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

Ebola: Collaborative action is showing promise

Posted by Jonathan Mitchell, Plan International Director of International Programmes |

21 January 2015: I have just returned from Liberia and Sierra Leone after spending a week there. To my surprise, I found that most aspects of life in the two countries worst-affected by Ebola continue as normal.

This is somewhat contrary to the impression one gets from the outside. People are going about their lives in most respects as usual and the streets are bustling.

Obviously there are some changes, such as the check points for health and hand-washing outside most buildings and on major roads, lots of posters about Ebola on the streets, the Ebola care and treatment units that have sprung-up, and the almost deserted airports.

This is a unique emergency, the likes of which has not been experienced anywhere in the world in recent times - a major outbreak of a highly dangerous and contagious disease such as Ebola in countries with particularly weak infrastructure and health systems. The situation has required a highly complex and sophisticated response. Just the setting-up and daily management of Ebola treatment centres alone is complicated and requires high levels of expertise, not to mention everything else, including border controls, managing the air corridors, front-line tracing of potential infected, dead-body disposal, community outreach, awareness raising, and community relations, logistics/supply chain, recruitment of personnel, dealing with high levels of stigma and fear both within and outside affected countries.

Real heroes

Plan staff in Sierra Leone record names of people entering the local Ebola community care centre.

Front-line responders are real heroes, in particular the health workers, contact tracers and burial teams. During our brief visit, the most moving part was to the Plan supported community care centre in Foredugu, Port Loko, in Sierra Leone. There, we met the nurses and staff hired by the government, some of whom had been working non-stop for four months in a highly risky environment, and in regular contact with infected people.

The head nurse told us how she had managed the centre every day for four months and how she had been unable to see her own children and family during this entire time because of her family’s fear about her work with Ebola.  We were also introduced to two small boys, and their mother, who were survivors of Ebola and who had lost their father and brotherand the head nurse talked about how the nurses had taken the surviving family members in and loved them.

We also heard stories of contact tracers who had to search for potential infected and then deal with highly emotional and resistant communities and families to get them to go to community care centres for diagnosis and treatment.  And, we met a doctor in Liberia who told us of how he had led the initial response in his county with minimal outside help and who had seen many of his colleagues become infected and die.

New cases declining

A combined response to the Ebola crisis is seeing cases decline across West Africa.

The commitment and work done by front-line staff, most of whom are local and have minimal support, as well as those coming in from outside, and in the midst of such danger, is simply incredible and hopefully will be recognised by the governments and agencies involved.

The combined response is working. The number of new cases is now declining in all three countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It would appear that this is due to the combined work of all agencies involved, and all interventions, including the community care and treatment facilities, tracing of cases, body disposal, hygiene measures and community awareness raising.

For example, we visited a Plan supported community hygiene training session in Bomi, Liberia, and it was clear that it was well run, effective and community members highly engaged.  Agencies are working very well together overall and an example is the effective collaboration between Plan and Partners in Health at the treatment centre in Port Loko, in Sierra Leone. Here, Partners in Health does all the front line clinical work in the centre, while Plan provides management and logistics support, including providing supplies and meals to staff and patients every day.   While the work is not yet done and everyone needs to remain vigilant until there are no more cases, the indications are that we could soon see an end to the outbreak in these countries.

Moving forward

Plan is playing a substantial role in the response. The organisation stayed in the affected countries and quickly established relevant roles and scaled-up and managed a significant response.  Our existing presence and capacity in-country was a great advantage.  We have raised $40 million, reassigned existing staff, hired many new staff, and we are directly impacting over 2.5 million peopledirectly.  The response has been difficult, has stretched our capacities, and we have made mistakes, yet we have continued to address challenges and move forward.  Our efforts have been recognised by governments, donors and peers as contributing significantly to the response.

Assuming the trend of declining cases continues, all agencies need to begin planning for early recovery and transition. We also should try to change the narrative of the media, some of whom have criticised emptying facilities as a waste of money.It was prudent of organisations to build centres based on responding to a potential worst case.The fact that collectively the response has prevented a worst case and the situation is now improving quickly should be seen as a success.

Support Plan International’s response to the Ebola crisis.

Jan 21, 2015 11:50 AM

Haiti - surviving the earthquake, and moving on

Posted by John Chaloner, Plan Haiti Country Director |

Five years after the devastating earthquake hit Haiti the landscape has changed - with more children in primary school than ever before, blogs Plan Haiti Country Director, John Chaloner.

Haiti earthquake infographic

9 January 2014: Five years ago, on 12 January 2010, a massive earthquake hit Haiti. An estimated 3.5 million people were affected, while  220,000 people are thought to have died. Everyone in Haiti on that dark day remembers where they were.

Just to test the nation further, starting in October 2010, Haiti was impacted by a cholera outbreak which has to date killed an estimated 8,562 people and infected about 700,000 others.

