Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.
As 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
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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
4 November 2014: One year ago, I flew over northern Cebu with Margareta Wahlström, the UN’s head of disaster risk reduction, to assess the damage Typhoon Haiyan had wreaked across the Philippines.
I still remember her words vividly. Haiyan must serve as a “wake-up call” for countries.
We were travelling by helicopter – one of the only ways to get around – after Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as ‘Yolanda’) hit the Philippines; an unprecedented category 5 storm that affected two-thirds of the country.
From my seat, I had a bird’s eye view of the disaster area - and it was a chilling sight. Houses had been washed away, coconut trees were flattened and mountains upon mountains of rubble could be seen, burying everything from fridges to bodies.
Living between disasters
The typhoon killed more than 6,200 people and affected over 14 million across the 44 provinces. As Humanitarian Director at Plan International, it is unfair to say the Philippines was unprepared for the typhoon. After all, this is a country that literally lives between disasters. Yet, that’s not something the media was or is particularly interested in.
The Philippines was only just getting over one disaster - a magnitude 7.2 earthquake - before this one struck.
It was yet another test to the country’s disaster preparedness measures, which if in place can be 10 times more effective than the response itself.
Did the communities understand the importance of evacuation and the devastating impact a tsunami-like wave could have, rather than being forced to evacuate?
Were the evacuation centres – many of which were schools – built to withstand the strength of this typhoon?
Did communities feel safe and supported? Were they assured that their homes would not be looted while they were away? Were the emotional needs of children accounted for?
The answer, for some communities, was yes. But for many, it was no. Haiyan wiped out many towns across Eastern Samar.
Zero dead, zero missing
Yet, in a few of the communities Plan International had been working with local authorities to drill people in evacuations.
In Balankayan, Eastern Samar, the chart 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.
Although Llorente was spared the most violent clutches of the typhoon, one third of the population still evacuated and followed the tsunami evacuation routes set up by Plan, escaping up a set of stairs to a safety shelter. Once Haiyan had passed, they were able to help their neighbouring communities.
It proves that preparedness works and it’s imperative that these measures are put in place across the country as the Philippines embarks on its journey to build back better and safer.
For me, I care about the number of casualties from the many typhoons that will and do hit this archipelago. They are not statistics; they are people, families, children and lives to be saved – if appropriate measures, such as stronger roofing, protection against landslides or safer schools, are put in place.
Investing in disaster preparedness can and will save many lives – and for Filipinos, this starts from a young age.
This disaster-prone nation has publically committed to be a role model for safe schools and deliver a strong message to the 2015 World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March 2015* on the importance of protecting school children and students in their education environment, while Plan actively trains young people on preparing for disasters.
Building a culture of safety
For me and Plan, we have continued to build a culture of safety and to help communities, some we hadn’t previously worked in, to build back stronger and together over the past year. We have also encouraged young people and others to educate communities on the importance of disaster risk reduction and resilient communities.
Working together has been central to Plan’s response, through its ‘Building Back Better’ project in Tacloban City (one of the areas worst affected by Typhoon Haiyan). We have been 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.
Yes, people can access safe drinking water and other services but, 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. Things that aren’t seen immediately but can withstand any future challenge.
Other measures have also been put in place. 350 elementary and secondary school teachers have been trained on what to do in a disaster and how to prepare them, while 300 community members have been trained on mapping disasters, reducing the risk of disasters as well as climate change adaptation.
It’s only been one year since the world witnessed the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan, yet it’s fair to say we’ve come a long way.
However, this journey is by no means over. I care about these communities too much and I want to see them survive if and when another disaster strikes.
Support Plan's vital recovery work - donate to the Haiyan appeal
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
29 October 2014: As a Malian, and coming from one of the hottest places in the world, I am the last person one would ask about ‘icebergs’. But that was before I watched Titanic, the epic 1997 disaster film.
Titanic reminded me how tragic and destructive an event can be if we are not expecting it and above all, if we are ill-prepared to manage it. An ill-prepared crew could not prevent the Titanic from sinking. An iceberg was the origin of the Titanic tragedy. Today, Ebola is to the world what the iceberg was to the Titanic in 1912. The world is ill-prepared for an Ebola disaster.
Like an iceberg, only a tiny portion of Ebola is visible. What we see, hear and talk about is only a tiny and visible portion of Ebola. We hear that more than 10,000 people have been infected with Ebola. We hear that half of those people have died of the virus. We hear that the number of cases might double every 1 to 2 weeks to reach as many as 20,000 cases in West Africa by December.
