Guest post by Annie Bodmer-Roy, Media Manager for Save the Children
What first struck me was her smile – sincere, friendly and kind.
She said it was important to smile, that in her life, her smile was the one thing she knew was hers to offer people.
It was important to smile, she said, because then life would smile back at you.
I meet Mariama in the intensive care unit of a stabilisation centre for severely malnourished children run by the government and supported by Save the Children in southern Niger.
Mariama’s nine-month-old son, Idi, is laying down in a cot. He’s visibly malnourished and seriously ill.
Mariama’s concern for her son is written on her face as she looks down at him.
When I ask if she’d share her story with me, Mariama looks up, smiles, and thanks me for giving her the opportunity.
Idi recently became sick with fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. After two days he hadn’t improved so Mariama took him to a health clinic near her village.
He was referred to the stabilisation centre in Aguie, where Mariama has been staying with him since they arrived two days ago.
As we speak, Mariama takes her son gently in her arms and holds him close while she gives him a spoonful of fortified milk.
A Save the Children health worker explains that a special formula of fortified milk is given to children like Idi who arrive so badly malnourished and weak they can no longer handle anything else.
Guest post by Annie Bodmer-Roy, Media Manager for Save the Children Australia, from a small plane on the way to Maradi, southern Niger.
Imagine you can’t afford food.
The problem isn’t that there is no food at the shops – just that you can’t afford it.
You see food piled up in the aisles at the supermarkets, but you aren’t able to buy it.
The prices have gone up and they’re just simply out of reach.
What would you do?
Rising prices, falling incomes
This is what’s happening in parts of Niger, a country in west Africa, where millions are at risk of malnutrition.
A combination of rising food prices and insecurity in neighbouring countries means that families can no longer afford to buy what they need.
Prices of some goods have spiked immensely while most parents have seen their income fall. Many aren’t bringing home any money at all.
Guest post by Katie Seaborne
I couldn't believe how many people were looking at me. I had expected a family of four, maybe five people. Not the twenty women and children all sat in the dust waiting expectedly for me to speak. I'm not in a rural village in the middle of Niger. I'm in Niamey - Niger's capital - at dusk and I'm looking at a crowd of people who left their village a month ago. The simple reason: they had no food. They risked everything and made a five-day journey to the capital city in an attempt to survive.
This is one woman's story. Hassia's story.
"We were farmers at home. In our village we would farm millet, beans, peanuts, sorghum, sesame and corn - nothing worked. There wasn't any rain so the millet got this tall... [she gestures to a few inches above the ground]... and then it died.
"From the very start we knew it wouldn't be OK. You'd plant and it would die; you'd plant and it would die. There weren't even wild leaves on the trees to eat. I have never seen a year this bad. 2005 and 2010 were not as bad as this.
"We came on a donkey that we borrowed. Others walked. It took us five days. We had nothing to eat - we went hungry. Sometimes we begged. Usually people only gave us water but sometimes they gave us millet for the children."
Guest post by a Save the Children worker, Niger.
It was a relief to enter the shade of the health clinic and leave the scorching Niger sun. As I'm shown around, the doctor tells me there are three phases in this clinic - each reflects a stage in a child's recovery from malnutrition and any accompanying illnesses.
I wandered into phase one - this is where the children are most critical. Most lie there listlessly, mothers sitting in a daze by their bedside. It was almost unbearable to stay. I continued into phase two, where the children that survived phase one have started on their road to recovery.
That was when my eyes fell on Soueba who had just finished feeding her baby, Mansour. I crouched down with her on the plastic mat on the floor and introduced myself.
The room was hot but I noticed how clean and calm it was - I realised this must be a world away from the dusty villages that surround the clinic.
Soueba and Mansour
Soueba began her story, and as I learnt about the ordeal she had been through in the last two weeks, her positivity and appreciation for the assistance she had received became more and more remarkable.
"We've been here for 12 days but it's the first time we've been here. We're from a village a long way from here. Mansour was ill with diarrhoea for three days so we took him to the local health centre where we received some medicine.
