World Humanitarian Day – 19 August 2014
World Humanitarian Day is a time to recognise people who face danger and adversity in order to help others. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the globe.
For CARE staff, working as a humanitarian professional is more than just a job. It’s a mission. Helping refugees become empowered, transforming lives and evoking smiles on the faces of children through our poverty-fighting work are some of the recurring themes that motivate our staff.
However rewarding, being a humanitarian is extremely challenging. Many staff live in harsh conditions – they work in refugee camps or in areas destroyed by natural disasters – leaving loved-ones behind. They witness people’s suffering, listen to traumatic stories and empathise with the people they assist.
Yet compassion, initiative, empathy, optimism, equality and selflessness are some of the words CARE staff use to describe what humanitarianism means to them.
This World Humanitarian Day, we thank the staff featured below and all the humanitarians who have worked for CARE; for helping lift women and their communities out of poverty.
Haifa Abu Amro, Communications Assistant with CARE in Gaza, tells of the violence she – and so many others – are living through.
We were still in our house when the building next to us was hit by a missile in the first days of the war. Windows were blown out, everything fell down around us, children were screaming, but luckily nobody was injured.
When we got out on the street, it was full of broken glass and pieces of concrete on the ground. The air was full of dust, the sky was dark red. All we could see were people running everywhere. The smell was very bad from the fires. There were no more sounds from people, no one was screaming, just running – most were just in their sleeping wear. All we could hear was the noise of buildings falling down. I thought it was the end.
We ran as fast as we could to a relatives’ house, which we thought would be safer. In the morning we left for my parents’ house, but after three days that area was hit as well. Now we are 16 people living at the CARE office.
We volunteered to distribute hygiene kits and canned food that were provided by an aid organisation in the neighbourhood. Everybody is working together now to provide aid as quickly as possible.
In one house we went into, there were 50 to 60 people in each room. They had no food, nothing to sit or sleep on. I think that in most houses now, there are up to 30 families, each with five to six members, huddled together.
People are breaking into office buildings to find a place to sleep. They are women and children, so they cannot sleep in the street. Most of these people, when they return home, they will find nothing. Their houses have been destroyed.
People get news from the radio and SMS. We charge our mobile phones with car batteries. Word spreads quickly of developments. We know that there is a ceasefire now for three days, but people are not optimistic. This disaster will not be over, even if the war ends.
Working in South Sudan holds many challenges for staff to deliver life-saving assistance. A few of them are explained below.
Delivering aid in South Sudan is a challenging endeavour – the country has very few paved roads and supplies can only be transported by air or boat. During the rainy seasons, many mud paths become impassable, cars are stuck and walking is often the only way to move.
Transport by air
Insecurity hampers the delivery of aid supplies by boat, and air lifting goods is often the only safe transportation method. During the rainy season, air strips become flooded and helicopters are the only machines that can land in the mud. Yet the delivery by air is expensive and is restricted in terms of space.
Throughout the remote areas of South Sudan, electricity is delivered by generator, which requires fuel and maintenance. Often, CARE staff have to work in the dark if the generator is not working properly.
Lack of space in crowded camps
Tens of thousands of people have fled the fighting and sought shelter in the United Nations (UN) Protection of Civilan Areas, which are located at the UN compounds. Most aid organisations are working from these compounds to ensure safety for staff and to be close to the displaced people. However, none of the UN compounds were ever designed to hold so many displaced people or aid organisation’s staff.
The fighting has put staff at risk and many had to be evacuated from insecure places at the beginning of the conflict. CARE offices have been looted, cars stolen and destroyed. In addition, insecure travel conditions, diseases and the harsh weather conditions put staff’s well-being at risk.
Lack of funds and equipment
Aid organisations such as CARE lack enough funds to avert a famine – and they lack money to buy the proper equipment. For example, most of the health centres CARE supports across South Sudan lack proper medical equipment, staff and resources.
In Cambodia, CARE is helping children from remote ethnic groups go to school and learn in their native language for the first time. The project’s incredible success has seen it adopted by the Cambodian Government, and replicated in state schools across the country’s north-east.
Khmer – Cambodia’s national language – is the only language of instruction in public schools, but few of the ethnic groups in the north-east provinces speak or understand it. Without an education or understanding of the national language, these communities have struggled to find employment, sell their produce for fair prices at markets and were vulnerable to exploitation.
How things have changed…
Bilingual education opening poverty-fighting opportunities
Students in CARE’s bilingual schools start learning in their native language, with Khmer phased in so they can eventually attend state secondary schools, which teach exclusively in Khmer.
Before this project began in 2002, there were no schools in many remote ethnic minority communities in Cambodia and most indigenous groups did not speak Khmer. This fact is even more staggering when you consider that minority groups in Ratanakiri province make up the majority of the population – over 50 per cent of the province belongs to one of six distinct indigenous communities, each with their own language.
Local teachers, passionate role models
Today, students are being taught by local teachers who had little education themselves, but were selected by village elders as caring and hard working members of the community to be trained as teachers by CARE. Now, these teachers can read. They can write. They can teach. And they are passionate role models to the children that sit in front of them each day.
Keeping children in school
For around four months of every year, Ratanakiri experiences extreme food shortages. When this happens, it’s hard for a hungry family to prioritise education. Mothers, fathers and children – particularly girls – all work together to collect as much food as they can from the surrounding forest, sometimes walking for hours each day with young children in tow to help.
After seeing the impact a lack of food has on school attendance, CARE incorporated an agricultural component to its education program. Now, home gardens produce vegetables year-round, removing the need for long hours spent walking to the forest.
Learning beyond primary school
As well as building new schools, training local teachers in bilingual education and developing relevant curriculum, CARE has also built boarding houses at several state secondary schools. Scholarships are provided to students from remote villages so they can continue learning beyond primary school.
The project is giving these students access to a world of opportunity by unlocking Khmer, a language that will allow them to access their rights – not just as a minority group – but as citizens of Cambodia.
Model adopted by Cambodian Government
The program has been so successful that the Cambodian Government recently adopted a bilingual education policy based on CARE’s project. With the model part of Cambodia’s formal education system, more than 40 state schools across the north-east of Cambodia now support bilingual education.
In South Sudan, a country crippled by violence and on the brink of famine, millions have been forced to flee their homes. Families sheltering in the UN compound outside Bentiu face horrific conditions as heavy rains cause widespread flooding.
by Barbara Jackson, Humanitarian Director, CARE International
Peter Bothi is a storekeeper with the CARE South Sudan team in Bentiu. He is in charge of maintaining the inventory records of the stocks from the medical clinic and office that were once in Bentiu town. Soldiers currently occupy Bentiu and earlier this year, several CARE vehicles were stolen and the offices looted.
Now, Peter works out of the UN compound outside Bentiu town where anywhere between 35,000 and 45,000 people currently live in desperate conditions. Why? Because it is only here that they feel somewhat safe and protected from the continuing violence between the government, the opposition and different factions wearing uniforms of various sorts and carrying many arms.
Peter tells of the day in March when he loaded a CARE vehicle with the office safe, files, medical supplies, and assorted stocks to flee to the UN compound. As he shares his story with me, his face remains emotionless while his words stream from his mouth as he describes being surrounded by armed men and boys in the CARE compound in Bentiu town. Suddenly, a young boy wearing fatigues and waving an AK-47 orders him to be shot. Peter says he wove his way into the group so that he would be surrounded by them as human shields, and that in the confusion as shots rang in the air the group continued on their way without having killed him.
I ask Peter about his family, his wife and children.
‘I called them on the cell phone as we still had cell phone coverage at that time and told them to run through the bush now with the children and reach the UN compound where they will be safe. I didn’t see them for many hours but when I finally arrived at the UN compound where hundreds of people were pouring into the gates, I heard my name being called and saw a neighbour who told me that my wife and children are safe.’
Peter, his wife and four children are now living in a cramped homemade shelter with plastic sheeting. They have two jerry cans to collect fresh water from a common borehole and share a toilet with at least 200 other people.
The rains are heavy at this time of year in South Sudan and water streams through the walkways between the tents and makeshift shelters, spreading refuse including human waste into open drainage canals. Children swim in the fetid water as they have literally nowhere else to play. The living conditions are horrific but Peter says that he at least has food and basic health care for his family, and that they are safe.
He keeps repeating: ‘We are safe for now but we do not know when this will end. Without CARE and other international agencies’ support, we would not be alive today.’
The outbreak of cholera is an imminent threat here as there have been many cases in other UN compounds where CARE and others have been working tirelessly to help prevent any further disease outbreaks. With the threat of a looming famine given the extremely high levels of malnutrition being reported by aid agencies and with the heavy rains continuing through at least October, the situation is not optimistic.
‘We need the rest of the world to support us at this time; we’ve lived through many years of war and we had hoped that we would have peace and that our children would have a better chance for the future.’
