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Relief International is excited to announce its participation in The Girl’s Education Challenge (GEC), a fund set up by the UK government to tackle the barriers to girl’s learning in some of the world’s poorest countries. As one of a number of organisation working to improve girl’s education through the fund, Relief International’s work will focus on improving learning outcomes for girls in Somalia.
Somalia is one of the poorest and most insecure countries in the world, having suffered decades of civil war, unrest and famine. Girls have been amongst the hardest hit, with opportunities for an education and livelihood limited by a wide range of social, economic, political, and cultural barriers. School attendance for the average girl in Somalia is consequently a mere two years, with only 5% of Somali girls enrolled in secondary school and literacy amongst girls aged 15 – 24 years at less than a quarter.
Over many years of working in education in Somalia, Relief International has seen that by simply educating girls, they get a chance at a better life.
We know that when girls receive a longer education, they tend to marry up to four years later, have two fewer children, and are 50% more likely to immunize their children; benefits that improve each individual girl’s life chances, but also improve the life of the community and society as well.
For instance, international evidence is clear that when female farmers are educated, crop yields rise. When 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases an average of about 3%. When women are educated and empowered, democratic institutions are more likely to flourish.
These are just some of the reasons everyone at Relief International is so excited to begin supporting girls in Somalia to get educated. We are confident that by improving girls’ education, Somalia stands a better chance of becoming a more stable and peaceful place to live for all Somalis.
With the support of UK taxpayers, we will be helping 35,000 girls aged 6 to 19 over the next three years. We will be focusing on girls from urban poor, rural, and internally displaced communities. Within these communities, our project will pay special attention the most vulnerable girls by working closely with both formal and informal schools, improving standards and focusing on results.
We are confident that by enrolling more girls in school, inspiring them to stay in school, and making sure they graduate from school, they will be equipped with the tools needed to break the cycle of poverty.
To find out more, contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Relief International’s WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) Programme Manager, Deepa Patel, reports from the field in Jordan with a heartfelt story of how her team came to the aid of a little Syrian girl. Deepa touches upon the immense sense of community, support and trust built between Syrian families and Relief International’s team.
Since January, Relief International’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) team has been working with host communities in North Jordan where nearly no other organization has yet been able to assist. The perseverance of the WASH team to reach the most vulnerable Syrian refugees has meant driving to remote areas, walking far on foot to access households and spending long hours in cold, rough conditions.
One such area is a small rural town, Al Kom al Ahmar, 25 kilometers outside of Mafraq, where many Syrian refugee families are living in abysmal conditions as a means to earn a living by working on farms. Many of the refugee families living in this area escaped Syria over six months ago but where afraid to enter the Za’atari refugee camp and knew of no other way to care for their family except to find whatever work possible. Relief International has been assisting families in this area, providing winter clothing for children, essential hygiene items, health education, child-friendly interactions and general social support.
In the photo above: Relief International Hygiene Promoters on a visit to deliver a hygiene kit to Mumtaz’s* family.
Today, during a routine house-to-house follow up visit, a mother, Mumtaz,* alerted the Relief International team that her two-year-old daughter had fallen into a ditch in the farm where they are living. Two days had passed and the child was in extreme pain, restless and had a high fever. The family is not registered with UNHCR and they were afraid they would be turned away if they went for treatment at a hospital. All of that is beside the point. Living in such a rural area, they have almost no means of getting to a hospital.
Above: Mumtaz* recounts what happened to her daughter.
The Relief International team has always said that they are hygiene promoters but that they also visit the families to provide comfort and support in any way they can. Upon seeing the child and hearing Mumtaz’s concerns, the hygiene promoters who visited her, Dina and Akhram, drove Mumtaz and the child to a hospital in Mafraq. It turned out that the child had a broken arm and an upper respiratory infection and was able to receive excellent treatment.
Above: Relief International Hygiene Promoters, Dina and Akhram, with the little girl, crying, but with her cast and on the road to recovery.
Though we are a small team with limited funding and our ability to aid in the face of such a large crisis can sometimes feel overwhelming, I am proud that the Relief International team goes above and beyond any duty to assist in any way possible. We are more than just a WASH team!
*Name has been changed.
The Relief International team recently received this “note from the field” from a camp meeting in the Zam Zam Refugee Camp in Darfur, Sudan, where RI is helping women and families rebuild their livelihoods.
During a meeting of our staff and some members of the community in Zam Zam, the topic of the most important and basic needs of the people came up. This topic spurred a heated and passionate discussion among many of the women in Zam Zam. As they all sat in a circle, with enthusiasm, our staff member started jotting down notes as the women voiced their requests and their concerns about their community’s future.
Together, Relief International and the women of the Zam Zam Camp outlined these basic needs for us to take note of. Simply glancing at their needs, we are humbled.
