Outside of my time at Scottish Friendly, I have the very great privilege of being Vice Chair on the board of Save the Children UK.
Save the Children helps improve the lives of children across the world in a range of ways. From working to ensure children in the UK leave primary school reading competently and able to fulfil their full potential, to significantly reducing malnutrition in some of the poorer parts of the world, reducing the number of babies that die in their first day of life, and sheltering and feeding children and their families fleeing from natural disasters such as Ebola, and from wars.
Last year alone, Save the Children helped over 15 million children directly.
So it is genuinely a real privilege to meet some of the people involved in delivering that support, and to meet some of the children.
I have been able to see some of Save the Children’s programmes in the UK, such as when I visited a FAST programme (Families and Schools Together) in Paisley.
Somewhat further afield, in October I went with Save the Children’s President, HRH The Princess Royal, to Ethiopia.
We visited the Dongore Furda community to see Save the Children’s newborn health care and child survival work. It is one thing to sit in a board room in the UK and read the statistics about the challenges and what is being achieved; it is something quite different to actually see the programme in action and meet the people involved.
In a family home, through a translator, I asked the parents what difference the Save the Children clinic had made to their lives. The lady pulled forward her middle son, about 10 years of age, and showed us the scars on his eyelids, explaining that when he was born the only place she could take him when he was sick was to the local medicine elders who treated illness by cutting the eyelids to ‘let the devils escape’. She explained that when her youngest child, Gutema, who is now two, was born and became ill, she was able to take him to the Save the Children’s clinic.
It was really amazing to see that degree of cultural difference achieved in less than 10 years, and a real pleasure to see the happy, healthy living proof of it in the two year old (albeit he isn’t too smiley in this particular photo!)
We also met a group of local ladies trained by Save the Children to support mothers in their local community, known as the ‘health development army’. When we asked if they had any questions for us, one lady spoke so quickly and at such length that the translator had to give up word-for-word translation and turned to me saying, ‘she is listing all the good things that Save the Children has done, and there are too many for me to translate!’
We also visited the Tierkidi refugee camp in the Gambella region in western Ethiopia; Tierkidi is one of four refugee camps in the region, accommodating almost 200,000 refugees fleeing the civil war in South Sudan.
There a number of agencies involved in supporting Ethiopia in hosting more refugees than any other nation in Africa.
In addition to providing shelter, food and health care, Save the Children has helped support family reunification for 4,500 children, with over 100 foster parent families across Tierkidi and Leitchore camps. It also runs child friendly spaces in Tierkidi, reaching 15,000 children in the Tierkidi camp alone. And Save the Children aims to provide education in the camps; at the time of my visit it was providing education for 10,000 children and training for 45 teachers and 20 Parent – Teacher committees in Tierkidi.
I was really touched by how ‘full of life’ the children were and how dignified the parents were, notwithstanding their surroundings and the awful traumas they have been through.
It was really uplifting to see the difference that Save the Children is making, and it inspired me to continue to do as much as I can to support Save the Children.