Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.
Emotional care should find a central place in disaster settings, blogs Plan International's Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response, Unni Krishnan.
15 March 2015: If you want to respond to and recover from a disaster and its impact on the mind, be prepared, play hard and plan for the future. Some might say it’s a mind game.
Immediately after a disaster, life-saving aid floods into a country. Yet, while humanitarian workers are adept at dealing with the physical needs, they can miss the invisible needs of disaster survivors – such as mental health and psychosocial support, especially for children.
Tropical Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu at the weekend, resulted in catastrophic damage. The storm, one of the worst ever to hit the Pacific, reminds us of the real world we live in and how quickly it can tear lives apart and leave thousands homeless. The storm also affected Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati. The frequency and intensity of storms are increasing with each year, and it is imperative we are prepared to deal with them, both physically and mentally.
In short, the mind matters and healing is as much of a ‘mental’ process as it is a physical one.
Why? Well, there’s only so much a person can take, literally. Liken the mind to a balloon. If you keep pumping air into it and don’t let off the pressure, something has to give.
Disasters result in bitter memories. Psychological suffering manifests instantly and often remains for a long time. These involve normal, natural reactions to an abnormal situation. When you live through a disaster, there is a limit to what your mind can take – much like a balloon.
Safe spaces to heal
Around this time last year, while responding to the armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, I came across a group of 100 children in Awerial in the Lake District in South Sudan – some singing, playing and some crying.
Yet, in that crowd, there were 2 girls that stood out – Madiha*, 9, and Lina, 4*. The pair had sought refuge in a Plan International child-friendly space and it was there I discovered their story.
Madiha told me how her hometown of Bor, Jonglei state, had turned into a battleground. She saw armed men killing everyone in sight. The violence spiralled out of control, thousands died and a mass exodus began.
On 28 December 2013, armed men seized Madiha’s mother and father. Later that day, they were shot dead at close range. The young girl witnessed it all.
The girls needed support to heal their wounds - physically and emotionally – and staff were on hand at Plan’s child-friendly space to help them make sense of what had happened.
This real life event is not a case in isolation. Such situations reiterate that mind should find a central place not just in relief settings, but in disaster preparedness and risk reduction work.
The Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction is currently taking place in Sendai, Japan. It provides a good opportunity to stress the importance of a holistic, community-centred approach and to make such work child-friendly.
The prime minister of Japan announced at the conference that his country will contribute over US$4 billion for disaster risk reduction and preparedness in developing countries over the next few years. Material and mind matters are inseparable in disaster preparedness.
The mind matters in a crisis
With disasters frequently occurring across the world, it is imperative adults and children are equipped to deal with them.
Different disasters impact the mind in unique ways. For example, in Japan, the nuclear evacuees face a more difficult future than the survivors of the tsunami, according to researchers from Fukushima Medical University**. While tsunami-area people are improving, nuclear evacuees are becoming more depressed day by day.
As for the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, psychosocial support is important.
Plan International recently conducted research amongst children in Sierra Leone and Liberia. It found that Ebola has challenged the needs of children for loving relationships, hope and self-belief, just as severely as it threatened their physical needs, as many have lost family and friends.
Psychiatrists alone can’t stop trauma
So how do 2 countries in the throes of a huge health crisis cope, when each country employs one practicing psychiatrist each?**
Even if physical health care needs are taken care of, people’s minds require attention. Mind is a complex matter and psychosocial support is not all about expert psychiatrists. You can’t stop trauma only with psychiatrists.
The algorithm of mind healing in disaster settings involves recognising people’s needs, fears and aspirations, social capital. It also requires an early start, long term vision, community support and sensitive psychological and social interventions.
If access to treatment for mental health issues is tough to come by - and that goes for aid workers and disaster victims - a community-based approach must be put in place.
Nowadays the idea of community-based psychosocial care is gaining momentum. It’s cost effective, demonstrates ownership and is contextual. Inter Agency Standing Committee’s guidelines on mental health** and psychosocial support in emergency settings and Sphere Humanitarian Standards** gives guidance, while Psychological First Aid** was a tool translated to Japanese to fast forward community-based care following the multiple disasters of 2011.
Prepare, play, plan
During my initial days in the Tōhoku region working with Plan International Japan and CARE Miyagi, I learnt the importance of prepare, play, plan when it comes to disasters and I stand by that motto.
At a global level, donors, the UN must include mental health more actively in needs assessments, programme design – not just after disasters strike, but during and before too.
Planning for the future in a responsible and creative way is essential. Schools serve not only as rescue shelters and places where children can return to normalcy, but as places to educate children about the risk of disasters.
Remember to play hard. Dealing with the mind is complex. But is it too serious to be left to specialists?
