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Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.

What Ebola and icebergs have in common

Posted by Adama Coulibaly, Plan West Africa Regional Director |

Adama Coulibaly 29 October 2014: As a Malian, and coming from one of the hottest places in the world, I am the last person one would ask about ‘icebergs’. But that was before I watched Titanic, the epic 1997 disaster film.

Titanic reminded me how tragic and destructive an event can be if we are not expecting it and above all, if we are ill-prepared to manage it. An ill-prepared crew could not prevent the Titanic from sinking. An iceberg was the origin of the Titanic tragedy. Today, Ebola is to the world what the iceberg was to the Titanic in 1912. The world is ill-prepared for an Ebola disaster.

Like an iceberg, only a tiny portion of Ebola is visible. What we see, hear and talk about is only a tiny and visible portion of Ebola. We hear that more than 10,000 people have been infected with Ebola. We hear that half of those people have died of the virus. We hear that the number of cases might double every 1 to 2 weeks to reach as many as 20,000 cases in West Africa by December.

But we don’t see, hear and talk about the invisible part of Ebola, the part causing a humanitarian catastrophe.

1.4 million infected by January

According to the Word Bank, the economic impact of the Ebola epidemic could reach US$32.6 billion by the end of next year if the disease spreads to neighbouring countries.

Millions of people will have no access to basic socio-economic services including health and education. Millions of boys and girls will not attend schools and will die from preventable diseases. Thousands of children will be orphans making them more vulnerable and exposed to violence.

Like an iceberg, Ebola can drift and cause more disasters. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if nothing is done to curve the spread of the virus, Ebola could infect up to 1.4 million people by mid-January in Sierra Leone and Liberia alone, and potentially spread far beyond the 3 worst affected countries.

The social and economic impact could lead to unrest and political crises in a region where most countries are fragile states. Ultimately, the impact of Ebola will be global.

Like an iceberg, Ebola can ‘melt’ and disappear. The world does not have to wait for Ebola to ‘drift’ to other places. The world must scale up its effort to stop Ebola spread. We are in a war against Ebola.

How to win the war

Girl holding her Ebola discharge certificate

A girl holding her Ebola discharge certificate. Many survivors face stigma when they return to their communities

To win this war, affected people and countries need:

  • MORE people: As WHO director general Margaret Chan said it, we need “the right people, the right specialists, and specialists who are appropriately trained and know how to keep themselves safe”. Unfortunately there are not enough people on the ground, in particular medical doctors and health care workers.
  • MORE funding: The UN is seeking about US$1 billion to provide training, equipment and care for people suffering from the Ebola virus diseases. On 24 October, 49% of the total funding was received. Plan is also seeking US$11.2 million in cash within the next 3 months to support our response in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The current total funding gap for Plan is US$3 million.
  • MORE empathy: “We are Liberian, not a virus,”* said Oretha Bestman-Yates, president of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association (SILCA). Like Mrs Yates, people coming from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are often seen as “positive carriers” of the Ebola virus and are facing stigma. Former Ebola patients and Ebola orphans are stigmatised by their families and communities. Stigmatising is the wrong thing to do.

#HandsOnHearts

The right thing to do is when President Obama gave a big hug to Dallas nurse* and former Ebola patient Nina Pham in the Oval Office on 24 October.

The right thing to do is to put #HandsOnHearts against Ebola and to post your image to show solidarity and support for children and communities affected by Ebola: plan-international.org/HandsOnHearts.

The right thing to do is to communicate positively, accurately and timely about Ebola as did Rosemary McCarney, the President and CEO of Plan Canada in an article published on the Toronto Star*: “We must,” she said, “step up our efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic, a humanitarian crisis that affects us all.”

Learn about Plan's Ebola response and support the emergency appeal

*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites

Oct 29, 2014 09:15 AM

Encounters during the Ebola awareness campaign

Posted by Saatah, Plan youth blogger |

Saatah

Young people are taking action across West Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak. Saatah, aged 16, from Lofa County, Liberia, is among the young Plan volunteers helping affected communities to control the spread of the disease.

