Meddie*, 11 years old, escaped his home because of the constant beatings. His mother Ritah* is a single mother of four who works as a street vendor and earns about $41/month to support her family.
“ She used to beat me for playing too much, when I was eating the maize that was left at night, or because I was not doing work at home!” remembers Meddie.
Meddie lived on the streets for two days and endured more beatings, coldness and the constant search for food. The following day, Meddie went to Retrak center. Retrak is a local partner of AVSI for the Family Resilience (FARE) project implemented by AVSI and funded by the ASPIRES project of FHI360. Meddie had heard of the center from a peer.
When Meddie arrived at Club House, one of Retrak’s centers, all he had eaten since leaving his home was a chapatti and beans. At the center, he was reserved and had a hard time making friends. When asked about his home location and his family, he had a negative attitude and was reluctant to answer. It was only with time and through different rehabilitative programs that the center offers that Meddie started opening up and sharing. Through life skill lessons, counseling, and story sharing, Meddie began to look at his life in a more positive way.
Meddie, started making friends, getting along with others, doing chores and learning how to communicate. The center helped Meddie identify and learn positive ways of dealing with his problems and making decisions. Eventually, the Retrak counselors began to ask about his interest in going back home.
“I need to go home and apologize to my mother, she lives alone and I am sure that she has no one to leave my siblings with when I am not home,” concluded Meddie.
FARE is centered on the process of reintegration; of bringing families back together. In order to reintegrate a child with his family, the family is first located and the child brought back to the family. While the family is initially being reunited, the social workers help mend the wrong done, helping the family and child accept each other again. The social workers also ensure that it is a safe environment for the child. This is a process of healing and restoring relationships. The reintegration of the child in school is also an important aspect. While the children are in the centers, waiting for the process of family reintegration, they receive life skills lessons and “catch up” classes to help them bridge the gap and not get too far behind in school.
In Meddie’s case, his mother came to pick him up from the center, after having reported a disappearance case to the Nabweru police that managed to trace Meddie at Retrak center. His mother broke into tears when she saw him. Meddie, upon seeing his mother, immediately knelt down in tears saying, “Mummy I am very sorry, I am asking for your forgiveness and acceptance back home.” Ritah confessed that one night when she was looking for Meddie in the slums, she got a tip-off from other children, who came and slept late at night on the streets. That same night, the police rescued her from men who were going to rape her.
After they were reunited, Ritah received Meddie with love and promised to take good care of him. She warned him about the negative influence of peers and urged him to always be disciplined back at home.
Part of the reunification process are the follow up visits done by social workers to ensure a good situation for the child and the family. Meddie was first followed up in March 2016, and the social worker continued family dialogues on parenting with Meddie’s family. Yet, Meddie was not in school so Retrak agreed with Ritah to cost share the school fees. Meddie was placed in Abbey Foundation Primary School in Nabwery in Primary Four.
On the recent follow up on August 2016, the social workers found Meddie in school at Abbey Foundation Primary School. The teachers reported that the child is well disciplined; he cares for others and currently is the head prefect at school. His mother Ritah confirmed his accomplishments and stated that his behavior was very good.
Meddie’s story is one of many. Every week, children find their ways to Retrak and other local partners like COWA and after receiving life skills lessons, counseling and the correct assistance and attention, they can finally rediscover their path. Through finding the family, allowing for a good reunification and with the power of follow-up visits and individualized support, the project ensures continual family dialogues on parenting, respect and child welfare. The family situation is looked after more closely and guided towards being economically strengthened and sustainable.
* all names have been changed for privacy reasons
In ten simple points, we explain how the Syria conflict has damaged the country’s health system, why millions of people no longer have access to treatment and care and how you can help change this through AVSI’s campaign Operations Open Hospitals.
1. What is happening in Syria:
Since 2011, Syria has been shaken by conflict that has resulted in what UNHCR has described as “the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time.” In 2016, the UN agency estimated that 13.5 million people, including 6 million children, were in need of humanitarian assistance. Almost 9 million people live every day hungry or with food insecurity (fear of going hungry) as a daily part of life because they don’t have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.
2. The collapse of the health system
After nearly six years of war, the Syrian health system is collapsing. According to UN OCHA current figures, an astounding 11.5 million Syrians, including nearly 5 million children, do not have access to health care. In Damascus, at least 1.5 million of people don’t have access to hospitals, and in Aleppo the number reaches 2.2 million.
3. Lack of health care personnel
The critical condition is growing mainly because of the chronic shortage of human and material resources. It is estimated that 55% of the public hospitals and 49% of the health community centers are closed or only partially functional. The health infrastructures still in place are in critical condition since it is difficult to access electricity, fuel and drinking water. In addition, more than 658 people who used to work in these structures have been killed since the beginning of the crisis.
Of the Syrian medical personnel, only about 45% are left and active in the country. This is due to the massive migration, which includes many Syrians, and leaves a great gap of available personnel and specialists able to respond to the growing demand of care.