Some of these basic requests are things that we take for granted as they are readily available to us here at home. Everyone in the world should have the right to these basic necessities. We share this list with you to highlight the resilience and strength of these women.
The note reads (translated from Arabic to the best of our capacity):
“In the name of God the Merciful”
“Demands of newly displaced people from the area of “immigrants” to the Zam Zam Camp”
“1 – Widening the narrow roads, at the time of fire, roads become dangerous
2 – Improving the level of health in the new camp
3 – Educating children and giving attention to adult literacy
4 – Building latrines in the new camp
5 – Building 5 [grain] mills and peeler (scaler)
6 – Providing building materials, blankets and tents
7 – Providing kitchen utensils and clothes”
8 – Providing groceries and food supplies due to the lack of firewood for cooking
9 – Provide generators for lighting the camp
10 – Providing drilling equipment
11 – Providing the basic essential needs of the people in their daily lives”
Emergency Response Coordinator, Mary Ana McGlasson, reports from the field in the Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan, where Relief International is providing life-saving relief.
Syria. I don’t know why it grabbed my attention so quickly-with so many disasters and tragedies happening around the world simultaneously, why did this one weigh so heavily on my mind? In the wake of the Arab Spring, there were plenty of stories of triumph and tragedy, but somehow, I found this one occupying a lot of my quiet thoughts. In August, the total numbers of refugees went from a steady trickle to a full-blown population exodus, doubling the numbers of refugees fleeing regionally, and forcing countless Syrians to run for safety within the country’s borders. By September, it was widely believed that there was no safe place for civilians inside Syria.
In the photo above, Mary Ana and and a little girl she met while working in the Za’atari Camp.
In response to this rapid influx of refugees, I deployed to Jordan to assess the situation within the newly-built Za’atari Camp and urban communities of Jordan near the Syrian border. Despite working day and night with little sleep, I found myself with constant motivation, and an unexplainable connection to the 15-month-old crisis. It felt so good to actually be doing something, instead of sitting by and watching what could be one of the greatest tragedies in recent history.
I have now spent most of the past several months on the ground here in Jordan. The refugees here are middle-class, primarily educated people. Until weeks or months ago, they had modern houses with cars, bathrooms, kitchens. Now they live in tents, in the cold and windy desert, with winter worsening every day. Many people have shoes that are worn through from a long and difficult journey and they have no winter clothes.
Each day, when I walk through the camp, I am always shocked by two things: the harsh conditions of the camp and the unwavering generosity and hospitality of the people living here. Despite living through incredible tragedy and violence, often losing more than a few family members along their treacherous journey, I was invited into countless homes and I drank literally dozens of cups of tea and coffee. Sitting and drinking tea and listening to stories of survival, while sharing a quiet moment of solidarity is certainly one of the most important things I can do with my time.
In many tents, mothers have fashioned small shrines with photos of sons, daughters, and husbands in the corner, and they share with me stories of separation or worse. They share openly about the things they have seen and experienced, and it is important for them to help me understand that just weeks or months ago, they were living in houses with bathrooms and nice kitchens. One woman, Hanna*, 8 months pregnant and with four other children by her side, travelled to the camp without her husband. She explained to me that she finds it difficult every day to learn how to live without the support of her husband, and without running water, winter clothing, privacy, and a sense of safety. “I don’t know how to live like this- in Syria, I had a nice house, a car, and a big kitchen. Now I share a kitchen with 20 other families, and my children cry because they are cold at night.”
During the New Year, families took time to pause and be thankful, but always with the caveat that they hope in 2014 they will be celebrating again in Syria with reunited families. “Isha’allah,” or “God willing,” they say, with brave faces, choking back tears.
We can hope, together-we can all hope that the crisis is resolved and the Syrian people can return to their homes to rebuild and live peacefully. But in the meantime, Relief International is doing everything we can to reduce suffering and provide hope.
What would you do if you were traumatized, cold, and out of your element, in a foreign place, with only icy water to wash yourself? There are at least 3500 families (about 17,500 people) without sufficient hygiene items like soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, etc. Yet, you are not permitted to leave the camp to go to the normal market in the neighbouring town. And while there is a substantial market growing up within the camp, the available cash to make purchases is extremely low, and the price of soap is relatively high (almost $5 per bar of soap, compared with an average daily wage of $10 per day for those few who can find paid work within the camp, which is probably less than 1 percent.)
All I can offer now is my own inexhaustible passion and labour for this cause, and a small bar of soap. They need shoes, socks, mittens, underwear…heaters, fuel, and hope.
*Name has been changed.
Senior Programme Officer, Virginia Zaunbrecher, writes from Darfur, Sudan, about how Relief International programmes are keeping people alive and rebuilding livelihoods.