27 October 2014: I live in a community in Liberia not too far from the border where Ebola started. People die on a daily basis. We need help to fight Ebola but the young people can help too. I have joined a group and radio station to do awareness raising.

We have been going from village to village, teaching people how to protect themselves from the virus. We have been going to speak to village leaders, and to the imams and pastors to help sensitise their people during worship services.

We are given chlorine to use when doing this work. We are also advised to wear long protective clothing and long sleeve jackets. One time when we went to do awareness, there was a little girl who vomited, and before we could tell her elder sister not to touch her, she went ahead. When doing the awareness raising I am scared, but I am happy to be able to fight Ebola in my communities.

Plan Liberia is among other international non-governmental organisations supporting community-based organisations in 3 districts (Voinjama, Quandu Gboni, Kolahun) and 6 community radio stations in Lofa to conduct Ebola awareness. The radio awareness work about Ebola is reaching the length and breadth of the county and is helping to reduce the risk of infection.

To make sure that I and other children in Lofa are safe, we receive regular calls from Plan’s child protection focal person here in Lofa, cautioning us to follow all the preventive measures to remain safe.

Things aren’t always what they seem

While sensitising folks in a village called Worsonga in Foya District, Lofa County, I heard some people crying and when I asked what was wrong, a lady told me her uncle had just died. Upon hearing this, I advised them not to touch or go near the dead body and they listened. I took my phone and called the ambulance.

In a few minutes time, the ambulance came and took the dead man’s body. By evening, the medical team brought the result of the cause of the man’s death, which indicated that he died from chronic malaria and not Ebola.

Bereaved family visit

After 2 weeks, I decided to follow up on the bereaved family. While at their home, I asked the wife of the dead man why she didn’t take her husband to the hospital during his sick period.

The lady said to me: “My husband was showing many signs and symptoms similar to Ebola, although he usually showed these same signs whenever he was sick with malaria. We both were scared that the nurses could just observe the signs and diagnose him as an Ebola patient, so we decided that he stay home and receive the same treatment we usually administer him.” As she was saying this, tears rolled down her cheek.

It was painful to see their 4 children shed tears along with their mother while she spoke. The family cried so bitterly that I had to ask a neighbour why they were crying this way. It was how I got to know that the lady’s late husband was the breadwinner of their family and that his death would mean a great deal of challenges for her in bringing  up the children.

This was so pitiful to see I had to turn my face the other way just to release a few tears.

Village fears

Many people in that village fear that the moment they report their sick relatives to the nurses they will be diagnosed Ebola positive just by observing the symptoms.

This led me to take a different trend in my Ebola sensitisation – encouraging health practitioners to promptly test suspected Ebola patients before diagnosing them Ebola positive; instead of just observing the signs and symptoms, as this could scare more people from reporting their sick relatives.

We are getting support from the communities. They are happy about the awareness raising we are doing and little by little people are accepting the fact that the disease is real. It is working - the death rate is reducing.

Support Plan’s life-saving Ebola response work

Put your hand on your heart for children affected by Ebola

 

Oct 27, 2014 07:20 AM

Ebola versus education

Posted by Kamanda, Plan Global Youth Advisory Panel member |
Kamanda


With schools closed in the Ebola outbreak and a lack of educational opportunities, how can we achieve our dreams? asks Plan Global Youth Advisory Panel member Kamanda from Sierra Leone.

21 October 2014: Just 12 years ago my country started revitalising its education system after the civil war had destroyed almost everything. Today, the deadly Ebola virus is destroying our education systems once again.

Schools have closed down indefinitely and lessons or classes are banned. Our tutors are paid but they give no lessons, some of them no longer study or research their own subjects.

Candidates of external exams have been unable to take their exams and will have to sit for another academic year because the time of their exams has passed. So, ironically, the education system is moving backwards to pre-war times.

Learning through the radio

The Ministry of Health and Education has announced a campaign of ‘teaching and learning on the radio’. This has started but with some problems. In rural areas buying a cup of rice for a day is hard let alone buying a radio as well as batteries.