No, let people connect with it. Demystify matters of the mind, make it part of popular science – something that is fun to deal with. To make this happen, creative collaboration is key. Plan works with Clowns Without Borders**, an organisation that deploys clowns to offer laughter to relieve those suffering in humanitarian settings.
But, if we really want to make a community based-approach a reality, academics and experts must move beyond the walls of their labs, consulting rooms and lecture halls. Japan’s automobile industry demonstrates that through better engineering and design, you can make automobiles simpler and easier to drive.
Perhaps the mental health sector should take lessons from it. It needs to be open to new ideas and to recognise that innovative plans can come from collaboration and community.
Unni Krishnan is attending the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, which runs from 14-18 March.
Read more about Plan's global emergencies work
*Names have been changed
**Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
13 March 2015: The future belongs to those who prepare for it today – and whatever you think, preparation and vulnerability reduction can save you when a disaster strikes.
The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) was put in place 10 years ago, to detail the work needed for all different governmental and non-governmental sectors to reduce the loss from natural disasters. In short, it was there to drum home the importance of reducing vulnerability in the face of disasters.
For me, it was a way to bridge the gap between development and disasters. I was involved from the outset and my fellow humanitarian colleagues agreed that governments had to invest in Disaster Risk Management (DRM) structures for their country, and do it quickly.
The reason was there for all to see – and it was devastating.When the 2005 earthquake struck Pakistan, 19,000 children died, most of them in widespread
collapses of school buildings. At the time, building regulations were not being enforced on public schools – and ultimately it was the children that suffered. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggested that a higher proportion of public schools were catastrophically damaged, compared to non-governmental buildings in the same areas.
A decade on, there has been a huge shift by governments across the world. It’s worked, as budgets have been set aside and governments have been quick to act, proving DRM can and will save lives.
In 1999, a cyclone tore across Odisha (formerly Orissa), India, killing some 10,000 people. Marked improvement in DRM meant Cyclone Phailin, which struck the same area in 2013, claimed just 27 lives as the local government ensured communities evacuated.
Time for a new framework
Now, as the HFA draws to a close, it’s time for a new framework to take the helm and it will be under discussion in Sendai, Japan, as 8,000 people gather together for the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.
For me, the job isn’t done, not by a long shot - and right now we’re approaching the last mile in action.
Yes, many governments have taken the HFA on board and the issue of DRM and vulnerability seriously. In Ecuador, as in many other countries, there is a dedicated National Secretary for Risk Management. It’s heartening to see how the HFA has influenced communities and empowered them to take action when it comes to emergencies.
It is essential these changes filter down to local governments, but it’s imperative that this happens globally and that clear targets are put in place to drive stronger improvements. However, no matter how much money is ploughed into disaster risk reduction, if the message doesn’t reach the community level, there’s no point.
Reaching communities through young people
Over the past decade it has been clear to see that the most efficient vulnerability reduction programmes are those that grow from community level, and then connect with government structures at a regional, national and international level – so, for me, that’s the place to start.
One way Plan International reaches these communities is through young people.
We want to build a culture of safety, and if children learn about disasters at school, they will be able to share their knowledge with their family.
Millions of children are affected by disasters every year and the frequency and ferocity are increasing. Moreover, when a disaster strikes, children and young people tend to suffer disproportionately.
It is imperative they know what to do, and that’s why Plan has put in place a Safe Schools Global Programme, which engages partners in the education sector to promote schools as a platform for children and youth to grow up safely.
Keeping schools safe
*. Yet 875 million school children live in areas of high seismic activity**, while hundreds of millions more face danger from regular flooding, landslides, extreme winds and fire hazards.
With children spending up to 50% of the time they are awake in school, the risk of needing to be prepared to deal with a disaster during school time is very real. Yet all too often school facilities are at risk of extensive damage.
If a school is not built and maintained to withstand an earthquake or constructed to tackle a typhoon, it can cause irreplaceable loss to families, communities and countries – not to mention lifelong injuries.
It can also have a big impact on a child’s education. You just need to think back to the Pakistan Earthquake.
Our safe school programme seeks to build a culture of safety among children and their communities in areas at a high risk of natural disasters. A safe school provides a learning environment where children’s education, health, safety and security are ensured in both normal times and during disasters.
Zero dead, zero injured
From Bangladesh to the Philippines, I have seen how these programmes have helped prepare children for disasters – and saved countless lives.
After Typhoon Haiyan tore the Philippines apart, I visited numerous barangays (districts) - including Balankayan, Eastern Samar, where the chart on the town council office wall declared “zero dead, zero missing, zero injured” of its 10,226 population.
Yet neighbouring towns saw scores killed when the wrong buildings were chosen as evacuation centres or people stayed put. The community of Balangkayan were prepared and as soon as they learnt about Haiyan, they moved to safety and managed to keep track of everyone.