Haiti had not had cholera for over 100 years. It was ill-prepared to respond anyway, never mind during a period of earthquake response. Tropical storms Isaac and Sandy also hit the country, in August and October 2012 respectively, hampering the earthquake response, bringing more fatalities and leaving large parts of the country under water.

Changed landscape

Five years later in Haiti, however, the landscape has changed. That is not to say that the then poorest country in the western hemisphere, even with a massive investment of donor cash, now looks like Dubai but, after over 3 years of relatively stable government, there is a difference.

Gone is most of the estimated 19 million cubic metres of rubble generated by the earthquake; over 1 million people – some 10% of the entire population of Haiti - made homeless by the earthquake have been rehoused after living in camps since the earthquake.

Roads, especially in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, have been repaired and many paved for the first time. Houses damaged by the earthquake have been rebuilt and small businesses have multiplied. Several international standard hotels have been constructed as have a couple of large supermarkets.

More children in school

The collapse of the education system, with about half the schools in the country being affected by the earthquake, has been reversed and today there are more children in school, at least at the primary school level, than ever before.

Of course the Haitian government, huge amounts of cash, donors, the alphabet soup of UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations, plus a cacophony of other aid groups et al, have contributed to the recovery to date but, as could always be argued in times of crisis, it is ordinary people who prove themselves extraordinary.

Youth emergency response

Haitian youth were the first group of people to respond to the aftermath of the earthquake. Organising themselves quickly they were digging people out of the rubble and searching for medical help almost immediately.

Haitian families, whose homes were intact, invited other families to shelter in their houses and courtyards providing mattresses, food and shelter. As women organised in their neighbourhoods to distribute any relief supplies they had to the needy, so men provided security for them. The roll call of local heroes is long.

Challenges of course remain. Haiti has suffered from appalling - and often brutal - governance for decades and many Haitians have voted with their feet leaving the country to seek better prospects elsewhere.

During the past 4 years some 80% of the staff in my office having babies have chosen to deliver them in the USA or Canada – not a comment per se on the Haitian health services but a move to guarantee their children an alternative nationality and better prospects in the future – just in case!

Challenges

The country remains poor with a still fragile education system, poor and expensive health services and high unemployment. The government mantra is that ‘Haiti is open for business’ and indeed it is, but services are poor - especially electricity supplies - with some main and many feeder roads in poor condition which impacts negatively on a largely agricultural economy.

One gain from the earthquake, however, has been the end of the state run fixed telephone system and the introduction of mobile technology which is popular and widespread. The chattering classes are here in Haiti not just in the parlours of the western world!

The biggest challenge remains governance, however, and the need to build trust in the workings of government. In a world where faith in politicians is at an all-time low Haiti faces another uphill struggle. But Haiti survives and its people move on. When I go back home to the small village in the United Kingdom where my family live, I’m often approached by local people who, with pained looks on their faces, ask how things are in Haiti these days.

My stock reply now is that they should realise that Haiti is a Caribbean island and that many North American and European holidaymakers pay good money to spend a week or 2 viewing and learning about Haiti’s history, admiring the spectacular scenery and soaking up the sunshine on the beaches. All these attributes and a people who are used to dealing with adversity – there’s hope!

Read about Plan's response to the Haiti earthquake

Learn about Plan’s global emergencies work

Jan 09, 2015 10:45 AM

2014: A year in the shadow of Ebola

Posted by Taplima Muana, Programme Support Manager, Sierra Leone |

2014 got off to an exciting start for Sierra Leone. There was a boom in the mining industry and even tourism seemed promising. The atmosphere was hopeful, and people were going about their daily business as normal.

Fast forward a few months, and absolutely everything had changed. Daily life in many communities was unrecognisable, with schools closed, whole districts under quarantine, and people afraid to leave their homes. Some airlines started to desert us, companies started closing down, and any hope we had of tourism vanished.

May 2014 - Some truths are impossible to face

In May, the World Health Organization reported the first cases and deaths of Ebola in Sierra Leone – 7 confirmed cases were reported in Kailahun district.

I called my Uncle from the eastern border town of Koindu. ‘“There is no such thing as Ebola,” he said convincingly. “What is it then?” I asked. “A plane carrying witches at night crashed and those on board perished. That’s why they are bleeding as they take their last breaths.”

To him, a witchcraft explanation was the most logical one.

When rebellion started from this same border town of Koindu in 1991, people in Freetown, the capital city, denied that a war existed. Once again, no-one wanted to face a terrible reality – Ebola. Maybe some truths are just impossible to face.

June 2014 - My relative must be treated as a suspect

Ebola Sierra Leone Health Worker 180

Health worker being disinfected at an Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone

I called my close relatives in Bo, located in the southern region, to inform them that no-one, not even relatives, should be allowed into the house. My aunt called me the following day and told me that her son had arrived. “He said nothing, he just came back with his luggage and occupied his room,” she told me.