Even among those in big towns and cities who have radios many will not benefit as most of the subjects cannot be understood without seeing symbols and formulae. I listened to the first programme and the subject was maths. Honestly speaking, I could only hear the tutor calling symbols, formulae, etc but I didn’t know how they were written. So I got confused and baffled. This will be even more difficult for young children to understand.

The idea is good, however it would have been better if radio sets with batteries had been supplied or even to put video footage of teaching on CDs distributed to every house.  For those with access to the internet the videos could be shared online.  Today almost every village has a DVD, laptop or a television to watch movies etc.

Young people are becoming frustrated

Children and young people are frustrated at the lack of educational opportunities and the potential impact that could have on them and our country. They are also desperate.

Many are deciding to find work or take any short-term options. There will be thousands more school dropouts, street children and children, especially girls and orphans, who will be exposed to violations and dangers - including rape and sexual exploitation, teenage pregnancy and early marriages.

I talked with some of my female school friends and they told me that they are feeling discouraged and fearful that their educational journey has come to an end. Some are being pushed into marriages, prostitution and sexual violence.

Lost education

One of my female friends who has just completed her external exams told me:

“I’m traumatised. I have struggled to complete my secondary education for many years, and it is now being lost; we are discouraged from reading our books and pursuing our education.”

However, she made one good reflection: “The presence of Ebola at this point in time seems to have silenced harmful traditional practices such as FGM [female genital mutilation].”

As a young man myself, I have sat my West African Senior School Certificate examination and I was hoping to study accounting, ideally abroad. However, our district has been quarantined and I am left feeling isolated and confused. I fear that I and my friends will not achieve our dreams.

After all our years of hard work and dedication and the commitment of our government to support our education, it feels like Ebola is destroying everything, within the shortest possible time.

Even buildings are suffering

The empty schools are becoming overgrown, flooded with rats, some school furniture and buildings are collapsing and others will soon do the same because there are no longer people occupying them.

Where will children sit and have a conducive learning environment when schools do finally reopen? Please help us take steps to revitalise education in this country. Otherwise the future of the children and of the nation is bleak.

What I am asking for

I have the strong feeling that as a young person I can play a pivotal role and I should be supported to achieve my passion of ensuring children and young people acquire their rights to create a peaceful future.

Education in particular is our right. We must harness the energy and talents of young people who are frustrated by this crisis by supporting them to embark on advocacy and motivational campaigns on the radio - sensitising people on the facts about Ebola, and encouraging parents to support their children to learn in whatever way they can.

We could ask tutors to prepare questions; at the end of every week or month we could hold a quiz and give attractive prizes and awards that will even include scholarships to the winners. These quizzes could contain questions on Ebola to help continue to raise awareness.

As well as the governmental and international aid efforts, we must also find innovative ways to engage children and young people through this terrible time of uncertainty.

We have to stop this Ebola disease from eating into the very fabric of our society and the future of children in our small, beloved country.

Plan International is responding to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Donate to the Ebola appeal

Learn more about Kamanda and his role on Plan’s Global Youth Advisory panel

Oct 21, 2014 12:40 PM

Joining the fight against Ebola

Posted by Rino Sudibyo, Plan Procurement and Logistics Specialist |
Rino SudibyoWorking on the ground in a crisis that is still developing is beyond anyone’s imagination, blogs Rino Sudibyo, Plan Procurement and Logistics Specialist, who has arrived in Guinea to support the fight against Ebola.


17 October 2014: When I was asked if I would consider deployment to Guinea, I didn't accept quickly. While I was determined to join the Plan Guinea team, I had to think very carefully about it. My work as a procurement and logistics specialist involves direct interaction at the frontline of the response. What would this mean for me in terms of the risk of Ebola?

But this is an unprecedented emergency response. I knew I had to prepare myself much better than my many previous deployments. I quickly realised that there was nothing in my past experiences that I could 'copy and paste' for this deployment.

My preparation also involved something that I have never done before – preparing my family for the worst. I explained the possibility of getting infected and what this could mean. At the same time, I had to assure them that I would take all necessary prevention measures, and promise to come back healthy.

