the most affected for the simple fact that they have a disability. To name but a few are the following ways the outbreak has affected them:

Increase in discrimination and neglect. Even before the Ebola outbreak, these are challenges faced by people with disability from both the community and family members. This outbreak has made it worse. A lot of people with disability are dependent on others to support their movement and general welfare, especially those who require mobility aids but do not have them. Now, because people are afraid to come into contact with other people, they are no longer willing to help people with disabilities get around. This means people with disabilities are now having to crawl on the floor to get around, they get wounds from falling and crawling and have to suffer the shame of toilet systems that are not disability-friendly. People with disabilities in turn are afraid of asking for support as they do not know the whether the other person may have come into contact with Ebola. Immediate family members are confused and do not know what to do. Some bear the risk, others abandon their vulnerable family members.

Exclusion from relevant decision making processes in the name of state of emergency. In our experience, people with disability have completely been left out in the fight to curb the spread of this deadly virus. For WESOFOD the reality and hard fact is that our effort and strides to contribute to the development of our communities is still not recognized by stakeholders. Despite our contributions in making schools and health centers in Kambia district inclusive, WESOFOD and our disabled members are still left out of important decisions. Because people with disability and their families were not represented in planning meetings on the Ebola response, the awareness raising programs do not target persons with disability and therefore, do not reach them.  For instance, a street rally on Ebola using Okadas (motor bikes) will only reach those who could run to see them pass. A radio awareness raising program will only reach those who could afford a radio. A sensitization meeting on Ebola held in a court barry or town hall will only benefit those who could climb the steps to the court barry or town hall. A holistic and inclusive approach is what will help us contain the spread of this deadly Ebola virus disease in Kambia District and Sierra Leone as a whole.

 

A sensitization meeting on Ebola held in a court barry or town hall will only benefit those who could climb the steps to the court barry or town hall.

A sensitization meeting on Ebola held in a court barry or town hall will only benefit those who could climb the steps to the court barry or town hall.

 

Closure of schools. There is a very high illiteracy rate amongst persons with disability. A study conducted by WESOFOD and Children in Crisis in 2011 found that 60% of children with disability who were of school going age in Kambia district were not in school. When asked what would help them most, 80% said ‘education’. Since 2011 WESOFOD have been working hard to make education accessible for these children. Now all that has had to stop because schools have been closed. For people with disability, education is the only hope for a brighter future for both the child and parents. We hope children with disabilities are included in any alternative education projects that are planned during this crisis.

High cost of living. Even before the outbreak life for people with disability was hard. They are the poorest of the poor. Most struggle to make a living and a good number are living on the street as either street beggars, or prostitutes or both. They are unskilled and the majority are unemployed because throughout their lives they have been denied education and opportunity. The Ebola crisis has made it worse. For those who were working- their businesses are closed. For those who were living on the street they are even more desperate now the country is feeling economic strain. This has further pushed people with disability into poverty and vulnerability.

 

Children with disabilities miss play and they miss their friends.

Children with disabilities miss play and they miss their friends.

 

The right to play is being removed. Play is the order of the day for children. It is what makes them happy. Children with disability are no exception. Due to the Ebola crisis (fear of contracting the disease), parents and caretakers try to restrain their children from play. Children with disability are confined on their wheelchairs and in homes. Children in the neighborhoods are also restricted from play. They miss play and they miss their friends.

Without targeting those most vulnerable you will not be able to ensure everyone is protected from Ebola, which is a risk to containing the disease. We very much strongly believe that a holistic and an inclusive approach is what is needed to curb the spread of this deadly virus disease in our communities and country as a whole.

 

Children in Crisis  and FAWE have launched an emergency appeal to help our partner communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia protect themselves from the Ebola outbreak.

Please donate today,  your donation can be matched pound for pound by the UK government.

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Debitia Elliott Farley – Liberia – Preparing to Leave

6 Oct

“The past informs us that if we don’t intervene, no one will.”

 

Debitia Eliott Farley is a Programme Manager for FAWE, Children in Crisis’s NGO partner in Liberia. Here Debbie writes as she and her colleagues prepare to travel to help remote communities in Rivercess County as part of Children in Crisis – FAWE’s emergency Ebola response.

Ebola has attacked our nation, its grip has taken firm control on the fibre of our society, killing people and leaving many traumatized. Rivercess, our project county is of no exemption to this epidemic. Officially there has been eight deaths reported in the county. We believe that now is the time to show our support for our target group- the children, the vulnerable women, the teachers, and the larger community that we work with. Despite being an educational NGO, the question on our lips was how can we be of help to these vulnerable people in Rivercess? What is being done to avoid the further spread of the virus in the county? It came as no surprise to us that little had been done in Rivercess in terms of awareness and sensitization, and the provision of anti-Ebola materials; once again Rivercess had not being prioritized. With this we were further convinced that we needed to intervene.  We did not want a repetition of what happened in Lofa County (in Northern part of Liberia, where the Outbreak first started) to repeat itself, where an entire village was wiped out due to the outbreak, because people failed to take the necessary precautions, because people were not informed, because people acted late.

Jarvis loading the vehicle

Jarvis loading the vehicle

We are very passionate about the work we do and the people we work with. All through our work, the passion to help people in these remote and rural areas can be seen. What can one say about a team willing to cross two big rivers in small canoes for 40 minutes and walk for another 30 minutes just to provide water and sanitation services to a community that had never had access to safe drinking water? Or of a team that will cross precarious, narrow and terrible bridges just to provide training to teachers and community women? It is with such same passion that we again, brave the storm and join the fight against this deadly virus. We don’t want any of our beneficiaries to fall prey to this virus, we want to act now, because if we don’t, no one will. The past informs us that if we don’t intervene, no one will. No one was willing to alleviate the problem of children drowning in the Cestos River, on their way to school. Everyone but FAWE-Children in Crisis saw it as impossible to get a school across that River. We want to assure the people of Rivercess that we are in this fight together, and that we care about their wellbeing.

We have targeted 39 communities, and with two teams of three, including two health workers, we will be out in the field, providing sensitization and awareness messages to these communities. We shall spend one day in each community setting up task forces and community hand washing stations, and distributing anti-Ebola materials.

Hygiene kits and awareness materials

Hygiene kits and awareness materials

We are excited but the excitement is not without mixed feelings. Excited because once again we are reaching out to some of the county’s most marginalized and vulnerable people; excited because we are a part of this fight; excited because together we will overcome this common enemy. However, there are some mixed feelings, mixed because we leave our families and friends behind in the midst of this crisis, trusting that they will be safe in our absence; mixed because most of the time, we will not be able to communicate with our loved ones as we will be in the jungle in areas with no communication network; mixed because unlike other visits to the field, where the team was in the lead, this time the team is lending support to the experts; mixed because even though, the risk of contracting the Ebola virus is low in Rivercess, that thought lingers on…. What if it were to happen? However, in the midst of all this, we are willing to act, to beat the odds, and jump the hurdles. We remain strong and unbended, our drive and force coming from our strength as a team and the fact that many lives will be saved as a result of this intervention. We are not perturbed by the risk involved, instead we are encouraged to move ahead and effect a change. We are committed to this cause, and we will reach out to those communities that others won’t dare or dream of. We will help prevent the spread of Ebola in the country.

 

Children in Crisis  and FAWE have launched an emergency appeal to help our partner communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia protect themselves from the Ebola outbreak.

Please donate today,  your donation can be matched pound for pound by the UK government.

Donate button graphic

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