Now, as the new framework that will replace Hyogo comes under discussion, we are calling for the protection of school children and students in the education environment to be prioritised. I want to see children actively trained on preparing for disasters – something Plan is taking seriously.
Investing in disaster preparedness can and will save many lives – and this starts from a young age. For me, children really are the last mile in action.Roger is attending the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, which runs from 14-18 March.
Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
Yulisa, 16, from the Dominican Republic is one of 5 Plan-supported youth delegates speaking out for girls' rights at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meeting this week. Here she explains what has inspired her to push for change.
11 March 2015: I have been in New York (at the CSW-59) for a week, and have felt very happy and proud of myself. In this week I feel that I have learned, interchanged ideas, met people from different countries and, most important, understood different realities in the world and what other girls are also facing.
I feel the support from all here, and everywhere I go I see people give the best of themselves, they want the reality of girls to change. We all have a common cause, we all work for the same objective: that girl´s voices be heard, and the girls´ rights be put into practice, into action. We need action, not only words.
I´ve met girls from countries where a girl´s situation is cruel and unexplicable; girls with physical disabilities, but great intellectual potential that are trying to change the world.
What it means to be a girl
I feel I have some power to change the world. I have met with high-level authorities, with women, men, and girls, and they were keen to hear our experiences, our daily living, to at least perceive and empathise with what it really means to be a girl. Because no one knows what really happens if you are not in our shoes, suffering from bullying, from violence at home...
It maddens me to know that people with the power to change things do not, that they keep on with the traditional schemes; some don’t think girls have the potential to do great things, and our participation is downplayed.
But here, I feel privileged, because there are millions of girls who would like to share their experiences, and they are listening to mine. It´s gratifying to know that I can make a difference!
My hope is that what we are doing does not stay in words, or conventions, or panels, but that action takes place, and reaches our communities. We cannot pretend to change the world if we don’t start in the small places, in our local environments.
I want to make change
And I want to make the change. I want to change the horrible mentality of what many think being a woman, being a girl, means. What being an adolescent means. WE are seen as subjects without rights, without capacities to guide a group, to have an important position, only because we are women, and because, traditionally, they call us the “weaker sex”.
Traditional roles, such as cooking, taking care of brothers, and cleaning are not letting us develop to our full potential. We are being denied the few recreational spaces in our communities, and active participation in local governments.
But after being here, I feel that I have changed. I hope I have inspired other girls from other countries and the USA, such as they have inspired me and helped me learn new things, and new strategies and methods to use in my community and my country.
I hope many have learned more about the situation of girls in the Dominican Republic, and what is really affecting us, and that many more girls from all over can have the opportunity to express themselves and leave the shadows.
Read more about the Plan youth delegates at CSW
The quest for gender equality needs to start with girls, and this year we have a chance to make sure everyone knows and acts on this reality, blogs Plan’s country director in Pakistan, Rashid Javed.
9 March 2015: The early 1900s were a time of great turmoil for everyone, especially women. With massive changes in industry, economy and policy, women around the world seized the opportunity to rally for their rights in pursuit of a better, equitable and just future.
This era proved a flashpoint in the movement for women’s rights in countries around the world. Since then many battles have been won, but the campaign against intolerance, segregation, oppression and inequality is far from over.
Since the first International Women’s Day was marked in 1911, the world has seen improvements in many areas of women’s equality. However, progress has been uneven and varies widely between and within countries; we have yet to see the kinds of transformative shifts in structures and attitudes to achieve true gender equality around the world.
As the women’s rights movement evolved, it also came to recognise and address the discrimination that girls and women face even in the early years of their lives. Girls, adolescents, and young women continue to face barriers to equality at home, at school, and throughout their daily activities that will affect their entire lives.
Time to ‘make it happen’
Keeping this in view, the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, 8 March, was aptly titled “Make it happen” – a prodding reminder to the international community that although significant milestones have been achieved in the quest for gender equality, a lot more still needs to be done.
This needs to start from the beginning: with girls, adolescents, and young women empowered to realise their rights and to fulfil their potential both now and as adults.
In 2000, world leaders outlined the Millennium Development Goals* (MDGs) consisting of 8 goals with measurable targets and clear deadlines for improving the lives of the world's poorest people and eradicating poverty by 2015. These goals included promoting gender equality and empowering women.
The MDGs have been instrumental in spurring global debates, coordinating efforts, and targeting funding toward policies and programmes to improve gender equality. While the gender equality MDGs have been somewhat successful, global progress has been uneven, and the MDGs failed to inspire transformative change with and for girls and women.
The gender equality goals and targets in the proposed Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, due to be adopted in September of this year by all governments, must aim to truly ‘make it happen’.
