Last December, the Lebanese military entered one of the refugee camps where we were supporting work with Syrian refugee children. They ordered an evacuation, giving camp dwellers a week to take down their tents and leave. They did this in many camps along the sightline of the Lebanese Syrian border-point because of a potential terrorist presence. This meant there was no alternative camp for refugees to move to in the area, so we supported our partners to find new land and build their own camp for refugees.
During this eviction period, as families were trying to come up with plans for where to move, our local partners took all the children that were being evicted on a field trip. They thought it would do them good to be distracted, especially as they sensed many of them were feeling anxious about the military returning. When the military showed up the first time they intentionally intimidated the Syrians: they came in their full attire, brought their tanks and weapons, and threatened to run over the tents with their tanks if the Syrians weren’t gone in a week.
Our partners gathered the children and took them to land owned by a local convent, which has some beautiful grounds. Here they could run around, wade in the lake, and enjoy the fall leaves and vineyards. The trip was incredibly successful and the children were talking about it for weeks after, showing their parents photos, with their minds distracted from their current situation.
They also used the trip to start conversations about how, together, they could shape their future home so that it has some of the beautiful elements of the gardens they visited. It was a great opportunity to talk to them about the power they have to care for their environment, cultivate it, and enjoy it. They also to discussed how their choices make a difference, how even small, simple things can have big impact. This could be avoiding littering, or starting a small garden next to their tents.
When the new camp began to be built, teachers and students were encouraged to be a part of the moving process: brainstorming ideas and dreams for the future plot of land, involving the adults and older children in the building. One teacher described how “I really like that we teach the children to make conclusions instead of pointing everything out to them.” The conclusions the children reached about the new camp, was that they would love some gardens, they wanted a clean, safe area and most of all, a playground!
A year later and all this is a reality. The new camp is the only settlement in the area with tents spaced strategically to allow access for services. Other camps tend to end up as a maze like sprawl of tents , there is electricity for light and safety and all the residents are part of a cooperative where they influence the running of the day to day life.
Nuna Matar, who heads up the work in the camp says of the new playground “The children are using it to the full! For the children, having their own space where adults have no business being in has proven to be very beneficial”. Alongside the provision of education in the camp, creating a child friendly environment with colour and play as a central part of life is crucial for children who have experienced trauma to gain a sense of security and normalcy.
You can support this work over Christmas by giving to our Season of Hope Appeal or perhaps in the new year take on a fundraising challenge!
After the success of our Soweto pilot project we are now starting to replicate this work in the neighbouring slum communities of Loco , Masese I and Masese III, which are located on the periphery of Jinja.
After building relationships in each area, the Child Protection Teams conducted a thorough needs assessment. It emerged that whilst each community has their own specific needs, the most urgent issue identified across all three is the struggle with child protection and child neglect.
In response to this, in partnership with community leaders and stakeholders, Children on the Edge Africa have facilitated participatory workshops in each area to raise awareness of child abuse, its forms, causes and effects on the child’s growth and development process. The training in each area included:
In addition to encouraging the participation of parents and guardians, the training encouraged adults in turn to support the participation of children. “Many parents don’t know that denying children their participatory rights drives low their self-esteem” said Mbulante Betty (former head of the Jinja child protection unit) “so carers should always listen to their children’s views so as to help them build the self-confidence”.
Near the end of each workshop there was an opportunity for the groups to discuss and identify areas and people that present potential dangers for children within each community. Parents and guardians were encouraged to be cautious about who spends time with their child and to keep watch on where the community children tend to spend most of their time.
On the request of the attendees, future training sessions will be covering a range of issues including child development, parenting techniques, reproductive health and alcohol abuse. Acting on information arising from workshop discussions, the Child Protection Team will also be offering individual support to vulnerable families.
Find out more about the new work in Loco, Masese I and Masese III.
One of these workshops costs just £45, think about donating towards the next one, or simply text EDGE16£3 to 70070 to donate £3.
The main element of the work we support in Uganda is through the establishment and development of Child Protection Teams (CPT). These groups of 10 trained volunteers from five different slum communities surrounding Jinja, work to mobilise local people to care for their children more effectively and receive support and advice on parenting, health, nutrition and preventing abuse.
One of the functions of the teams is to connect the community with the services that can help them. Having a strong connection with the police and training from them about the law gives weight to the advice and guidance provided by team members.
Babra from Children on the Edge Africa explains “We had a case of a man who beat his wife every day, the children would be hurt too. Two of our team members visited him, he was very hostile. After having some discussion with him he changed. We were not going to arrest or quarrel or make orders, but talk in peace until he understood why we were there. We then told him the laws. He didn’t know it was crime. We told him he would be arrested and he stopped.”
