Nepal Update

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On April 25, 2015 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal,  killing close to 10,000 people, injuring more than 23,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, with entire villages flattened.  Continued aftershocks occurred throughout Nepal, with a major aftershock  in May which which left another 200 people dead and more than 2,500 injured. Many who had begun to rebuild their homes watched in despair as this aftershock once again destroyed everything.

AMURT & AMURTEL have been active on the Indian sub-continent since 1970, and therefore have a strong presence in the region. Hence our teams were able to mobilize quickly, with three teams from India joining their counterparts in Nepal to set up relief camps in nine earthquake-affected districts.

AMURT & AMURTEL volunteers provide basic supplies, such as essential groceries, tarpaulins and blankets, along with medical support through mobile clinics. In the first month after the earthquakes AMURT & AMURTEL has distributed food parcels to 15,300 persons, tarpaulins to 2,088 persons and 7,500 people have been treated by our medical volunteers.

With the coming of the monsoon rains, it became critical to get shelters set up. Rain, mosquitos, snakes- all worries added to the desperate situation so many thousands of families found themselves in. At the beginning of July Amurt and Amurtel teams partnered with 180 families to begin rebuilding homes, distributing sheets of metal roofing. As funds come in we will continue to help families rebuild.

AMURT & AMURTEL has begun training teachers to respond to trauma as they welcome back students that had been out of school since the earthquakes. The training consists of four days with two days reserved for theory and exercises and two days of practical coaching with the students back in school.  The training draws on multiple resources such as creative therapies, yoga and group therapies. As most schools were damaged or destroyed AMURT/EL has set up Temporary Learning Centers that starts with the students decorating their classrooms.

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Nepal Relief

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Teacher Training and Temporary Learning Centers in Nepal

The Nepali Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed a total of 488,789 houses destroyed and 267,477 damaged during the two earthquake period of April and May 2015. The death toll stand at 8,219 people and half a million buildings damaged or destroyed. In the most affected districts up to 80 % of the public schools are damaged or destroyed leaving most children out of school.. United Nations estimate 3 million people are in need of food aid.

AMURT & AMURTEL volunteers are busy day and night providing basic supplies, such as essential groceries, tarpaulins and blankets, along with medical support through mobile clinics. In the first month after the earthquakes AMURT & AMURTEL has distributed food parcels to 15,300 persons, tarpaulins to 2,088 persons and 7,500 people have been treated by our medical volunteers.

AMURT & AMURTEL is responding with relief teams in several locations and is appealing for donations.




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Nepal Earthquake

nepal_earthquake_2015

After the deadly 7.8 earthquake hit central Nepal more than 2,500 people are confirmed dead and many more are injured or unaccounted for.

AMURTEL is responding with relief teams in three locations of Kathmandu, Sitamarhi, Siliguri and is appealing for donations.




Our fall travels to Lebanon, Malaysia and India

This year our fall travels took us to Lebanon, Malaysia and India. I was joined in the first two countries by fellow Amurtel board member Diane Alcantara. As usual with my international travels for Amurtel, time was short and the to-do list long. We had less than a month to visit projects, attend meetings and shop for this year’s International Boutique.

Lebanon

The focus of our visit here was a project for Syrian refugee children run by our partner AMURT. With their headquarters in the mountains of upper Chouf, we spent much of our time in the heart of the Druze community, about an hour outside of Beirut.

Over 2 million Syrians fleeing the civil war have poured into Lebanon so far. As most refugees had fled Syria with only the clothes on their backs, Amurt initially began helping families after they first arrived, providing clothes, household supplies and seed money to rent small apartments.

Over time, it became clear that although families were settling in, the children continued to be in a state of trauma and distress. One way children recover from the traumas of war and displacement is to attend school and become part of a community of peers. But many Lebanese schools were already struggling before the enormous wave of refugees. Now refugees fill 30% of the classes in some schools, becoming a considerable burden on strained resources. Due to this and other reasons, almost 50% of the refugee children have missed school for two or more years. And those who are able to attend face significant difficulties as a result of the horrific traumas they suffered from the war.

Amurt advocates for these children, offering psycho-social therapy to the children and their parents, and providing text books and school uniforms when necessary.  If school placements are unavailable, or if a child requires special preparation and emotional assistance before entering school, then the child is enrolled in the Child-Friendly Space model.