“He should not be allowed into your home in case he has Ebola,” I told her sternly.

My aunt was silent, before saying loudly, “But he is my son”.

I told my aunt she must treat him as a suspect. “Don’t let anyone enter his room and watch him carefully. If he starts to show symptoms of the disease, call 117 immediately. Do you understand?”

She agreed. After hanging up, I was annoyed with myself for my lack of empathy. But you don’t kick out Ebola with weak feet.

Twenty one days later, the incubation period was over. I called my aunt for a final check.

“He is doing fine,” she said. “The only problem here is that the neighbour next door died yesterday of Ebola, and their home is now under quarantine.”

I felt as if the ground was collapsing beneath me. The neighbour’s house is just a stone’s throw away from her own. All the neighbour’s kids come at night to my aunt’s house to watch television.

October 2014 - Tackling Ebola

Even with the reality we were facing and the ambulance sirens blaring in our villages, we still had hope that no family member would contract the disease. More cases were still being confirmed, but me and my family were doing all we could – monitoring our temperatures and keeping our spirits high.

As part of the emergency response, Plan opened its first Community Care Unit in Sierra Leone. How brave the staff are to support communities in this way in the worst of times. I have visited some of the centres and saw first-hand the efforts of health care workers to keep patients alive.

December 2014 - Signs of hope

Ebola nurse Sierra Leone 180

Nurse at a Plan-supported Ebola Community Care Unit in Port Loko, Sierra Leone

By the end of December, confirmed Ebola cases had skyrocketed to more than 7,000 in Sierra Leone. But our hopes of beating the diseases had grown even further with increases in safe burial teams, additional Ebola Community Care Units opened and more Plan staff on the ground.

Although cases are still increasing in Sierra Leone, we take hope from areas like Kailahun, where the outbreak first started in the country, which has reported no new cases for several weeks. But the battle is far from over.

2015 - Preparing for post-Ebola?

With schools closed for months, the impact of Ebola has taken its toll on my children. They are kept inside our gated compound and my 11-year-old son keeps complaining that he can’t go out and play with his friends. I understand, but I can’t give him that space while the dreaded disease is still a risk.

Responses to the many problems brought by Ebola vary a lot. But the opinion of one man I met during a community visit stood out for me. “The real way to address Ebola, which is now endemic here and is bound to be recurring sporadically even after the current outbreak, is to prioritise education,” he said. “That way, we can deal with Ebola from its roots and not from its branches”.

Support Plan International’s response to the Ebola crisis.

Jan 08, 2015 11:05 AM

Remembering the 2004 tsunami

Posted by Nigel Chapman, Plan Chief Executive Officer |

26 December 2014: Ten years ago a disaster of epic proportions devastated several countries in Asia. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami killed over 230,000 people in a day, while over 45,000 people still remain missing.

For many, it was the first time they’d heard the word tsunami.

When I heard the news, I was at home in the UK with my family.  I was working as the Director of the BBC World Service and we became a lifeline to many communities as we broadcasted news of the tsunami’s impact in multiple Asian languages.

Now, a decade later, the worst-affected countries - Indonesia; Thailand; Sri Lanka and India - have rebuilt almost all that was destroyed.

Chilling force

Boat on house in Aceh, Indonesia

The boat that was swept on top of a house in Aceh is now a memorial to the disaster

In most places, only a few remnants of the disaster remain, yet each are poignant. In Aceh, a fisherman’s boat still sits on top of a house; a giant freighter which travelled 5 kilometres inland and destroyed numerous communities, sits close to the centre of Banda Aceh – a reminder of the sheer destructive force and scale of the tsunami.

Clamber atop the freighter and you can see the entire city of Banda Aceh, in a chilling reminder of just how far this monstrous wave travelled inland.

If you speak to the locals, their story is just as relevant today as it was back then. The pain remains, as many victims fight back tears as they recall their stories. Houses were devastated, livelihoods were lost and family members were killed.

Losing loved ones

Sunday 26 December 2004 still remains etched, in their mind, as it does in the minds of those thousands of miles away like myself who still remember the Boxing Day Tsunami.

Twelve-year-old Yaumul, from Aceh, Indonesia, lost his father to the wave and still doesn’t know where he is buried. “l miss him every day,” he says.

Nineteen-year-old Surya, from Aceh, Indonesia, was just 9 when he was separated from his family and caught in the wave for hours. He lost over half his family. It took him 3 months before he was able to find his sister. Now, he lives with his sister and her family and is back at secondary school, hoping to complete his education.

Then there’s Mariana, a 28-year-old woman, from Aceh, Indonesia, whose community was devastated by the tsunami. Supported by Plan International, she trained to become a pre-school teacher and now runs her own learning centre in her village.

These stories - both heartbreaking and hopeful - show how reduced-to-rubble communities can begin to rebuild their lives when the world pulls together.

