Our View on 2020
We are at a unique and difficult moment in history. As we conclude this report, the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, with major implications for societies, people and children worldwide.
Times of Crisis
Although the world has experienced public health emergencies before, the unknown nature of the virus and the speed with which it caught hold was a shock to all of us. The words of 16-year-old Hameed from Jordan stuck with me: “We are afraid of everything now. I don’t know if I will live to see tomorrow or not.”
It is children like Hameed - caught up in conflicts created by adults - who have become the silent victims of the pandemic. With schools closed, so too their education is put on hold, meaning long-term and irreversible effects on their development. Isolated at home, children cannot escape the stress and anxiety that their parents are feeling, nor the barrage of daily news reports. The vaccine may be on its way, but where does an unregistered child in a refugee camp fit in?
“The vaccine may be on its way, but where does an unregistered child in a refugee camp fit in?”
The year 2020 was meant to be one of major progress on mental health, child protection and education. We got off to a strong start, launching research studies on the coasts of Colombia, linking young women in Burundi to job opportunities and finalising plans for the rapid scale up of TeamUp - our movement-based psychosocial support intervention. Then COVID-19 arrived, and we were forced to radically change course.
On the one hand, humanitarian organisations were well prepared - we deal with emergencies every day. On the other, the sector was caught off guard. It is set up in such a way that we are governed by a robust set of strategies, policies, grant requirements, log frames - you name it - which play an important purpose. Yet, it is these same structures that can also result in bureaucracy, making it harder to depart from the established ways.
The pandemic has revealed the necessity for enhanced innovation across the humanitarian sector - something that comes naturally to the children in our programmes. Now was the time to think outside the box but also not overthink less we fail to act.
First, we suspended group activities. Next, we began to disseminate reliable information on personal protection against the coronavirus. In the weeks to come we were to dramatically reshape our core interventions, exploring safe and creative ways to continue to provide vital child protection, education and psychosocial support.
In South Sudan, we took our message over the airwaves - with the help of celebrities like Afrobeat artist Check-B Magic. Meanwhile, our staff worked around the clock to deliver hygiene and child care kits to hundreds of families living in isolation. Small games, crayons and colouring books helped children stay engaged through long weeks of lockdown. In the occupied Palestinian territory - where a major outbreak sent stress levels through the roof - we utilised everything from WhatsApp to video animations and 24-hour hotlines to reduce fear and anxiety among children and parents.
The adaptation of our tablet-based education programme Can’t Wait to Learn saw children in Uganda and beyond continue their education from home - with or without an active WiFi connection. In Lebanon, the reading and maths games were made available online so parents could download them on their mobile phone and share them with children.
While our response was decisive, it was not without mistakes - solutions were often limited to one country or region and lacked financial capacity. We are learning but we can do better if we listen more closely to our communities, partners and colleagues. We must act now to protect an entire generation who may never return to school; girls at the heart of a surge in domestic violence globally.
“War Child is urging governments and companies to share their intellectual property and make COVID-19 vaccines available and affordable for everyone.”
War Child is urging governments and companies to share their intellectual property and make COVID-19 vaccines available and affordable for everyone. Children living in war have already lost so much - a vaccine gives them the chance to be free...
Free to play. Free to grow. Free to be.