Tag Archives: children

Joseph Kamara – Sierra Leone – abilities not disability

14 Dec

WESOFOD is a Sierra Leonean NGO run by and for people with disabilities. It is an organization that Children in Crisis is proud to count as a local partner. This blog was written by Joseph Kamara, WESOFOD’s Founder and Director, for Children in Crisis’ supporters – to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and to give voice to people with disabilities in rural Sierra Leone. Voices which are being listened to more and more thanks to Joseph and WESOFOD.

The international day of persons with disabilities is a very important day for people with disabilities around the world. For us in Kambia, Sierra Leone, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the year and meet with communities to remind them of their duties and responsibilities in making the world inclusive for ALL abilities.

This year, WESOFOD decided to go farther into one of the hardest-to-reach communities, Bramaia Chiefdom, to raise awareness of the gains to be made from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

T-shirts ready for the day

T-shirts ready for the day

To make this day a success, people with disabilities from all walks of life came from across Kambia district and all over Bramaia chiefdom to its main town of Kukuna. For the first time in the history of Bramaia chiefdom, people with disabilities, as well as their parents, well-wishers and chiefdom leaders filled the major street of their town, singing and dancing and marching to their village hall. Almost the entire township joined the march. They marched with us all the way into the village hall to hear what we had to say. People with disabilities held placards with various messages and during the meeting, described with passion what each of their placards meant. This was what some of them said:

Focus on my ability and not my disability. In his local language and with almost tears in his eyes he said: ‘you always look at our blind eyes, our small limbs, our arched backs, our speech impairment, our disabilities; you deny us opportunities, education, jobs, the right to talk in meetings all because of  our disability. Today I want to say it here loud and clear- we have more abilities than the disability’’.

Focus on my mbility and not my disability

Focus on my ability and not my disability

By promoting Empowerment, real opportunities for people are created. ‘When people are empowered they are better prepared to take advantage of opportunities, they become agents of change and can more readily embrace their civic responsibilities’. ‘Give us education, give us skill so we will be able to look after ourselves, our families and give up street begging’.

Why provoke me? In her presentation, she asked this question three times and concluded, ‘it could be you, you and you’.This question made the entire hall silent. The majority of those present were guilty of this. Provocation is a challenge for many people with disabilities across Kambia district. A lot needs to be done to address the situation.

It could be you, you and you

It could be you, you and you

‘It could be you, you and you’ was a strong message from this child. He was very loud and brief; ‘disability was never a choice for me and I am sure it will never be a choice for anyone of you, it will come when it will come’. ‘Why not join WESOFOD in making Kambia district inclusive for all abilities’?

In the past, it has always been a challenge to bring stakeholders to a meeting that has to do with disability issues. In Bramaia it was a different case. Was it because they wanted to see for the first time people with disabilities singing and dancing? For some people, yes, but for majority, no. By the end of the day I realised why there was such a huge turnout. I saw sincerity in their statements. They were touched by our presentations and especially the presentations from the children. They know these issues were real in their communities and they wanted to do something to help and to support WESOFOD to address disability issues in their chiefdom and the district as a whole. Every section in the chiefdom pledged to donate a piece of land to be developed to empower people with disabilities in their communities.

In his statement, the paramount chief representative assured WESOFOD that they will do all in their powers to make sure that all new public structures are made accessible to people with disabilities in their chiefdom. ‘We are sorry we do not have the resources to make our present schools and public places accessible to people with disabilities but we give all the support within our reach to help WESOFOD correct these past wrongs’.

Magbema Chiefdom's football team

Magbema Chiefdom’s football team

The social inclusion evening also made the day a memorable one. This included a football match between persons with disabilities in Magbema chiefdom and Bramaia chiefdom and a dusk to dawn dance. For the first time in the history of Bramaia chiefdom people with disabilities were seen in the field of play.