The lack of midwives, among others, is an example that illustrates the collapse of the country’s health system. Today in Syria, there are about 300,000 pregnant women that are not able to receive appropriate pre-natal treatment.4. Lack of medicines/drugs
Many pharmaceutical companies and drugs storage centers have been destroyed. The infrastructures that were not affected have also stopped working with regularity due to the serious shortage of skilled human resources and raw materials.
The lack of drugs and medical equipment affects all the population, but in particular puts at risk the health, and in some cases the life, of people suffering from chronic diseases, and who need continuous care and treatment.
From the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 to 2013, life expectancy in Syria fell by six years. In 2010, men and women were expected to live to 75 and 80 respectively, but the estimate changed in 2013 to only until 69 and 75 by 2013. Infant deaths in the country rose by 9.1% over the same period.
5. Embargoes and sanctions on Syria
Embargoes and sanctions on Syria only aggravate more the situation. Officially, the restrictions shouldn’t affect humanitarian aid but, in reality, sanctions have prevented the entry of essential medical supplies and of spare parts to fix medical equipment into the country. Given the possible double use (health and military), these supplies and equipment are not allowed to enter the country.
6. The economic difficulties of health
The lack of contributions, both public and private, makes it almost impossible for hospitals to respond adequately to the needs of the entire population. The poorest are the most affected because they are not able to bear the costs of proper medical treatment.
7. Epidemic risk
The basic health services in serious conditions and the difficulties to access clean water, energy and sanitation services might lead Syria into an outbreak of diseases linked to water.
8. Working to face the crisis
This year, responding to an appeal made by the current Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari, AVSI Foundation has decided to support economically the work of 3 private non-profit hospitals in Syria. Two are located in Damascus and the other one in Aleppo.
9. The three hospitals supported in Syria
AVSI will raise funds for The Italian Hospital and St. Louis Hospital, in Damascus, and for the St. Louis Hospital in Aleppo. These three health centers were chosen because they have the ability to offer high-level services in all medical specializations.
Currently, these three hospitals are operating at half their capacity, in spite of the growing need of the population in both cities. AVSI’s project aims to increase the availability of bed space by 90%, increase the access to free health care services for patients who cannot afford them, establish a Social Services office to assess and guarantee access to treatment and care to those most in need, and update the information and technology systems of the hospitals by acquiring necessary equipment and training staff accordingly.
10. What can I do to help?
With your donation, we can support those who are in Syria working closely with the population in order to meet the most immediate needs of the innocent victims of this senseless war. AVSI launched a campaign to help three non-profit and private hospitals in Aleppo and Damascus in order to guarantee access to health to the poorest, the children, the single mothers and the wounded.
If you donate $50 today, we will be able to take care of one patient for one day. But mainly we will be able to give this person hope and the priceless notion that he/she is not facing this war alone.
Help us. Donate now to Syria.
Interview originally published on Il Corriere della Sera
By Marta Serafini
In the last few weeks, humanitarian agencies have warned of the danger of a new disaster in Mosul. What do you expect?
We know that Isis is using civilians as human shields in the city. But there is also the risk that displaced people might remain trapped in the strip of land between the two military camps. This is why, since the beginning, AVSI has made an appeal to all Christian organizations to develop an operational plan that covers the first phase of an emergency.
There are over 200,000 refugees fleeing and more than 55,000 have already arrived, but there is only space for 60,000 in the camps…
Yes. And we should also keep in mind that in the last two years at least 400,000 people fled from Mosul and from neighboring areas. The newly displaced people are going to complicate an already tragic scenario. It may sound cynical to say but for Iraq the humanitarian emergency is now a routine.
Where the first displaced people coming from Mosul will be received?
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has prepared an emergency plan with 27 new refugee camps, which will be coordinated by their office in Erbil. The first areas to be affected will be the Southern and the South East of Mosul. But this is _ as the United Nations officials have explained _ a partial plan.
Unicef has also launched an alert regarding the children. They are particularly concern about the mines that Isis will leave behind, as they did in Falluja. Do you think this will make it difficult for the refugees to return?
Absolutely. When we first heard about the new conflict, many of the children that come to our nurseries, which we manage with the Dominican Sisters, wanted to know if they will be able to go back home. But it’s obvious that the return will be more complicated because of Isis’s mines and possible retaliation. In addition, there will be more tension between different ethnic and religious groups. This is why we think that the time has come to stop teaching children only English, as it’s currently happening in the camps. Perhaps we should consider the idea that Kurds should learn Arabic and vice versa. We can only avoid hatred, if we know each other.
By Fiammetta Cappellini
Despite all our efforts and the endless days of work two weeks after Hurricane Matthew violently struck Haiti and left 750,000 people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, we are still facing an emergency situation. We struggle, powerless, facing this enormous disaster. There are no houses, schools or bridges. Nothing works. We have no power, no Internet, no water or infrastructures. And, more importantly, there is no food.