The teams work closely with police officers and local government to make sure issues are addressed and cases handled quickly and fairly.
Salaad from Loco CPT says “If people had problems they used to go to the local councillor and nothing would happen, or he might try and bribe them. Now they come to us, we speak on their behalf and their issues are dealt with straight away. Any violation of children’s rights and they know they can get action to challenge it”.
This diplomacy and advocacy works both ways. Teams advocate on behalf of the communities they work with, not only with regard to individual cases, but to build trust and understanding between local people and authorities.
Babra describes how perspectives have changed; “The police in Masese II used to be dismissive if people reported cases. They didn’t feel it was their concern, they just thought they were a bunch of drunks and not worth the trouble. Now they take the community seriously”.
The police have tried to engage Loco community many times before with no success. This is mainly due to the fact that people have been disillusioned through their experience of bribery, corruption and a perception that the police are against them.
The CPT set up a meeting with the community and the police and, because they are well trusted, many people from the local area came along. Seven police officers were there and the questions went on until after dark. There were so many questions that they set up a second gathering, attended by over 130 people.
They discussed how bribery is not allowed, and should be reported. They were encouraged not to run away from a police patrol and reassured they are there to keep safety and order, not to beat people. It was made clear that any officer who does this should be reported and action will be taken.
Through their ongoing and visible partnership with the police, as well as the facilitation of these meetings, the Loco CPT are building more effective services and a renewed trust between the community and the police. This is all contributing to the development of a safer environment for local children.
Read about the work we do in Uganda building a protective environment for children.
Could you help contribute to this work by selling our ‘Season of Hope’ wrapping paper?
Want to take on a challenge to support these children? Find out more.
For a quick donation simply text EDGE16 and your amount (£1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10) to 70070.
The doors of Loco Early Childhood Development Centre opened on the 26th September and just over a month later, the children here have already come on in leaps and bounds.
Edwin Wanabe, Programme Director at COTE Africa says ‘The children are very willing to learn and so friendly to the staff. They are interacting well during playing and enjoying themselves. At first they were upset to be left by their parents in the morning, but now they wake up their parents early in the morning to make sure they arrive on time to school!”
These children are from an extremely vulnerable community, they are very young and have never been to school before. This presented some challenges in the first few weeks for the teachers. Naturally at this stage, the children behaved fairly chaotically and found it hard to concentrate.
The main way the staff have tackled this is by singing songs, as they really help to motivate and focus the children in a fun way. Whether these are songs that are saying ‘well done’ to a classmate for writing a word for the first time, or songs that help in quieting down the class before a meal time, there is a rhyme for most things and the children love them.
The language differences have also been a barrier, so in the first few weeks the teachers used a lot of gestures and soon communication began to flow. The teachers have also been helping the children to improve table manners and teaching them how to use the toilets in a hygienic way.
Doreen, the headteacher at the Centre says ’At first the children would be destructive with the pencils and books, they didn’t really know what to do with them or how to behave, but the teachers helped them to understand, and kept an eye on everyone while teaching, now they look after the materials’
What difference a month makes
In this short time the children have developed a real sense of belonging and are looking after their school books and equipment very responsibly for such a young age. They have become comfortable with sharing these things as well. They have also been learning about reporting whenever they feel unsafe, either at school or within their community. They have learned to ask for things politely and have developed their numbers, reading, writing and singing a great amount.
Edwin describes how “We can tell the children are greatly enjoying lessons because we often hear them imitating the teachers and telling their parents how much the teachers care about them. They are always reciting the rhymes at home, practicing their reading sounds and reporting what they ate at breaktime. We hope this brings a smile to your face!”
The police have cited the eastern region of Uganda as having the highest incidence of child sacrifice cases; with police chief Moses Binonga blaming the high infiltration of unregistered healers. With little protection or justice from the authorities, communities like Masese II were seemingly powerless.
Our pilot Child Protection Team (CPT) was created at the height of a local killing spate in July 2012. Through workshops they raised awareness on the issue of child sacrifice, tackling the beliefs, mindsets and behaviour that sustain the practice. They created productive livelihoods to ensure parents could afford to send their children to school and keep them safe throughout the day.
What they also needed was to create a strong safety net within the community, and ensure people had easy access to the police. To resource them in doing this they identified some simple, low cost items:
Attackers started to realise they would easily get caught if they tried anything in that area. All of these measures resulted in the complete eradication of incidents in Masese II in the last 3 years.
Francis from the Masese II CPT says “We used loudspeakers to warn if there was a stranger in the area being suspicious and bikes to go straight to the police. With child sacrifice, there used to be an abduction every month, now children can walk about safely.”