But we don’t see, hear and talk about the invisible part of Ebola, the part causing a humanitarian catastrophe.
1.4 million infected by January
According to the Word Bank, the economic impact of the Ebola epidemic could reach US$32.6 billion by the end of next year if the disease spreads to neighbouring countries.
Millions of people will have no access to basic socio-economic services including health and education. Millions of boys and girls will not attend schools and will die from preventable diseases. Thousands of children will be orphans making them more vulnerable and exposed to violence.
Like an iceberg, Ebola can drift and cause more disasters. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if nothing is done to curve the spread of the virus, Ebola could infect up to 1.4 million people by mid-January in Sierra Leone and Liberia alone, and potentially spread far beyond the 3 worst affected countries.
The social and economic impact could lead to unrest and political crises in a region where most countries are fragile states. Ultimately, the impact of Ebola will be global.
Like an iceberg, Ebola can ‘melt’ and disappear. The world does not have to wait for Ebola to ‘drift’ to other places. The world must scale up its effort to stop Ebola spread. We are in a war against Ebola.
How to win the war
To win this war, affected people and countries need:
- MORE people: As WHO director general Margaret Chan said it, we need “the right people, the right specialists, and specialists who are appropriately trained and know how to keep themselves safe”. Unfortunately there are not enough people on the ground, in particular medical doctors and health care workers.
- MORE funding: The UN is seeking about US$1 billion to provide training, equipment and care for people suffering from the Ebola virus diseases. On 24 October, 49% of the total funding was received. Plan is also seeking US$11.2 million in cash within the next 3 months to support our response in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The current total funding gap for Plan is US$3 million.
- MORE empathy: “We are Liberian, not a virus,”* said Oretha Bestman-Yates, president of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association (SILCA). Like Mrs Yates, people coming from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are often seen as “positive carriers” of the Ebola virus and are facing stigma. Former Ebola patients and Ebola orphans are stigmatised by their families and communities. Stigmatising is the wrong thing to do.
The right thing to do is when President Obama gave a big hug to Dallas nurse* and former Ebola patient Nina Pham in the Oval Office on 24 October.
The right thing to do is to put #HandsOnHearts against Ebola and to post your image to show solidarity and support for children and communities affected by Ebola: plan-international.org/HandsOnHearts.
The right thing to do is to communicate positively, accurately and timely about Ebola as did Rosemary McCarney, the President and CEO of Plan Canada in an article published on the Toronto Star*: “We must,” she said, “step up our efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic, a humanitarian crisis that affects us all.”
Learn about Plan's Ebola response and support the emergency appeal
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
Young people are taking action across West Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak. Saatah, aged 16, from Lofa County, Liberia, is among the young Plan volunteers helping affected communities to control the spread of the disease.
27 October 2014: I live in a community in Liberia not too far from the border where Ebola started. People die on a daily basis. We need help to fight Ebola but the young people can help too. I have joined a group and radio station to do awareness raising.
We have been going from village to village, teaching people how to protect themselves from the virus. We have been going to speak to village leaders, and to the imams and pastors to help sensitise their people during worship services.
We are given chlorine to use when doing this work. We are also advised to wear long protective clothing and long sleeve jackets. One time when we went to do awareness, there was a little girl who vomited, and before we could tell her elder sister not to touch her, she went ahead. When doing the awareness raising I am scared, but I am happy to be able to fight Ebola in my communities.
Plan Liberia is among other international non-governmental organisations supporting community-based organisations in 3 districts (Voinjama, Quandu Gboni, Kolahun) and 6 community radio stations in Lofa to conduct Ebola awareness. The radio awareness work about Ebola is reaching the length and breadth of the county and is helping to reduce the risk of infection.
To make sure that I and other children in Lofa are safe, we receive regular calls from Plan’s child protection focal person here in Lofa, cautioning us to follow all the preventive measures to remain safe.
Things aren’t always what they seem
While sensitising folks in a village called Worsonga in Foya District, Lofa County, I heard some people crying and when I asked what was wrong, a lady told me her uncle had just died. Upon hearing this, I advised them not to touch or go near the dead body and they listened. I took my phone and called the ambulance.
In a few minutes time, the ambulance came and took the dead man’s body. By evening, the medical team brought the result of the cause of the man’s death, which indicated that he died from chronic malaria and not Ebola.