I bid goodbye to Peter to board a plane that he cannot take; I leave him and his family and many thousand others to confront months ahead of uncertainty, violence, and the threat of disease and hunger. We all must do more now to prevent the effects of a crisis that is not of these people’s making. Peter’s courage and endurance is reflected in many thousands of people across South Sudan; he and his family should not suffer more.
I am very proud of CARE’s work in Bentiu, but it is not enough. We need to do so much more – it is our obligation, our commitment, and it is the right of the people of South Sudan to receive our and other support at this critical time.
By Mahmoud Shabeeb, Regional Communications Officer for the Syria Crisis
Tomorrow, Muslims around the world will celebrate their most important religious holiday, Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, an entire month of fasting from dawn until sunset.
This Ramadan has been one of the hottest and longest that I remember. People are fasting up to 16 hours a day. It is hot in Jordan right now, but our daily routine continues. I wake every morning and go to work, thinking about how difficult it will be to sit at my desk without my daily dose of caffeine, not being able to drink water when I feel thirsty, or eat during my lunch break. However, at the end of the day I can go home to my family, keep myself busy until sunset, and look forward to a home-cooked meal to break my fast.
Many of the three million Syrian refugees who have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and other countries throughout the region used to have similar routines and thoughts about Ramadan. Now they have to endure long fasting hours with many questions to think about: What will we eat after sunset? Where will our family break their fast? And with Eid in just a few days, what will our children wear? How can we celebrate this feast when there is little to celebrate? How can we greet our relatives and friends if we cannot reach out to them, and what about those who have died?
Nadir, a Syrian musician who used to run a music school in Daraa before fleeing to Jordan, told me: “I used to buy gifts for my children every Eid; I would even buy them musical instruments that we would play together. Now Eid is coming and I can’t even afford to buy them clothes. I can go around and knock on the doors of charities and organisations asking for help, but that is not something I’m used to doing.”
CARE provides emergency cash assistance for Syrian refugees to pay for their most pressing needs, such as food, clothing and rent. But there is only so much that CARE Australia and other aid organisations can do. There are now nearly three million refugees who have fled Syria for neighbouring countries and more than nine million people inside Syria who are in urgent need of help. CARE has secured less than 25 per cent of the anticipated $200 million funding that we minimally need for our response. At the same time the Syria crisis is ongoing and a political solution has not been found yet.
This is the fourth Eid al-Fitr since the crisis started in 2011. Like every Eid for the past four years, the biggest wish of the Syrian people is for the crisis in their homeland to come to an end. If you ask any Syrian refugee about their wishes for Eid, their answer will be similar to what Nadir replied when I asked him: “All that I wish for is to return home, celebrate Eid with my family, and be able to buy gifts for my children. I am looking forward to celebrating Eid, but my wishes are different from any other year. This year my wish is that all Syrian refugees will be able to celebrate the next Eid al-Fitr in peace at home. Until then, I hope that people celebrating Eid around the world do not forget us.”
Mahmoud Shabeeb is CARE’s Regional Communications Officer for the Syria Crisis and is based in Amman, Jordan
Judith used to face extreme hunger and her daughter was showing signs of malnutrition. Since receiving seeds, tools and training from CARE, she is now leader of a farmers’ group and her family is able to eat three meals a day.
In Timor-Leste, Judith and her family used to face extreme hunger. Her three-year-old daughter Melia* was showing signs of malnutrition – yellowing hair, dull eyes and dizziness. Judith was only able to provide two meals a day for her family, despite spending long days working in the field with her husband.
Our team visited Judith recently, and thanks to the support of our donors we have a very different story to report. Now, Judith is the leader of a farmers’ group and has received maize and vegetable seeds, training and storage drums.
‘I use the maize to feed my family,’ says Judith.
‘I feel happy as in the past the crops were not very good but now, because of the project, the crops are bringing good results and yields have increased. I’m happy as in the past I used to have to buy vegetables for my family but now I have my own.
‘We now cook three meals a day; we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.’
Judith and her farmers’ group members sell their excess crops and share the profit.
‘I try to save the money I make from the vegetables so I can pay school fees, buy shoes, books and pens.’
Most importantly, Melia’s health is now improving.
‘I’m happy that my children are now more healthy,’ Judith says with a smile on her face. ‘They are fatter and are not getting sick as much.’
by Saaed Al Madhoun, Program Officer, CARE International West Bank and Gaza
My boy is only three years old. He feels stressed and depressed and last night after hearing the explosions he said to my wife, ‘I feel that I will die.’
He is only three years old. It makes us so sad. It was such a terrible surprise to hear him say this, we feel very bad. He says he is feeling sick because of the noise of the explosions. He is crying at night and cannot sleep, so my wife and I try to massage him to calm him down.
My wife is very afraid for the children. She is able to feed my five-month-old baby but it is stressful. We feel that there is no safe place; any movement outside and you could be targeted. If I go to my brother’s house, are we any safer there?
The water gets cut off when there is no electricity. I’m trying to keep reserves of water, we need to be able to sterilise things for the baby when we can.
I left the home to do some shopping during the ceasefire, to get some basics for my kids. We have just a short period of time before it starts again. It was very crowded in the streets because of the limited time. The prices were normal but there was not very much available.
I also went to check on the CARE office to see that it was OK. I want to go back to work to help support all of the vulnerable people, I am more than happy to do this but it is difficult because we cannot move without being targeted.
If this situation continues like now it will be a real crisis. We don’t know when it will finish. I am really hoping for a long-term ceasefire and that it will calm down.
It’s hard for my family, for my friends and colleagues, for all Gazans to live in this crisis. We just hope it will end soon. In six years there have been three wars. It’s difficult for all of us, but especially the children.
I ask the world, and all of the humanitarian community to try to make a ceasefire that will last for years not hours. We ask that the violence stops. We cannot continue living in this situation, but we also cannot leave Gaza.
We ask the world to make it stop and do their best for the people of Gaza. It is enough now.
by Lyrian Fleming-Parsley, CARE Australia
When my colleagues first met Edda in rural Malawi in 2012, her situation was dire. She and the four grandchildren she cares for had been sleeping in a neighbour’s kitchen for a month because their home collapsed.
‘When the house began falling down around us I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to,’ explained Edda.
Edda is a subsistence farmer, which means she grows most of the food her family eats. She grows maize, cotton and peanuts, but without fertiliser she couldn’t grow enough food to feed her family.
‘Life is hard for me and the grandchildren,’ she told us. ‘I try to do the best for my family, but it’s impossible for me to provide food all year round.’
To raise the $50 needed to repair her home, she spent months working in other people’s fields instead of tending to her own small farm.
She said: ‘I feel angry and upset that this has happened to me. I don’t really want to start over, but I have no choice. I’m ashamed that I don’t have a safe, warm house for my family.’
Sadly, Edda’s situation is common in Malawi, where rural poverty is high, food insecurity is widespread and women lack social and economic support.
‘I fear hunger,’ she told us. ‘Many households in this village find it difficult to grow enough food and every year we manage to get through the lean season [the period between food running out and the next harvest], but I worry what next year will bring. I am tired of living miserably and I dream of a better life – one where we have a good house, enough food and the children go to school.’
It was around this time in 2012 that CARE began working with Edda and her community to support women who struggle to provide food all year round.
‘CARE’s arrival in our village couldn’t have come at a better time. My children are hungry and sick and I had almost given-up on farming because very little grows from the land anymore, but the winds of change have arrived and now I have hope again.’
A lot has grown from that hope in two years…
I travelled to Malawi in January, and the Edda I spoke to was strong and tenacious. She has been saving money regularly through a Village Savings and Loans group CARE established, and with the money saved so far, she has bought rabbits, a pig, pigeons and chickens to breed and sell.
‘My animals are an investment so when they grow up and I need something for the house, I can sell them,’ says Edda proudly.
She has also learnt small business skills through the project, and put them to good use selling local snack food in her village.
‘I have been trained in business, how to set it up, and how to run the business. This has helped my business, has helped me buy some things like maize and meat,’ she explains.
The best news is that the family is eating more now. It is the lean season again, a period when her family used to suffer with just one meal per day. Yet Edda’s farm is doing better than ever, now that she is applying her new farming skills. Now, the family are eating two meals of maize porridge with vegetable leaves a day instead of one. Sometimes, they are able to add kidney beans to their meal too.
The change in Edda’s life is significant. In just two years, her children are eating more food more often, and are not as susceptible to grave risks of hunger. Edda is also able to use the
profits from her small business activities and the money she saves through the Village Savings and Loans Group to provide the things her grandchildren need to go to school, including uniforms, school books and soap.
With more food on the table, more opportunities to earn an income and support her family, and with her newly learned skills in savings, spending and small business, Edda is in a better position than ever before to escape the cycle of extreme poverty and hunger.
