Save the Children Federation

Save the Children is the world's leading independent organization for children. Our vision is a world in which every child attains the right to survival, protection, development and participation. Our mission is to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives.
Oct 5, 2012

Deep Freeze in Afghanistan Causes Great Sorrow

Photo credit: Mats Lignell / Save the Children
Photo credit: Mats Lignell / Save the Children

Dear Supporter, 

This project has been fully funded. Thank you so very much for your support. Please keep the children of Afghanistan in your hearts as the winter season will be upon them again soon. Here is a story from the field. 

Deep Freeze in Afghanistan Causes Great Sorrow

by Lane Hartill

During her first week of life, Laila was never truly warm.

The mud shack she lived in with her family was ice cold most of the time. Her father, Noor Mohammad, had a choice to make: Should I buy food or firewood? Should his children go hungry or spend another night in the cold? It was a question that has haunted him every winter in this tent camp in Kabul, but this year was different. This year, the cold air that blew down from the Hindu Kush mountains had something sinister about it, Noor Mohammad could feel it.

On good days, he could scrape together some money, and bring home a little firewood or charcoal. Nobody minded that the smoke from the fire dirtied the walls of the hovel and made the kids’ eyes water. Smoke meant heat. And heat, no matter how brief, meant relief for frozen fingers and toes.

But the shack, built four years ago when Noor Mohammad arrived in Kabul after fleeing conflict in the south of the country, didn’t hold the heat. It’s always been a problem, but past winters were milder than this year’s. The first winter in Kabul, he remembers, the kids loved the snow; it was the first time they’d ever seen it.

“They thought it was sugar candy that fell from the sky,” Noor Mohammad says. But this winter, despite plenty of falling white candy, the novelty was gone. The cutting cold took the fun out of it.

So at night, after the fire burned down to embers and the children’s breath became visible, the only defense for the children against cold was to huddle closer together for warmth under some blankets. They ignored the soupy coughs of their siblings and hoped for sleep to come quickly.

In the morning, Noor Mohammad would slip out of the house early and disappear through the warren of shacks to look for work. Soon the children were up and peeking out of the door, their lips still chapped from yesterday, noses still crusted, their hair still oily. They made their way out over the ice that coated the camp and braced for that first blast of freezing morning air. Many wore no socks and none had gloves. Other children were barefoot, wearing plastic flip flops. They’d all learned to ignore the pain of cold seeping into their warm bodies.

While Laila’s siblings were out roaming the camp — cracking icicles off of tents to suck on or collecting garbage to burn for heat — she spent her days wrapped tightly with blankets, watched over by her mother. Even though she had a large family — four sons and three daughters — she doted on Laila.

Not far away, life in Kabul carried on. Horses with ornate jangling bridles trotted down busy streets, passing students buying hot boloni, bread stuffed with potatoes and spices, on the side of the road. Behind many of the tall walls that line the streets are proper houses where Kabul’s well-to-do live. They fend off the cold through countless cups of tea and by easing their legs under a sandali, a traditional Afghan heater that uses hot coals placed under a small table covered by a heavy blanket. If that’s not available, a bukhari, a small stove is used to heat the room. A splash of diesel — usually kept in an old plastic Coke bottle — is squirted on some gnarled firewood to ignite a quick fire.

Noor, gloveless and wrapped in his patu, the traditional Afghan shawl, passed it all. The cold wasn’t the only thing on his mind. He’s unemployed, his children’s health is precarious, and he doesn’t know how long he will have to live in the mud shack.

It’s not just him. There are some 20,000 Afghans living in camps scattered around Kabul. They have fled different parts of the country or returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran. The men wander the frozen alleys of the camps alone with their thoughts, hands clasped behind their backs, still dignified among the squalor. Living in a mud house and having to decide whether you eat or have heat eats away at a man.

As Laila was entering her second week of life, the cold went from being a bothersome, uninvited guest to an ominous villain.

Every time someone walked in the door of the shack, the frigid air blew in, sucking away what little warmth had built up. The cold was relentless; it worked its way through Laila’s thin clothes and found her body. As day gave way to night, the temperature started its slow slide toward unbearable. Laila’s tiny body was no match for Old Man Winter, who was cruel and unforgiving that night.

When Laila stopped breathing, Noor Mohammad knew he had taken her from him.

The next week, the freezing onslaught continued. On Monday, February 7th, the mercury dropped to 5 Fahrenheit, the coldest Kabul has been in 15 years. By that time, more children had died in the camps. The deaths attracted media attention, which got the world’s attention.

Save the Children immediately responded by sending a team to the camp to find out what was needed. The next day, Save the Children distributed hats — knitted by volunteers in the United Kingdom — for children, along with blankets. The following day, tarpaulins, much needed materials to protect houses against snow and spring rains, came next.

More help poured in. Aid agencies delivered firewood, charcoal, milk and hot water bottles. Clothes arrived. And more blankets. One well known Afghan personality, according to media reports, even handed out cash at one camp.