"After three more days he was still ill in spite of the medicines so my mother took him back to the health centre which is a two-hour walk from our village. The health centre called for a Save the Children car to transfer Mansour to the clinic in Aguie. My grandmother went with him and I came later."
Guest post by Annie Bodmer. Media Manager for Save the Children
It's February in the coastal town of Higashimatsushima, and the winds are so strong that despite my thermal shirt, fleece, sweatshirt, jacket and scarf, I feel the cold almost to my bones. Being Canadian, I often tend to think I can hack it, but this really is the coldest I can remember feeling in years.
We've travelled to Higashimatsushima to gather footage for our film, showing the wreckage that remains almost one year after the earthquake and tsunami struck the coast of Japan.
My colleague tells me about a nursery school nearby, and after spending time among the ruins of old houses; we pile back into the car, grateful for the momentary warmth as we drive through the rubble and head to the nursery.
Guest post by Annie Bodmer, Save the Children's Emergency Media manager
It was February 11th, just one month shy of the one-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. We travelled to Higashimatsushima, one of the worst-hit areas along the north eastern coast of Japan.
A couple of days later, as I sit in the Tokyo office and go through my photos, I am returned to the weekend, and the details all come back to me. I can feel the crunch of rubble under my boots as I walk through the debris. I remember the overwhelming feeling of shock and sadness that hits me every time I travel to this part of the country - you would think it may fade, that I would get used to it - but I don't think this is something you can ever really get used to. Walking through deserted landscapes of the remains of houses, stepping around broken plates or children's games so as not to cause any additional damage, the silence is overpowering. The area is completely desert, the only exception the occasional car passing by, on its way from putting fresh flowers in one of the vases put down on the foundations of different houses, remembering those who lost their lives when the ground shook and the giant waves cascaded over the town.
Guest post by Abdourahamane M Kadaf, monitoring and evaluation officer, Niger
Ali with his wife, Aicha, and son eating green leaves outside their home in Maradi Niger. As I sit down with Ali amid the dust and heat, I am already prepared for his concerns - lack of food, lack of clean water, lack of opportunities to make money. What I am not prepared for, and what I cannot help but be moved and surprised by, is his patience and positivity amid such despair. It is at this moment that I realise Ali is a man of great courage.
Like so many families in Niger, Ali is facing a terrifying daily struggle to find enough food to feed his family. After a failed harvest, he explains that he does not have any grain of his own. Ali has already had to pay the price of this ongoing struggle to find enough to eat."Three years ago, my twins were admitted to the nutritional recovery centre in Korgom, run by Save the Children," he says quietly. Tragically, one of the twins passed away. She was only four years old. Malnutrition all too often is the cause of death for millions of young children around the world, and here in Niger, one in six children don't live to see their fifth birthday.
Guest post by Olivia Zinzan
Wednesday 22 February 2012
One year ago today, Christchurch, New Zealand, was hit by a powerful earthquake, the second large quake in six months. I was in New Zealand at the time and was as shocked as everyone else to see the unfolding catastrophe and images of devastation on the lunchtime news. My 97 year old grandmother couldn't bear to watch. She was taken back to the devastating earthquake that struck Napier in 1931.
Loss of life
Whilst, almost unbelievably, nobody was killed when the first earthquake hit, in September 2010, sadly, the February 2011 quake claimed the lives of 185 people and wreaked much more damage. The first quake hit in the middle of the night, the second at lunchtime, as children were at school and parents at home or work. You can imagine the panic and frantic calls both between family members in the city and from around the country and world as people tried to find out whether their loved ones were safe.
Guest post by Huzan Waqar Media and Communications Officer, Sindh
Traveling in a flood-affected area of Badin, I saw a young girl working beside her mother in the cotton fields. It was difficult to say how old she was; my guess was that she was no more than 8 or 9. She had a very serious and solemn expression on her face, almost a reflection of her mother's. I watched them for some time whilst answering a call from Islamabad.
