Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

ChildFund Alliance is partnering with child-focused humanitarian agency Terre des Hommes (TDH) to provide emergency assistance and protection to refugee families arriving in Eastern Europe, focusing in particular on the needs of women and children.

As weather conditions deteriorate with winter approaching, exhausted families who have undertaken the long and dangerous journey from their countries of origin are living in extremely precarious and distressing conditions.

To date, more than four million Syrians are now displaced and likely to remain in exile for the foreseeable future­­. Refugees are most commonly arriving in Europe by travelling the Oriental Mediterranean route. After reaching Turkey, families travel to Greece by boat, and then through Macedonia, Serbia, and further afield to those EU states receptive to asylum seekers. This is a journey of thousands of kilometres, and very treacherous.

TDH has established Safe Spaces at the exit points of Macedonia and Serbia, where families leave one country to travel to the next. These trailers and tents are open 24 hours a day and are staffed by trained social workers, psychologists and related health professionals. At any time of night or day, refugee families can stop and gain some respite from their journey, while also accessing a range of support services from TDH. This includes:

  • emergency non-food items such a hygiene kits and winter clothes. The latter are vital with snowfalls now common;
  • psychological counselling, medical support to those suffering health issues, and recreational activities for children, who have had little chance to play during their long journey;
  • advice on migration rights and risks, maps of the region and communication services to enable refugees to establish links with their family and friends.

ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence says: “With the Syria crisis now in its fifth year, families have little hope that a resolution to the conflict will be found in the short term. Millions have been forced to make the terrible decision to leave everything behind and travel towards safer countries. The majority of families do this in order to keep their children safe from harm.

“For children on the move, the risks are extremely high. Having survived the journey from their home, some children have lost their caregivers during transit and are at risk of of violence, trafficking and exploitation. ChildFund is glad to be able to partner with Terre des Hommes and contribute to global initiatives to respond to this worsening situation.”

ChildFund Alliance and TDH have also joined more than 50 international organisations, including UNICEF, Save the Children and World Vision, in calling for the European Council to ensure that the rights of migrant children are upheld in policy discussions and developments focused on the crisis.

ChildFund Alliance Secretary-General Meg Gardinier says: “Children represent one in four of all asylum seekers in Europe, so we are urging heads of government to ensure that all children on the move are afforded every possible protection.”

These days Taina is very close to his daughter, Margaret. But it has taken years of healing to recover from the violence he once inflicted on his family, which has clearly left physical and emotional scars.

Now a church elder and chairman of the council of chiefs of Pari Village, Taina admits he was a violent man in his younger days, drinking to excess and taking a hand to his children.

“I`ve been a reckless one before. I did not have any respect for anybody. This was my lifestyle €“ drinking made it worse,” he says.

“I did not inherit this sort of lifestyle from my parents. My parents were good people. It was in my young days when I got into peer group situations. I wanted to be a hero, you know? I was a leader and I thought a leader had to be an aggressive one. That made me turn into this violent type of person.”

Taina says the problem escalated over the years. His children were terrifed of him, his wife prayed for him. Eventually he ended up being taken to the police station €“ a moment that finally woke him up to the problem and started to shift his mindset.

“My change was slow, very slow,” says Taina. “As time went on, I came to realise that what I was doing was not the right thing to do €“ getting drunk, coming home and having my family waste their precious time with me while I`m sitting there drinking, doing nothing. It was not fair for them and I thought, I must stop.”

Taina was assisted by the church members in his community to turn his life around. “I sort of got my senses back. All those things that I was doing was wrong. So I went from wrong to right, bad to good.”

Now Taina says he worries about the future of his grandchildren, growing up in a country which has some of the highest rates of violence against women and children in the world.

“Papua New Guinea has a problem, a real problem,” says Taina. “We treat women as second rate. But today it`s not the case. It should be man and woman, side by side. The man does woman`s work, the woman also does man`s work.”

Taina recently spoke at the launch of PNG`s new family and sexual violence hotline, called the 1-TOK KAUNSELIN HELPIM LAIN, to share his message that women and men must walk alongside each other and learn to live together in peace. He thinks it is important that people on both sides of the relationship use the free counselling service to get the help they need to stop the violence in their home.

“Men have to be counselled in that area of holding their temper. We have to be very careful as men,” says Taina. “Even if the woman is provoking you, what the man has to do is leave the situation. Cool down and come back again. That`s what I do now. When things get heated up, I used to pull my fist. Now, no, I walk away. Calm myself down, come back. That`s what I want to tell the men: we don`t have to show that we are superior.”

Taina hopes that by sharing his story, others can use it as a learning experience. Most of all, he would like to see more men come to “the good side of life” and choose to be at peace with themselves and their families, just like he has done.

“The end goal is a good community,” he says. “Men, women and children living together in peace and harmony.”

715-08000 is the FREE number to call (within PNG only) to receive counselling and support for family and sexual violence issues. The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain is a partnership between ChildFund Papua New Guinea, CIMC (FSVAC) and FHI 360, supported by the New Zealand Aid Programme, USAID, ChildFund New Zealand and ChildFund Australia. 

25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.