Save the Children is one of those remarkable agencies operating without government help to alleviate suffering wherever they find it. Sometimes they’re the first on the scene after disaster strikes – assessing the damage and gauging what otherwise needs to be done in order to live up to their own name and calling.
This international aid organization, with over 100 branches globally, says it aims at improving the quality of life for children and young people any place in the world where there is trouble. Whether it's dealing with famine, children being used as soldiers in a conflict, child labour, or whole families in need after a calamity, you'll find Save the Children on the spot.
From their head office in London, England they run worldwide campaigns to raise funds for a specific area in need. Responding in times of people's greatest helplessness, they are the one agency that has contributed the most time and effort in helping people restore the infrastructure and programming required for children in the world's hot spots. Without a doubt, they make a difference.
From New Orleans after Katrina, to Pakistan after the earthquake and of course Tsunami devastated countries, we’re all aware that victims are in desperate need of assistance. So while the latest Save the Children project is not surprising for people whose eyes are open, it may come as a big shock to some, and a nasty reality check for others.
Save The Children International has just finished a two-week assessment on the quality of life in Native Canadian reservations in Northern Ontario preparatory to setting up a relief program/fundraising campaign in an effort to help the children of those communities. Webequie and Mishkeegogamang First Nation reserves aren't names that immediately come to mind, but in fact they are two reserves among many facing familiar problems.
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, teenage pregnancy, solvent abuse, sexual abuse, suicide, abject poverty, lack of housing, lack of affordable healthy food, and no fresh water or plumbing are always reported – but nothing has ever been done about it. Until now.
Three agencies that have been working with young people and children in Ontario – the provinces official child advocate Judy Finlay; Tikinagan (a native run children's aid society in Northern Ontario); and The Friends of Tikinagan formed by one of its former senior management people five years ago – together founded the project. They started meeting with other humanitarian, aid groups, and charitable foundations to see what they could come up with to help the natives of Northern Ontario dig out from years of neglect by governments of all stripes.
The people of the reserves deal with the grief of seeing their children destroyed in one way or other, and desperately want to do something about it. But when the government builds a brand-new school, but doesn't supply sufficient money to pay for the teaching of the students, and when the kids don't have shoes on their feet to absorb the chill of cold school floors, the installation is just another waste of money.
Chief Connie Gray McKay of Mishkeegogamang doesn't want people thinking of them as "poor little Indians". She just wants the same opportunities for her people that everyone else gets down south – decent education and housing that’s safe. Her main objective now, she feels, is to teach children who have become parents how to raise their offspring while offering them a chance to break the cycle of endless poverty.
Apart from Save the Children International, other charitable foundations and relief organizations have joined in the effort to pick up the slack left by the governments. Canada Feed The Children, The Laidlaw Charitable Foundation, The Atkinson Charitable Foundation, Kinark Family and Child Services (Ontario's largest child mental-health agency), Ryerson University in Toronto, and Voices For Children are just a few of the 30 organizations comprising the North-South Partnership For Children
It was through this group that Save the Children became involved, and was taken on the two-week fact finding mission. Based on that trip they came up with a preliminary list of needs and programming that they figure would make a difference. These range from the practical proposals such as providing bus service to the nearest grocery store so families don't have to pay $175.00 in taxi fares to make the 2.5 hour trip – and to the long term of setting up recreational programming based on teaching young people traditional hunting and fishing skills so that they not only are gainfully occupied, but also absorb their cultural heritage.
For Nicolas Finney of Britain's Save the Children, the whole experience has left him angry and eager to begin working on the assessment report. He says it's clearly a case of humanitarian action being essential. While in no way should the governments responsible be excused of their duties, there are things that can be done to make people's lives better on a daily basis.
The hardest thing for the aid workers to deal with in this situation is that they are used to circumstances where a disaster has suddenly caused havoc. Here Finney says, "It's a gradual disaster that has emerged, unfolded, and been propagated, whether it's intentionally or by negligence, by people that should know better, by people in power, over a long period of time."
Instead of dealing with people who are recovering from the horror of a shock as is normal, they are seeing people who have had their will to live gradually sapped, generation after generation. To reverse that process is the real challenge.
One can send food, clothing, sporting equipment, build roads and houses, and supply bus service to the nearest city, but unless something is done to repair the emotional and spiritual havoc created by the years of neglect and abuse caused by successive governments, these measures only serve as band-aids and not a permanent solution.
Of course, measures like the youth recreational program or the development of an eco-tourist industry are the type of innovative suggestions needed. Save the Children know their typical approach to a disaster is not appropriate in these circumstances, but they are used to working under a variety of conditions and making use of available resources.
Soon, North-South Partnership will be starting a campaign as per advice given by Save the Children. So maybe the next time you think about making a charitable donation, why not stick close to home and help your neighbour by donating to their campaign? It's time for us to show governments that we do know how to help each other, and just maybe we can finally awaken them to their own responsibilities.