Child Friendly Spaces

Historically Amurt and Amurtel set up Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) immediately following a disaster, as we did most recently in Banda Aceh, Myanmar, and Haiti.  CFS provide a safe, nurturing environment and offers children a structured routine and engaging activities. The staff are trained to detect and respond to behaviors resulting from trauma, including, isolation, grief, and PTSD.  Additionally, the program in Lebanon provides individual and group therapy for the children, and pays school fees and arranges transport for the most vulnerable children spread throughout the mountains.

We spent 4 days with the staff, children and therapists, learning the background of the crisis, the development of the program and hearing of successes and challenges of individual children and families. We were invited to observe at the CFS, which is hosted in their own school building, complete with soccer field. During our discussions concerning the overall needs of this vulnerable community, we were invited by the program director to launch an Amurtel program for the women refugees.  After meeting with the women and hearing what their biggest concerns were, it was decided to begin with a project offering training to the women in sewing, thus setting up some economic security for their children and their families. I am quite excited about this new Amurtel initiative, and look forward to hearing from the women as they develop a greater sense of security and self-esteem.

Although we spent much of our time involved with the programs, we also joined the Amurt staff in an excursion to the Chouf Biosphere Reserve. What a grand adventure that was- driving up the 6,000+ mountains to sit under 5000 year old cedar trees, visiting ancient forts and temples, all the time surrounded by sweeping vistas that seemed to reach to the Mediterranean Sea .

As many of the larger markets were closed for holidays, we ended up visiting small shops scattered amongst the mountain villages- thanks to the connections and knowledge of our hosts.  We were also plied with amazing meals- the local Women’s Association hosted a delicious brunch they cooked on a traditional stove, and each member of the Amurt team seemed intent on outdoing themselves in introducing us to the incredible cuisine of the region. It was a given that each meal include olives and dates (from local groves), tahini and locally grown fruit. Then there were the breads! I am sure we were waddling onto the plane that would take us on to Malaysia!

Malaysia

Being my first time to Malaysia, I was immediately struck by the dramatic contrasts.  We stayed with friends in downtown Kuala Lumpar (KL), which is a very modern, bustling city. Side by side with gleaming shopping malls and large towers were peaceful Buddhist temples, lush green parks, complete with peacocks and other exotic birds, simple neighborhoods and always friendly people.

The first day in KL, we immediately jumped into shopping, with our first stop the Central Market. We were surrounded by goods from all over Asia and Indonesia, and even managed to buy some things from Borneo! A bit ironic, that in this very warm and humid climate we ended up buying warm woolen shawls and scarves- I’m still not sure how that happened.

One of the highlights of our visit was spending time with the Amurtel team. These dynamic women work tirelessly to provide aid to thousands after the many disasters that hit this region. They were instrumental in providing immediate relief after the tsunami in Banda Aceh and the earthquake in Padang, Indonesia. Currently they are working with displaced Sri Lankan families in Malaysia, as well as continuing on-going development programs in Indonesia. We spent two afternoons discussing Amurtel policy, strategy and approaches to the many challenges faced in disaster relief in this part of the world.

After saying goodbye to Diane, I was on my own as I flew into India. Arriving in Delhi was like coming home.  But because I had spent so much time already in Lebanon and Malaysia, there were few days to shop for the Boutique before leaving for Kolkata and meetings. I found myself going into whirlwind mode- flying from shop to shop, eating breakfast at 9pm, and basically trying to fit 8 days of shopping into 4. New and different was my mantra as I explored shops in back alleys I hadn’t seen before. Exciting but at times a bit dodgy!

Before traveling, I had read about the severe flooding that had swept through Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, in September. As this is home to many of the families we often buy carpets and scarves from in Delhi, I made a point of visiting each of the merchants I knew. It was heart breaking to hear their stories and see videos of homes being washed away; entire families being displaced by the flood waters and seeing the level of destruction that has hit this lovely city. So many of the merchants had their warehouses filled in preparation for the wedding season (October and November), and so lost all their stock. No one has insurance and with the harsh winter fast approaching, things are grim for the Kashmiri people.  This country reminds me a lot of Vermont in the spectacular scenery and seasons. And now like so many in Vermont after Irene, they too are having to reach deep to find the strength to push through this first difficult phase after the flood and work to rebuild.

Taking the overnight train to Kolkata gave me a chance to catch my breath before meeting with Amurtel directors from various countries. In Kolkata we reviewed long range plans for creating a leadership program for village women in countries hit by disaster, and ways to improve our programs for displaced children. It was very inspiring to hear from other team members of successful Amurtel programs in Africa, Egypt, South America, Nepal and India.