Hand washing and temperature checks

Rino Sudibyo hand washing in Guinea

Hand washing can help stop Ebola from spreading

When I first arrived in Conakry, Guinea's capital, it was hard to stay focused on the job. Here, I am constantly disinfecting my hands with sanitising gel or washing my hands with chlorine-mixed water.

I have to avoid shaking people's hands, and check my body temperature using a thermo gun every time I enter the office. And there are lots of other preventive measures that have been put in place by the office here too.

Around the city you can't miss the billboards, posters, banners and other media from the government and major humanitarian agencies conveying messages of Ebola prevention. Unfortunately, I can see on the streets that the messaging hasn't made a big difference.

I'm happily surprised to see how much Plan has prioritised staff care. I was provided with a hygiene and first aid kit as soon as I arrived. An all-staff meeting is held every Friday at the office, providing an update on the situation and on Plan's response work, as well as advice from the in-house health specialist on how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Distributing food and relief items

Rino being temperature checked for Ebola

Being temperature checked for Ebola with a thermo gun

Latex gloves, a face mask and rubber boots are a must-wear when we are distributing food or other relief items. Plan's t-shirt is soon becoming a long-sleeve shirt to minimise skin exposure too. These are just some of the new initiatives to better protect our staff on the frontline.

Distribution sites now include hand washing buckets with taps containing chlorine-mixed water. Queues are tightly monitored to avoid skin contact. We'll continue to develop new initiatives like this as long as we are working in the field.

Working on the ground in a crisis that is still developing is beyond anyone's imagination. Unlike a visible safety and security threat, Ebola is untraceable unless a person is infected. How do you fight something that you cannot see, cannot hear, cannot smell, cannot taste and cannot touch?

Keeping in touch with home

Thankfully, communication with my family is not a problem – the office has made sure that I can keep in touch easily. My family ask the same questions about the situation every day, and they are always happy to hear the same answer – that I am well and doing fine.

Nightly video chat during dinner time is a new ritual for us – while they are having dinner in the living room in Woking, UK, I join them from my hotel room. This gives a new meaning to the term dinner date!

I'm already thinking about what will happen when I return. I would like to be quarantined for 21 days in a medical facility, just to be on the safe side. It would be safer for my family at home, safer for my colleagues at the office, and safer for the general public.

So far I have taken all preventive measures and I feel healthy. But this crisis is one step ahead of us all – I can't be too careful.

Plan International is responding to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Find out more and donate to the Ebola emergency appeal

Oct 17, 2014 12:40 PM

Preventing the Ebola outbreak from becoming a food crisis

Posted by Killen Otieno, Plan's Head of Food Assistance and Nutrition |

Killen OtienoThe Ebola health crisis could quickly turn into a food security crisis, blogs Plan’s Head of Food Assistance & Nutrition, Killen Otieno, on World Food Day.

16 October 2014: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are battling the deadliest Ebola epidemic in recorded history. The World Health Organization* (WHO) reports that 4,033 people have died so far, with 8,399 probable or suspected cases. However in reality, this number could be much higher due to unreported cases.

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that cases in Liberia are doubling every 15–20 days while those in Sierra Leone are doubling every 30–40 days. CDC also estimates that Liberia and Sierra Leone could see 1.4 million cases of Ebola within 3 months when under-reported cases are taken into account.

Unless it is brought under control the epidemic has the potential to spread widely across the region and worldwide, putting many more lives at risk.

Emerging food crisis puts children most at risk

Woman carrying food aid in Ebola-affected Guinea

A woman carrying food aid distributed by Plan International and WFP in Ebola-affected Guinea

Many children who have lost their parents to the Ebola epidemic have been ostracised, abandoned in the streets, without shelter, food or medical care. As the stretched healthcare system concentrates on managing the outbreak, children are not treated even for the most common paediatric diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and malnutrition.

Household food insecurity in the 3 affected countries is waiting to emerge, with effects on the health and development of children. These could include iron deficiency, developmental effects, and behaviour problems – primarily aggression, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder. In the circumstances, these risks are under-assessed and therefore under prioritised.

As the world focuses on Ebola as a health crisis, the humanitarian community and the world at large needs to worry about the risks of infant mortality, low birth weights, stunting, and all the subsequent disadvantages of malnutrition. These may not manifest themselves immediately, but could have far-reaching effects.