Children at the centre of relief

Boy in Plan school, Aceh, Indonesia

Children in a school reconstructed with Plan's support

Plan was at the forefront of the response to the tsunami and these anniversaries provide us with an opportunity to honour the victims of this tragedy and revisit and remember them, 10 years on.

In the immediate aftermath, Plan tailored its relief efforts to each country’s unique needs and coordinated with government and non-governmental organisations.

We put children at the centre of relief and development programmes, providing back-to-school kits and books – many of which now sit in the community libraries for all to use.

We also worked to make sure that children’s needs, their protection and their long-term development were central to our programmes, ensuring that psycho social care was provided to both children and adults.

Global action

This disaster was also a testimony to the global community.

The tsunami marked an extraordinary outpouring of international aid. Individual donors, governments, and foundations demonstrated a level of generosity and commitment never before seen.

When events like this capture people’s hearts, it reminds us that the world really is just a village, and that we look after each other. Politics matter less. International rivalries become irrelevant. Nations act like a community and rivals act like neighbours. People open their hearts, across the world to help, to give something, to do something, to help respond to the scale of human suffering.

That generosity allowed Plan, and other humanitarian aid organisations, to mobilise relief on a level rarely seen before.

Multi-country responses were assembled, in some cases within hours, for the emergency distribution of food, shelter, and medicine.

This later transitioned into a long-term response dealing with everything from the psychological trauma suffered by hundreds of thousands of children, to rebuilding schools and health centres, and launching livelihood projects to help communities regain their incomes and independence.

Remember and commemorate

This 10-year anniversary provides us an opportunity to remember the colossal number of people who lost their lives, and commemorate the survivors and the resilience and strength that underlies their recovery.

But this anniversary also provides us an opportunity to recognise the generosity and the ability of the international community to pull together in the lives of disasters and emergencies.

And as we look across the world, at the number of humanitarian interventions, which need consistent support – Syria, Northern Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and of course West Africa and the Ebola crisis – we need to take the spirit of generosity, and apply it just as well as we did after the tsunami – for the sake of the innocent children and communities whose lives are at risk and who deserve the very best we can do for and with them.

Read more about Plan’s response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

View the 'Then and now in Aceh' slideshow

Dec 26, 2014 01:00 AM

The Ebola orphans cut off from their family and community

Posted by Allieu, Plan Sierra Leone youth group member |
Allieu

11 December 2014: I live in a  community in the Western Area Rural District of Sierra Leone, where the Ebola virus has claimed the lives of over 17 people, including parents and relatives of some of my friends and school mates.

I want to raise the awareness of everybody, including authorities and humanitarian organisations about the way victims of the Ebola virus, particularly orphans, are being treated in their communities.

People we used to play with, discuss issues about our schools with, and argue with about the football teams we support are now outcasts in their own communities after being exposed to Ebola.

People fear to go close to them, they don’t even encourage them to be part of their conversations, and they run away from them saying they are carriers of the Ebola virus.

Ebola witches

Others make fun of them, according to one boy, Hassan. Because of stigmatisation some people are ashamed and so they hide it by saying their parents died from something else and not Ebola.  In my community, some people think children affected with Ebola are witches.

I feel very sorry for these children, thinking that such things can happen to anybody, including myself. Life is really difficult for young people who are being stigmatised as a result of the Ebola virus.

Left alone

Ibrahim, a very young and energetic boy aged 17 is a vivid example. He was in form 3, ready to take the Basic Education Certificate Education exams, when the Ebola outbreak came to Kailahun.

Ibrahim lost 3 members of his family including his mother, father and an elder brother aged 21. He and his 13-year-old sister were taken to the holding and treatment centre at a community about 6 miles from my community.

Ibrahim and his sister spent 22 days in the centre and were finally discharged and allowed to go back home. It was very tragic; when they returned home, the tenants in their compound immediately fled, saying the Ebola victims had come back. Ibrahim and his sister were left alone in the compound.

Shunned by relatives

People don’t go close to them, they find it difficult even to eat. Fortunately for Ibrahim and his sister they have an aunt who comes from another community bringing food and water for them every day. The aunty leaves immediately after she drops the food at their doorstep.

Before the Ebola outbreak, other family members who were capable would take responsibility for their relatives’ orphan but that is not the case with Ebola survivors. People are afraid of them. Nobody wants to live with them.

I am afraid of what will become of Ibrahim and his sister as they live all by themselves.  Nobody wants to go close to them to tell them what is good from what is bad. Since they were discharged from the treatment centre, nobody, not even the District Health Management Team, has visited them to know how they are doing.

What will become of orphans?

There are a lot of orphans who have found themselves in similar situations. My question is what will become of orphans of the Ebola virus after the epidemic? We are only hopeful because in recent times we saw Plan Sierra Leone and other humanitarian organisations providing food and non-food items to Ebola survivors - but can this continue even after the epidemic? Will organisations continue to help? How about the continuation of education of school-age orphans, what will their future look like?