Now, Edda looks to the future with excitement instead of worry.
‘I expect to get bumper yields [of maize] this year compared to last year… This year I plan to save 10-15,000 kwacha ($30-40) and will spend the money on fertiliser and food,’ Edda says of her plans.
Thanks to CARE’s supporters, around 15,000 people like Edda, across two districts in Malawi are being supported through this project. They are receiving training in reading and writing, financial literacy, saving and budgeting, modern farming techniques, crop management and nutrition in order to overcome hunger, improve their family’s health and deliver previously unimaginable opportunities.
Thank you for making this change possible, for Edda, and millions of people like her around the world.
Ingrid Hurtubise and her family received a CARE package after WWII. ‘I was young, maybe 5 years old, but I remember there was butter in this magical package’
I was 4 years old when the Second World War ended. My family lived on Sylt, a German island in the North Sea where my father’s cousin had a farm. Life after the war was hard. There was little work, hardly any food to buy, no coal and little wood to heat the two-room former ammunition depot that had become our home in Sylt. We ate herring and had black bread. Once my father brought home a barrel of oranges he found floating in the sea. They were salty from the sea water, but we ate them anyway.
It was around this time that a parcel arrived at our home. It was a CARE Package, one of 100 million similar packages of food and other vital supplies donated by Americans to people in need around the world, starting with Europeans devastated by the war. I was young, maybe 5 years old, but I remember there was butter in this magical package from an organization called CARE and a green translucent toothbrush for my sister, which she cherished for years. We loved it. There was also cornbread, which my sister and I had never had before and didn’t like the taste. Even hungry kids can be unreasonably picky when they encounter unfamiliar foods.
I was only a small child. I didn’t understand the war or its causes, but my mother explained to us just how special it was that strangers from a country against which our country had just fought a war were making such a kind gesture. And I didn’t need my mother to explain to me how nice it felt to receive something when you have almost nothing.
My life is very different today. I live comfortably in Atlanta (which, as fate would have it, is now the headquarters for CARE). I’m a business owner, a mother and a grandmother. And thanks to a recipe I got from a Georgia-born friend, I even love cornbread. But part of me is still that little girl whose heart was touched by the generosity and kindness of a far-away stranger; someone who saw beyond nationality and global politics to extend a hand to a family in need.
I know that today there are girls much like me around the world who, because of circumstances beyond their control, live in squalor. Some have fled fighting in places such as Syria or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, finding temporary homes wherever they can. Perhaps those girls, decades from now, also will be able to look back fondly at people in a far-away place called America who reached as deeply into their pockets as they could to help them in their time of need.
Father of five Mostafa Kahlout is a CARE Economic Empowerment Program coordinator in Gaza. His role involves helping more than 8,000 vulnerable households in Gaza to access food and earn an income, mostly through small scale farming. Mostafa and his family live in Gaza, and have barely left the house since the Israeli military operation began last week.
We are surrounded by bombs and explosions. Our nights have become days and our days have become nights, as we can hardly sleep more than an hour or so without the explosions. We just stay in the house and keep watching what is happening outside, watching the black smoke in the sky when the houses nearby are hit.
It is really a sad and terrible situation for all of the people of Gaza, including my own family. My kids are suffering a lot. I have two boys and three girls aged from 7 to 21-years-old.
In front of my kids and family, I act like I am not scared, so they don’t feel so stressed and depressed, but of course I am very worried and afraid. I am scared for the life of my kids and wife, relatives, and our home.
My daughters are already traumatised from the previous military operations on Gaza. Even before the bombs fall they would shiver and come close to their mother or me whenever they hear a plane.
My youngest daughter is nearly eight, she’s only small and she just keeps looking at the ceiling and asking ‘why are they trying to kill us?’
I say to her: ‘No one is going to kill us; it will all be over soon,’ trying to calm her down. But I don’t know when it will be over.
My boys put their hands to their ears to block out the noise and sit close with us. You wouldn’t believe the sound, the noise is very terrible.
I have only left the house a few times to get food from the market. The kids might go to the close neighbours’ houses but they rush back every time they hear the planes.
All the wars have been terrible, but the bombing, the shooting, the missiles, the shelling into houses this time, is just too much. It’s everywhere. Everyone feels targeted. I am part of a big family in Gaza, and we have heard that a relative has been killed. I have lost friends and my daughter’s friend is in hospital, injured.
My children have lived through three wars in six years. I want them to live and sleep in peace without worry or trauma. They want a childhood. They deserve a childhood.
It feels quite hopeless in Gaza even without war – unemployment is so high, Israeli siege and closures, there is no stability, just violence. It’s a very difficult life indeed.
This is the worst Holy month (Ramadan) we have ever known. We are fasting, and worried and scared and we don’t know if we will find food to break the fast. And even when we do go to break the fast there might be bombing and shelling so we hide. If there is electricity we watch TV for updates, instead of celebrating the time together as a family like we usually would. When we get up early in the morning to prepare for the fast, again we hear the shelling and it is very hard.
Right now it is difficult for CARE, we cannot reach people to support them because we cannot move. Any moving car in the street could be targeted. My main concern is a shortage of food and medicine. There are so many casualties, injuries, destruction of lands and houses, and even before the war started, supplies were low due to the blockade. Now I worry that they will run out completely.
When this finishes we will have so many people to help. Our priority will be those whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Even small funds will help make a difference to them.
The people in Gaza feel isolated, there does not seem to be strong support from other countries to push for a ceasefire but as long as there is war it is civilians who will pay the price.
Right now it feels like our destiny is unknown, particularly with the Israeli closures and movement restriction imposed on Gaza since 2007. We don’t understand what will happen next, it is out of our hands. But hope never dies. We will always have hope. We want to live in peace.
Blog by Simon Chol Mialith, CARE South Sudan, Peace Building and Conflict Mitigation Coordinator
‘I come from Panriang County of Unity State in South Sudan, an area that is rich of oil and where, in fact, about 50 percent of our oil reserves get explored. In 1987, when I was in my early teenage years, I joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/ Movement (SPLM/A). At that time, a lot of innocent Sudanese civilians particularly from Southern Sudan suffered from years of attacks on their villages, bombings and fighting. I grew up in a country that had already experienced two decades of war – conflict was all I knew. I wanted to join the liberation struggle for South Sudan; I could not stand the violence anymore and hoped that one day I could live in a free and peaceful country. I became a child soldier.
Me, and a lot of other children of the same age walked from the south of Sudan to Ethiopia, where the SPLM/A base was. We walked for three months. I then spent five years in Ethiopia and after the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the former President of Ethiopia in 1991, we flew back to South Sudan. At this point, I also realized that fighting would not help my country and left the SPLA and seek education opportunities. Making things worse, our return coincided with the split of the SPLA into two groups. These were the most destructive moments in the history of the South Sudanese struggle for freedom, when both parts of the liberation movement turned against each other. This split divided two of the main tribes in South Sudan, the Dinka and the Nuer. Both started fighting against each other and that divide lasts until today. It is one of the reasons why it continues to be so difficult to bring a stable peace to our country.
However, that time also proved a turning point in my life. I got an opportunity to go to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in North Western Kenya, where I could attend school for the first time in my life. It was very tough: the area was dusty and very hot, I had little food to eat and I had neither parents nor relatives to provide moral and material support to me. I came to Kenya with many other child soldiers. We became known as the “Lost Boys”.
However, suffering was nothing new to me. I have seen and experienced it before, so I stayed strong. Finishing my education was my only wish. Why? Because I wanted to contribute to building my nation one day; I was waiting for the day when peace would finally come to South Sudan. That was my motivation. At that time, I saw many of my school comrades leaving for the United States of America where they get resettled. I still have contact with some of them, via email, Facebook or Skype.
After finishing my education, I felt that I needed to join the humanitarian world to save the lives of poor people and help the victims of violence and conflict. I especially wanted to contribute to peace building and conflict resolution. Given my personal experience, I believe that there can’t be development without peace. Conflict destroys lives, livelihoods, it devastates a whole country. So I finally turned my life around from being a child soldier to becoming a peace builder.
For nine years, I have worked with national and International organizations in South Sudan and outside South Sudan at senior positions. Today I work with CARE South Sudan as Peace Building and Conflict Mitigation Coordinator. I train CARE staff on “DO NO HARM” principles and give technical support to our peace building officers. In practice, this means that we need to assess carefully the potential conflicts we could create when implementing a project. CARE works in areas that are still very insecure, where fighting between tribes occur daily. So for example, we need to ensure that we are not seen as assisting one tribe in favor of another. We need to be aware of all these sensitive aspects of conflict, so we don’t accidentally create violence. We also help communities settling conflicts, training them in reconciliation methods and setting up peace committees in villages. We as CARE have been working with some of these communities for a long time, they know us and accept our assistance.