Food assistance: Plan responds

Plan International, together with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), is ramping up operations in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, providing food assistance to around 1.3 million people.

Plan has just completed a rapid needs assessment that will inform key decisions around immediate, medium and long term food assistance intervention choices.

As we mark this year's World Food Day* on 16 October, we are reminded of how this health crisis could quickly turn into a food security crisis. The humanitarian community, governments and the world at large must do everything to prevent this and other health crises from transforming into serious food emergencies.

While donors and the international community have pledged to address the Ebola medical emergency, integrated interventions need to be designed and fast tracked, to minimise effects, to ensure that families can care for children and provide for their food needs.

Donors should also invest more resources in emergency food assistance and cash transfer programmes to prevent the long-term effects that lack of access to food may bring.

A food crisis could seriously complicate the delicate efforts of containing the Ebola outbreak – we must do everything we can to avoid it.

Please support Plan’s emergency Ebola appeal

Read more about Plan’s global emergency food and nutrition work

*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites

Oct 16, 2014 02:55 AM

Children dying, and surviving, alone in Liberia

Posted by Henry Garneo, Plan youth blogger |

HenryNo children should die of hunger due to late responses to the Ebola outbreak – but they are, writes 18-year-old Henry Garneo – a Plan youth blogger and the chairman of Liberia’s National Children and Youth Advisory Board.

9 October 2014: Every day and night, I sit in my family’s little home in Paynesville, near Monrovia, and watch people from my community cry as their family members are taken away by the National Ebola Task Force to be cremated. They cry that they won’t see their family any more; they won’t even be able to talk about them at their graveside.

As those dead bodies are taken away, I wonder how life will be for their family and mostly, how will their children survive, as most of the victims of Ebola are usually the heads of families.

I start to shed tears as I watch those orphaned and semi-orphaned kids suffer from hunger. Other family members fear that those children too may have the virus, and they are left alone to fend for themselves. I try to help with some of the food items we have at home but most often it is far too little to sustain them for even a day.

One family’s tragedy

One situation that occurred in my community led to the death of an entire family that was very close to mine. They were a very peaceful and loving, happy Christian family until a great calamity befell their household.

On that fateful night on 19 September,  we listened to the intense cries of the 3-year-old son of Mr and Mrs Cheayan. For over 3 hours little Jimmy cried bitterly with excruciating pain.

My mom decided to go and check out what was going on. She knocked on the door for over 5 minutes but there was no answer, so she decided to call at the window and saw the dead bodies of Mr Cheayan and his wife with little Jimmy standing at their door, crying to enter in.

She screamed with tears and started to call for help. When the entire community was awake and aware of the situation, they decided to firstly call in the Ebola Task Force. The doors of the Cheayan’s house remained locked. It was agreed upon by the community that little Jimmy should remain in the house until the Task Force arrived.

5 days waiting

It took 5 days for the Task Force to respond to the call.

For 4 days the life of Jimmy was made miserable up till his death. He didn’t get to eat, sleep nor bathe. He was left in the house all by himself. No one was allowed to go to the house. In fact, the house was immediately chained by the community leadership the next morning after the incident occurred.

All day, all night, little Jimmy was in tears wanting the love and comfort of the arms of his parents. The entire community didn’t want to get involved with an Ebola-related case. It was agonising to watch the death of such a kid as you are helpless to save his life.

Children need more help

The death of little Jimmy hurts me a lot whenever I think that early referral to a medical centre by the Task Force would have saved his life.

People are now afraid and don’t know what to do when their family member falls ill. They were previously advised to call in the Task Force but they don’t know who to trust anymore.

Since the death of Jimmy, I along with other young people who work with Plan have been constantly engaging the media, calling on government to improve in their response strategy. We have been calling on them to meet the immediate needs of those children who have lost their parents due to Ebola by providing them with food and non-food items.

Resources are needed to put in place child-friendly care centres for children who lost their parents or who have been separated from them due to Ebola. Foster families who take care of orphaned children need to be provided with the necessary economic and psychosocial support.

