In 2019 Save the Children will mark its Centenary moment. Whilst this will be a celebration of the work of so many to help reach and change the lives of millions of children it will also be a reflection on the sad realities of the continued and expanding humanitarian needs of the modern world.
New research has shone light on the scale of the challenge. The UN reports that some 68.5 million people are currently living displaced from their homes, a number we’ve not seen since the Second World War. Meanwhile modern conflict itself is metastasising and evolving in ways that pose deadly challenges to children.
War is increasingly protracted, urban in nature and fought by larger numbers of armed actors. The trends of grave violations against children are on the rise with particularly spikes in attacks on schools and hospitals, killing and maiming and the denial of humanitarian aid.
When you add up the numbers of children living in conflict affected areas, from the Rohingya children, to those in Yemen, Syria, DRC, Afghanistan, South Sudan and beyond, you arrive at the incredible figure of 357m children, that’s one in six children worldwide.
Against such a bleak backdrop some of our programming and partnerships continue to light candles in the darkness and provide help and hope to children.
This week we mark the launch of a new and unique programme to improve the mental wellbeing of thousands of children affected by conflict and violence. Working as one team, Arsenal and Save the Children have combined their expertise to create an ambitious programme that has been developed over the last 18 months, harnessing almost 100 years of Save the Children’s child protection expertise and 33 years of Arsenal in the Community’s sports for development experience.
The ground-breaking coaching programme will help to build children’s courage and inner strength through football. Initially piloted in Jordan and Indonesia, it will address issues such as emotions, communication, decision making, self-esteem and conflict management. Through football, children will develop these skills as well as learn about their rights and the importance of gender equality. We will establish robust evidence to demonstrate how effective the programme is, with the future ambition to replicate it in other countries.
The programme is part of our increasing focus on mental health and psychosocial efforts (MHPSS). Supporting the recovery of children from conflict is one of the three pillars of our strategy to better protect children in conflict. Over the last two years our research and programme evidence from field offices across the Middle East has revealed the most comprehensive insight into what challenges there are to children’s MHPSS.
The prolonged exposure to war, stress and uncertainty means that many children are in a state of toxic stress – the most dangerous form of stress response. It occurs when children experience strong, frequent or prolonged adversity without adequate support, and can have immediate and hugely detrimental effects, including increases in bedwetting, self-harm, suicide attempts and aggressive or withdrawn behaviour.
If left untreated, the long-term consequences are likely to be even greater, affecting children’s mental and physical health for the rest of their lives. As well as ramping up our MHPSS programming we’ve been working closely with DFID and other NGOs working on this issue to set out a roadmap for responding to the challenge of responding to the mental health needs of children and conflict.
Former Arsenal Captain, Per Mertesacker, visited the Syrian refugee camp of Zaatari in Jordan in August to see the programme take shape. He told us how “the young people I met focus on what is happening now and this project will give them courage to cope with the struggles they face day to day, as well as providing them with the skills to have a better future”.
Hope for children can seem in short supply in the conflicts of today but thanks to partnerships like the one we have with the Arsenal Foundation, we doing everything we can to keep it alive.