Ethiopia: “For children, the red t-shirt means safety”
I always feel proud to work for Save the Children but never more so than taking a group of guests, including HRH the Princess Royal, President of Save the Children, to visit Tierkidi refugee camp in Ethiopia, which is sheltering 50,000 South Sudanese refugees.
I asked my colleagues what our red Save the Children t-shirts mean to people. “For children,” they replied, “the red t-shirt means safety”.
A wave of excitable schoolchildren
For a brief time, I lost my guests as a wave of hundreds of schoolchildren left their classrooms.
I quickly became caught up in the throng, talking and laughing with lots of excitable children. I wasn’t worried, but I was conscious that I needed to keep the group together, so I sought out the first Save the Children volunteer I could see by looking for those conspicuous red t-shirts.
My companions had had the same thought and we were quickly reunited.
Unaccompanied children, arriving in a strange country alone
I thought about how it must feel for the 4,500 children who arrived in Ethiopia from South Sudan unaccompanied and separated from their parents and what security and safety must mean to them.
Save the Children staff have looked after these children, helping them across the border, reuniting them with their families or finding them foster families.
Our trained social workers follow up and regularly visit the families to check the children are receiving support they need and are going to school.
The devastating impact of conflict on children
South Sudan is a horrific reminder of the devastating impact conflict has on children and their families. Amnesty International has documented the atrocities committed against civilians, including the most horrific of crimes – sexual violence, rape and executions.
Over 1.8 million South Sudanese have been displaced, with over 460,000 fleeing as refugees to neighbouring countries – many on foot with little more than the clothes they are wearing.
Nearly 190,000 people are living in refugee camps in Ethiopia’s Gambella region and another 100,000 are expected over the coming months.
Providing children with necessities is a priority for Save the Children in any emergency – but so is making sure they continue their education and have a safe place to play and regain their childhood.
It was phenomenal to see children lined up with their schoolbags outside newly opened classrooms: 10,000 children have registered in school in the past five weeks.
We are recruiting South Sudanese teachers for the schools, providing both livelihoods for the teachers and continuity for the children, who will be taught in their own language.
We have also set up Child Friendly Spaces in the camp, where children can learn, play and recover. So far, 15,000 children have benefited. Today, we watched as some of those children joyfully played volleyball and football.
We need to do more
But as an international community, we need to be doing so much more.
The United Nations Appeal for South Sudan is only 22% funded. At Save the Children, we urgently need to build more classrooms and expand education to reach both children of kindergarten age and older children.
We also need to keep bringing safety and security to those who need us, through our family reunification programmes, our Child Friendly Spaces and our psychosocial support for children who have suffered such distress.