Please, as a young man, I am calling on the government and humanitarian organisations to act now to support orphans of the Ebola virus, protect them from community stigmatisation and assist by providing orphanages, guidance and counselling services as well as scholarships for orphans for their future development.

Otherwise the future is bleak for orphans as a result of the stigma against Ebola survivors in our communities.

Support Plan’s life-saving Ebola response work

Put #HandsOnHearts to show your support for children affected by Ebola.

 

Dec 11, 2014 10:40 AM

Climate change: Hear children's voices

Posted by Pia Treichel, Plan Australia’s Climate Change Adaptation Programme Manager |

4 December 2014: You might be asking what climate change has to do with children’s voices, and what this has to do with Plan.

As Plan Australia’s Climate Change Adaptation Programme Manager, I’m here in Lima representing Plan and children’s rights during the UN Climate Change conference, which runs until 12 December.

Governments from around the world are meeting in Peru to hash out some of the details of the next legally binding international agreement on climate change, the final version of which will be signed next year in Paris.

Raising the voices of children and young people at these events is imperative. In my role, I visit many of the communities Plan works with to help build the resilience of children, young people and their communities.

Youth action

Girl planting a tree, Philippines

A girl planting trees in her community to help protect the environment

Just last week I was in the Philippines monitoring some of the projects Plan works on. In this visit, I got to talk with many elementary and high-school students about what climate change means to them, what they’ve learnt about climate change impacts (both through Plan’s programming and through their own life experiences), and what’s needed to address climate change.

Children and young people throughout the Philippines are already acting to prepare for and adapt to climate change – they are planting mangroves to reduce the impact of storm surges, planting trees to reduce the likelihood of landslides, working with their local government to compost organic waste, and helping to implement new farming techniques that burn less waste and improve the yields of crops in the changing climates they find themselves in.

Feeling the impacts

These children and young people are already feeling the impacts of climate change on their families, on their schools, on their communities, and on themselves. We talked about the impacts they are already feeling, as well as the ones they know are coming – the impacts they fear, both for themselves and for others.

They told me about not being able to go to school because of the impacts of increased storms and typhoons, they talked about their families not having enough to eat because their families now only get 2 harvests of rice a year instead of 3, and they told me about increases in vector borne diseases like dengue.

Lead, inspire, listen

But children are not merely passive victims. These same boys and girls and young men and women also told me about both what they are already doing about climate change, and what they want us to do.

They talked about the actions they are taking, and what they want decision makers – their parents, teachers, local government leaders, national leaders, and the global community – to do.

They are looking for real leadership: leaders who will show them how to make complicated decisions, who will show them how to action and implement those decisions and who will listen; leaders who will inspire them the way that they inspire me.

So my job while I’m here in Lima is to try to give a voice to young people – we have several youth delegates talking at our side event at the conference, 'Children in a changing climate: who does the future belong to?', on 4 December – and to encourage the negotiators and leaders who are here to lead, to inspire, and to listen.

Read about Plan's global work on disaster risk reduction and climate change

Dec 04, 2014 04:20 PM

Legal identities give girls protection to speak out

Posted by Nigel Chapman, Plan Chief Executive Officer |

27 November 2014: Imagine you’re a young girl in school and you’ve just received the results of a tough exam. You’ve done really well and you can’t wait to tell your parents. But as soon as you find them, you know something is wrong. You can see it in their eyes. And then you find out: they’ve arranged for you to get married to a man twice your age because they just can’t afford to look after you anymore.

This is the story of Rubi from Bangladesh who saw her life turned upside down in an instant, pushed into marriage at just 15 years old. It was a horrifying situation, but rather than simply going along the path her parents had decided for her, Rubi did somethingcourageous and remarkable: she fought back.

Rubi knew the statistics. She knew that 64% of women in Bangladesh aged 20-24 got married before they were 18, which is illegal, although laws are often not followed. She also knew that getting married would mean the end of the schooling she so cherished. She’d have to drop out, leave her friends behind and focus on starting a family.

Rubi knew all of this because she had been part of a local child forum set up by Plan International and local partner organisation Shomaj Unnoyon Proshikkhan Kendro. There, she had learnt all about child marriage and her rights - never imagining that she herself would be part of the story.

Birth certificate key

Rubi, Bangladesh

Rubi's birth certificate helped prove she was aged 15 and too young to get married

With support from the leaders of the child forum and the chairman of her local council, Rubi was able to call on the ace up her sleeve: her birth certificate.

Rubi was able to prove  that she was just 15 years old - giving her the leeway needed to convince her parents that this was not the right time to get married and that doing so would be illegal.

That simple piece of paper, giving Rubi the ability to prove her age, is a prime example of how birth registration can play a significant role in reducing child marriage.

