Voices from the Field – IRC Blog

International Rescue Committee (IRC) Refugee, Staff & Volunteer Blog

Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Northern Iraq: Waiting to go home

Posted by jessmalter on 3 September, 2008

Jessica Malter blogs from a region of Northern Iraq bordering Iran and Turkey where she joined an IRC team bringing clean water to displaced villagers.

In the remote Qandil mountain range in Northern Iraq, Turkey and Iran have been conducting military maneuvers to rid the region of Kurdish separatist groups believed to be based in the area. The ongoing bombing and shelling has terrified hundreds of villagers who live there, disrupting their tranquil way of life and sending them running.

Over the past several months 120 families have fled the fighting and are living in what has come to be known as the Mangory Bridge Camp.

“We hid in the caves around our villages for 20 days hoping the shelling and bombing would stop, but it only got worse so we came here,” Mer told me, pictured here with her daughter. “It is only a few hours from our home, but it is peaceful. Now we are just waiting. We want to go home as there is no life for us here, but it is still too dangerous.”

One of the biggest problems the families face in the camp is a lack of clean water. Warda, pictured outside of her hut, told me she thinks her daughter is sick from drinking dirty water.

“We know the water is dirty because we have to use it to wash clothes and dishes,” she says. “The children play in it and sometimes end up drinking it, even though we have told them not to.”

When the IRC learned that residents of the camp were in need of drinking water, they moved quickly to get three water tanks installed the area. The tanks were delivered the day I visited the camp and are being connected to a nearby spring, which will provide the much needed clean water.

The women in the camp say they are very happy about the arrival of the new water tanks. They say it will make their daily routine easier and will keep their children healthy. They say their main concern now is where they will go when they are forced to leave the Mangory Bridge Camp.

In a month’s time the water will rise and the families will have to abandon the area. “We don’t know where we will go if the bombing and shelling hasn’t stopped by then,” said Seimya, pictured on the right. “It would be best if we could go to the town a few miles away, but we have no money to pay for rent. We are hoping the local authorities will help and provide us with some simple houses if we can’t go home.”

After four months of being away from their village, the children in the camp are bored and desperate to get home. They say they have very little to do here and back home they can at least help their families tend to their sheep and crops and have more space to play. This summer, their main activity has been racing across the stream that runs through the camp.

With the new school year just weeks away, parents in the camp are extremely concerned about the children missing school. Some are wondering if they should take their chances and go back to their village or try to find a place to settle that’s close to a school that would welcome the children. The children are anxious about the situation as well. “I like school,” Peshraw told me. He’s the one on the far left. “I want to be there on the first day. I don’t want to fall behind.”

The IRC is now speaking with local authorities on behalf of the displaced villagers to try and come up with a relocation plan that will enable the children to attend school and provide a safe place for the families to live until the violence subsides and they can safely return home.

Posted in children, education, MiddleEast, photos, refugees, war | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Back to school for refugee kids in Atlanta

Posted by Wynne Boelt on 27 August, 2008

IRC refugee school supplies drive in Atlanta IRC photo
IRC staff and volunteers in Atlanta stuffed backpacks with donated school supplies for refugee kids. Photos: Ashton Williams, Andrea Jones/The IRC
Going back to school is always an adjustment, especially for refugee children recently resettled in the United States. To help them start the school year, the IRC’s Atlanta resettlement office collected donated school supplies, stuffing 175 backpacks full of notebooks, pencils, glue, rulers and other essentials.

“Volunteers played a key role in gathering supplies, stuffing the bags and distributing them, as well as in getting community support for the project,” Ellen Beattie, the IRC resettlement director in Atlanta, says.

Ellen says the IRC’s goal is to give one backpack to every school-aged refugee child resettled by the IRC in Atlanta. This year the IRC expects to resettle some 250 refugee children in Atlanta.

Andrea Jones, IRC volunteer coordinator, helped to organize the supply drive and says it was great seeing some of the refugee children so happy with their new backpacks.

“To give a kid this full backpack, they open it up and some of the stuff, the glue they don’t really even know how to use it sometimes and it’s just so much fun to see kids excited about their education,” she told WAGA-TV, which reported on the supply drive (video).