I believe that almost five decades of war and conflict had deep impacts on the South Sudanese population. People are traumatized, scared and angry. When people only know conflict, it is difficult for them to transfer to a peaceful society. It takes time to heal the scars. So we have a lot of work ahead of us to build a peaceful and stable South Sudan.’
Read more about CARE’s work in South Sudan
‘There’s so much suffering, so many sad stories. And then there are people who are looking to the future. They are thinking about what they can do to get themselves on their feet and push forward. These are the people who will be on the front line of getting back to their homes and rebuilding this country.’
Aimee Ansari reflects on the third anniversary of the world’s newest country, South Sudan.
by Aimee Ansari, CARE’s Country Director in South Sudan
Our ‘office’ in Bentiu consists of nothing more than five desks. CARE occupies half a trailer and shares the tiny space with two other organisations, but others ‘camp’ in here whenever there is an empty chair. Right now, we are 14 people with 13 chairs, supporting the operations of five organisations. The desks are standard small desks. The chairs are a mish-mash of broken office chairs, plastic chairs and a funky red faux leather and chrome chair that I love, but is very unstable. The red one is currently occupied by our nutrition program manager. I’m on the chair with the seat that falls off if you don’t balance on it correctly.
We are all currently based in the UN Protection of Civilians site. It’s a place of protection for those who are fleeing from the terrible violence that has displaced over a million people in South Sudan and affected over five million people’s ability to get food. The UN sites around the country currently house over 100,000 people. We know that this is just one-tenth of the people affected. But we haven’t been able to regularly reach the others. Most people have moved to places where they feel safe, out of the way of warring parties to remote places where soldiers can’t harm them. Aid workers find it difficult to help them – they live in marshy swampy areas along the rivers or deep in the thick of 2-meter-high elephant grass. Now that the fighting has calmed in some areas around Bentiu, people are finally able to come to seek assistance. And some are coming in terrible states, hardly able to walk.
Angelina, a single mother with two small children, had walked from morning to night to get to the UN site in Bentiu. She and her children had been eating grass because that was all the food they had. Still, life in the PoC – where she has been for seven days with only minimal water and shelter, and a small mat to sit on – is better. At least there is food for her children.
Most days, the daily life in Bentiu is horrific and beyond imagination. A few days ago, CARE helped parents transport the bodies of three children who had died from malnutrition to a burial site. The CARE team in Bentiu is working seven days a week in some of the most difficult conditions I’ve experienced – the office is luxurious compared to the living conditions for our team, most of whom are displaced themselves in the PoC site. They work in knee deep mud, our local staff have floods in their homes when it rains, and there is very limited water available for drinking, cleaning, cooking. One staff member told me she was lucky if her family gets ten litres of water per day.
We are providing health, nutrition and sanitation to people who have fled into the UN sites. Although they are tired, although they are affected by the violence and the terrible conditions themselves, the team is extremely motivated. They work hard, long hours. They are amazing.
I’ve been here in Bentiu for three days and the team is telling me that we’re not doing enough. They want to do more and help more people. It is sometimes unsafe outside of the UN areas, but that’s where the people in real need are – that’s where the people who can’t walk to the UN sites are. How can we help them? How can CARE overcome the security concerns and get to the villages to encourage people to return to them? The team is challenging me to help them find innovate solutions to overwhelming problems.
In a small hut, I met five families living together. They had travelled far. The children were making cows from mud – true artists. Two of their siblings, a boy and a girl were lying on mats, suffering from malnutrition. They are in a CARE program to help them to recover. When I asked the mothers if they would return to their villages, they said they would never return. They didn’t trust the soldiers. Their husbands were gone, probably either fighting or dead.
One of our team, an energetic, ambitious, articulate woman, asked me if there would be anything to help people return to their homes and start their lives again. She works for CARE to help people, to learn, and, most of all, to earn money so she can go back to school. Her house was burned down in the fighting. Could we give her a tent once it got safe?, she asked. Just until she could re-build her house?
Meeting people like her gives me hope for the future of this country. There’s so much suffering, so many sad stories. And then there are people who are looking to the future. They are thinking about what they can do to get themselves on their feet and push forward. These are the people who will be on the front line of getting back to their homes and rebuilding this country. It is for her that I sleep in tents, walk through the mud to get to work, and work in the office until 10pm. Because if I can do something that helps her get an education, then I can contribute to helping all of South Sudan. And maybe someday she will work in a safer environment – with a proper chair.
by Aimee Ansari, CARE’s Country Director in South Sudan
Sometimes when I give an interview, I have to turn off the part of my brain that analyses what I’m saying. The implications of what I’m telling are too devastating: 64 reported cases of gender based violence in a protection area just within a week. I’ve experienced different kinds of harassment and violence personally – I’ve been mugged in Paris, stalked in Egypt, and put in very uncomfortable situations that female aid workers sometimes find themselves in. But I can’t fathom 64 cases in an area that women have fled to be ‘protected’.
Many years ago, I worked in Kyrgyzstan. One large donor threatened to stop aid to the country until the government took positive and proactive steps to stop violence against women. I was thrilled. A donor finally taking the problem seriously was music to my ears. And, to some extent, it worked.
Sadly, I doubt that stopping assistance to South Sudan would have the same positive impact it had in Kyrgyzstan. Here, violence against women is not only socially acceptable; women are also being told that raping them is their punishment for supporting one side of the conflict or the other. It’s a psychological tool of the conflict. Stopping assistance won’t help.
It’s hard to know what will work to stop these terrible acts against women’s bodies and souls. Certainly, we NGOs and UN agencies could and should be doing more by speaking openly about the problem, by providing services to women, ensuring that those services are of high quality, widely available and accessible to the most vulnerable. Our recently published report ‘THE GIRL HAS NO RIGHTS’: Gender-Based Violence in South Sudan shows CARE and other NGOs are already doing some of this. We have medical post-rape trauma kits in many of the health facilities we support. And we work with community health workers to provide PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) kits, which includes preventive medicine helping women to avoid an HIV infection.
The UN peacekeeping mission, given its new focus on protection, could also be doing more. I know they are planning to increase their protection activities, but the UN Mission has thus far demonstrated limited capacity to support the peacekeepers to appropriately address violence against women and girls. Simple things like placing adequate lighting around latrines, so that women aren’t raped at night would go a long way. Or doing foot patrols with civilians who are women and who speak the local language would help the peacekeepers to better understand issues and communicate to people how they can help protect them.
But addressing violence in the designated protection areas is, in a way, the easy part.
Last week, I visited a CARE program in a fairly remote, but very (militarily) strategic location. The market has been taken over by soldiers. When they get paid, they get drunk and most shops just close. Our staff told me that a woman had been raped and then killed just behind our compound for reasons that they didn’t understand. The head of the County Administration told me that he knew that rape cases had increased as a result of military build-up, but he didn’t know what he could do about it. He said he didn’t have a lot of control over the military. He said he was happy to get any support we could provide.
In one clinic, I spoke to a woman with a one-month old baby. The baby already had signs of malaria and malnutrition. The child probably won’t survive. The woman was getting very little nutrition herself – the men had left with the cattle in search of pasture. She was getting very little milk and almost no food. The clinical officer did what he could; and maybe the woman would return for further treatment. But, given the military concentrations in the area, we all doubted she would risk her life again to return. Coming back, she may face the threat of physical violence and harassment from men in uniform. It is sadly unlikely that her small girl will survive the combination of malaria and malnutrition.
The good news is we’re getting better at documenting and analysing the scope of the threats women face in this conflict. But this is only the very tip of the iceberg. At least, rape and assault cases are now being reported to us by the women. Recent CARE research found that only 57 percent of women tell others about a violation; as a result, no one really knows the true scale of the issues. So, if there were 64 reported cases in that one area, we could expect that 130 women faced some form of violence last week. Understanding the magnitude of these abuses remains a great challenge, but at least we now have some of the necessary documentation – that’s the first step in being able to address the issues and really start helping women to be protected.
In Mozambique, Farmer Field Schools help vulnerable communities tackle the impacts of climate change
By Karl Deering, CARE International’s Climate Change Coordinator for Africa. This post is part of a series produced by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, marking the occasion of its fifth Global Food Security Symposium 2014 in Washington, D.C., which was held on May 22.
In March 2013, rain fell in Namizope and Mukuvula communities in Angoche District, Nampula in Northern Mozambique until the water was almost up to people’s knees, inundating fields and crops. With entire harvests of cassava washed away, the impact for some was catastrophic. However, after the rains, Mwancha Amisse and her husband, smallholder farmers in Mukuvula community, saw how a number of their plots responded differently to the flooding in terms of water flow, erosion, and moisture absorption.
They noticed that plots where farmers had implemented conservation agriculture techniques performed far better in the flood than other fields. Those techniques, learned through a CARE-supported Farmer Field School, have increased the capacity of poor smallholder farmers in coastal Mozambique to manage increasingly erratic weather – just one of the impacts of a changing climate.