Bereaved family visit
After 2 weeks, I decided to follow up on the bereaved family. While at their home, I asked the wife of the dead man why she didn’t take her husband to the hospital during his sick period.
The lady said to me: “My husband was showing many signs and symptoms similar to Ebola, although he usually showed these same signs whenever he was sick with malaria. We both were scared that the nurses could just observe the signs and diagnose him as an Ebola patient, so we decided that he stay home and receive the same treatment we usually administer him.” As she was saying this, tears rolled down her cheek.
It was painful to see their 4 children shed tears along with their mother while she spoke. The family cried so bitterly that I had to ask a neighbour why they were crying this way. It was how I got to know that the lady’s late husband was the breadwinner of their family and that his death would mean a great deal of challenges for her in bringing up the children.
This was so pitiful to see I had to turn my face the other way just to release a few tears.
Many people in that village fear that the moment they report their sick relatives to the nurses they will be diagnosed Ebola positive just by observing the symptoms.
This led me to take a different trend in my Ebola sensitisation – encouraging health practitioners to promptly test suspected Ebola patients before diagnosing them Ebola positive; instead of just observing the signs and symptoms, as this could scare more people from reporting their sick relatives.
We are getting support from the communities. They are happy about the awareness raising we are doing and little by little people are accepting the fact that the disease is real. It is working - the death rate is reducing.
With schools closed in the Ebola outbreak and a lack of educational opportunities, how can we achieve our dreams? asks Plan Global Youth Advisory Panel member Kamanda from Sierra Leone.
21 October 2014: Just 12 years ago my country started revitalising its education system after the civil war had destroyed almost everything. Today, the deadly Ebola virus is destroying our education systems once again.
Schools have closed down indefinitely and lessons or classes are banned. Our tutors are paid but they give no lessons, some of them no longer study or research their own subjects.
Candidates of external exams have been unable to take their exams and will have to sit for another academic year because the time of their exams has passed. So, ironically, the education system is moving backwards to pre-war times.
Learning through the radio
The Ministry of Health and Education has announced a campaign of ‘teaching and learning on the radio’. This has started but with some problems. In rural areas buying a cup of rice for a day is hard let alone buying a radio as well as batteries.
Even among those in big towns and cities who have radios many will not benefit as most of the subjects cannot be understood without seeing symbols and formulae. I listened to the first programme and the subject was maths. Honestly speaking, I could only hear the tutor calling symbols, formulae, etc but I didn’t know how they were written. So I got confused and baffled. This will be even more difficult for young children to understand.
The idea is good, however it would have been better if radio sets with batteries had been supplied or even to put video footage of teaching on CDs distributed to every house. For those with access to the internet the videos could be shared online. Today almost every village has a DVD, laptop or a television to watch movies etc.
Young people are becoming frustrated
Children and young people are frustrated at the lack of educational opportunities and the potential impact that could have on them and our country. They are also desperate.
Many are deciding to find work or take any short-term options. There will be thousands more school dropouts, street children and children, especially girls and orphans, who will be exposed to violations and dangers - including rape and sexual exploitation, teenage pregnancy and early marriages.
I talked with some of my female school friends and they told me that they are feeling discouraged and fearful that their educational journey has come to an end. Some are being pushed into marriages, prostitution and sexual violence.
One of my female friends who has just completed her external exams told me:
“I’m traumatised. I have struggled to complete my secondary education for many years, and it is now being lost; we are discouraged from reading our books and pursuing our education.”
However, she made one good reflection: “The presence of Ebola at this point in time seems to have silenced harmful traditional practices such as FGM [female genital mutilation].”
As a young man myself, I have sat my West African Senior School Certificate examination and I was hoping to study accounting, ideally abroad. However, our district has been quarantined and I am left feeling isolated and confused. I fear that I and my friends will not achieve our dreams.
After all our years of hard work and dedication and the commitment of our government to support our education, it feels like Ebola is destroying everything, within the shortest possible time.
Even buildings are suffering
The empty schools are becoming overgrown, flooded with rats, some school furniture and buildings are collapsing and others will soon do the same because there are no longer people occupying them.
Where will children sit and have a conducive learning environment when schools do finally reopen? Please help us take steps to revitalise education in this country. Otherwise the future of the children and of the nation is bleak.