A guest post by Rachel Kurzyp a participant in Save the Children's Emergency Foundation Course
The Emergency Course is held yearly for Save the Children's employees. The course allows participants to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to operate safely and effectively in a breaking emergency.
Life in Sendonia
A week in Sendonia felt like a year. A year of learning, experiences and emotions compacted, and it wasn't till the end when I looked back on the first day that I realised how far we had all come.
Guest post by Sarah Ireland, Team leader in the Phillipines
My first full day in the flood affected city of Cagayan de Oro in the province on Mindanao in southern Philippines and Save the Children's first day of distributions. Working with volunteers from a local university we're distributing jerry cans and water purification kits at evacuation centres in both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, which along with Cagayan de Oro was one of the most affected cities. In these two cities alone, over 235,000 people were affected by the floods - over 25,000 people in 35 evacuation centres, and around 198,000 people displaced but living outside of the centres.
Guest Post by Anna Lindenfors, Country Director in the Philippines
It must have been terrifying. Flash floods create a fast moving body of water, sweeping away everything in its path. Cars, trees, people.
Yesterday morning (night-time in the Philippines) very heavy rainfall caused rivers to burst their banks and flood the area - killing hundreds and leaving thousands more stranded, without food or shelter, in the middle of the night.
Guest Post by Lynette Lim on the ground in Rangsit, Pathum Than, Thailand.
The poverty in this slum-like area of Rangsit, Pathum Thani in Thailand was apparent. It was nightfall by the time our aid distribution truck arrived, and I found myself standing in front of two wooden thatched houses, a beam of light shining on them just enough for me to find my way around. Each block had about eight tiny rooms, and each of those rooms provided shelter for an entire family.
Guest post by Stephen McDonald, Save the Children Emergency Director in Bangkok.
As reports come in on flooding now entering central Bangkok, children are falling ill from diseases such as severe diarrhoea, with thousands more at risk as exposure from filthy floodwaters is on the rise.
Our assessment teams have found that running water has been completely cut off from some areas. Even in some evacuation centres where some families have fled to there is no access to clean water.
Families with young children staying at makeshift evacuation centres are facing serious health concerns with little access to clean water.
One family of fourteen we spoke to said that all but one of them has had serious diarrhoea for several days in a row. Nai, 19 months old, has such severe diarrhoea that he can no longer walk.
I have two young children of my own, and I would be heartbroken if they were subject to these conditions.
While floodwaters in some parts of the city are clearly unclean – with teams having seen rubbish and even excrement floating in floodwaters – children continue to wade through and play in the flooded streets and alleys.
Guest post from Katie Seaborne, who is on the ground in Somalia.
"Every single person we help to survive is a precious life saved."
The crisis in Somalia has not yet peaked and Save the Children staff out here are all too aware of it.
The pace and complexity of our work is not letting up.
Constant meetings, phone calls and updates continue as we strive to reach those in need and meet the increasing needs in Somalia.
The situation in Somalia was already horrifying - the worst child malnutrition rate in the world, thousands going without food and water, and overcrowded impromptu camps forming on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
Floods bring filthy water
Now the rains have arrived and instead of providing relief, the camps are flooded, and people are living in inches of filthy water without proper shelter.
Families who have left their homes with nothing are now facing the terrifying prospect of disease outbreaks and further flash flooding.
Guest post: Alfonso Daniels, from Lower Sindh, southern Pakistan, as part of Save the Children's emergency response to the widespread flooding hitting the country.
The first signs of destruction are visible just two hours' drive away from Karachi as you enter the low-lying province of Lower Sindh in southern Pakistan. Abandoned shells of poultry farms stretch on both sides of the road next to deserted wheat fields while roofs of larger buildings have collapsed in what appears to be the aftermath of a war.
"It was like the world had come to an end," a man later told me, recounting the terrifying moments two months ago when unprecedented torrential monsoon rains quickly flooded this whole region, uprooting more than five million people from their homes. Many of them still live in miserable makeshift tents along elevated roads and levies unable to cultivate these flooded lands.
Guest post: Annie Bodmer-Roy writing from Bangkok, Thailand, as part of Save the Children's emergency response to the widespread flooding hitting the country.
