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Saturday, 21 April 2018

Making a difference

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Banks and issuers have donated more than £25.5m to Save the Children through the IFR Awards over 22 years. In 2017, IFR deputy editor Owen Wild visited projects in Ethiopia that have been beneficiaries of that support.

“Is this your first visit in Ethiopia?” John asked.

“It is our first visit to any Save the Children project,” I responded.

“Then you have been dropped in at the deep end,” he said. 

John Lundine is deputy country director for Save the Children in Ethiopia. I visited the country in October with Save the Children to see what becomes of the around £1m raised for the charity each January at the IFR Awards dinner. Meeting people facing extreme adversity and danger who spoke only with kindness and gratitude made me proud to represent all the investment banks that donate so generously each year. 

My visit, along with Shani Halstead and Jezz Farr from major donors Citigroup and HSBC, was to Gode in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, a sun-parched area in the south-east of Ethiopia. Since 2015, the El Nino effect has exacerbated Ethiopia’s worst drought in 50 years. From a population of more than 100m people, 30m are in absolute poverty. 

The drought has destroyed pastoral communities, starving animals and forcing millions to leave their homes in the vain search for water. Camps for internally displaced people (IDP) have sprung up from nowhere and urgently need support. The two camps we visited contained around 900 families each, making up a population per camp of about 4,000 people. They had appeared in a matter of months. 

The money raised at the IFR Awards dinners primarily goes to the Children’s Emergency Fund. CEF is a dedicated funding reserve that enables Save the Children to respond to emergencies within hours, without having to wait for other funds to arrive. In 2016, CEF responded to 88 crises in 51 countries, reaching over 5m people.

Coming to Gode made it clear that this part of Ethiopia is in the middle of an ongoing crisis. 

I struggle to comprehend the hardships endured by those I met, but the lift they have received from Save the Children is in no doubt. Each day, I wore a bright red Save the Children T-shirt and the warmth I received from those in the camps showed the trust the charity has built there. 

Even for those in the camps their situation remains dire, with an outbreak of cholera the previous year killing scores of people in one of the camps. 

The drought in Gode is so desperate that the charity stepped in to deliver the most basic humanitarian aid of all – water. Each day, trucks deliver to multiple camps with the target of providing five litres of water per household. 

It was overwhelming to be faced with the reality of a need so basic. 

Those that attend the IFR Awards dinner will see me talk on camera at the Adadle Woreda camp about our visit. They will see how shell-shocked I was and how I hard I found it to express my thoughts. 

A mother had a few moments earlier showed me her home – a small tent made from sticks covered with plastic and rags shared by nine adults and children. 

I wish I had told her how proud she should be of having found safety and keeping her family together, and that things would surely now improve. But I was overwhelmed that this tent had provided some respite from the searing daytime heat but little else. It was hard to imagine how nine could fit in and other than a couple of pans and some rags it was bare. 

We were well briefed on what we were going to see – I asked every STC person I could in advance to be as well prepared as possible – but it still left me speechless. 

You might expect the people to be desperate, yet while their need is great, all those we met were extremely polite, spoke in measured tones and expressed huge affection for Save the Children and all those in the red T-shirts. 

These are very proud people who have been robbed of their lives. 

In the second camp in Kebri Dahar one representative of the inhabitants spoke of how before the floods – El Nino delivered floods to these people, then drought – they had their own homes, work, animals, and now he was asking for eight latrines to serve 4,000 people. And yet he did it with a smile. 

Save the Children is very careful with how it spends precious donations. Funding is secured after pitching a specific programme with clearly identified needs, how many children it will reach, which of the charity’s objectives it supports and a strict timetable and budget. Funding does not exist in perpetuity, though there is a perpetual state of audit in the Ethiopia head office in Addis Ababa. 

Thanks to the CEF, Save the Children is extremely nimble and is often called upon by governments as it can move fastest. In the Gode camps this is clear to see. For a small financial outlay the water trucks have kept those people alive. In the camps the first responders were Save the Children and the UN’s World Food Programme. 

Both bodies work closely with the government and shortly after our visit the government agreed to take on water distribution as it explored more permanent options for a water supply to the IDP sites, such as a bore hole, enabling Save the Children to focus on other projects. 

Schooling is another area where we saw the way Save the Children works hand-in-hand with the government to maximise sustainability. 

Save the Children built the school we visited in Adadle and is supporting the government-run school as it copes with the doubling of enrolled pupils this year to well beyond its capacity – 600 children in three permanent classrooms with six teachers. The children get a bowl of hot cereal, which is typically their only meal of the day. 

Once children are within Save the Children’s orbit the provision is remarkable. We met a health team in Kebri Dahar that visits a different site each day, six days a week, to monitor babies and infants (alongside government health workers). The throng around the shack that passes for a health centre shows that mothers clearly embrace the opportunity to monitor their children’s progress and receive inoculations.

To see babies having exactly the same jabs as my son had received a few weeks earlier – and hearing that unique cry afterwards – was quite overwhelming. In an environment that until then had been totally alien it provided a sudden tangible connection. 

Children who are suffering severe acute malnutrition enter a five-month treatment programme beginning with admission for seven to 10 days in a Save the Children-funded unit at the local hospital. The young doctor we met at the hospital told us of many children who had defied the odds in that unit. 

Save the Children and its Children’s Emergency Fund go into the hardest, most critical situations – the “deep end” John was referring to. The money donated by the banking industry at the IFR Awards makes that work possible. That’s something to be proud of.

To see the digital version of this review, please click here.

To purchase printed copies or a PDF of this review, please email gloria.balbastro@tr.com.

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