The aid gives Noor Muhammad a little peace of mind. The hats and the blankets are going to help his kids and his wife through the winter. The cold won’t sting as much, and for that he’s grateful.

Sep 12, 2012

Thank You & Update

A health and nutrition session, Turkana
A health and nutrition session, Turkana

What you helped us to achieve over the last six months....

Thanks to your generosity, Merlin has been able to continue to respond with nutrition and health care services to families who are still very much in need of assistance.  Although the threat of thousands of children dying each week had decreased, due to unpredictable rainfall and therefore bad harvests, rising cases of malnutrition and disease are still very much a threat. 

You are one of over 320 donors GlobalGiving donors that so far, have kindly supported our emergency work in response to the East Africa Food Crisis.

Between you, nearly $20,000 has been raised.  This is a fantastic achievement.  However, with the ongoing concerns and our teams now planning to continue the emergency response activities for at least another 6 months, the appeal will remain open with a new target of $25,000. 

Thank you so much for your wonderful support of Merlin’s work in East Africa.

Spotlight on Kenya


The food security situation in Turkana, an arid, remote region in the north west of Kenya, has shown improvement in the past year, particularly following significant above-average rains at the end of 2011 and in April 2012.

Improved availability of milk, more internal and external trade agreements and humanitarian aid has also resulted in an improvement in the nutrition levels of the children, which has meant that the proportion of children at risk from malnutrition has decreased significantly.

Turkana North East, which was the most affected district during the drought at the start of 2011, reported a large reduction in general malnutrition rates from 37.4% to 13.7% at the end of 2011, and the rates for children with the most severe, acute malnutrition also fell from 9.4% to 3.2%.

Unfortunately, current malnutrition rates still hover around the “emergency” threshold in many of Turkana's districts and failed harvests have meant there is a threat of these rates rising again over the next few months. In response to the continued crisis, Merlin has expanded its support to include a further 30 health facilities and now serves a total of 72 outreach sites.

Some of Merlin’s activities over the last 6 months

  • More than 50,000 children and their families have been treated.
  • Ten nutrition storage facilities have been built.
  • Five solar fridges have been bought, enabling Merlin staff to safely store vaccines and drugs.
  • Over 865 outreach clinics have taken place.  Nine vehicles cover the 72 sites, each site being visited twice a month
  • Continued on-the-job training of local, outreach staff.
  • Outreach teams have purchased more equipment for the clinics, including height and weight boards used for the screening of malnutrition cases.
  • Local staff, including 35 district health staff and 115 community health workers have been trained, and three Community Health Units established.
  • Merlin has distributed medical kits and bicycles to community health workers to enable them continue to offer health services to local families.
  • Severe cases requiring specialized care (i.e. TB or HIV positive patients) are referred to specialized clinics.
  • Counseling is being offered to the guardians of those children admitted to the Stabilisation Units (these are the children that have the severest cases of malnutrition), who are at a great risk of dying, and are offered hourly, intensive care at the Unit.

Merlin responded immediately to the East Africa food crisis, and expanded our health care program rapidly.  Pregnant women, young children, the sick and the elderly continue to benefit from comprehensive health, nutrition and water and sanitation programs that have been tailored to the needs of the local people.

Merlin’s approach to work with the community has seen the revival of health structures and the provision of vital skills in communities, which will help with future emergency situations.

Through this on-going program, as we look towards a longer-term recovery approach, Merlin continues to save lives and rebuild and strengthen the health care system. 

Thank you for your support.

Sep 4, 2012

When Disaster Strikes, Is Your State Ready?


Every working day, the safety of nearly 68 million U.S. children is in the hands of school officials and caregivers. Most parents assume that when they drop their kids off for the day, they will be safe if disaster strikes. But two-thirds of our nation’s states do not require basic emergency preparedness regulations for child care facilities and schools.

For the fifth consecutive year, Save the Children assesses all 50 states and the District of Columbia on four basic disaster preparedness and safety standards for children in child care and at school.

In addition to evaluating every state’s basic emergency preparedness for children, this year’s report highlights a critical standard which every state should have in place to address the needs of the most vulnerable children attending child care—infants and toddlers, as well as children with disabilities and those with access or functional needs. More than half of the states fail to account for these children in their emergency preparedness plans.

The Results Are In: 

  • Over the last five years, the number of states meeting all four standards has increased from four in 2008 to 17 in 2012.
  • While 17 states now meet all four basic preparedness standards; 33 states and the District of Columbia still do not.
  • Twenty-seven states do not require all regulated child care facilities to have a plan that accounts for kids with disabilities and those with access and functional needs.
  • Five states—Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan and Montana—fail to meet any of the preparedness standards for regulated child care facilities or schools, putting many children at risk.

“We as a nation have a moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable during disasters. Children—especially those who are too young to protect themselves or who have disabilities that require additional assistance—are counting on us to ensure their safety and well-being. And yet, more than half of the states’ emergency preparedness regulations fail to account for the needs of those who are most at risk of injury and neglect. That’s simply unacceptable.” 

– Mark Shriver, Senior Vice President, Save the Children’s U.S. Programs.



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