Achieving gender equality in the post-2015 agenda needs to meet the rights and needs of adolescent girls who face unique and significant challenges during the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Girls themselves – and the organisations that work with and for them – have outlined their vision for how this happens in the Girl Declaration*. Based on consultations with girls in 14 countries around the world, including Pakistan, the Girl Declaration has galvanised support and momentum across sectors on these critical issues.
It is my sincerest hope that empowering women and girls and ensuring gender equality will remain a key priority of the sustainable development agenda, and that the government of Pakistan will embrace this opportunity to not only ensure gender equality but to emerge as champions of girls’ and women’s rights.
The government has already proved its commitment to key girls’ and women’s equality issues. The landmark Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Bill 2013 was truly a turning point for girls’ and women’s rights in Pakistan, and we urge the government to facilitate the passage of similar bills in other provinces and on the federal level.
We at Plan International also commend the government of Pakistan’s commitment to empower girls and women and ensuring their rights as set forth in Pakistan Vision 2025*.
Building on these commitments, the government of Pakistan has the opportunity to show true vision and leadership as champions of adolescent girls’ needs and rights in the post-2015 agenda.
Achieving transformative change
We can achieve truly transformative change in the next 15 years by following the vision that girls themselves have laid out in the Girl Declaration: working together to ensure that girls can lead healthy lives, free from harmful practices like child marriage, safe from violence, completing at least 12 years of education, and participating in decision-making that affects their lives.
It all starts with girls, and this year we have a chance to make sure everyone knows and acts on this reality.
Let us not see this International Women’s Day as only one day in a year, but as a reminder and catalyst to ‘make it happen’ today and every day. A post-2015 agenda that protects the needs and rights of adolescent girls is the next step on the journey to achieve transformative change with and for all girls and women – in Pakistan and around the world.
Join Plan’s global Because I am a Girl campaign
* Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
Ahead of a high level conference in Brussels on how to help the 3 Ebola-affected countries rebuild, Plan International CEO Nigel Chapman, who has just returned from visiting Ebola hotspots in Guinea and Sierra Leone, reveals why working with Sierra Leone’s secret societies could be the hidden weapon in combating Ebola.
2 March 2015: Ebola is proving a stubborn opponent in Sierra Leone and Guinea, with almost a hundred new cases reported last week.
Many of them arise from unsafe practices in communities whose members understandably fear the consequences of reporting new outbreaks - so they care for those infected themselves or after their death engage in unsafe burials.
Eradicating Ebola needs a big and final push to mobilise communities and their leaders to stop these long established practices. So who are those of influence in Sierra Leone who need to be enlisted in what everyone hopes is the final stages of the battle against Ebola?
Critical link to communities
To answer this question, we need to understand the role of secret societies in Sierra Leone and how reaching out to them provides a critical link into communities affected by Ebola.
It is estimated that between 70 - 85% of all Sierra Leoneans belong to a “secret society” - otherwise known as Friendly Societies. There are many societies in the country, but 4 principal ones dominate, one for each of the country’s 4 regions.
Each society is slightly different - some are for men, some for women, and some are mixed. But they all have 3 things in common: they are very hierarchical, each society has an elected head; that hierarchy means they have very clear lines of responsibility and what the head says happens, happens.
Created by ethnic and tribal communities, their rites, rituals and practices are not shared with others and when one is accepted into a society, it is a sign of responsibility, discipline and trustworthiness.
As the custodians of traditions and customs, ‘secret societies’ have been playing a major role in the Ebola outbreak - both in inadvertently fuelling the spread of the disease through performing traditional practices such as burial rituals, and latterly in helping to curb transmission by raising awareness and encouraging people to change the way they behave.
In short, enlisting 'secret societies’ and changing their attitudes is one of the key weapons to help put an end to this outbreak.
A bold Ebola initiative
Thus far, Plan International’s response to the crisis has focused on areas where there is unmet need. As part of our response we partnered a few months ago with the Office of H E Sia Nyama Koroma, the First Lady of Sierra Leone, on an Ebola Resistant Behaviour Change Initiative.
Simply put, the Office of the First Lady, with our support, has been working with Sierra Leone’s
powerful secret societies to encourage a change in the way they conduct their burial rituals as well as working with them to raise awareness about how to prevent Ebola.
This bold initiative is the first time ever that the secret societies have not only been brought together but also the first time they have worked towards a common goal. Secret society heads, chiefs, traditional and religious leaders have all been engaged and become champions of major behaviour change within society as a whole.
This work is having an effect. People have and are changing their behaviour and many are now
allowing specialist teams to safely remove and bury the victims of Ebola. This is helping to slow the spread of the virus and will in time help to halt it.
In time, this work with the secret societies may pave the way to help achieve sustainable, long-term changes in other areas, such as female genital mutilation and early child and forced marriage.