There should be no children who die of hunger and starvation due to late responses to Ebola.

Plan emergency teams are responding to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Please support Plan's life-saving work – donate to the Ebola appeal

 

Oct 09, 2014 03:05 PM

Signs of hope in Guinea's Ebola epicentre

Posted by Gbaka Sandouno, Plan Guinea’s Gueckedou Programme Unit manager |
Gbaka Sandouno

Gbaka Sandouno, Plan Guinea's Gueckedou Programme Unit Manager

Ebola cases are starting to fall in Gueckedou, Guinea, as health messages make an impact, blogs Plan Programme Unit Manager, Gbaka Sandouno.

27 September 2014: The current situation in Gueckedou is not as alarming as it was 2 months ago. Out of the 49 Ebola confirmed patients presently at the treatment centre here, there are only 5 cases from Gueckedou, 39 from Macenta, 2 from Nzerekore, 2 from Kérouané and 1 from Beyla.

In Gueckedou, the cases are from 2 main communities – a few months ago  9 out of the 10 main communities  were severely affected by Ebola. We are grateful to say that the situation is subsiding.

Youth group power

In fact, even the main challenges we were facing, such as hostilities from villagers, and their doubts over the existence of the virus, have been solved. Religious leaders, women’s associations and youth groups got involved, and have all helped in raising awareness about the virus.

Now, people are scared of catching Ebola. The proof is that all the usual handshaking, marriage ceremonies, intensive market attendance and social gatherings - which used to be part of life here - are now considerably reduced.

Whoever gets ill now in any part of Gueckedou, rural or urban, is left alone until the specialised health worker comes to take him or her to the nearest health centre. The Ebola hotline number 115, on a green card, is given to everyone close by, as soon as such a case is noted.

Children affected

Hand washing, Guinea

Plan hand washing points are helping to reduce the spread of Ebola

On the streets, life is relatively normal, although economic activities have been reduced due to the closure of the borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the limitations on movement of people from one community to the other.

Stores, garages and offices are operating relatively well. Besides hawkers, marketeers and other traders, you also see traffic running normally.

But children are affected, either by being infected, losing parents or being traced as contacts. The fragile food security provoked by Ebola is also having a negative effect on children, as is the postponement of their school classes.

Recovering from Ebola

I attend meetings every morning with Ebola-cured patients. I have not met all of them, but I know that the recovered patients of Gueckedou - about 42 now - have formed an association. The president of the association, who was the first patient to recover from the virus, is called Mr Saa Sabas Temessadouno.

These recovered patients play such an important role in convincing those who did not believe in the existence of Ebola that it does exist. Of course, they also convince the majority who think Ebola has no cure that they can recover from it. They are living proof that people can survive from Ebola!

Radio campaigns

The group has been doing local radio campaigns telling how they were infected, then how they were taken to the Ebola treatment centre and have survived. Because of this, a lot of Ebola patients now declare themselves and are willing to be at the centre, and we are noting a considerable number of patients who are recovering.

At the beginning, I was very careful about meeting Ebola patients, and very worried about the outcome, but due to information and training obtained on what Ebola is and how to avoid it, I feel that Ebola can be contained. The threat can be won, especially if the population as a whole works together.

Steps are being taken to prevent people from catching the virus. Training sessions organised by religious people, community leaders, teachers and staff of various international non-governmental organisations on Ebola, as well as intensive awareness-raising carried out through local radio, civil society organisations, children and youth groups - are all helping people to avoid catching the disease.

Taps and washing facilities installed in every public and some private areas are also helping. Avoiding traditional practices relating to burials, social gatherings and social movement are helping as well.

Health messages are getting through

In Gueckedou as a whole, every village has been reached as part of awareness-raising work and messages are being passed on to people all the time.

Health workers are now working closely with local authorities and all are now welcomed by the villagers. Even the hygiene kits that were rejected a few months back by villagers are now being requested by the same people!

It’s worth mentioning that although this situation has improved here in Gueckedou, in other prefectures like Macenta and Nzerekore, it remains a huge challenge.