What I am asking for
I have the strong feeling that as a young person I can play a pivotal role and I should be supported to achieve my passion of ensuring children and young people acquire their rights to create a peaceful future.
Education in particular is our right. We must harness the energy and talents of young people who are frustrated by this crisis by supporting them to embark on advocacy and motivational campaigns on the radio - sensitising people on the facts about Ebola, and encouraging parents to support their children to learn in whatever way they can.
We could ask tutors to prepare questions; at the end of every week or month we could hold a quiz and give attractive prizes and awards that will even include scholarships to the winners. These quizzes could contain questions on Ebola to help continue to raise awareness.
As well as the governmental and international aid efforts, we must also find innovative ways to engage children and young people through this terrible time of uncertainty.
We have to stop this Ebola disease from eating into the very fabric of our society and the future of children in our small, beloved country.
Plan International is responding to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Learn more about Kamanda and his role on Plan’s Global Youth Advisory panel
17 October 2014: When I was asked if I would consider deployment to Guinea, I didn't accept quickly. While I was determined to join the Plan Guinea team, I had to think very carefully about it. My work as a procurement and logistics specialist involves direct interaction at the frontline of the response. What would this mean for me in terms of the risk of Ebola?
But this is an unprecedented emergency response. I knew I had to prepare myself much better than my many previous deployments. I quickly realised that there was nothing in my past experiences that I could 'copy and paste' for this deployment.
My preparation also involved something that I have never done before – preparing my family for the worst. I explained the possibility of getting infected and what this could mean. At the same time, I had to assure them that I would take all necessary prevention measures, and promise to come back healthy.
Hand washing and temperature checks
When I first arrived in Conakry, Guinea's capital, it was hard to stay focused on the job. Here, I am constantly disinfecting my hands with sanitising gel or washing my hands with chlorine-mixed water.
I have to avoid shaking people's hands, and check my body temperature using a thermo gun every time I enter the office. And there are lots of other preventive measures that have been put in place by the office here too.
Around the city you can't miss the billboards, posters, banners and other media from the government and major humanitarian agencies conveying messages of Ebola prevention. Unfortunately, I can see on the streets that the messaging hasn't made a big difference.
I'm happily surprised to see how much Plan has prioritised staff care. I was provided with a hygiene and first aid kit as soon as I arrived. An all-staff meeting is held every Friday at the office, providing an update on the situation and on Plan's response work, as well as advice from the in-house health specialist on how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
Distributing food and relief items
Latex gloves, a face mask and rubber boots are a must-wear when we are distributing food or other relief items. Plan's t-shirt is soon becoming a long-sleeve shirt to minimise skin exposure too. These are just some of the new initiatives to better protect our staff on the frontline.
Distribution sites now include hand washing buckets with taps containing chlorine-mixed water. Queues are tightly monitored to avoid skin contact. We'll continue to develop new initiatives like this as long as we are working in the field.
Working on the ground in a crisis that is still developing is beyond anyone's imagination. Unlike a visible safety and security threat, Ebola is untraceable unless a person is infected. How do you fight something that you cannot see, cannot hear, cannot smell, cannot taste and cannot touch?
Keeping in touch with home
Thankfully, communication with my family is not a problem – the office has made sure that I can keep in touch easily. My family ask the same questions about the situation every day, and they are always happy to hear the same answer – that I am well and doing fine.
Nightly video chat during dinner time is a new ritual for us – while they are having dinner in the living room in Woking, UK, I join them from my hotel room. This gives a new meaning to the term dinner date!
I'm already thinking about what will happen when I return. I would like to be quarantined for 21 days in a medical facility, just to be on the safe side. It would be safer for my family at home, safer for my colleagues at the office, and safer for the general public.
So far I have taken all preventive measures and I feel healthy. But this crisis is one step ahead of us all – I can't be too careful.
Plan International is responding to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Find out more and donate to the Ebola emergency appeal
The Ebola health crisis could quickly turn into a food security crisis, blogs Plan’s Head of Food Assistance & Nutrition, Killen Otieno, on World Food Day.
16 October 2014: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are battling the deadliest Ebola epidemic in recorded history. The World Health Organization* (WHO) reports that 4,033 people have died so far, with 8,399 probable or suspected cases. However in reality, this number could be much higher due to unreported cases.
The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that cases in Liberia are doubling every 15–20 days while those in Sierra Leone are doubling every 30–40 days. CDC also estimates that Liberia and Sierra Leone could see 1.4 million cases of Ebola within 3 months when under-reported cases are taken into account.
