This past year, like so many other years, saw its share of challenges for children around the world. There were the more than one million refugee children who fled Syria, the tens of thousands of young children who lost their homes and loved ones in Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and the over 300,000 babies in India that died on their very first day of life this year.
But the children I remember from 2013 were the individual kids I briefly got to know in my travels to our programs around the world. Here are the stories of just a few of these children who are living in impossible and heartbreaking situations—but looking forward to a brighter future thanks to the efforts of my colleagues and partners around the world:
Exancé was a sad 13 year-old boy, tiny for his age, who I met in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in November. Though he couldn’t tell us all the details of his young life, the haunted look behind his eyes told me that it had already been full of pain. Exancé was found on the streets, living in a filthy alleyway after his parents had turned him out of their house. He was surviving each day by hauling garbage for the fruit and vegetable sellers in the market, paid in scraps of food and a corner to sleep in. One of the vendors in the market is a volunteer for Save the Children and alerts our team when a child is found abandoned and looking for shelter. When I met Exancé, he was in a quiet courtyard meeting with our team, who worked to convince him to come with them to the transitional house a few miles from the village market. Here he would get a warm bed, clothes and three meals a day and be enrolled in the local school. His life, though still hard for any child, is finally taking a turn toward something better.
In September, I met a little girl in Pakistan—I never learned her name but I was captivated by her joy in a simple classroom in a remote village. She listened wide-eyed as her teacher, a local woman who was trained in our Early Childhood Development program, went through the alphabet and colors, and led the children in a song that helped them learn the days of the week. Her hand was the first to shoot up when the teacher asked for volunteers to describe the animal pictures each child had proudly stuck to the front wall in the tiny classroom. I later learned that this little girl came from one of the poorest families in the community and that her parents, who never made it past primary school themselves, were determined that their only child would go farther. For a small girl in rural Pakistan, that is a big dream—but one that this amazing little girl can reach thanks to her caring teacher and supportive parents.
Nawzad stands in the doorway to his house in the Domiz Refugee Camp
The third child who lodged himself in my memory in 2013 is a shy little 9 year-old boy named Nawzad who peered out at me as I walked down a dusty path inside the Domiz refugee camp in Iraq. He was one of the many Syrian children who had to flee their homes when the shelling and bombing started inside Syria. Now Nawzad lives in a simple cinder block hut in the midst of the sprawling camp—a temporary camp that was built for 10,000 on the northern Iraqi border that now holds close to 50,000 souls, almost half of them children. Save the Children works in the camp to provide education and play spaces for kids and improve the sanitation and health services for children. As I sat and talked with Nawzad and his parents, it was clear that they longed to go back to their simple life in Syria, where his father was a house painter and Nawzad a star student in the local school. Though I don’t know for sure, it’s likely Nawzad and his family are still sitting in the dusty camp as the war rages on toward its third year in his homeland.
I met so many more children this past year and each has his or her own story about the hardships they face due to poverty, war, or natural calamities. But in each child, as with the three I describe above, there was a fierce desire that things would—and could—get better, that they could improve their lives and futures. My biggest wish for 2014 is that Exancé, Nawzad and that little girl I met in Pakistan have a brighter year, one with less pain and heartache and more joy and happiness. Every child has the right to these basic things.
To all of you who have supported our work, I wish you the best in the New Year and a heartfelt thanks for all you’ve made possible for EVERY child.