From giving institutional support to the health authorities to raising awareness through radio or civil society, Plan International is actively involved in anti-Ebola efforts.

We are providing hand washing facilities in public places and helping to trace contacts, and helping to provide the necessary funds to make things happen.

Please support Plan’s emergency Ebola appeal

Read more about Plan’s work in Guinea

 

Sep 27, 2014 10:05 AM

Girls CHARGE – tackling the issues that keep girls out of school

Posted by Sarah Hendriks, Plan’s Global Gender Advisor |

Sarah Hendriks 26 September 2014: This week in New York, Plan International announced its part in a groundbreaking effort spearheaded by The Clinton Global Foundation’s ‘No Ceilings’ Initiative and the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution.

This concerted effort, entitled Girls CHARGE (Collaborative Harnessing Ambition and Resources for Global Education), brings together more than 20 organisations that are dedicating their expertise, resources and broad-based reach to ensure that millions of girls across the world are able to transition into and complete secondary education in the next 5 years.

Getting girls into secondary education

The focus of this initiative on secondary education is unique and an important departure from focusing solely on primary education. Understanding and supporting girls to make this transition from primary to secondary education lies at the heart of Plan’s global Because I am a Girl campaign.

We welcome therefore the leadership of former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard on girls’ education, particularly highlighting the issues currently denying millions of adolescent girls around the world their right to an education.

Gender-based violence

For girls to go to and stay in school and reach their full potential, schools must offer both a safe learning environment and a rich learning experience. And this must span a minimum of 9 years, providing girls with a strong foundation from which they can transition into tertiary or higher education.

Yet one of the biggest and most intractable challenges girls face in school is gender-based violence. In fact, research shows that the levels of violence in schools, from peers and teachers, can be much higher than they are in wider society.

Schools are meant to be safe havens for children where they are supported and nurtured, where their minds are expanded and their passions ignited. And yet in many parts of the world, school can be a place to fear.

Supporting 150,000 girls in school

That is why Plan International has joined forces with the Clinton Global Initiative Girl CHARGE commitment. Over the next 5 years Plan will support 150,000 girls in 785 schools in South East Asia to create a learning environment free from school-related gender-based violence where girls and boys are free to learn and play.

The Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools programme aims to develop a zero tolerance approach in schools to all forms of violence and ensure these schools can become models of success that will be admired and eventually replicated by other countries in the region.

We know what is possible when the rights of girls are truly protected. This commitment raises the ambition of what we can do together to make that a reality for all girls.

Read the Girls CHARGE announcement on Plan USA's website

Join Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign

Sep 26, 2014 03:55 PM

Life after the lockdown in Sierra Leone

Posted by Kamanda, Plan Global Youth Advisory Panel member |

KamandaDays after Sierra Leone enforced a 3-day curfew to fight the Ebola outbreak, Kamanda - one of Plan’s global youth advisory members – reflects on the impact it’s had on people living in his community in the north of the country.

From 19 to 21 September in Sierra Leone, we had to stay inside our homes; to sit and pray with our families for relief from the Ebola outbreak.

Nobody could move from one street to the other, with the exception of the response officials, and volunteers and health personnel educating residents about how to stop this deadly pestilence from eating into the fabric of our dear and beloved developing country.

Imprisoned at home

You can’t imagine how difficult it is to sit and lie down in one place without moving from your house, street or community. This is really 3 days imprisonment but crucial in saving the lives of residents of this country from the agony of Ebola.

My family of 27 sat at home listening to radio programmes, ate food (though there was little), prayed, played cards and sometimes watched movies using the computer given to me by Plan. On the third day, health workers came to tell us about signs and symptoms, prevention and control of Ebola - and soap was given to us for frequent washing of hands.

In some villages, people took to their heels into the bush. Some of my family in their village - my mum, step-mums and brothers - ran into the bush because they were misinformed that health officials would come to inject them, put the Ebola virus in their blood, and take away sick people to mix them with Ebola infected people.

But when they called me on the mobile, I allayed their fears by explaining to them the essence of the 3 days and what is expected of them towards combating the pestilence.

