UNICEF is the largest relief agency in the world after the Red Cross. Dennis McKinley, CEO UNICEF New Zealand.
There for children in need
By Roger Childs
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is always ready to swing into action when disaster strikes or wars break out. Over the last six months it has been active in many natural hazard zones and theatres of conflict, such as the Philippines, The Central African Republic, Lebanon and South Sudan.
Despite its name, UNICEF receives no funding from the United Nations, so is dependent on donations from governments, companies, trusts and individuals. It is a non-political organisation and consequently can usually operate in very dangerous situations because it doesn’t owe allegiance to any particular government or group.
The New Zealand branch of UNICEF has a number of well known ambassadors such as Mike McRoberts, Roger Hall and Jo and Gareth Morgan.
As the name suggests, UNICEF becomes operational
- when there is an emergency in some part of the world
- to work for children in need
- to provide services and infrastructure to ensure that recovery and rehabilitation is on-going.
So that the response can be rapid in times of need, UNICEF has facilities and supplies all round the world. When disaster strike or war breaks out the organisation can quickly work with partners in the affected region to provide for children and their families.
In virtually all emergencies, thousands of people are uprooted from their homes and become dependent refugees.
The needs of children vary according to the nature of the emergency, but a key focus is always WASH: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. However, in areas where there is drought or civil war, the greatest immediate need may be food. Starving children are a huge problem in these situations.
Plumpynut is specially formulated to give children who are badly under-nourished and unable to eat normally. This is a lipid-based nutritional supplement with plenty of vitamins and minerals.
Some emergencies in the last six months: Asia, Middle East, Africa
- Hurricane in the Philippines: Typhoon Haiyan, with winds gusting over 300 km/h, caused massive devastation in many areas of Southeast Asia in late 2013. However it was the island of Leyte in the Philippines that was most affected and over 6000 were killed. Thousands of homes were destroyed, so temporary shelter and provisions were the most pressing needs.
- Syrian refugees pour into Lebanon: The brutal civil war in Syria has resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees spilling over into the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. These countries are powerless to stop the human tide, but will often not recognise the newcomers as refugees. This means they are seen as temporary occupants only so they are not allowed to build permanent structures. So for UNICEF workers, this means that the tents used for schooling during the day must be taken down at night!
- Military coup in the Central African Republic (CAR): As always in military takeovers, people are displaced and the usual refugee needs for food, water and accommodation. However as far as children are concerned this conflict has meant that thousands have been press ganged into armed groups. The trauma of child soldiers is a major problem and rehabilitating young people who have been handling guns and killing people, is a long and complex process.
- Civil war in South Sudan: There have been similar problems to the CAR for the world’s newest country. Political disagreements have lead to armed conflict and children and their families have inevitably caught in the crossfire. Medical assistance is often one of many needs for these people.
Kapiti UNICEF stalwart Kora Lang
Kora Lang was a long time resident on the Kapiti Coast who sadly passed away in 2004. She will always be remembered for her major contribution to music in the area. Kora
- played for church services and accompanied choirs
- had a large number of private piano pupils
- taught music at both Kapiti and Paraparaumu Colleges.
Her other great love was UNICEF for which she was a tireless worker. John Daysh, UNICEF Bequest Manager
To raise money for the organisation, she would often involve her pupils at the dinner dances, concerts and garage sales she arranged. Her commitment to UNICEF was widely known and respected. For her contribution to Kapiti Coast music and role in fund raising for UNICEF, she was awarded the MBE.
She left a bequest to UNICEF in her will and the organisation decided to establish the Kora Lang Society for people who follow her example in supporting needy children around the world.
(If you would like to leave a bequest and join the society, contact John Daysh, UNICEF, PO Box 10459, Wellington 6143. Members meet three times a year in Wellington for lunch and a speaker. One of UNICEF’s ambassadors, Gareth Morgan, sponsors these events.)