Millions of children are having their life chances snatched from them during this most heart-breaking, existential crisis. My children are back to school. I’m going to give my mum a hug this week. And I relish the daily news about the UK’s progressive vaccination programme. But, and it’s the BIGGEST BUT…. it would be wrong of me to talk in the past tense about this virus which continues to wreak havoc across many nations and will continue to display its devastating effects on millions of children in vulnerable situations for years to come.
As we’ve navigated our way through the pandemic, our entire working environment has shifted beyond recognition. The demand for our services proliferated, all the while becoming harder and harder to deliver.
When our team were the first to arrive in Musanze, Northern Rwanda, to provide PPE and food for children with disabilities in May 2020, it became clear that we couldn’t do nothing. The need was so great that the mayor joined our team during the food parcel distribution. Unfortunately, the virus was not the greatest fear for the families we support. The lockdown removed their livelihoods when the informal economy shut down overnight.
Our team were the first to arrive in Musanze, distributing PPE and food in May 2020
Fast forward twelve months and many families still struggle to meet the needs of their children. I dread to think what might have happened had we not showed up. In Uganda’s refugee settlements we’ve recently seen huge reductions in food rations to 8 kgs of maize flour and 3 kgs of beans to an equivalent of £3.30 per person per month, not to mention nutritional value. How is a child supposed to learn on an empty stomach? And how is a parent supposed to choose which child to feed? As I help my son choose his school lunch from the menu each morning, I’m reminded not only of my own privilege but also of my dignity. Working alongside many of the most incredible African community organisations helps to ensure we’re listening to children and families in the heart of the communities we work with. Ensuring they have a voice and their dignity is integral to our values and it has been ever more important during this protracted crisis.
It’s important to appreciate that for the children we support, COVID-19 has since been compounded by a seismic shift in the development assistance programme of the UK government. The very girls who have missed out on two more years of school during the pandemic are even less likely to return to education since the UK’s girls’ education programme has been cut by a quarter. Thousands of small charities, just like us, are facing the closure of their UK AID funded programmes across 37 countries, with just 90 days’ notice. We’ve long seen a shift in the attitude of our government towards the poorest people in the world, but we didn’t see this happening overnight, nor during the biggest crisis of our lifetime. We’ve joined hundreds of organisations to petition against aid cuts and are truly devastated at the likely consequences. Whilst our projects will not be immediately impacted by the UK government’s announcement, the knock-on effects will be felt by a growing number of children. Children who are living on the street, out of school or forced into early marriage or child labour. Not to mention those who are affected by conflict with no opportunities for a childhood nor hope for their future. Our government may have turned their backs on these children, but we won’t.
Your support helps girls to access education, like at the specialist deaf school in Rwanda.
For many of us, this is the first time that we have been universally affected by the same threat. We’re not reading about an Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, or Malaria in the DRC, we are all living in the same Pandemic. But it must be said that whilst we may all be in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat. We have so much to do to repair the setbacks of the Pandemic and to support children in vulnerable situations across DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda who deserve a loving family, a positive childhood and a meaningful education just like any other child. Our partners and programmes team have made adaptations to ensure our services are COVID-secure and we’re ready to work harder than ever.