Girls' education and freedom

Of course, birth registration alone isn’t going to stop child marriage, but it is the first step towards a legal identity and recognition of a girl’s relationship with the state. That recognition is what paves the way for girls and young women to access the education and freedom they need to be able to succeed in life and take control of their futures.

Having a legal identity means you can vote, get an education, sign contracts, get a job in the formal sector and protect against rights abuses like human trafficking and child marriage.

Registration of births, as well as other key life events, is also vital for governments to be able to monitor and respond to issues like maternal mortality, unsafe abortion and teen pregnancy.

Basic tasks suddenly become more difficult without a form of legal identity. For girls and women, this only compounds an array of already existing issues that are pushing girls and women into the periphery.

Invisible children

Some 135 million children in Asia-Pacific have not had their births registered. While this number is split fairly evenly between male and female, we have to take into account that young girls and women already have to break down significant barriers just to be treated equally. If they are not registered, the barriers to participation become even more prominent.

Civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) – the registration and analysis of all major life events, like births, deaths and marriages - is a cross-cutting issue that compounds challenges faced by girls and young women who are already marginalised and excluded from society.

Looking at CRVS through a gender lens is crucial. Empowered girls can change the world – literally. Just 1 extra year of schooling means a girl will earn up to 25% more income. Yet if we don’t treat CRVS as a tool for female empowerment, we do a disservice to all those girls and women who have dreams and aspirations.

Well-functioning and trustworthy CRVS systems are the building blocks of inclusive and just societies that uphold rights, good governance and the rule of law. The weak state of CRVS systems has been described as a “scandal of invisibility” that is further excluding already marginalised groups.

Asia and Pacific conference

The spotlight is now being placed on the invisible people of this world to give this issue the urgent attention it deserves. From 24-28 November in Bangkok, UNESCAP and partners are convening  the first Ministerial Conference on CRVS in Asia and the Pacific*.

For the past 9 months, we have been working with the United Nations and governments to develop a Regional Action Framework that will pave the way for a decade of CRVS and help us ensure that by 2024, every birth, death, marriage and other life event is registered.

It’s time to get everyone in the picture, but we can’t ignore the challenges already faced by girls like Rubi and the millions of others who have to make hard choices early on in life.

Read how Plan is supporting youths to speak out at the CRVS conference in Bangkok

*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites.

 

Nov 27, 2014 04:35 PM

Forced marriages on the rise in the time of Ebola

Posted by Christiana, Plan youth blogger |
Christiana from Sierra Leone

21 November 2014: My name is Christiana. I am 17 years old. I live in a small village in the Moyamba District in southern Sierra Leone. I lost my father when I was a baby and my mother is a petty trader.

I have experienced issues affecting girls’ rights to education because I was forced into marriage. I want to be a voice to tackle forced marriage in Sierra Leone and the world.

I dropped out of school twice: when I was 7 years old in primary school and junior secondary school for 1 year. I came back to school about 1 year ago.

In my school, Plan Sierra Leone established a girls’ club under the Girl Power Project. I was selected by my peers to be their president because of my goal to be an advocate for girls’ education and against early marriage, teenage pregnancy and female genital mutilation.

Schools left empty

Before the Ebola outbreak, we were having meetings as a group, doing peer education and visiting homes to promote girls’ education and discourage early marriage which was prevalent in our community. I have often said: “If you plant a tree and allow it to grow, then expect a fresh fruit from it.”

Now it is impossible to meet as a group because schools are closed. In my village, things have changed completely since the government declared a health emergency and banned all public gatherings. Schools are left empty as an abandoned nest. Some schools in my area are bushy, dirty and also used as holding centres.

147 girls pregnant

I am so sad. Being at school can help to protect girls from pregnancy and marriage. Many of my friends are getting pregnant and I realised some have been forced into early marriage. We cannot advocate on their behalf, we can no longer go to their homes.

Last week a social worker was on the Moyamba District Children’s Awareness Radio station talking about the situation of girls and young people. According to her about 147 girls in the district are already pregnant because of the outbreak of Ebola.

I can give an example of a girl in my community. She is 16 years old. She was impregnated by a man and her parents had to send her away to stay with the man.

Covering shame through child marriage

In my area, people believe that it is disrespectful for a girl to get pregnant. In some families, a girl is given to a man to cover the shame by sending her into marriage. Some people also believe that at this time young girls can be given to men to help fend for their families.

Putting an end to child marriage in Sierra Leone needs support from local leaders. I have heard about local by-laws in communities to fight against Ebola. I think that local leaders should also pass by-laws against child marriage at this time when Ebola affects our girls.

In my district we started reporting Ebola cases on 19 August. I became worried and troubled. I had sleepless nights because of the worrying messages that Ebola could stop schooling, affect our economy and in the worst case, I might even lose my family and my life because of Ebola.