For me, the day was a huge success. People with disabilities came out in their numbers. Thirty three children and fifty nine youngsters/adults were registered and have joined the WESOFOD membership. People with disabilities in Bramaia chiefdom saw successful and authoritative colleagues with disabilities from their own district sitting at the high table together with their local authorities, telling them to open their eyes and see ability in disability and appealing to them to make space for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Bramaia chiefdom, Kambia district and Sierra Leone.

Children with disabilities in Bramaia chiefdom for the first time saw more fortunate children with disabilities, who had the opportunity to be cared for by WESOFOD, role-playing the challenges faced in getting an education; the attitude of parents of children with disabilities and communities towards children with disabilities in their own homes and communities. They are happy that WESOFOD has come to their chiefdom and this gives them hope for a better future. Above all, they are very hopeful that these pieces of land that their stakeholders have pledged to give to WESOFOD will in future be developed to better their lives and their communities. Lastly, after almost a year and half of the Ebola crisis, we were able to come out, we were seen and heard, we were able to tell the people of Bramaia chiefdom-one of the hardest to reach and remotest communities of Kambia district – that Inclusion Matters, and that Access and Empowerment are key to inclusion.

WESOFOD staff and members

WESOFOD staff and members

As I reflect on the 2015 theme of the IDPWDs- ‘Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment of people of all abilities. Let us as a section, chiefdom, a district, a country and the world at large reflect on these questions: ‘How many of our offices are accessible to people with disabilities? How many of our health centres are accessible to people with disabilities especially women and children? How many of our schools are accessible to children with disabilities? How many of our mosques and churches are accessible to people with disabilities? How much have we invested in making sure children with disabilities are in school? How much have you invested in women with disabilities to eliminate all forms of abuse and discriminate against them? How much have we contributed to making our communities, our district, our country and our world inclusive for all abilities? How much have we contributed to the empowerment of people with disabilities?’

Written by Joseph Alieu Kamara -Founder and Director -WESOFOD


Laura Colgan – Sierra Leone – Mr Kamara

3 Dec

When we asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, some said Minister for Education, some said Minister for Disabilities, several said President, and many said that they wanted to grow up to be just like Mr Kamara.

On my recent and very first trip to Children in Crisis’ projects in Kambia, Sierra Leone, I was fortunate enough to spend time with Joseph Kamara, the founder of our local partner organisation WESOFOD. I accompanied Joseph on his visits to some of the communities that Children in Crisis and WESOFOD work in. There, we met some of the children we have supported, as well as those who still need support.


Joseph Kamara, the founder of Children in Crisis’ partner organisation WESOFOD – a local NGO run by people with disabilities who advocate for the rights of the disabled and directly support children with disabilities.

Despite the lack of knowledge and understanding around disabilities in Kambia, it was incredible to see such a positive and welcoming reaction to Joseph’s arrival within these communities. For the children we met – many of them confined to their homes because the world beyond their (often high and challenging) doorstep is not adapted to their needs – I thought that it must be rare for them to see a person with disabilities being regarded in such high esteem.

It was at these moments that I felt truly proud to work for an organisation like Children in Crisis, that puts such great emphasis on working with local partners – and WESOFOD is a pretty special example of this. Joseph himself is living proof that people with disabilities in Sierra Leone CAN succeed and be a beacon for their communities, and he represents everything that WESOFOD is, with absolute determination and pride.


Some of the children who are cared for by WESOFOD

When we spoke to the children who were soon to move into a new home and treatment centre, many told us about the multitudinous challenges faced by people with disabilities in Kambia, but that Joseph had given them hope. When we asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, some said Minister for Education, some said Minister for Disabilities, several said President, and many said that they wanted to grow up to be just like Mr Kamara.

Since returning to London, I am constantly reminded of my time with WESOFOD. When a London bus driver moves closer to the curb to allow a wheelchair user to disembark using the built-in ramp (there are many wonderful things about that sentence) I am immediately transported back to the remote communities of Kambia.


Children with disabilities in rural Kambia are often confined to their homes, unable to travel on unpaved roads

I have become infinitely more aware of my surroundings in so many ways. I have realised that every inch of the land around me is produced, reinforced, maintained, and adapted so that it is that much more accessible (though certainly far from perfect). I was born into this world. I did not earn it or contribute to it, I am simply lucky. I have a whole new appreciation for my own mobility, and how something as seemingly simple as a flat pavement can mean a child’s safe route to school.