The coastal area of Mozambique is a challenging environment for smallholder farming. Soils are mostly sandy with low fertility, and rainfall is unpredictable, causing drought and floods. Cyclones are another hazard. However, farming is still the main source of food and livelihood for most rural families and there is good potential for smallholder farmers to improve yields, their family’s nutrition, and their resilience.
This is why CARE Mozambique has been working with local partners AENA (National Association of Rural Extension), Mahlahle (a local NGO), and the Ministry of Agriculture to improve farming practices and productivity in Nampula and Inhambane provinces.
New techniques and more productive and disease tolerant crop varieties are being introduced through a participatory approach to research and extension services called Farmer Field Schools. Farmer Field Schools guide farmers to undertake practical experiments and side-by-side comparisons between common farming techniques and conservation agriculture practices.
Farmers test different varieties and arrangements of crops for yield, flavor, and disease resistance. They then select those that are most appropriate for their own situations, giving them more control of their land and produce in difficult and changing situations. As they gain experience in running and analyzing their own experiments, farmers build confidence and deepen their capacity to adapt to economic and environmental changes.
So what is conservation agriculture? Put simply, it helps farmers to mimic – rather than control – nature through minimal soil tillage, year-round soil cover of organic matter, and increased diversity of planted crops. Conservation agriculture builds organic matter, improves the soil’s structure, reduces erosion, helps water soak into the soil more quickly, and reduces water loss through evaporation, all while improving fertility and productivity. This is vital, especially given climate change impacts, with higher temperatures, more erratic rainfall, and bursts of torrential rainfall alternating with prolonged dry spells that bake the soil hard. This combination of conservation agriculture, and more suitable plant varieties, is leading to greater productivity, contributing to an increase in dietary diversity and enhanced food and nutrition security.
Before the rains in March 2013, and based on her experiences at a local Farmer Field School, Mwancha Amisse added layers of dry grass to increase the soil’s capacity to absorb water, and to reduce run-off and erosion. Following the heavy rains, she found that the layers of dry grass had significantly reduced topsoil erosion compared to areas where it hadn’t been applied. Erosion also decreased – while water absorption increased – in plots where farmers had used minimum tilling. While conservation agriculture is often seen as a way of mitigating the impacts of drought, these outcomes showed that it can also mitigate the impact of floods.
Which is why, in addition to using soil cover to improve moisture retention and sowing more plant varieties to spread their risk, the women of Wiwanana Wa Tiane Agriculture Association in Namizope have also decided to incorporate drainage systems in their fields. ‘We are going to be sure to include a way for water to flow out of our fields, but in ways where our crops will not be washed away with it,’ said the Association’s president, Alima Chereira.
Farmer Field Schools’ emphasis on farmers as decision-makers helps rural communities, and especially women, to build their confidence and capacity to experiment, while also helping people to improve their farming potential.
In the words of Mwancha Amisse: ‘We learned in the Farmer Field School that we don’t have to do agriculture as it has always been done. We learned that we can do it differently.’
12 June marks International Day against Child Labour.
With every passing day the number of Syrian refugee children being pulled out of school and into the workforce rises. Nearly 600,000 refugees in Jordan and 1.1 million refugees in Lebanon are struggling to cope with rising costs of living. A recent survey by CARE revealed that 90 per cent of refugees in Jordan are in debt to relatives, neighbours, shopkeepers or landlords, with rental costs having increased by almost a third in the past year. In Jordan, the government estimates that 60,000 children are working to support their families.
‘In a lot of cases young sons have to earn the income for the family in order to survive,’ says Salam Kanaan, Country Director for CARE Jordan. ‘It is an easy equation: The longer refugee families live in neighbouring countries, the more financially vulnerable and destitute they become. With no more assets and no male head of household who could work, children have to contribute to cover the monthly expenses and have to quit school.’
Hani,* 14, works every day from 7 am to 10 pm. In between, he goes to school. His father is ill and has trouble finding a job. The family fled from Homs two years ago. Hani has already worked in a coffee shop, in a mall and in a restaurant. He now works in a bakery. He misses his best friend in Syria. He has not heard from him for the past two years. He says: ‘I would prefer to go to school and learn something. But for now I am proud to support my parents, my brother and my two sisters. Without me, we could not survive.’ (Photo: CARE/Johanna Mitscherlich)
Aboud* does not say a lot. Sitting on a green box with holes, he plucks styrofoam from a package. His big brown eyes are staring at the white flakes as they fall onto the ground. His father Hamid explains: ‘During the last three months in Homs we had nothing to eat. We collected leftovers from the street and searched the trash cans for food that was thrown away. The past two years were a nightmare.’ First their house was looted and then someone set it on fire. But then their house was destroyed by a bomb and the family had to flee. They walked for 11 days from Homs to the Jordanian border. They had to hide behind trees and were forced to watch as two of their uncles were kidnapped and their aunt raped and then shot. Aboud starts his work in the vegetable store at 8am and finishes at 8pm. He drags cases from the back of the shop to refill the stalls. He has only one dream. ‘I want to go back. I miss my best friends. I want to go back to school to become an engineer and rebuild Homs.’ (Photo: CARE/Johanna Mitscherlich)
Mohamed* is 12 years old. He fled to Mafraq in the North of Jordan half a year ago. To help his family make ends meet both he and his 13 year old brother have to work. He starts his job in a barber shop at 9am and works until 10.30pm at night. He sweeps the floor and cleans the scissors. He earns around $7 per week. He says that he sometimes gets very dizzy when he has to stand all day, but his family cannot afford more than one or two meals every day. (Photo: CARE/Johanna Mitscherlich)
Khaled*, 13, fled to Syria with his family. He works in a coffee shop in the town of Chhime in Lebanon. He has been working ever since his family fled from a village outside Damascus. His father is unable to work because of a heart condition. Without Khaled, his parents and four siblings could not survive. His father said: ‘We would prefer if he would go to school. He is too young to work and we do not want to depend on him. But we are in an impossible situation.’ In Syria, his father had a good job in the tourism industry. The family had a big house and a car. But after his father was arrested and detained, his health condition deteriorated and the family had to flee to Lebanon. Khaled says: ‘If I don’t work who is going to provide for my family?’ (Photo: CARE/Harry Chun)
Yousef* fled Syria three years ago when the war started. A former school in Lebanon has become his new home, where he lives together with his parents and younger brother. Yousef was just nine years old when he left Syria. He says that he misses his home, but the memory of Syria is fading. He does not have time to remember. He works in a bakery every day from 5am until 4pm. He earns around $35 every month. ‘My parents are old and sick. They cannot work. If I did not work, we would not be able to survive.’ What does Yousef wish for? ‘I wish I could die, because I am tired of this life, there is nothing positive or joyful in living like this. When I was in Syria, my friends and I used to fantasise about how life would be when we grew up to become teenage boys and men. Nowadays I sit by myself laughing about how I could even dare to have even dreamt about those things.’ (Photo: CARE/Racha El Daoi)
About a year ago, Fadi* was an average 15 year old boy. He attended high school, met his friends after class to practice break-dancing, played tricks on people from time to time and wanted to become an English teacher. As is the case for many other Syrian refugee families, it’s Fadi who contributes the greatest deal to the family’s earnings. Six days a week, from 9amto 6pm, he cleans birdcages, feeds animals and sells them at the local market. He earns around $5.70 a day, adding up to $137 each month. But Fadi misses his school and his friends. He misses learning and reading. ‘I am working because we don’t have another option to make ends meet. But in an ideal world, if life in Syria were still the way it should be, I would first finish my schooling and work afterwards. I should not be working full-time now. This is not how it should be.’ Once he can return to Syria he says he will cram for his exams night and day and get closer to achieving his goal of becoming an English teacher. ‘That would be awesome,’ he says in English and smiles proudly. (Photo: CARE/Johanna Mitscherlich)
‘I don’t like to think about Syria. It makes me sad.’ Bader* doesn’t have much time to think about Syria anyway. As the ‘man of the house’, he is expected to take care of his mother, Lina, and his seven siblings. He works in a coffee shop 14 hours a day, six days a week. Before leaving Syria, Khaled was shot in the leg and finds it hard to be on his feet all day. When their house was burnt down the family stayed in a bunker. After ten days they thought it was safe to return and rebuild it. Bader’s scarred leg still reminds them they were wrong. He was wounded when they tried to reach their home. His mother decided to flee to Jordan so her children would be safe. Bader said: ‘I am tired after work. My leg hurts, I cannot play soccer anymore. Going up and down the stairs to our apartment is as exhausting as running a marathon is for healthy people.’ (Photo: CARE/Johanna Mitscherlich)
*CARE is committed to being a child safe organisation. Names of children have been changed.