We lost some children and young people in my community, some local leaders, a religious leader and some family friends.

Under quarantine and isolated

The situation has become worse and my community is under quarantine and we have been isolated. I have learnt new words and scary ones: quarantine homes, holding centres, chlorine, hand washing facility, treatment centres and sanitiser and so on. Children’s playgrounds are abandoned.

There is no electricity so I walk every day to the next village to charge my phone to communicate with young people across Plan who are also living in quarantined towns. Thanks to God for Plan Sierra Leone providing top up credit and giving me the space to communicate through the youth engagement Ebola response activities.

Plan Sierra Leone and other agencies have been doing well but I think more needs to be done. There are loads of stories of young girls who have been forced into marriage in my community. We need help now.

Some girls have survived the virus and have lost their families. Every day we are getting orphans and children dying. What is the hope for us?  I think going back to school will be challenging for some girls because they will be nursing babes whilst trying to study.

Support Plan’s life-saving Ebola response work

Put #HandsOnHearts to show your support for children affected by Ebola

Watch a short film of Christiana and other girls fighting for their right to education

Nov 21, 2014 11:05 AM

Child rights 25 years on

Posted by Anne-Sophie Lois, Plan UN representative in Geneva |

Anne-Sophie LoisAs the world celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 November, Plan’s UN representative in Geneva, Anne-Sophie Lois, looks back at the fight for child rights and the challenges ahead.

Today, the right of all children and young people to be heard is, in theory, taken for granted.

The international community has, in its near universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), agreed that this principle is a key aspect of children's and young people's ability to exercise the rest of their rights.

This was not, however, the case in 1989 when the CRC was drafted. "States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child," says the Convention.

But even as these words were being drafted, this did not reflect reality.

Making young people's voices heard

194 states have ratified the CRC - yet millions of children are still not realising their rights

I experienced this first hand. In 1988, as members of the Swedish Red Cross Youth Section, my colleagues and I heard of this Convention and were appalled that we, the children and young people about whom this document was speaking and to whom it was guaranteeing rights, had never been consulted.

We therefore decided to take action. Given the mandate of the Red Cross, we focused on one specific article of the Convention regarding children in armed conflict. We did not feel that the text of this article represented the best interests of the child. So we drafted an appeal, stating that "We, the young people of all nations, do not accept this."

We sought the support of youth all around the world for stronger language protecting children in conflict situations.

Imagine: back then there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no SurveyMonkey, and certainly no online petition platforms. We had to look up the addresses in catalogues and send out information via letters and fax!

After sending our appeal to 2,000 organisations in 150 countries, the responses were overwhelmingly successful: 655 child and youth organisations in 120 countries representing over 100 million young people showed their support by signing the appeal.

To my knowledge, this was the only large scale and formalised initiative at the time to get the view of youth on the new Convention.

Taking our appeal to the top

Anne-Sophie Lois and group holding an armed conflict appeal, 1989

Anne-Sophie (bottom right) holding an appeal on children in armed conflict in 1989

So with a 4 metre-long appeal in hand, and much anticipation and enthusiasm, we travelled to Geneva in March 1989. We were confident that with the support of millions of young people across the world, our appeal could not be ignored.

Even though it had not yet been enshrined in international law, it was evident to us that an international document that would protect our rights should take into account what more than 100 million of us had to say.

Those drafting the Convention did not seem to see things the same way, and our appeal was, however, all but ignored. We had lost one specific battle, but not the war, as a few years later, an Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict addressed the very issues we had raised in 1989.

The Convention today

Today, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most ratified international treaty, with all but 2 (USA and Somalia) states ratifying the treaty. 194 states have, on paper, agreed that children and young people are rights holders, with not only the right to be heard but also many other rights.

But as I so clearly experienced in 1989, words on paper, while important, are not sufficient. If not followed by the political will to make those rights a reality, gaps in protection will remain.

We have come far, it's true. But 58 million primary school-aged children are still out of school. Globally, 35% of children under 5 have not had their births registered (a number that climbs to 60% in South Asia). 1 in 3 girls in the developing world will be married by their 18th birthday. And an uncountable number of children and young people remain unheard, their voices at best not taken seriously, and at worst, completely silenced.

No one left behind

For over 75 years, Plan International has been working to address these gaps, with children, young people, their families and their communities. Plan has partnered with them to ensure the implementation and full realisation of their human rights and dignity, and to make sure that their voices are heard.

As civil society, we need to continue to work together and with children to make sure that they can claim their rights.

The 25th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child on 20 November is an important opportunity for us not only to look back and consider where we started, but also to redouble our efforts to ensure that the words written in the Convention do not remain simply letters on paper, but rather become a reality.

The original vision of the Convention will only be realised if no one is left behind.