Hunger and thirst

As a journalist of our local radio station, Radio Bankasoka, a colleague and I were assigned to monitor what happened over the 3 days in the district.

People adhered to the President of Sierra Leone’s declaration that they should stay at home. But many were not happy because they were not guaranteed food or water. Many poor families went through all 3 days hungry and thirsty.

Even in the absence of Ebola, affording a meal a day is difficult for poor, extended families, let alone for 3 consecutive days. Household heads that were suspected of having Ebola were held and quarantined.

The sharpest thing that pricks my heart now is that children, especially those whose parents are victims, are suffering with no support. For example, in Gbom Samba community, 3 children lost their parents. In other communities, you could see children lie down on the ground hopelessly as a result of hunger.

Hospitals are empty

Tears ran from my eyes when I heard the report from my local radio station about 35 people dying of Ebola within the district. What could happen in a month, a year? It’s really awful.

People have abandoned the health centres with the fear that they will be given the Ebola virus and perceived as Ebola victims. They have lost confidence in the local health personnel. Even pregnant women and mothers of children under-5 no longer visit health centres. The government hospitals and other health centres are empty.

As of now, 81 houses have been quarantined in my district but security measures for the quarantined homes and treatment and holding centres are not strong.

For example in Borrp community, only 1 military person and 1 police officer are securing 5 quarantined houses of 31 people. I witnessed this in one of the chiefdoms in my district, and interviewed the health officer in charge.

Food is scarce in quarantined homes and treatment centres. Suspected Ebola victims continue to escape from these homes or centres spreading the disease countrywide.

An Ebola victim who escaped from a detention centre yesterday night explained to my colleague, while eating biscuits hungrily: “Food is not given to me since I was put into that place and I’m hungry; I need food right now.”

No one dared to touch him. The authorities were called, but the victim took to his heels and went into hiding. This is risky.

What will happen next?

Many suspected cases and Ebola victims have been traced, held and quarantined. I’m hoping there will be an absolute decrease of this deadly pestilence within the next 21 days and give us some freedom.

But I expect more deaths in treatment and holding centres and quarantined homes because victims of Ebola and suspected cases get no or hardly any medical attention and little or no food.

Children and poor people will continue to die of hunger and Ebola because they are vulnerable at this point in time.

We need foreign technical experts on Ebola brought into the treatment and holding centres,as residents no longer have trust in the local health personnel and have abandoned the hospitals.

People like me can help. Youth groups should be supported to embark on campaigns through radio and social media for people, especially pregnant women and mothers of children under-5, to visit health centres again.

Young people and children see what is happening in a different way - we understand our rights and the responsibilities of duty bearers and are ready to hold them to account.

Support Plan’s emergency Ebola appeal

Read Kamanda’s blog in the run-up to the lockdown

Learn more about Kamanda and his role on Plan’s Global Youth Advisory panel

Sep 24, 2014 10:05 AM

Let’s help young people be heard

Posted by Emily Laurie, Plan Global Advocacy Manager |

23 September 2014: I am Scottish, but because I live in England, I did not get to vote in the recent referendum on independence for Scotland. But you know who did? Everyone over the age of 16 years who does live in Scotland.

Whatever their view, they were able to voice their opinion and they were listened to. However, giving young people a voice is not something that happens across the world and that is something Plan International is trying to change with our youth advocacy toolkit.

Since we launched the toolkit, it has been received better than we ever expected. It’s been so popular that children and young people want a new way to share it more broadly. To address this we have developed a short animated film, which covers the main lessons from the toolkit.

Up For School

On Monday, 22 September, young people held a rally in New York, supported by A World At School, while the world’s leaders were in the city for the United Nations General Assembly. They held the rally to call on leaders to provide quality education to all children around the world.

With 65 million girls still out of primary and lower secondary school, we need to work with the young people to put pressure on governments and see some serious change.

We are launching this film in solidarity with the rally and the broader youth movement for education. We want to help this grow in size and strength and as a result see millions more children going to school.

Join us in supporting them and share the film as widely as you can.

And join the young people by signing their new petition.

They are #UpForSchool - are you?

 

Sep 23, 2014 11:55 AM
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