I think of Joseph often, and always with a smile. It is astounding how one man’s determination can bring so much hope, strength and ambition to so many others. Joseph has given Kambia reason to believe that what many once thought impossible, is most definitely possible.

Written by Laura Colgan – Corporate Fundraising Officer – Children in Crisis

Robert Benham – Sierra Leone – ‘Inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase

3 Dec

Having witnessed first-hand the importance of a mother who understands about disability and supports her child, or how a simple aid can enable a child to be a child, I encourage you to look beyond this big title and to consider what ‘Inclusion matters’ really means to children like Nouhou.

Imagine having to move away from your family home, the village you have grown up in, because your community do not accept your child.

For children like Nouhou 'inclusion matters' is more than just a phrase - it is the key to a brighter future

For children like Nouhou ‘inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase – it is the key to a brighter future

When Aminata gave birth to Nouhou, who has cerebral Palsy, she was told he was ‘evil’ and that she must throw him away. Aminata refused. She chose her son instead.

It is the discrimination and lack of understanding that Aminata and Nouhou faced that the International Day of Disabled Persons is trying to overcome. Based around the theme of ‘inclusion matters’, the day is focussing on the gains derived from integrating people with disabilities into society.

Sitting outside Nouhou and Aminata’s home, listening to her story, I can’t imagine how hard her decision must have been but, how she talks about her son, and the warm look in her eyes as she watches over him, I know that she still believes it was the correct one.

Nouhou with his mum Aminata - his protector.

Nouhou with his mum Aminata – his protector.

She has built a life for her son. Nouhou has grown into an inquisitive 6 year old. With the help of his sister, every day he walks to a nearby primary school and is starting to get the education that will enable him to live an active and inclusive life when he grows up.

Sat next to his mum, wearing his bright green uniform, Nouhou eyes us cautiously, slowly leaning in closer to his protector. Nouhou’s natural suspicion is understandable considering the battles he faces to be included in his world.

His father refuses to acknowledge him as one of his own because of his disability and children at his school provoke and agitate him. Even his community, whilst much more understanding than the one he was born into, do not fully accept him – just the Friday before the family was asked to leave the Mosque.

“It is always a challenge, but I have no choice, I will always support my child.”

During my time in Sierra Leone, the barriers facing children with disabilities were striking in their number. I witnessed an absence of understanding around disability, sometimes unsupportive families, schools and homes that are inaccessible to the disabled – all of which contributed to too many children with disabilities being destined to a life of marginalisation and isolation.

Despite the obstacles that children with disability face to be included in their community, every day I was encouraged by the progress I saw being made by Children in Crisis’ partner organisations such as WESOFOD – a local NGO run by a group of inspiring people with disabilities who advocate for the rights of the disabled and directly support children with disabilities – and by the impact small changes were making to the lives of children like Nouhou.

Sahid's mobility aid enables him to travel to school each day and mix with other children. It enables a child to simply be a child.

Sahid’s mobility aid enables him to travel to school each day and mix with other children. It enables a child to simply be a child.

As we were sat talking to Nouhou, we heard a familiar noise coming up the road, Sahid being accompanied home by his friends.

Sahid, who will be moving into the residential rehabilitation centre being constructed by Children in Crisis & WESOFOD, attends the same school as Nouhou and, unable to walk, gets around on a mobility aid.

This simple device is a great example of little things having a huge impact. It enables Sahid to go to school and to achieve an education. It has allowed him to interact with children his own age and to make friends, making sure that the next generation of children treat those with disabilities equally.

It is estimated that worldwide there are one billion people with disabilities, many of whom live on the periphery of their community, marginalised and discriminated against.

This year’s theme, ‘Inclusion matters’, is a strong phrase for an important International Day. It represents a vision of hope, empowerment and equality.