Got a late start this morning as we needed to check rising water levels and see if the road to Ayutthaya was still accessible. Once we hit the road, it quickly becomes clear we wouldn't be getting there in the usual one hour.
Bangkok is notorious for its bad traffic but today is even worse. Cars are lined up and abandoned by the side of highways as owners try to ensure their vehicles are on high ground, away from rising waters. For us this means wrestling through the little space left on the road, making the way north even harder to access.
I'm sitting in the partially covered back of a six-wheel truck with staff from our partner organization. As we snake through traffic and inch our way further north, water is visibly seeping onto the highway. We go down a hill and within minutes I feel the spray from cars heading in the opposite direction, as the floodwaters push against us.
Now on the outskirts of Bangkok, people everywhere are taking action: loading their belongings into giant floating buckets, wading through the streets knee-deep in floodwater, carrying their children on their shoulders to keep them dry and safe. We pass a row of volunteers helping out with the sandbagging - trying to keep the waters out of the backstreets in their neighbourhoods.
Guest post: Annie Bodmer-Roy writing from Bangkok, Thailand, as part of Save the Children's emergency response to the widespread flooding hitting the country.
Just got into the office this morning and reading up on the latest news hitting Thailand, where some of the worst flooding for half a century is hitting the country, putting hundreds of thousands of children at risk. Our biggest concern today is the rapidly changing situation in the north of Bangkok as the government rushes to stop flood-waters swamping the city. While they've been doing a great job to respond to immediate needs of many, we're increasingly concerned that capacity is stretched to the limit, and without assistance, many children and their families will not be reached.
Save the Children is on the ground responding, working with government and civil society to meet urgent needs of children and their families hardest hit by the floods. We've been distributing food by boat in some areas where the water levels are just too high for regular road use. Meanwhile our protection teams are working to keep children from being separated from their families by raising awareness of simple steps to take like holding hands when on the move; keeping together in a group; and making sure children have their parents' contact information on hand at all times in the event they get lost or separated.
This is a guest blog post by Shana Peiffer, a Child Protection Senior Specialist with Save the Children who is in East Africa.
The Malkadida refugee camp is about 25km away from the Save the Children Bokomayo satellite office, and we're traveling there on the rutted and rocky gravel road.
Vehicles kick up a dust that blows only in one direction across the road. Visually it's as if the road divides two different landscapes - to the left there is a thick milky beige dust covering all the land and bush trees, to the right the rocky soil is a cinnamon red, scrub bushes are green and the bare branches appear nearly dark purple.
As we crest a hill, the beautiful vast panorama widens and right below the horizon I see the faint white tents of Malkadida refugee camp. Even further on the horizon I see the smaller sea of white tents of Kobe refugee camp. If you didn't know this was a drought emergency, you'd almost think they were villages nestled in the desert plateaus.
But as we drive up to the camps, children of all ages come out from their tents and wave to us with outstretched hands. As we weave through the crowded camp, I see several children waiting with their plastic jugs at the water points, and leaving with multiple 5 liter jugs of water, far too heavy loads balanced on their small bodies. Beyond the camp borders I see women and very young girls carrying large loads of firewood on their backs, a regular trip they must take but that often brings risk of sexual violence.
These images remind me of the risks and unsafe conditions facing children and youth in these camps. Save the Children plans to conduct a child protection rapid assessment in Malkadida and Kobe refugee camps to better understand the situation for children, and how we can support community members and camp management to improve the safety, protection, and development of children.
This is a guest blog post by Alfonso Daniels, Save the Children who is on the ground in Puntland, Somalia.
A throng of women holding small children surges towards a shack in the middle of a dusty wasteland while a man wearing a Barcelona FC football shirt struggles to keep order at the gate. Inside hundreds queue patiently for their malnourished children to be weighed in a plastic scale before being registered, while yet more pour into this feeding centre in the heart of Tawakal, one of 31 Internally Displaced People or IDP camps scattered in the city of Bosasso, the commercial capital of Puntland in northern Somalia.