And then back to Delhi and flying home. It was a bit of a shock to go from the 93 degree weather of India to a snow storm on my arrival back in Vermont, but oh, the clean air!!! Delhi now has the dubious distinction of being the most polluted city in the world, so to take a breath of Valley air after too many days trying to breathe the pea soup of Delhi was a gift. As it is in so many ways to come home to our small piece of paradise here.

This trip moved me deeply as I met with displaced families in Lebanon, hearing the horrors they faced from war and bombs; of sitting with my team in Malaysia and listening to the challenges faced by women who fled from torture in Sri Lanka, seeing the photos of tremendous loss in Srinagar, and as always, being aware of the grueling struggle so many families, so many women and children in the streets of India, face each day just to get food.

It is with a sense of deep gratitude I can return to Vermont, but one that carries with it a continued commitment to work in partnership with those struggling against seemingly overwhelming challenges. I have a deep faith that if we all reach across and grasp the hand of another, we can make a difference. This is at the core of our work with Amurtel.

I invite you all to this year’s International Boutique- Dec 6-13 at the Masonic Lodge on Rte 100 in Waitsfield. We will be selling all the beautiful things from this trip and others made throughout the year, with the profits supporting programs for women and children here in Vermont and around the world.

Child Friendly Spaces in Lebanon

Group games in Child Friendly Spaces help refugee children feel normal again
Group games in Child Friendly Spaces help refugee children feel normal again

2 Year Snapshot

  • Child Friendly Spaces model for kids out of school
  • School support for 600 children
  • 3,000 refugees kept warm
  • 15,000 refugees given food
  • Facilitated 1,000 families’ refugee status

Over 2 million Syrians fleeing the war have poured into Lebanon; more than to any other country. This generous nation of only four million people has limited capacity to deal with a refugee influx of this scale. Yet, as fighting in Syria intensifies, the number of innocent civilians affected continues to grow.

Since the early days of the Syrian crisis, AMURT Lebanon has been supporting refugees in the mountainous upper Chouf district with their basic needs; providing fuel, blankets and warm clothing to protect against the cold winters. AMURT’s current focus is on the wellbeing of the refugee children.

out of school
Refugee Children out of school

The Plight of Syrian Children

Up to half the refugee children have no access to education for a variety of reasons; and many have not seen a school classroom for two years. Even refugee children in school face difficulties: one in three are unable to function properly due to the psychological scars left by the traumatizing experiences of war.

AMURT is one of several NGOs working to bring a sense of normalcy back to the lives of these children. Wherever possible, AMURT works with parents and school directors to place Syrian children directly into local government schools, while also providing group or individual psychosocial therapy to help the children integrate into their new environment.

If school placements are unavailable, or if a child requires special preparation and psycho-social assistance before entering regular school life, then AMURT’s Child Friendly Space model is the best option.

Refugee child making his mark
Refugee child making his mark

Child Friendly Spaces

Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) are safe, nurturing and stimulating environments, which provide young refugees the chance to rediscover their innate innocence and positivity. Children usually spend their first three months in the CFS free from educational targets, benefiting from a structured routine full of stimulating activities. This initial period helps them re-enter society and prepare for learning.

After this initial period, the children start a basic numeracy and literacy program, which not only stimulates their desire for learning, but provides AMURT staff with a way to measure whether they are ready to join the public school system. Once a child is ready, the next step is either to join the Back to School program, or a longer intensive learning course, such as the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP), to quickly reach a suitable school entry level. In this way AMURT is creating a pathway to education.

Psycho-social Support

The AMURT psycho-social team supports children in both the CFS and public schools. They conduct observations and assessments, often working with groups or individuals referred by a teacher.

Conditions most commonly observed in Syrian children include fear, trauma, ADHD / hyperactivity, loneliness, low self-esteem and aggressiveness.

Where needed, the psychologists may use cognitive, behavioural, and positive therapies as well as psychodrama and relaxation techniques; all aimed at helping children overcome psychological distress and restoring their normal healthy outlook and behaviour.

CFS trauma art
Art therapy provides children with an outlet for their trauma so they can move into a better future.

AMURT’s psycho-social team supports children in both the CFS and public schools. They conduct observations and assessments, often working with groups or individual children referred by a teacher. The conditions most commonly observed in Syrian children include fear, trauma, ADHD, loneliness, low self-esteem and aggressiveness.