Darfur is a place that is stuck in the middle. There is still too much conflict for most people to return home, but there is too little conflict to garner public attention. As aid workers, we find ourselves trying to triage the situation, and at the same time look for opportunities to help people move ahead. Two of the people I have met so far exemplify this dynamic.
Relief International is a primary care provider for a population of approximately half a million people in North Darfur, including 164,000 displaced persons. When visiting one of our malnutrition treatment centres in the Zam Zam camp for displaced persons last week, I met 18-month-old Fatima. She was, bluntly stated, the most malnourished child I have ever seen. She was tested for appetite and fed ready to use therapeutic food — popularly known as Plumpy-Nut. She was also referred to the main state hospital 15 km away because she required substantial medical treatment, but that is an extremely long way for her mother to travel with her, especially given that there are other children at home that need attention.
When I visited again this week, I was told that Fatima’s mother had not taken her to the hospital — a “defaulter” in nutrition programme terms. Relief International outreach workers are contacting Fatima’s mother and encouraging her to visit the RI clinic (closer than the main site hospital) — which is no small feat in this maze of 164,000 people. Relief International has plans to open a stabilization centre that can treat malnourished patients in the Zam Zam camp by 2013, so children like Fatima don’t have to travel for life-saving services.
Above, Staff weigh malnourished children at Relief International’s nutrition center in the Zam Zam Camp.
Just a short distance away at the Hassenfeld Community Centre, I met someone who exemplified how the people of Darfur are trying to move forward. Saida is a widowed mother of five, whose husband was killed in the conflict. She fled to the Zam Zam three years ago with her children when they were forced from their village by fighting. Saida’s leg is injured, so she is unable to work as a day labourer, which severely limits her options. Undeterred, Saida hopes to provide a better life for her children. While they are at school, Saida visits the library at the Community Centre. She studies books on work skills and English to improve her chances of getting a job. When Relief International was stocking the library, we asked the community what kind of books would be most useful. It is telling that their first request was items that could improve the capacity of people to find work.
Above, Saida (right, dressed in black) uses the library at the Community Centre in the Zam Zam camp along with other women displaced by conflict.
Relief International staff find stories like this throughout North Darfur, and our programmes here reflect that. We provide basic life-saving health and nutrition services; at the same time we are developing a livelihoods programme to help displaced people move forward, despite the challenging situation. And every day we hope we encounter fewer Fatimas and have the privilege to meet more Saidas.
Relief International’s board member, Ellen Frost, reflects on her visit to the field in Ghana where board members held one of their quarterly meetings and got an exclusive look at RI’s ground-breaking programmes in social enterprise, water, sanitation, and hygiene.
For members of Relief International’s board of directors, there is nothing like seeing projects first-hand to realise the contribution that Relief International is making to help people escape from poverty in places like Ghana. Imagine the scenes: Peter – a shy, soft-spoken Ghanaian – and his three assistants sitting under a tree at the edge of the Accra city dump, hammering scrap metal into charcoal-efficient cookstoves. At another location, a man is shaping ceramic stove filters using a foot-operated potter’s wheel, while another man punches out ventilation holes. At a third site, the filters are fired in brick ovens fueled by wood and corn cobs. These jobs provide livelihoods to a large number of people. All in all, there are 450 manufacturers and 500 vendors of these stoves, and the market continues to grow.
In the photo above, Peter and his assistants busy at work as Relief International videographer, Carlos, focuses in for the perfect shot.
Above, a ceramicist uses a foot-operated potter’s wheel to delicately craft a Gyapa liner.
Above, Gyapa liners equipped with ventilation holes, wait to dry before they are sent off to the kiln.
At a market stall that we visited, one vendor summarised what she tells customers when she recommends Relief International-sponsored stoves: “Same price as the others but saves lots of money.” The stoves cut charcoal consumption in half, thereby easing pressure on household budgets and reducing pollution – and they earn carbon credits as well.
In the photo above, some energetic children from a school that board members visited.
Another Relief International project of a different sort centres on clean water, sanitation, and hygiene. Here, the goals are both “hard” and “soft” – to purify or recycle water, build and install latrines, to teach people why they should use them and how they should adopt sanitary procedures such as washing their hands. Since children learn quickly and are natural crusaders, schools are a special target. Board members visited two schools, both of which were bursting with bright-eyed, giggly, energetic children. Also, we visited a group consisting of three long-robed tribal elders, the head of the local youth committee, and a woman who serves on the local water committee. The elders made it clear that the whole community was involved in addressing the community water, sanitation, and hygiene issues.
In the photo above, two smiling boys who hope to become part of their school’s hygiene club that Relief International helped establish.
The board members were impressed by the high quality and dedication of Relief International’s field staff as well as by what we saw at each site. We came away feeling hopeful and encouraged.