By Sofia Sprechmann, Program Director, CARE International
Violence against women and girls is one of the worst global epidemics. Studies show that gender-based violence (GBV) accounts for as much death and ill-health in women aged 15-44 years as cancer does. It is a greater cause of ill-health than malaria and traffic accidents combined. One in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. The shocking truth is that violence against women and girls takes place in all countries, in homes, workplaces, schools and communities
Addressing gender-based violence is complex.One of thechallenges is that it is often hidden from view. The same deeply entrenched social norms that give rise to GBV make it a private matter, something not to be discussed outside the family (or even within the family). Often, it is also invisible to those experiencing the violence, because it is so deeply woven into how an individual understands who they are as a man or a woman and their place in society. Since GBV is often hidden from view, perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. Even in countries where violence against women is prohibited under law, such acts can go unreported or unaddressed since society views GBV as acceptable and chooses to stigmatize and blame women survivors. Ending GBV therefore involves social change work at the deepest levels.
CARE has worked on addressing this abuse for 20 years.In 2013, CARE implemented programs in 23 countries to directly tackle GBV to reach nearly 320,000 people. In these countries, CARE also reached 800,000 people through strategies such as advocacy or media campaigns. Given CARE’s extensive work on addressing this abuse, we felt it was critical to take stock of the impact of our work and use the learning from our programs in Asia, Africa, Easter Europe, the Middle East and Latin America to strengthen our response to this global epidemic. Our new report, Challenging Gender-based Violence Worldwide, analyses the impact of this work and how to build momentum to end the cycle of violence. The report reviewed 50 program evaluations carried out from July 2011 to June 2013 and includes the results of a survey with our partners, who gave us their opinion about how to strengthen our actions to stop violence against women and girls.
The review of CARE’s programs has helped to identify successes and challenges. One of the most important findings from this review is that it is critical to scale-up innovative approaches to engage men and boys as part of comprehensive strategies to promote gender equality and GBV prevention. This can be achieved in several ways, such as integrating gender and violence into the national education curriculum or building a movement of male activists and role models for promoting non-violent male identities. From our programs we have also learned that it is central to enhance CARE’s support for establishing national GBV action plans involving participation of civil society (particularly women’s organizations and movements) and affected people. It is vital to call for global targets to reduce GBV to measure progress and promote accountability.
It is our commitment to use the learning from the review to work more effectively to end GBV through CARE’s future actions. The report also intends to increase CARE’s accountability to governments and civil societies based on its program evidence. We believe strongly in the importance of transparency regarding our achievements, as well as our limitations. We feel that this openness will enhance our relevance and legitimacy, and ultimately improve the future quality and impact of our work, which is so vital given the scale of GBV.
“What are you saying – that being violent is something we inherit? Isn’t it something that we develop? This Bosnian teenage boy said it clearly. We all have a role to play in ensuring that we can build a world where everyone can live and thrive safely and free of violence. CARE is firmly committed to fighting poverty, injustice and violence.
by Ed Boydell, CARE Australia’s Climate Change Advisor
Today is World Environment Day. For the 7,000 people living on Nissan Island, a small coral atoll in the north-east of Papua New Guinea (PNG), it is a day of special significance.
World Environment Day is a call to action, a reminder of our shared responsibility for protecting the planet. This year, the day is highlighting the impact that the climate change is having on small islands, where the poorest depend on a fragile environment for food and water. Climate change is adding to the challenges for the people who call small islands home.
The people on Nissan Island, part of the Autonomous Bougainville Region of PNG, are no strangers to these challenges. Nissan is surrounded by ocean as far as the eye can see. A five-hour boat trip away from mainland Bougainville Island, it is a beautiful but challenging place to call home. The low-lying island has limited fertile land, and is exposed to fierce storms and drought.
When I recently travelled to Nissan, I met Helen Kemito, a 48-year-old mother-of-five, and grandmother-of-four. She told me of the impact the increasingly unpredictable weather is having on her family’s lives.
With no access to reliable transport on and off the island, the people of Nissan depend almost solely on the island environment itself for food. They fish and grow garden crops such as taro, yam and cassava, along with fruits such as bananas, pawpaw and coconut. In the past decade, however, they have noticed increasing variation in the weather. Heavy rain falls in short periods, rotting vegetables and stripping the blossoms off fruit trees. Conversely, prolonged periods without rain are equally damaging to crops and bush foods. Sea spray is blowing further inland on strong winds, and heavier king tides bring salt further into their gardens than the people of Nissan have ever seen, severely damaging crops.
With support from CARE, Helen has led a small group of Nissan Islanders aiming to address some of the impacts they are already seeing from a changing climate. Part of an Australian Government initiative to ensure families continue to have enough food in the face of a changing climate, men and women on Nissan and neighbouring Pinipel islands are learning new agricultural, water and food storage techniques, and are building their skills to better prepare for disasters. Many families on Nissan have already built nurseries to trial new gardening and agriculture methods and are sharing their knowledge and seedlings among their community.
In the face of an uncertain future, today’s World Environment Day is an opportunity for many hundreds of communities in Australia’s neighbourhood to share their knowledge and experience in tackling a changing climate. With relatively small populations, the women and men of islands like Nissan have done little to contribute to climate change, but the reality of their circumstance means they’re on the front line of dealing with its impact.
Since the beginning of the crisis, almost 1.4 million South Sudanese have been displaced, of whom about 360,000 people have fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. Up to 87,000 people are sheltering in U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compounds in the country. Due to insecurity and displacement, many people are unable to farm, access their normal food sources or migrate with their livestock. More than 20 per cent of the population was undernourished before the current crisis and deadly epidemic outbreaks are frequent and spread easily.
CARE supported health facilities continue to operate in both Jonglei and Unity states, treating hundreds of people wounded in the conflict on top of the usual case load dominated by malaria, gastrointestinal illnesses, respiratory infections and sexual and reproductive health services. CARE is providing Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH) and nutrition services to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Bentiu’s Protection of Civilian (PoC) and WASH and protection services to displaced people in Malakal’s PoC.
At the end of March, CARE completed a WASH project in the Eastern Equatoria town of Nimule, on the border with Uganda. Through this project, CARE assisted over 9,000 people with Gender Based Violence (GBV) prevention activities among displaced communities. CARE food security and livelihoods projects are getting off the ground in Jonglei’s Twic East, Duk and Uror counties.
CARE’s crisis response in Unity State has so far reached a total of 16,064 people directly, including 13,392 with health services, 1,900 with WASH and 2,445 with nutrition in two PoCs.
In Timor-Leste, CARE is producing educational magazines and radio broadcasts to help communities with literacy, numeracy and life skills.
Lafaek is the only educational publication in Timor-Leste in the local language, Tetun, and covers topics like geography, language, health, culture and science, and issues such as peace, international affairs and women’s rights.
CARE has been producing and distributing Lafaek magazines in Timor-Leste since 2000, starting the publication as a Child Rights magazine after the 1999 Referendum for Independence.
Five times a year between 2004 and 2009, CARE distributed 327,000 copies, reaching over 280,000 students nationwide.
Throughout Timor-Leste, every class and teacher in grades one to nine received issues of Lafaek from 2005 to 2009 thanks to an exceptional distribution network including field officers on motorbike and horseback reaching the remotest of regions.
Response to Lafaek has been tremendous:
- 96% of teachers attested to the importance and popularity of the Lafaek magazines and reported using them to teach, emphasising that they were the only locally created, locally relevant, consistent curriculum support – and the only educational materials ‘that work’
- 99% of teachers stated that Lafaek supported children’s learning in basic literacy, languages, natural and social sciences, health, geography, history and civic education
- 86% of teachers used Lafaek for lesson plans, curriculum content, ideas for activities and their own professional development
- 91% of children in grades five to nine said they were learning from Lafaek
- 79% of children said they also used the magazines at home
- Parents were equally enthusiastic, saying that the magazine helped them to increase their knowledge and to have a better grasp of what their children were learning
The magazine has taken different forms over the years and the Lafaek team are currently distributing Lafaek ba Komunidade (Lafaek Community Magazine) which teaches and informs communities, adults with low literacy skills and children through colourful, innovative and informative articles.
Lafaek’s printed materials and community radio broadcasts target literacy and numeracy, civic education, agriculture, small business management, health and hygiene.
When Daw Than Lwin and her husband were diagnosed with HIV in 2000, the discrimination she faced from her family and friends was as heart-breaking as her diagnosis.
Her family distanced themselves from her due to the stigma of the illness, and she nursed her husband on her own until he died in 2003.
‘In rural areas [of Myanmar], people with HIV just give up on life. There is a lack of awareness and services. Even if they know their status they just go back to their village and die,’ she explains.
But that was 14 years ago, and Daw Than Lwin says that today, there is no longer such a strong fear of infection.‘Before, there was a lot of discrimination but since then a lot has changed. Now people in the community look after people with HIV.’