Unless it is brought under control the epidemic has the potential to spread widely across the region and worldwide, putting many more lives at risk.
Emerging food crisis puts children most at risk
Many children who have lost their parents to the Ebola epidemic have been ostracised, abandoned in the streets, without shelter, food or medical care. As the stretched healthcare system concentrates on managing the outbreak, children are not treated even for the most common paediatric diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and malnutrition.
Household food insecurity in the 3 affected countries is waiting to emerge, with effects on the health and development of children. These could include iron deficiency, developmental effects, and behaviour problems – primarily aggression, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder. In the circumstances, these risks are under-assessed and therefore under prioritised.
As the world focuses on Ebola as a health crisis, the humanitarian community and the world at large needs to worry about the risks of infant mortality, low birth weights, stunting, and all the subsequent disadvantages of malnutrition. These may not manifest themselves immediately, but could have far-reaching effects.
Food assistance: Plan responds
Plan International, together with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), is ramping up operations in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, providing food assistance to around 1.3 million people.
Plan has just completed a rapid needs assessment that will inform key decisions around immediate, medium and long term food assistance intervention choices.
As we mark this year's World Food Day* on 16 October, we are reminded of how this health crisis could quickly turn into a food security crisis. The humanitarian community, governments and the world at large must do everything to prevent this and other health crises from transforming into serious food emergencies.
While donors and the international community have pledged to address the Ebola medical emergency, integrated interventions need to be designed and fast tracked, to minimise effects, to ensure that families can care for children and provide for their food needs.
Donors should also invest more resources in emergency food assistance and cash transfer programmes to prevent the long-term effects that lack of access to food may bring.
A food crisis could seriously complicate the delicate efforts of containing the Ebola outbreak – we must do everything we can to avoid it.
Please support Plan’s emergency Ebola appeal
Read more about Plan’s global emergency food and nutrition work
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
No children should die of hunger due to late responses to the Ebola outbreak – but they are, writes 18-year-old Henry Garneo – a Plan youth blogger and the chairman of Liberia’s National Children and Youth Advisory Board.
9 October 2014: Every day and night, I sit in my family’s little home in Paynesville, near Monrovia, and watch people from my community cry as their family members are taken away by the National Ebola Task Force to be cremated. They cry that they won’t see their family any more; they won’t even be able to talk about them at their graveside.
As those dead bodies are taken away, I wonder how life will be for their family and mostly, how will their children survive, as most of the victims of Ebola are usually the heads of families.
I start to shed tears as I watch those orphaned and semi-orphaned kids suffer from hunger. Other family members fear that those children too may have the virus, and they are left alone to fend for themselves. I try to help with some of the food items we have at home but most often it is far too little to sustain them for even a day.
One family’s tragedy
One situation that occurred in my community led to the death of an entire family that was very close to mine. They were a very peaceful and loving, happy Christian family until a great calamity befell their household.
On that fateful night on 19 September, we listened to the intense cries of the 3-year-old son of Mr and Mrs Cheayan. For over 3 hours little Jimmy cried bitterly with excruciating pain.
My mom decided to go and check out what was going on. She knocked on the door for over 5 minutes but there was no answer, so she decided to call at the window and saw the dead bodies of Mr Cheayan and his wife with little Jimmy standing at their door, crying to enter in.
She screamed with tears and started to call for help. When the entire community was awake and aware of the situation, they decided to firstly call in the Ebola Task Force. The doors of the Cheayan’s house remained locked. It was agreed upon by the community that little Jimmy should remain in the house until the Task Force arrived.
5 days waiting
It took 5 days for the Task Force to respond to the call.
For 4 days the life of Jimmy was made miserable up till his death. He didn’t get to eat, sleep nor bathe. He was left in the house all by himself. No one was allowed to go to the house. In fact, the house was immediately chained by the community leadership the next morning after the incident occurred.
All day, all night, little Jimmy was in tears wanting the love and comfort of the arms of his parents. The entire community didn’t want to get involved with an Ebola-related case. It was agonising to watch the death of such a kid as you are helpless to save his life.
Children need more help
The death of little Jimmy hurts me a lot whenever I think that early referral to a medical centre by the Task Force would have saved his life.
People are now afraid and don’t know what to do when their family member falls ill. They were previously advised to call in the Task Force but they don’t know who to trust anymore.