Research reveals Ebola impacts
It’s only when you see the situation on the ground - as I did recently during my trip to Sierra Leone and Guinea - that you understand the scale of this disaster and the havoc it has wreaked across communities. The wide ranging short-term and long-term impacts of Ebola are huge.
These impacts are revealed in new research published by Plan International - Ebola: Beyond a health emergency - which highlights the multiple effects that Ebola has had on the welfare of children and families in West Africa.
The findings show that children’s development, and that of their families, is being seriously impacted by the loss of already precarious health services, education, community cohesion and basic needs such as food.
Many children have been placed at risk by a breakdown in the protective environment usually
provided by families and the wider community; those who have come into contact with Ebola and survived face stigmatisation. Orphans see the wider family safety net undermined because they have lost many close family members.
Crucial health services have been severely affected. Mothers and pregnant women are particularly heavily impacted, with 80% of mothers in Sierra Leone and 40% of mothers in Liberia who participated in the research reporting a lack of maternal health services since the outbreak of Ebola.
Winning the fight against Ebola is both a short-term and long-term battle. The damage Ebola has done in these fragile societies is significant and it won’t be a quick fix. But by taking a holistic view and working with communities to firstly finish the battle and then to help rebuild, donors, governments and other agencies can and must help these countries come back stronger.
Support Plan's Ebola response appeal
2 March 2015: To most of us, the belief that our children should have to worry about violence at school is unthinkable. Parents should be able to trust that their kids’ schools are safe, and that an environment of learning should be devoid of violence.
Yet according to evidence being released this week from Plan International and the International Centre for Research on Women, violence is distressingly commonplace within schools in Asia.
The report, Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools, documents the disturbingly frequent incidents of violence that children experience in school, on the way to class, and at home.
Speaking to students in Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal, and Pakistan, the report has found that an alarming 7 out of 10 students have experienced violence at school. These statistics run as high as 84% in Indonesia. Even the bottom end of the scale – 43% in Pakistan – is unacceptable.
This violence is often exacerbated by gender stereotypes. Too often, these gender roles are normalised in students’ minds at an early age, and so too is the erroneous notion that gender-based violence is an acceptable response.
The fact that schools are a place of learning, where children’s horizons are expected to be broadened and where we believe that educators are nurturing an environment for children to be world-class citizens, makes these findings all the more alarming.
Fear of speaking out
Part of the problem is that schools themselves are often not providing an environment free from violence, fear, and intimidation. In the case of Pakistan, nearly 50% of all reported cases of violence were committed by a member of staff.
Infrastructure is also a problem; in each of the 5 countries surveyed, school bathrooms are a common location for violence, including particularly high instances of sexual assault.
Even though many children feel unsafe, the report notes that they’re unlikely to report violence to parents or school staff for fear of punishment or retribution.
The more that children are exposed to violence, whether at home or at school, the more it becomes normalised in their minds. Increasingly, kids stop reporting incidents of violence because they stop seeing it as wrong; they come to think of it as a normal response or, at least, an inevitable part of their school day. And kids who don’t regard violence as unusual or wrong are all the more likely to become perpetrators themselves.
This cycle needs to stop.
Gender and violence
'Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools' contains a suite of 24 recommendations, ranging from the introduction of curricula to change behaviour and attitudes regarding gender and violence, the establishment of services to enhance protection, and the enactment of policies and laws to prohibit and enforce regulations abolishing violence against children.
These recommendations also include proposals that teachers and school administrators must be well trained, equipped and supported to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in and around schools.
Counselling services need to be available at the school level, alongside comprehensive training and enforcement mechanisms. At the same time, infrastructure changes need to be made, like separate toilet facilities for girls and boys.
At the same time, any action needs to encompass a wider approach that dismantles the gender construction that unpins much of this violence, and which challenges the very idea of violence as an acceptable response, whether in the classroom or at home.
Every child's right to education
Every child has the right to a quality education, free from violence and the threat of violence. Plan is committed to working with educators, governments, parents, and students to enact the recommendations in this report.
At the moment, we are piloting a project in schools in Vietnam where through activities and teacher training, students and the school staff can begin to better understand the importance of gender equality.
We’re getting to work on making sure that parents, teachers, students, and legislators know that violence has no place in schools, or anywhere in a child’s life.
Learn about Plan's global work to end violence in schools
27 February 2015: "We have come to break from the past by having a declaration that speaks to the future." With these words, Kenyan Ambassador Macharia Kamau opened the second session of post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations in New York last week.
These monthly negotiations between government representatives at the UN in New York are the final stage of the global conversations to define the next global framework for sustainable development.