She has helped to create this change, as a leader of a CARE-supported self-help group for people who are HIV positive.
‘Since taking Anti-Retro Virus medication, my health has improved,’ she says. ‘I like volunteer work because I’m helping people in the same situation as me.’
Daw Than Lwin’s group consists of 13 women and one man. They sew bags, school uniforms and other clothes to sell and the profits are used to support their children’s school fees and healthcare costs. They also support each other and refer patients from outside the group to services.
‘I’m very happy to help people in a similar situation to myself. I can provide for the needs of the members and their children. It’s very satisfying.’
CARE supports the groups with counselling, nutrition and medical support, and training in new skills and support networks to earn an income.
‘If I hadn’t received CARE support I would be poor and depressed. There would be no self-help group,’ she says.
Daw Than Lwin’s family’s attitude has also changed since she has become a group leader.
‘I get more respect from the community. People depend on me. I am encouraged to do more volunteer work.’
Daw Than Lwin’s group does a lot for their community, including supporting and contributing to treatment costs for people with HIV, running a nutrition program for children, providing school supplies and organising sewing training.
‘We want to support other group members who are not able to work, and who are lying in bed, as much as possible. Our aim is for people living with HIV to be healthy and happy.’
CARE Australia has welcomed the Government’s commitment to women and girls’ empowerment in the Australian aid program, following the announcement of a new initiative to strengthen women’s trade opportunities in Asia-Pacific.
Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja, today announced the initiative – which will strengthen trade promotion of women exporters across the region – during the APEC Women and the Economy Forum in Beijing.
‘Access to economic opportunities increases a woman’s sense of pride, purpose and decision-making power. Initiatives such as this are to be commended, as they recognise the critical role women’s empowerment plays in the region’s economic development,’ said Jenny Clement, CARE Australia’s Country Programs Manager.
‘By investing in programs that provide economic opportunities for women, not only will the region’s women be better able to meet their own needs but the entire region will benefit with increased productivity and fewer families living in poverty.’
In APEC countries including Papua New Guinea, CARE works with coffee companies and growers to increase productivity and strengthen family business management practices so that men and women from coffee farming families can work together to grow their income.
Ms Clement said the benefits of creating economic opportunities such as these for some of the world’s poorest women were immense.
‘When a woman does not have the same level of participation as her partner, not only does she miss out; so does her country. The Asia-Pacific region – our region – loses between $42 and $47 billion each year because of restrictions on women’s employment.
‘If women had the same access to farming supplies as men, for example, the agricultural output in 34 of the world’s poorest countries would increase significantly, leading to an estimated 150 million fewer people going hungry each day.’
Ms Clement added that while the statement from Ambassador Stott Despoja was recognition of the value of investing in women’s economic development, it was being made on the back of a $7.6 billion cut – almost 10 per cent – to Australia’s aid program over the coming five years.
‘While we welcome this demonstration of the Government’s commitment to women and girls, the reality of cuts to foreign aid means that fewer families living in extreme poverty will be able to see the benefit of initiatives such as this.’
by Robert Glasser, CARE International Secretary General
Three years ago, the world witnessed the birth of a new nation, as the people of South Sudan united in eager, hopeful anticipation. People sang independence songs, and a huge clock in the centre of Juba, the capital, counted down the days. Today, the picture is quite different. The head of our South Sudan office describes a nightmarish, “soul-destroying” situation: never in her 20-year career has she had to sit by and watch people near starvation – with not enough funding to do anything about it.
Since conflict broke out in December between the government and opposition, we have seen a wave of violent attacks, rapes and fighting that have plunged the fledgling country into chaos and led its people to the brink of a catastrophic food crisis.
Again, the world is watching – but we aren’t doing enough to stop what is already a humanitarian catastrophe, which will become much worse unless immediate action is taken. There are two clear steps that need to be taken immediately: an end to the violence and a lasting political solution to the crisis; and up-front funding commitments from the international community to meet the immense humanitarian needs in South Sudan. AUD $1.35 billion is needed now to prevent the worst, but barely more than a third of that has been raised. If the total funding isn’t provided now, the ultimate cost of the emergency response will only grow. We know from experience that prevention costs much less than a full-blown emergency response.
The human cost of inaction is stark. More than 1 million people have fled their homes within South Sudan, finding shelter in the bush or in the perceived safety of United Nations compounds across the country. More than 300,000 others have become refugees in neighbouring countries. Thousands have been killed, and the UN has recently said there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed.
Heavy fighting and the onset of the rainy season have cut off the few existing roads, leaving tens of thousands without any assistance at all. Planes full of aid and humanitarian workers cannot land because airstrips are under water or blocked by fighting. Worse, the armed conflict raging across half the country prevented farmers from planting seeds in time for the planting season, and now not enough crops will grow to feed the country in the coming year, leading to warnings from the UN of a potential famine in several states.
If the world does not act, if the conflict does not end, more people will die – from violence, or from hunger. And an insidious, lesser-known evil will grow: sexual violence and exploitation. Research being released by CARE to coincide with the Oslo conference shows that the escalation in the conflict has been accompanied by a rise in sexual violence, largely against women and girls, and our experience tells us this situation will worsen if the conflict continues.
CARE staff in South Sudan are receiving reports of women and girls being raped and killed in the bush or in hospitals and churches where they have sought shelter. Women are selling themselves for sex in exchange for access to drinking water for themselves and their families. Parents are offering their young daughters as child brides in return for a dowry or to ease the burden of feeding an extra person. I was sickened to hear that one woman interviewed referred to another woman who had been raped as ‘lucky’, because it could have been worse – other women were raped and then killed.
In the face of the overwhelming need in South Sudan, the issue of sexual violence might seem peripheral – but sexual violence is a symptom of a broader societal breakdown. If the violence does not stop, the repercussions of unpunished rapes and assaults will haunt the South Sudanese for years. We have seen this in other conflicts around the world.
CARE is supporting more than 40 health clinics across the country, including in the areas worst affected by the fighting, providing first aid, food and water alongside maternal health services. But it is a fraction of what is needed. We are watching as families eat leaves from the trees in a desperate effort to survive. This is simply unacceptable.
As the world’s attention is stretched by other crises and world events, the Oslo conference is a tangible opportunity to help South Sudan. If we act now, we can prevent the worst, and help the people of South Sudan return to a more hopeful path.
- Dr Robert Glasser was Chief Executive of CARE Australia from 2003 to 2007. He is currently Secretary General of CARE International.
by Robert Yallop, Principal Executive – International Operations, CARE Australia
In the lead up to last night’s budget, the overwhelming message was of a ‘tough budget’; that Australia’s balance sheet is in dire straits.
The reality is that if the Government does have a budget problem, it is not due to spending on foreign aid. Aid represents just over one per cent of the Australian Government’s spending. In effect, just 34 cents for every $100 of Australian income is spent on supporting our neighbours, far less than similarly-sized economies such as the UK (72 cents for every $100), Netherlands (67 cents) and Denmark (85 cents).
The Government has broken a clear pre- and post-election promise to keep aid funding in line with the Consumer Price Index. However what makes last night’s announcement of a $7.6 billion, five-year cut to Australia’s aid program so disappointing is that unlike many other areas, foreign aid has been subject to a series of consistent and heavy cuts since 2012.
Based on the details that were released last night, this is a 9.7 per cent cut to Australia’s aid efforts over the coming five years, while the Government’s spending is projected to increase by 9.3 per cent over the same period. In short, while many sectors are now reeling from the cuts that were announced last night, foreign aid has already been taking many hits. While not a knock-out, this is a particularly heavy blow.
The impact will be felt on the ground in some of Australia’s poorest neighbours like Cambodia and Timor-Leste, as our work faces the reality of shrinking funding.
Yet some people are asking why we should worry about foreign aid at a time when many Australians are struggling. It is a fair question. The answer is that we can do both. Australia remains one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We can support those doing it tough at home while still helping many of the poorest people in Asia-Pacific. We do not have to choose between the two.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has spoken of aid as an ‘investment’, and one in which ‘we must see a return.(1)’ At CARE Australia, we could not agree more. The return that comes from investing in aid drives our work to tackle poverty and injustice.
CARE’s evidence shows that if you support one woman out of poverty, she will bring four others with her. Those five people, lifted out of poverty, will be able to earn an income, raise healthier families and contribute to the growth of their country’s economy.
The knock-on effects for Australia are significant. As the number of people living in poverty in our region reduces, the region becomes more prosperous and more secure, with lasting economic opportunities such as trade and investment. That’s a five-for-one investment with an outstanding return for Australia.
On pure numbers, five-for-one would make any investor happy. That’s what makes last night’s $7.6 billion cut so disappointing.
By Amelia Taylor, CARE Australia
As a mother of two boys in Timor-Leste, Juvita is naturally proud of her children’s achievements, but none more so than the progress they are making on their CARE growth chart.