How to get involved: There are various ways you can help the IRC help refugees adjust to new lives in 24 U.S. cities. Learn more here. 

Posted in children, education, howtohelp, refugees, UnitedStates | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

“Waiting for the long grass to grow” / Uganda

Posted by Joanne Offer on 20 August, 2008

Joanne Offer/The IRC
Ajok stands in front of Labuje mother camp, where thousands of people fled to escape the Lord’s Resistance Army. Photo: Joanne Offer/The IRC
Joanne Offer is in Uganda, where the International Rescue Committee is working with Ugandan communities affected by conflict as well as refugees from neighboring Sudan. Read all her posts from Uganda here.

It’s all the K’s in Uganda – after Karamoja and Kiryandongo, we move next to Kitgum district. The IRC has been working in camps here since 1998 to help thousands of Ugandan people displaced by atrocities carried out by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army, (LRA).

Since a peace agreement was struck in 2006, people have gradually been moving back home to their original villages, although many still live in small transit camps while they rebuild their dilapidated houses. To ensure these people have the basic services they need, the IRC is also moving with them. For example we’re fixing village boreholes to improve water sources, we’re building essential sanitation in schools, and we’re setting up support centers to reduce incidences of gender-based violence as people return.

An IRC health officer examines a young girl at a special outreach clinic for people now living in transit camps.

An IRC health officer examines a young girl at a special outreach clinic for people now living in transit camps.

We’re also supporting the government’s local health centers to fight a serious outbreak of hepatitis E, a disease that’s killed more than 100 people in Kitgum this year. Our health teams go daily into the field and we’ve set up a special team on the Sudan border – the point of origin for the outbreak –  to diagnose the diseases and offer advice.

As more and more people return home, the IRC is beginning to phase out some of its services. For example, we used to run an adult literacy program in Labuje mother camp. This helped young women like Ajok Irene Innocent, 19, who fled to Labuje about 4 years ago when the LRA attacked her parish of Pagen.

Ajok says, “I dropped out of school when I was 17 to have a baby. I couldn’t stay in school, but IRC’s literacy classes helped me to keep up with my exams and I now go to secondary school like everyone else. It’s definitely helped me while I’ve been in the camps.”

Like many others, Ajok’s family are now getting ready to return to their home village. “We’re just waiting for the long grass to grow so we can use it for the roof of our new house,” she explains. “I want to go home. Here we are too crowded and we have no land.  It will be better at home.”

Posted in Africa, education, health, peace, refugees | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Changes from the ground up / Ethiopia

Posted by Emily Holland on 11 August, 2008

Emily catches up with a group of children around an IRC-built tap stand.
Emily catches up with a group of children around an IRC-built tap stand. Photo: The IRC
International Rescue Committee communications officer Emily Holland and IRC intern and Princeton University student Daniella Raveh are visiting Ethiopia where they will be blogging about the lives and struggles of refugees and young girls and women.  See all their posts here.West Hararghe, Ethiopia When the IRC began building tap stands in peasant villages in West Hararghe, Ethiopia, staff were confident that health would improve for the thousands of residents who live there.  What IRC didn’t foresee was how much life in general would improve—and for women, especially.
 
Kedija, a 30-year-old mother of nine, used to walk four hours every day—two hours each way—to collect water for her husband and children.  Not only did this chore consume most of Kedija’s day, the water she brought back was often undrinkable.
 
Now, Kedija frequents an IRC tap stand that yields clean water just ten minutes from her home.  Her family no longer suffers from water-borne diseases.  Kedija’s family can drink water whenever they choose and bathe and wash their clothes more frequently.  Best of all:  with more time on her hands, Kedija is catching up on the education she cut short to marry and raise a family.
 
Commented Daniella:  “The way that people spoke about life before the tap stand made it seem like a very long time ago.  It’s obvious that this is a new time.  Accessible water is moving their village forward and, when it comes to challenging gender roles, breaking tradition with the past.  Usually, we think of big change coming from the top down.  Here, this tap stand is changing things from the ground up.”
 

Daniella and a friend give the GPS device a try.

Daniella gives the GPS device a try.