For this session, UN country representatives met to discuss the content of the declaration that will introduce the Sustainable Development framework to the world. And while member states may differ for now on the specific topics they'd like to see covered in this historic text, all seem to agree that it should be a bold and ambitious call to action that sets out the collective vision for the road to sustainable development by 2030.
Children scarcely mentioned
In the discussion document produced by those running the session, children and young people were scarcely mentioned, neither as the rising generation that will inherit the sustainable development agenda for better or worse, nor as active and vital participants for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Aside from the few hours when civil society and other stakeholders were given the floor, the needs and contributions of younger stakeholders were largely neglected in member state discussions, with just a few exceptions.
A strong statement from the Netherlands was one notable exception. Dutch representative Peter van der Vliet explained that he recently found his 13-year-old daughter working on a homework assignment on the SDGs using a child-friendly version of the goals and targets.
"I was impressed to see how all 17 goals were presented in language that 13 year olds can easily understand, both in words and drawings," he said.
No laughing matter
He went on to suggest in 2 separate statements that young people be involved in drafting the declaration to ensure that the language is understandable and has broad appeal. Each suggestion elicited laughter from some in the audience.
For Plan, active and meaningful participation of young people in designing and implementing the SDGs is not a funny or cute ideal. We see it as the smart and right thing to do.
Taking into account the global demographic reality, recognising the right of children to have a say in the decisions that affect them, and welcoming the innovative ideas and talents young people have to offer, we see their engagement as essential for building an inclusive, rights-based framework - and for holding all actors to account for their commitments.
Young voices essential in SDGs
Based on our experience in child-centered community development, we have argued that young people will be an essential voice within post-2015 accountability processes at all levels.
"Young people's engagement is important now, while they are still 'young', but as the timeframe for the SDGs elapses, today's young people can develop into tomorrow's active and engaged adults who continue to work for the achievement of the goals, and pass on their valuable experience and knowledge to upcoming generations" (Walker et al. 2014, p. 24) .
We applaud the Netherlands' suggestion to include young people in drafting the declaration, as well as all other components of the SDG report.
Furthermore, we call on governments to remember that the success of the sustainable development agenda depends on the active engagement of today's children, adolescents, and young people, whom we will count on to drive it forward.
It's difficult to imagine writing a truly visionary post-2015 declaration without them.
Learn more about Plan's global child and youth participation work
Read Plan's post-2015 policy briefings
24 February 2015: I live in Moyamba district, in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. A few weeks ago, as a young reporter for Plan Sierra Leone, I attended a Sierra Leone Association of Journalists training on the role of the media in Ebola prevention. I learned that 70% of people who contracted the virus got it through touching dead bodies. It is necessary for us to think about the practice of burials presently in the country and count the cost.
At the start of the outbreak, there were misleading messages in the media which contributed to the spread of Ebola. One of the most common messages was that Ebola is incurable. Also people thought the virus could only be spread through animals and not by body fluids.
The media should provide reliable information to ensure a better understanding of how to curb the disease at the community level. By sending out the correct messages about Ebola the media can promote behavioural change, and counter fear and misleading information.
Six critical messages
In the training, we learned about 6 critical messages, called in our local dialect, Leh Wi Dreb Ebola, or Act Against Ebola:
- Treat any death as if it could be Ebola.
- Call 117* and district call centres to report all deaths.
- The dead body should only be handled by people who are trained in safe medical burial practices and are wearing protective equipment.
- Protect yourself.
- Do not touch, wash, or clean the body.
- Do not touch the body fluids of a dead person or anything a person who has died from Ebola has touched.
Burial rites have to be changed
A few days ago a famous man in my community died. He was a teacher in one of the renowned schools in Moyamba district and even composed the school song in 1962. He was also a member of a big secret society in Sierra Leone.
Most people were thinking he would have been given a befitting burial, but because of Ebola the burial team was called. They did not wash the corpse nor did they allow any of his family members to go close to his body.
The burial team dressed the corpse but unfortunately he was placed in a black body bag and lowered in a coffin. The family was not happy about this because they think black symbolises evil.
Disinfectants were sprayed all over the rooms where the deceased and family lived. Neighbours were afraid to even go and sympathise with the bereaved family.
As part of the ceremony, the burial team called on a pastor to offer prayers to lay to rest the late man. Words of condolence were said at a distance from family members and some old boys solemnly sang the school song which the man composed so many years back.
Secret society laws
According to one member of the family, they are now worried they have broken the laws of the society the late man used to be in. Before the outbreak, when a member of a secret society died, only those that were part of that society could take part in the burial process or wash the body of the deceased. Nobody could say that person was dead until that was declared by the head of a secret society.
The family believed that after Ebola the laws of the secret society mean it would hunt them physically and spiritually. Families that took part in safe burials during Ebola need to be protected by laws so they are not penalised.