Every month, Juvita attends a CARE-supported government health post in Balibo, Timor-Leste, with her husband and two boys, three-year-old Antonio* and seven-month-old Julio*. Here, the boys are measured, weighed and their growth is plotted against their records for the past three years.
Today, Antonio* tips the scales at 13 kilograms, while little Julio* is a healthy eight kilograms. In a country with high infant and child mortality, and where half the children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, Juvita is thrilled with their results.
Should the boys fall from the green and into the yellow warning part of their growth chart, CARE refers children to government health workers who provide supplementary feeding. The boys also receive immunisations at the centre, and basic health checks.
‘I feel better now,’ explains Juvita, ‘because I can get some information on health and bring my children to get treatment, get a check up and get medication if they need it. The children are healthier than before.’
Juvita herself also benefits from the centre. As a pregnant and then breastfeeding woman, she has her weight monitored with similar supplementary feeding available if required.
She has also learnt information vital to her young family’s health from the CARE-trained community health volunteers at the centre. These community members speak to the group of around 100 people at the monthly sessions about different health risks and how to reduce them – including malaria, malnutrition and anemia.
‘I have learnt to use a mosquito net, drink clean boiled water and to wash our hands. These things have made my family healthier,’ Juvita says.
She appreciates learning the information from a familiar local community member who is aware of local traditions and concerns.
‘The health volunteers provide education and a lot of information about health to the community. They are well trained giving these messages. I like the advice being provided by them.’
The benefits for this family are evident, not only from the boys’ growth charts but also from the proud smile on Juvita’s face as she looks at her youngest son sleeping peacefully in her arms.
*CARE is committed to being a child safe organisation. Names of children have been changed.
Nyakuic brings her baby to CARE’s mobile clinic, set up under a tree in the dirt yard of Bentiu’s Catholic church. Twelve-month old Kuang* alternately tries to breast feed and cries. She is suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
‘I don’t have enough food for myself,’ Nyakuic says.
‘I can’t produce enough milk for the baby. We used to have cows for milk, but because of the fighting they took the cows off to someplace where they would be safe.’
Not so the women and children.
‘Woman have assumed most of the burden for caring for families at a time when many of them are essentially homeless, they are at risk of violence and the food situation in South Sudan is getting to a critical level,’ says CARE Country Director Aimee Ansari.
‘In some places where we are going to distribute seed and farm tools so people can plant food crops, we have to figure out how to feed people first because they are too weak to work the land.’
CARE staff give Nyakuic packets of rehydration therapy powder and a referral to CARE’s nutrition clinic for malnourished children in a UN base in Bentiu. The therapy provided there is basic but effective at reversing an otherwise debilitating and often fatal condition.
Later that night and all the next morning, the neighbouring towns of Bentiu and Rubkona are in a panic over rumours of an impending attack. There is a steady stream of people walking down the dirt road with whatever possessions they can carry toward the UN base in Benitu, which has set up a protection of civilians area (PoC) filled with makeshift shelters covered with white tarps provided by the humanitarian community.
The people of Bentiu have been moving in and out of this PoC area for months now, as the town changed hands several times between government and opposition forces. Each time, human rights abuses are experienced by those civilians unfortunate enough to be caught in the town.
CARE is supporting displaced people, providing nursing and clinical personnel, sanitation facilities and a communal kitchen. The last occupation of Bentiu occurred in mid-April, boosting the PoC population from around 8,000 to over 22,000. Hundreds more are streaming into the compound as a result of the latest threat, and CARE is working to build additional toilets and deploying health workers.
CARE is also hard at work reaching out to the hundreds of thousands of people displaced and in desperate need throughout the northern region of South Sudan, where a brutal conflict has raged for more than four months. At least 1.3 million people, more than 10 percent of the population, have been displaced from their homes and livelihoods.
CARE has been in the most affected areas of the country for more than 15 years, providing health care and helping people restore their life by providing seed and farming tools, repairing water wells and helping with sanitation facilities.
The situation in Bentiu has been so unpredictable and dangerous that CARE’s activities have been largely confined to the UN base and its PoC. CARE medical staff venture out of the UN compound when it is safe enough to go into town and for townspeople to venture out for medical treatment.
The mobile clinic consists of a handful of clinical and support staff, basic diagnostic tools, boxes of medicines and plastic tables and chairs which can be hastily assembled under a tree, or quickly packed into the back of a utility vehicle and hauled back to the UN base.
With rumours of approaching troops, townspeople have to make a choice: run for the bush and the relative safety of remote villages or head for the PoC. Because she had not been living on the UN compound, staff wonder which direction Nyakuic will run. If she heads back into the bush chances are, without proper therapy, her little girl will not long survive.
*CARE is committed be being a child safe organisation. Names of children have been changed.
by Roslyn Boatman, CARE Australia
In a sprawling garment factory in an industrial estate outside of Hanoi, Luyen, Van and Nhien take a break from their busy work at a GAP clothing factory. These young women are bright and confident – a new generation of women who are not only working, but also standing up for their rights, and for themselves.
All three are part of CARE’s PACE project (Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement, in partnership with GAP Inc.), which works with employees in factories throughout Vietnam to improve their confidence, self esteem and health education. Already, CARE has seen that the women taking part in the project have improved awareness of basic life skills such as decision-making, problem-solving and health knowledge, which in the long-term will lead to better career advancement and allow them to stand up for their rights in their professional and personal life.
While the project is only in its early stages, Luyen, the youngest of the group, says she has already benefited from what she has learnt.
‘I can apply many things into my life, and I have more confidence in my work and with my friends,’ she says. ‘I am more confident because I have learnt communications skills and I have gained more experience and I know more about problem solving.’
Health awareness is also an integral part of the project; equipping young women with knowledge they previously had very little access to.
‘Before, we only knew about health through the newspaper and the internet, but through this project we have gained knowledge about life skills and reproductive health. This information is very important to me,’ Luyen says.
Van, a mother of three who has been working in the factory for three years, agrees that the knowledge and skills she has learnt have played a hugely positive role in not only her work, but in every facet of her life.
‘I learnt a lot through the project. I can apply the skills in my life and I can also teach them to my children. Previously, I was very scared. I never had contact with my manager, but now I am more confident and I can speak to them. My salary used to be very low, and then I told my boss that I have been working here for more than two years and my salary is still low and I got a higher allowance. My family was in a hard position but now my income is very stable.’
by Roslyn Boatman, CARE Australia
Trieu, part of a vulnerable ethnic minority in her village, received training from CARE in bio-safe chicken feeding in 2009. After convincing others to join in the project, they formed a group who received a small loan and invested the money in equipment and 50 small chicks. Today, from such humble beginnings, the group is the key provider of young chicks to the entire region and can now earn a steady income.
A tiny room at the front of a home in northern Vietnam has been transformed into a classroom, and Trieu, a small woman with abundant energy and enthusiasm, is the teacher. A crowd of people sit on the floor in front of her eagerly participating in her training session. For many, she is the only teacher they have ever known and the information she is sharing with them has the potential to change their lives, just like it changed hers.
Today, the topic is how to raise chickens. These skills will allow the participants to be more effective in their animal-raising, improve their livelihoods and give them the ability to build a better future for their families. It may sound simple enough, but the effects these skills can have on their day-to-day lives is significant.
In 2009, Trieu, part of a vulnerable ethnic minority in her village, had her first training from CARE in bio-safe chicken feeding and convinced other members in her village to be part of the project’s first pilot group. The group received a small loan, invested the money in the necessary equipment and 50 small chicks. They received invaluable knowledge and skills about how to make the most of this opportunity.
‘Previously, we were poor farmers and it was hard for us to get a job and earn money. We had the materials but we didn’t know the techniques to be productive. When the project came into the village, we saw it was very useful and we were provided with information on how to raise chickens,’ she says.
Today, from such humble beginnings, this group is the key provider of young chicks to the entire region and can now earn a steady income.
‘I am very happy when I see the impact because now we can become rich on our own land. We don’t have to go outside our village to earn money. Previously, many women had to go to a foreign country to earn money but now they can stay and work at home and look after their children at the same time, so I am very happy.
‘With the project, after three months I raised 50 chickens and my income increased. CARE came here with the project and now I can support my children to go to school – in fact two of them are now studying at university.’
Trieu was selected to become a community leader and now leads her community through example.
‘A very important change here is the thinking of people towards women. Take me as an example. I passed the university entrance exam but I couldn’t go because my family didn’t allow me, I had to stay in the village. But now there are big changes in other people’s perceptions and now I can do many more things if I want.
‘Other women in the community have more confidence too. Before, they could not come to this kind of training, but now their husbands support them.
‘I think we can improve the thinking of the community – the thinking and the way of doing things can be changed. I think we should dare to think and dare to do.’