Clearly Wellington boots are not the standalone hero of the picture. It took a detailed and thorough strategy to create the impact the team had in eradicating the number of abductions. What the boots represent however is how, with the backing of the community, huge transformation can be made with simple, low-cost resources.
The team requested loudspeakers rather than phones and bicycles rather than jeeps. Not only do these simple measures work, but they can be replicated across wider areas at low cost.
Since beginning work in the wider district, every CPT has been resourced with the same items. This sustainable model gives a great return on investment, which is why Children on the Edge are looking to scale up across the country in many needy communities that are vulnerable to child sacrifice.
More recently each CPT has been provided with a small hut to use as a base in each community. This means local people have a central place to go to if they need to find a team member at any time, and the team has a place to store records and resources.
As a new wave of violence against the Rohingya emerges, our work with refugees is more crucial than ever.
For over 5 years now Children on the Edge have been working with Rohingya refugee children in the makeshift camps of Bangladesh. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in Rakhine State, Myanmar who are widely considered the most persecuted group in the world.
Since their government passed the 1982 Citizenship Act, the Rohingya people have been denied access to citizenship and subjected to grave human rights abuses at the hands of the authorities and local population in Myanmar.
To escape this treatment, they make perilous journeys at sea or flee across the borders, often to countries that are already impoverished and over populated. Bangladesh is now hosting around 400,000 Rohingya people and despite the recent surge of violence in Myanmar, are currently turning them away.
In the last month there has been an additional surge of violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar, and a UN official has stated that the agenda fuelling it is ethnic cleansing. Some 30,000 Rohingya have fled their homes in the last month and an analysis of satellite images by Human Rights Watch has shown that hundreds of buildings in Rohingya villages have been razed. Claims of gang rape, torture and murder are adding to the crimes against humanity endured by this people group.
Conditions for those that have made it across the border are poor and children have no opportunity for education. Official refugee camps are at capacity, overspilling into illegal makeshift camps. Movement is restricted and refugees have no permission to work outside the camps. They are often subject to attacks and persecution from locals who resent the refugee community.
Children on the Edge work in the largest makeshift refugee camp in Bangladesh providing low profile primary education for Rohingya children in the camp. We operate 45 classrooms within the camp, enabling 2,700 children to gain a full primary education. All children follow a government recognised curriculum and take exams, ensuring that their education is officially recognised in Bangladesh, despite their migrant status.
Without this provision there is a chance a whole generation of Rohingya will grow up unable to read or write, the latest wave of violence has tripled the amount of refugees coming into the areas we are working and the need is greater than ever. We are actively looking for support and funding for this vital work. Please get in touch if you think you can help with funding, or think about making a donation.
We started out our work in Uganda supporting a pilot Child Protection Team project in Masese II slum (known as Soweto). After 5 years the Masese II Child Protection Team (CPT) has genuinely transformed a community and is still going strong.
These ten volunteers have toppled illegal breweries and created alternative, positive livelihoods to get children to school, they have eradicated the occurrences of child sacrifice, they have instigated community action on sanitation and hygiene to create a clean and cared for area. They have also reduced domestic violence, substance misuse and child abuse.
The team are now independent, with only occasional input and encouragement needed from Children on the Edge staff. Not only this but they are sharing their experiences as we scale up this work into the wider district.
Babra, a social worker at Children on the Edge Africa says “I am proud of the CPT in Masese II, they do all the work with very little resources, they get on all by themselves, they refer cases and do follow ups themselves, they even do their own fundraising. They work so well even though they are not paid because it is from their hearts that they want to change the community. It’s like having a child and seeing them develop. I pray that the new communities will be the same. We can’t go in as Children on the Edge and change the whole community, but we can work with local people to change their own community”.
To help ensure that the new teams do just this, they meet regularly with the original team to learn from their experiences, share stories and develop ideas. Programme Director Edwin says “This helps them understand they are not alone in the fight against child abuse”.
In time, we are planning to scale up this tried and tested model across Uganda to help vulnerable communities create protective environments for their children. The team has been greatly effective in eradicating cases of child sacrifice, but sadly success in one community usually means the perpetrators move on to other vulnerable areas to prey on their children.
Identifying areas that are particularly vulnerable to child sacrifice, the team have written up the CPT model to enable new communities to benefit from 5 years of learning when forming their own CPTs.
Alongside the scaling up of the CPT model at grassroots level, there is need for effective national legislation where perpetrators are brought to justice. The two approaches work hand in hand. Children on the Edge are currently working with the Ugandan Children’s Rights NGO Network (UCRNN) to support the passing of a specific Bill addressing child sacrifice and current gaps in legislation.
With a change in the law and the corresponding scaling up of child protection at community level. It is hoped that this practice will be tackled head on and communities will be resourced to create safer environments for their children.
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