I spoke to young people in that same community and they said they were worried about the way the dead are treated. One of them said to me: “I will protect myself so that I would not be buried like this. Before now when we saw the corpse, we stood in adoration and honoured the dead.”
The young people say they follow all necessary procedures to protect themselves from Ebola because they wouldn’t like to be buried this way. They consider it strange.
The message is working
It is important to encourage people to understand that at this moment, traditional ways of conducting burials cannot be helpful and if they continue to promote such practices they are putting their own lives at risk, and the entire community at risk of contracting the virus.
In communities where burial activities are mostly connected to religion, it is essential that we engage people by providing information, dialogue and create a platform for community groups to be trained to perform religious burial rites on the corpse in the presence of the bereaved family.
At the moment here in Sierra Leone we still have some people or communities that are still ignoring the messages of safe burials and not reporting dead bodies, but the majority are now actually reporting the dead.
As a result of the high level of illiteracy in our country, many people can easily misinterpret information, which has been the main source of fear and the spread.
The media is so powerful here and I’m sure the relentless efforts of sending out correct and consistent messages will ensure behavioural change and community awareness amongst the grassroots.
* Sierra Leone Ebola hotline
Sierra Leone's health workers are succeeding in the face of danger from disease and stigmatisation, blogs Fiona Carr after a visit to an Ebola community care centre.
19 February 2015: It’s 13 years since I was last in Sierra Leone. Then, the country was just recovering from the civil war, now they are fighting a different sort of war, this time with an invisible enemy: Ebola.
Over the past week we’ve travelled hundreds of miles visiting community care centres (CCCs) where people with suspected Ebola come to be assessed; a centre for children orphaned or abandoned as a result of Ebola and makeshift classrooms where volunteers are helping children continue their studies while the schools remain closed.
Plan International is at the forefront of much of this work. In the CCCs we are responsible for the logistics including procuring essential equipment, training the health workers how to put on their protective gear properly and providing the various workers with incentives to work there.
For the children we are providing psychosocial counselling as well as practical support like food, blankets and hygiene kits so they can keep clean – an essential weapon in the fight against this deadly disease. In the makeshift classrooms we are providing radios so the children can follow the lessons broadcast by the Ministry of Education.
Many of the children we have spoken to have lost family members to Ebola, some like Precious, 14, speak bravely and fluently about their loss, others like Timothy, 9, are shell shocked and can barely speak at all about the trauma they have suffered.
The first CCC we visit is in Gbaneh, Port Loko, which is about 3 hours drive north of Freetown. Port Loko is still a hot spot for Ebola and there are 5 CCCs here, 2 treatment centres and 1 interim care centre. All of the different centres are surrounded by high walls or fences and only a few people from the outside are allowed in and out.
In order to enter the CCC we must first have a safety briefing and we are instructed not to touch anyone or anything once we enter. Then we wash our hands, first in a chlorine solution, then with soap and water and finally with disinfectant. Next we join a line as one by one we each balance on one leg in turn as we carefully place the sole of first one boot and then the next into a large bowl of chlorine.
The final step is to have our temperatures taken and recorded in a book - mine is 35.8. Once this procedure is complete we are allowed through the gate where we are greeted with much curiosity by the teams working here. Last week they had 67 suspected Ebola cases - in the previous 48 hours they haven’t had any, so things are quiet. Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that this state of affairs will continue.
Shunned and stigmatised
The first person to introduce themselves is Francis, Plan’s local community co-ordinator. Plan is a household name in Sierra Leone and this has been vital in helping to persuade people to come forward and be tested.
Francis’ job is to go into the local community and talk to people about the centre and how going there will help them. Francis introduces us to Sheba Gbereh III, the Paramount Chief for this area. Like Francis, his support for the CCC has been important in how the centre has been accepted rather than feared by the community.
Next we meet the nurses. They have all been working here since the centre opened late last year. They live, eat and sleep here and haven’t been home at all to see their own families. Most of them are worried about the sort of reception they will receive when they do eventually go home.
The stigma surrounding Ebola survivors or anyone associated them is high. One person I spoke to said: “People hail Ebola survivors as heroes for surviving and then they throw stones at them because they have survived…”
Can you imagine what it must be like for those survivors to have survived a living hell and then be shunned and stigmatised?
In Gbaneh CCC the nurses ‘home’ when they are off duty is a large tent in the corner of the compound. The tent is sparsely furnished with a plastic table, a few plastic chairs and mattresses piled high in a corner ready to be placed on the floor at night.
They are a close knit group and they pass the time instead chatting and talking about when they will be able to return home. I spoke to Nurse Kadiatu about her experience and her hopes for the future: “It’s been tough working here but we won’t go home until there is zero Ebola,” she said.