The rain stopped, but the soaked ground no longer absorbs anything. Filthy water that becomes black mud mixed with broken branches covers the ground. Huge trees clutter the streets of the major cities or lie in the fields, as if they had been ripped from the soil by the hand of a giant.
The exceptional sea storm that accompanied the hurricane swept the coast for hours and days. Haiti’s white beaches have disappeared, and the restaurants along the sea were swallowed up by the waves. A pierced boat is still enthroned in the middle of a street in the center of Les Cayes, more than 500 meters from the pier.
Surrounded by a landscape similar to the one seen in the movie The Day After, we struggle. Disoriented and incredulous, we can’t get used to this devastation. AVSI’s staff is waiting for the World Food Programme (WFP) truck that is bringing 300 tons of food, which will then be distributed to nearly 20,000 families, the most vulnerable families of Les Cayes. While part of AVSI’s staff was waiting to unload the bags and prepare the rations, the rest of us was visiting the communities to prepare the distribution.
There is not enough food for everyone, so we must decide who needs it most and we have to come to an agreement. After exhausting discussions with mayors and religious leaders, and after distributing thousands of passes, we are finally ready: 19,900 families will receive a monthly ration of rice, beans and oil. We now have a month to think about the next steps.
Along the road, we see houses wrecked by fallen trees; the river remains high carrying mud and debris. There are almost no roofs in place. Two weeks after the hurricane, we are still surrounded by water everywhere. Yet, the sun shines high in the sky and the temperature reaches almost 95 degrees.
We stop at the University of Agriculture that has been our partner for the last 18 years. The director is waiting for us, smiling despite the situation. He shows us the damage and once more, we feel powerless in the face of destruction. The university’s premises were not affected, but the new laboratory, not yet open to the students, suffered serious damages.
The experimental farm, where young agronomists practice their skills, is devastated: there are no trees standing, the cultures were swept away and the space where students were breeding chickens and rabbits was completely destroyed. I cannot even say where the greenhouse was: it has been completely erased.
The University doesn’t event seem to be the place I knew. When we reached the library, we found more devastation. The hurricane has torn and thrown away the windows, and has flooded the premises with water. Most books are lost. On the balcony, a handful of students are at work: they lay the books in the sun, and then turn the pages so they don’t stick together. The students put the books back in the sun to dry with a rock on top so they don’t fly away.
They are tired, and they still don’t know when the courses will resume. Yet, the books are precious and they cannot be lost. So, while the students wait for the University to reopen, they spread the books out in the sun to dry.
This is Haiti. You can shake its foundations with one of the worst earthquakes in History. You can inundate its lands and sweep away its houses with a very violent hurricane, but the country will always find a way to get back on its feet. Haiti will only find a place from which to start again, from where to start rebuilding. I don’t know where Haitians find this strength, this determination. But they are like that. They sit under the mercilessly Caribbean sun, turning the pages of a book lying in the sun to dry, surrounded by a devastated landscape. They firmly believe that the book will dry. Despite everything, they believe that tomorrow life will be better.
ON OCTOBER 14, 2016, AVSI CELEBRATED 30 YEARS OF ACTIVITIES IN KENYA. AUTHORITIES, GUESTS FROM ITALY, SWITZERLAND AND UGANDA, PARTNERS, TEACHERS, PARENTS AND STUDENTS OF LITTLE PRINCE PRIMARY SCHOOL, AVSI STAFF AND FRIENDS GATHERED TO CELEBRATE THE IMPORTANT OCCASION. AVSI REPRESENTATIVE IN THE COUNTRY ANDREA BIANCHESSI OPENED THE EVENT WITH THE FOLLOWING SPEECH:
by Andrea Bianchessi, AVSI Representative in Kenya
"I would like to briefly highlight how AVSI is planning to face some key challenges in Kenya in the next years.
First of all, our approach is based on the conviction that we are living an epochal change, as Pope Francis realistically recognized, based on the many challenges the world, but also Kenya, has to face. These challenges range from the movement of migrants and refugees, radicalization and terrorist attacks, political instability in East and Central Africa with new or protracted crisis like in Somalia, South Sudan and Burundi, youth unemployment and the rapid growth of cities to the lack of basic services in many areas of the country, either in the slums or rural areas, and including a lack of electricity that is so important for education and the development of business. To this list, I would like to add as Pope Francis had pointed out during his visit to Kenya last year: tribalism, corruption, destruction of the environment and radicalization.
Yet, although there are many challenges, Kenya has a lot of opportunities: economic development, construction of infrastructure including roads and railways, deep interconnection with the global economy, the wide-spread use of mobile phones, and social capital expressed in many SACCO (save and credit cooperative). Kenya is also demonstrating leadership in the East Africa region, as Nairobi is an international and regional hub of some important UN agencies.
In front of these challenges, we have defined the next steps for AVSI in Kenya in the coming years, in partnership with all of you:
The question remains: How are we going to reach this?
Thanks, asantenisana, grazie!
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