And also from the sky…since 2003, the IRC has been using satellite images, digitized maps, and aerial photographs collected in the field using GPS technology to pinpoint areas that lack potable water and identify new water sources.  With the information collected, we’re able to monitor each tap stand, covered spring, and latrine the IRC has constructed in Ethiopian communities.  We’re also able to put this technology to work to analyze other problems:  why are children in this community dropping out of school?  Could it be that water sources are located too far from their schools?  Or from their homes, requiring them to walk miles each day to collect water for their families, precluding school altogether?

Posted in Africa, children, education, health, women | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Afghanistan: A lasting commitment [IRC at 75]

Posted by The IRC on 31 July, 2008

An Afghan boy at an IRc hospital shows his scar from surgery. (IRC photo)

An Afghan boy at an IRC hospital shows his scar from surgery. (IRC photo)

As we observe our 75th anniversary this year, International Rescue Committee president George Rupp is blogging about one moment from our rich history each month.

In December 1979, the Soviet Union airlifted troops into the mountainous country of Afghanistan.  The Soviets and their Afghan allies took the capital, Kabul, and launched nine years of war with indigenous resistance groups. Thus began three decades of conflict and massive displacement for the Afghan people, along with the devastation of their country.Within weeks of the Soviet invasion, the IRC rushed to the aid of Afghan refugees who poured into bordering Pakistan. In 1988, when the Soviets withdrew, the IRC established operations in Afghanistan itself to help its people rebuild. The IRC has remained at work with suffering Afghans in both places—through the rise to power in Kabul of the extremist Taliban regime in 1996; the U.S.-led invasion to overthrow the Taliban in 2001; elections establishing a permanent Afghan government in 2004; and, by 2008, renewed concern over a resurgence of Taliban guerilla fighters. The IRC’s efforts in Afghanistan are now the IRC’s most longstanding.

The consistency and quality of the IRC’s work in Afghanistan owe much to the skill and determination of our staff members, both international and Afghan. It is doubtful, however, that when then IRC board president John Whitehead made his first visit in 1980 to the makeshift refugee camps springing up on the Afghan-Pakistan border, he could have known what a long and difficult commitment the IRC was about to make. What John did know was that a terrible human tragedy was unfolding on the border: one in three Afghans—some five million people—had fled their homeland and were living in terrible conditions.

By the end of 1980, the IRC was operating an extensive program of relief. We dispatched mobile clinics and set up dispensary tents. Scouts went into the scattered encampments to bring sick refugees to the medical tents. Vocational and self-help programs were developed. One of the IRC’s greatest accomplishments was its educational programs, which ranged from preschool to postgraduate courses and included a high school for refugee girls in Peshawar. Among the young refugees who passed through the camps was Mohammed Haneef Atmar, now minister of education, who worked for the IRC as program director in Kabul before joining the government of President Hamid Karzai.  And when I met him in 2002, President Karzai reminded me that he had once taught English at our IRC school in Peshawar, Pakistan. 

In 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, ushering in, not an era of peace, but a new round violence and civil war. The IRC was one of the few aid agencies that continued to operate inside Afghanistan under the Taliban, with a team of Afghan national staff members who, among other activities, organized home schooling for Afghan girls forbidden an education under the regime’s rules.

Even before we established an official presence in Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal, the IRC was sending teams into the Afghan countryside to repair roads, rebuild irrigation systems, and establish public health and sanitation facilities. With the overthrow of the Taliban, the IRC ramped up efforts to help Afghans rebuild. In 2007, the IRC enrolled some 11,000 students in 400 schools and trained over 1,000 teachers.  Nearly 2,000 people graduated from our vocational programs. And we helped to establish locally elected community development councils in which villagers make the decisions.

Despite the continuing instability in Afghanistan, the IRC remains as committed to the land and its people as it was nearly 30 years ago.  Our staff is now 99% Afghan – talented colleagues, many of whom have been with the IRC for decades.  As Razia Stanikzai, an Afghan refugee and a field manager for an IRC education programs in Pakistan remarked, “We Afghans have bled a lot, and now we want our children to experience peace.”

You can read all of George Rupp’s history posts here.

Posted in Asia, children, education, history, refugees | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.