“I miss my daughter desperately but I need to be here to help. I hope that Ebola will soon be over so I can return home and hold my daughter in my arms, she is 7.”
Also working in the CCCs are the cleaners who make sure the facilities are all regularly cleaned and disinfected, and the sprayers who disinfect the workers.
To remind themselves there is another life outside the high fence, they have customised their little hut with chalked signs and messages showing their allegiance to football. Following the UK premier league is a national obsession here in Sierra Leone and judging by the number of messages citing the Red Devils and the Gunners, Manchester United and Arsenal seem to be the cleaners’ favourites.
It’s been a humbling experience talking to all of the workers in the CCC and seeing their dedication to each other, their communities and their country. As we leave and once again wash and disinfect our hands and boots and have our temperatures recorded (mine is now 35.7), I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for everyone once this invisible enemy is defeated.
Support Plan’s emergency Ebola response
The people in Ebola burial teams are risking their lives to fight the disease and deserve our applause – not to be pushed away, blogs Kamanda, one of Plan’s Global Youth Advisory Panel members.
4 February 2015: The burial team is one of the roles in the Ebola response with the greatest risk - but the teams have made an incredible impact in the fight against the disease.
The first time I saw an Ebola burial team was frightening and quite memorable. It was September when I was passing by our cemetery to pay a visit to a friend.
The cemetery was bushy and I was alone. As I approached the curve, I saw 3 of them all in plain white dress from top to bottom. My initial feeling was I had seen dead people, or even angels of death, so I had to walk away hard.
As I became more frightened I prudently pulled off my slippers and ran. At last I met some people who I told about my experience. They mockingly told me: “Man those were the burial team persons you have been hearing of; that is how they dress.”
I realised I had been running from living human beings who are risking their lives to save the lives of many.
Preventing the spread of Ebola
In my community, Port Loko in Sierra Leone, there are 2 categories of burial teams - either from the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society or the District Health Management Team. Both are responsible for responding to death alerts.
Burial team members are people aged 18 to 40, but few are female. Each team is made up of drivers, beneficiaries communicators, swabbers and safe and dignified burial volunteers. Their roles include taking a swab from the deceased’s mouth for an Ebola test, engaging with the deceased’s family members, and washing and burying all corpses, irrespective of the type of disease that killed the deceased.
Initially this was seen as a very risky job hence few people opted to do the job. The disease continued to spread as there were many corpses of people who died from Ebola and other diseases lying in the streets, and our people were unsafely burying on their own.
This contributed immensely towards the spread of the disease as surveys report that 70% of the spread of the disease is as a result of unsafe traditional burial practices.
Discriminated against and marginalised
Now, due to the current effort and increase in the unemployment rate, many are pledging their lives, volunteering for a risk allowance of Le500,000 (US$100) a week. However, these teams are still perceived as being most at risk of having the virus, hence the community people including their family members discriminate against and marginalise them.
A safe and dignified burial officer who leads a team of volunteers told me, “People no longer offer to sell goods to me in some places I used to buy them.”
I challenge anyone to say that doing this work is wrong. To me, the burial teams are the safest of all of us as they always execute their work prudently and follow due procedures.
These people wear double hand gloves and personal protective equipment on their bodies; they wash their hands with chlorine liquid and spray themselves with it, among other precautions, when carrying out their operations. Honestly, I have never heard of a burial team member who either got in contact with the virus or died of it.
A woman joins the burial team
A woman of 27 has been recruited by the Sierra Leone Red Cross to be a part of their burial team in my area.
The involvement of women has come late in this fight, following some strong concerns raised by women and other people in the communities regarding handling of female corpses. The women were not comfortable and happy about the ways men handle female corpses.
The female burial team member told me: “I take it as a challenge to save the lives of my people.” She also said that “being a part of the burial team means a lot to me particularly because 80% of the deaths are female and there was no one to ease the women’s corpses”.
She is the only woman recruited in the burial team so far. She told me “because I am a part of the burial team, my family members ignore me, my friends shun me and because of this it reached to a point I became discouraged. I later gained strength when some women started telling me they want to be part of the burial team.”
How to help the teams
I describe these people as saviours, heroes and heroines, who deserve applause and kudos for their fantastic work. There is no need for us to push them away from us. They are a part of us and besides they are risking their lives to save the lives of many Sierra Leoneans, Africa and the world at large.
There is a need to provide the burial teams with good, safe accommodation and motivational packages, as they are being shunned by their family members and in their respective communities. Some even fear to go back to their communities and live with their families.
Some sort of compensation for them after the outbreak could also be a great boost, recognising that they are a part of the few who risked their lives in this terrible era to save the lives of many.
Support Plan’s emergency Ebola response
Learn more about Kamanda and his role on Plan’s Global Youth Advisory Panel