The psychologists draw upon a variety of therapeutic approaches (cognitive, behavioral, and positive), as well as psychodrama and relaxation techniques; all aimed at helping children overcome psychological distress and restore their normal healthy outlook and behavior.

Every therapy session begins with psycho-education to help students better understand themselves. They discover that what they are going through is a normal and common response to intensely traumatic experiences.

Community Participation

When parents enroll their children, they are asked to volunteer at least once a week in the program, so now many mothers regularly support CFS activities, helping to build a sense of community.

Psychologists and outreach staff regularly work with parents on family issues. This brings many positive changes in parents’ relations with their children, and further enhances Syrian community involvement with the project.

 

Back to School

Innocent children are suffering most as a result of the Syrian war that began more than three years ago. Many have gone without education for a long period since the outbreak of fighting and the vast majority of refugees streaming into Lebanon remain outside the school system.

school-children_lebanon

AMURT pays school fees and arranges transport for the most vulnerable refugees spread throughout the mountains. It is a vital help to get these youngsters back into school, where they can experience social inclusion, stimulation and a stable routine to help soothe the horrors of war and dislocation. AMURT also engages psycho-social specialists to assist their healing process and conducts teacher training to provide children a broader support network.

The joy of not being left out: being able to wear a school uniform.

Education: Hope for the Future This young Syrian girl is seen receiving her first school uniform. The previous year, her parents were forced to choose which of their children to educate, as they couldn’t afford the expenses for all. Teachers recognised she was unusually gifted, and begged she be kept in school, helping as they could. She adapted quickly to the Lebanese curriculum and excelled in all her subjects. This year, due to AMURT’s intervention, she is fully registered in school along with all of her siblings. AMURT also provided them text books and school uniforms.

Blackboard

Help for Struggling Schools Many Lebanese schools were already struggling before the enormous wave of refugees. Now refugees fill 30% of the classes in some schools, which is becoming a considerable burden on resources. Upgrading essential equipment is one way AMURT helps schools cater for newly arrived Syrians.

Joy_of_belonging

The Joy of Belonging: Wearing a School Uniform Children affected by the trauma of war and being uprooted from their former life require quick re-establishment of an educational routine and psycho-social support to regain a normal development path.

German donor agency Kinder Not Hilfe has sponsored AMURT Lebanon’s Back to School and Child Friendly Space programs since October 2013.

Winter Relief

Chouf_winter_freeze2

To help vulnerable refugee families though the bitterly cold mountain winter, during 2013/14, AMURT distributed heating stoves and fuel on behalf of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

harsh_conditions

Harsh Conditions This family is smaller than most, but endures harsh conditions all too common. Referred to AMURT by the local municipality, they lived in a 10m2 section of a concrete shed used for farm machinery. There was no window glass, just holes, and no running water. They collected water from a spring 200m away; bathing and toilet were outdoors. The mother, when already 9 months pregnant with her second child, slipped and fell in the icy cold: the baby did not survive. The father worked long hours for the farmer, earning under $5 a day.

Winter_stoves

Winter Stoves Weather forecasters predicted an especially cold winter for Lebanon’s mountains, where snowfall of 2 meters occurs in higher areas. Fuel-burning stoves are essential items, particularly for the many families living in poor housing or caring for a relative with a medical condition.

Motherless children

Motherless Children Two girls now in their grandmother’s care, who explains how their mother died in a bombing just one hour after giving birth to the younger child. She points to the eldest. “She kept asking for her mother for one month; but after that she came close to me.” Their father remained in hospital in Syria.

 

Food_distribution

Food Distribution Refugees just arriving from Syria often lack even the most basic essentials. Between 2012-13 AMURT provided all who reached Chouf District with certain emergency assistance they required: ranging from food to blankets, mattresses, and special kits for hygiene or baby needs.

AMURT is the main international NGO based in upper Chouf and works with village coordinators, municipalities and local and international NGOs. In addition to international support personnel, AMURT Lebanon has a ready pool of dedicated local staff and volunteers: team members include Lebanese and displaced Syrians, who have a strong desire to ease the suffering of their country-folk. According to the UN, this is the worst refugee crisis for 20 years. More can and must be done. AMURT is uniquely positioned to make a difference. Your help will make that possible. Help expand services for Syrian refugees and refugee children: make a secure online donation now.

 

AMURT allocates an average of 90% of all donations and grants directly to service project expenses. More photos on Facebook Tax deduction info here

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