Having witnessed first-hand the importance of a mother who understands about disability and supports her child, or how a simple aid can enable a child to be a child, I encourage you to look beyond this big title and to consider what ‘Inclusion matters’ really means to children like Nouhou.

For these children ‘inclusion matters’ is more than just a phrase; it is the key to a brighter future, one where they have the opportunity to live life on their terms.

Written by: Robert Benham, Trust Fundraising Assistant, Children in Crisis

Anne Leinonen – Kabul – Education gives a direction in life

7 Oct

Anne Leinonen is Children in Crisis’ newest recruit and will be volunteering her considerable communications and advocacy skills at our UK office for the next few months. As she was working for an organisation in Kabul, we couldn’t let Anne leave Afghanistan for Children in Crisis HQ without taking the opportunity to visit one of our Community Based Education Centres in the city. Below is her account of the visit. How wonderful to have a fresh perspective on the work of these Centres and a volunteer with such great experience of our work!

 Samir, a proud leaner, offered a friendly welcome.

“Welcome! We are happy that you are here,” a friendly voice greets me when I enter a classroom. I am immediately surrounded by shy laughter and hushed voices. The nervous giggles do not put off the friendly greeter.

“Hello. My name is Samir. How are you?” he continues in English and laughs, along with boys with whom he shares a desk at the back at the classroom.

I am visiting a Children in Crisis Community Based Education Centre (CBEC) in Kabul. Here, out-of-school children can cover an entire primary school syllabus at an accelerated pace. In Afghanistan, forty per cent of children do not go to the school.

Just 18 months ago 13-year old Samir was among the unfortunate forty per cent, as he spent his days on the streets of Kabul. One day, Children in Crisis teachers visited his parents to talk about CBEC in their neighbourhood. After the visit, Samir’s parents let him go.

The neighbourhood might be a short drive away from the city centre of the Afghan capital, but it is still far from being prosperous. Many struggle to provide for their families. Education is not a priority. It is not unusual that parents are illiterate and did not go to school either.

“I like it here. I will go to a state secondary school after this course, and I will study even after that. One day I will become a police officer and will make sure that my neighbourhood is a safe and peaceful place to live in,” Samir tells me proudly. His ethusiasm is contagious.

CiC school in Mariam's neighbourhood makes the school runs easy.

Mariam loves going to school. Having a CBEC in her neighbourhood makes the school run easy.

The school next door

Mariam, also 13, has been coming to the Community Based Education Centre for six months. The school is close to her home, so it is easy for her to come here. She loves Dari and art. At first, most of the words felt too long and a bit scary. It was pure joy and laughter when she learnt to read some of them. The importance of going to the school gets her serious.

“With education you get a direction in your life. Without education one doesn’t know even God,” she says and turns her head away shyly.

Mariam, too, hopes that she can go all the way to a state secondary school. But she does not want to talk about that. In a year or two, school might not be an option for her. In Afghanistan, the drop-out rate for school girls is unfortunately high, as the girls marry young. When they reach puberty, the parents feel staying at home is safer for the girls and their reputation. This makes the primary school education that Mariam is getting at Children in Crisis’ CBEC and the efforts of her teachers to advocate for her further education that much more important.

Open doors

In Afghanistan, the government is unable to provide schools for all. Organisations like Children in Crisis bring education to these deprived neighbourhoods. Thanks to an agreement with the Ministry of Education, the children completing primary school education are guaranteed a place in a state secondary school – girls and boys.

“We research which neighbourhoods need our support most and where people would be keen to attend the classes. Then, we meet with the community elders to discuss our project,” says Timor Shah Abid, the Country Director of Children in Crisis in Afghanistan.

Open doors policy is part of the close ties with the community. Every community member can visit the Centre to see what happens there. That also brings security. When people trust the Centre and its staff, there have not been any problems with security. The communities make even sure that the girls can walk to their lessons without being disturbed.

Currently Children in Crisis runs two Community Based Education Centres in Kabul. The demand for quality education, however, exceeds the two neighbourhoods…

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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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.

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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.


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