Since the death of Jimmy, I along with other young people who work with Plan have been constantly engaging the media, calling on government to improve in their response strategy. We have been calling on them to meet the immediate needs of those children who have lost their parents due to Ebola by providing them with food and non-food items.
Resources are needed to put in place child-friendly care centres for children who lost their parents or who have been separated from them due to Ebola. Foster families who take care of orphaned children need to be provided with the necessary economic and psychosocial support.
There should be no children who die of hunger and starvation due to late responses to Ebola.
Plan emergency teams are responding to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Please support Plan's life-saving work – donate to the Ebola appeal
Ebola cases are starting to fall in Gueckedou, Guinea, as health messages make an impact, blogs Plan Programme Unit Manager, Gbaka Sandouno.
27 September 2014: The current situation in Gueckedou is not as alarming as it was 2 months ago. Out of the 49 Ebola confirmed patients presently at the treatment centre here, there are only 5 cases from Gueckedou, 39 from Macenta, 2 from Nzerekore, 2 from Kérouané and 1 from Beyla.
In Gueckedou, the cases are from 2 main communities – a few months ago 9 out of the 10 main communities were severely affected by Ebola. We are grateful to say that the situation is subsiding.
Youth group power
In fact, even the main challenges we were facing, such as hostilities from villagers, and their doubts over the existence of the virus, have been solved. Religious leaders, women’s associations and youth groups got involved, and have all helped in raising awareness about the virus.
Now, people are scared of catching Ebola. The proof is that all the usual handshaking, marriage ceremonies, intensive market attendance and social gatherings - which used to be part of life here - are now considerably reduced.
Whoever gets ill now in any part of Gueckedou, rural or urban, is left alone until the specialised health worker comes to take him or her to the nearest health centre. The Ebola hotline number 115, on a green card, is given to everyone close by, as soon as such a case is noted.
On the streets, life is relatively normal, although economic activities have been reduced due to the closure of the borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the limitations on movement of people from one community to the other.
Stores, garages and offices are operating relatively well. Besides hawkers, marketeers and other traders, you also see traffic running normally.
But children are affected, either by being infected, losing parents or being traced as contacts. The fragile food security provoked by Ebola is also having a negative effect on children, as is the postponement of their school classes.
Recovering from Ebola
I attend meetings every morning with Ebola-cured patients. I have not met all of them, but I know that the recovered patients of Gueckedou - about 42 now - have formed an association. The president of the association, who was the first patient to recover from the virus, is called Mr Saa Sabas Temessadouno.
These recovered patients play such an important role in convincing those who did not believe in the existence of Ebola that it does exist. Of course, they also convince the majority who think Ebola has no cure that they can recover from it. They are living proof that people can survive from Ebola!
The group has been doing local radio campaigns telling how they were infected, then how they were taken to the Ebola treatment centre and have survived. Because of this, a lot of Ebola patients now declare themselves and are willing to be at the centre, and we are noting a considerable number of patients who are recovering.
At the beginning, I was very careful about meeting Ebola patients, and very worried about the outcome, but due to information and training obtained on what Ebola is and how to avoid it, I feel that Ebola can be contained. The threat can be won, especially if the population as a whole works together.
Steps are being taken to prevent people from catching the virus. Training sessions organised by religious people, community leaders, teachers and staff of various international non-governmental organisations on Ebola, as well as intensive awareness-raising carried out through local radio, civil society organisations, children and youth groups - are all helping people to avoid catching the disease.
Taps and washing facilities installed in every public and some private areas are also helping. Avoiding traditional practices relating to burials, social gatherings and social movement are helping as well.
Health messages are getting through
In Gueckedou as a whole, every village has been reached as part of awareness-raising work and messages are being passed on to people all the time.
Health workers are now working closely with local authorities and all are now welcomed by the villagers. Even the hygiene kits that were rejected a few months back by villagers are now being requested by the same people!
It’s worth mentioning that although this situation has improved here in Gueckedou, in other prefectures like Macenta and Nzerekore, it remains a huge challenge.
From giving institutional support to the health authorities to raising awareness through radio or civil society, Plan International is actively involved in anti-Ebola efforts.
We are providing hand washing facilities in public places and helping to trace contacts, and helping to provide the necessary funds to make things happen.
Please support Plan’s emergency Ebola appeal
Read more about Plan’s work in Guinea