See how Plan is working to ensure all children access their rights

Learn about Plan's global child participation work

Read about the Convention on the Rights of the Child*

*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites

Nov 19, 2014 04:15 PM

Now the storm has passed

Posted by Nigel Chapman, Plan Chief Executive Officer |

Children with Plan back to school kits

8 November 2014: One year ago a storm of epic proportions devastated the Philippines.

Typhoon Haiyan, thought to be strongest storm to ever make landfall, took the lives of more than 6,200 people and affected over 14 million people across 44 provinces. This included some 5 million children, out of which 1.7 million were displaced.

A matter of weeks after Haiyan had wreaked havoc across the country I went to visit the affected areas on behalf of Plan International. Driving out of Tacloban airport, the scenes left an indelible and vivid impression.

Lorries were loading up corpses that were still being discovered in shattered houses. In the small rural settlements of Eastern Samar, huge chunks of the coastal roads had been ripped away and houses had been flattened, leaving little protection when the roaring tsunami-like wave tore the towns apart.

With schools left inhabitable, coconut trees felled as far as the eye could see and the whole physical infrastructure shot to pieces, I vowed that Plan would commit to rebuilding these communities – ensuring we would still be there, working with communities, long after the TV cameras and pop-up non-governmental organisations had left.

Child protection priority

One year on, Plan is still embedded in the communities of East and West Samar, delivering aid and supporting Filipinos to recover and build back better, stronger and together.

Of course, the task of rebuilding this country will take far longer than a year, but I can safely say that progress has been made. It has to, as this archipelago constantly lives between disasters.

For me and Plan, our priority is protecting children and vulnerable communities. Why? Children are among those worst affected by a disaster - and among the most vulnerable afterwards.

To help, ‘child-friendly spaces’ were set up, providing a safe space for 21,000 children to play, learn and get much-needed emotional support, while nearly 10,000 parents, children and community members were trained on how to avoid violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Education key

Every child deserves the right to an education and, for Plan, it is one of our priorities, so to see so many schools washed away or left in a crumbled, shell-like state was heartbreaking.

Over the past year, Plan has supported more than 44,000 children to return to school through its ‘back to school’ kits or by rebuilding classrooms, training teachers and supplying school equipment.

We have also ensured that teachers in typhoon-affected communities are better equipped to support children after an emergency and to help children develop and learn.

One of the ways in which we equipped teachers was by training them on how to create toys and learning materials from recyclable materials.

I remember meeting a teacher by the name of Bienvenito Globio, 48, from Balangkayan. His classroom was destroyed by the storm. “All of my educational materials were washed away by the typhoon. My daycare centre was too,” he said.

When I met him, Bienvenito was teaching in a tent, but he was committed to holding classes whatever the weather. “This experience was bad for everyone, people lost their houses, I lost my learning materials. It’s difficult to teach outside when it’s raining, but at least this restores a sense of normality.”

Reaching thousands

In the year passed, progress has been made in other ways, too.

Water, sanitation and hygiene kits were among the life-saving items Plan pre-positioned in communities in the typhoon’s path, which enabled us to distribute safe drinking water kits to support 20,000 people, eventually reaching a total of 225,000.

More than 32,800 people received critical medical care through ‘one-stop-shop’ mobile health clinics and the construction of new permanent, disaster-resilient health clinics.

Emergency food supplies were distributed to over 1.5 million typhoon-affected people in the immediate aftermath and as communities began to recover, Plan focused on ensuring that children and mothers at risk of malnutrition were screened and supported in a region where malnutrition levels were high even before the typhoon.

Plan also assisted 195,000 people whose homes were damaged or destroyed with temporary shelter or support to rebuild their homes, while another 87,000 received cooking equipment, blankets or sleeping mats to help with their recovery.

As part of Plan’s response, a ‘cash for work’ programme was introduced, providing paid work for more than 61,000 people as part of the recovery process. This income helped families meet their basic needs and stimulated the local economy, while the work rehabilitated and rebuilt communities.

Building back better

Although we’ve come a long way from scenes I and my colleagues were faced with a year ago, work still remains.

That’s why we are committed to helping the people of the Philippines build back better, stronger, safer and most of all together.

It is imperative to work with communities to ensure they are prepared to deal with a disaster and this means ensuring buildings are more resilient, stronger roofing is in place and schools are safer.

Our humanitarian team is committed to taking this seriously and Plan’s ‘Building Back Better’ project in Tacloban City (one of the areas worst affected by Typhoon Haiyan) is working with government partners and 6,000 community members to build a disaster-resilient community that can serve as a model for other reconstruction efforts.

‘Building Back Better’ means that community recovery efforts result in safer, more resilient buildings and infrastructure, access to safe drinking water and other services.

Most importantly, it means working with communities on their recovery journey, involving them as partners in the recovery process, providing emotional support and building knowledge, community spirit and resilience.

Please support the recovery - donate to the Haiyan appeal

Nov 08, 2014 01:00 AM
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