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25th September, 2017

BANGLADESH: Rohingya Crisis

Newly arrived refugees the priority as first phase of relief efforts underway on Bangladeshi border

 

Rohingya distribution

 

A recent escalation of violence in Myanmar, characterised by a ‘scorched earth’ policy employed by the country’s military has resulted in an unprecedented influx of refugees on the Bangladeshi border.

 

This new spike in the ongoing Rohingya crisis in the region has led to an estimated 500,000 refugees fleeing the violence, burning towns and villages of Myanmar. The figure, which was released by the United Nations Refugee Agency, is however, thought to now be much higher. “The numbers are very worrying. They are going up very quickly,” said UNHCR spokeswoman, Vivian Tan.

 

 

As more and more displaced people flee the country – with those who remain living in fear and in need of vital assistance – the full-force of the crisis is expected to heighten in the coming weeks. Relief agencies in the border areas of Bangladesh, including the district of Cox’s Bazar and sub-districts of Ukiya are being pushed to breaking point, with more land needed to house and treat refugees flooding into hastily erected camps.

 

The first phase of Penny Appeal’s response in these areas is to assist newly arrived refugees in four critical areas of care, they are; shelter, medical care, clothes, hygiene products and food items. These four categories aim to reduce the suffering and stabilise the immediate safety of people who have fled conflict, on a harrowing journey that has seen them stumble across the border into neighbouring Bangladesh. Vulnerable groups within the newly arrived influx of people such as women, children and the elderly form the bulk of the initial beneficiaries targeted by the crisis response.

 

Relief camp

 

The second phase of the relief operation is expected to focus on the sustainability of the relief effort, however, at the present time; the immediate need of fleeing persons is paramount. This means that shelter and initial medical aid assessments and subsequent referral to regional services take precedent. After the initial ‘shock’ has been absorbed, and more funds and relief is brought to bear, the initiative will shift to a longer-term solution.

 

With this in mind, initial relief items delivered consist of essentials, such as; tents, larger ‘barrack shelters’, food packs, which include rice, flour, cooking oil, sugar, potatoes, salt and onions. Communal kitchens will be established to serve hot food to newly arrived refugees, blankets, clothing and hygiene kits are being distributed. Water for families and water purification tablets will also be supplied by way of necessity. In addition to this, lifesaving medical assistance to the injured, critically ill and pregnant will be available through medical camps.

 

The Bangladesh-Myanmar border region is an area that is already fraught with seasonal difficulties, prior to the arrival of the refugees. As a consequence of these underlying issues, the unprepared and dramatically stretched established relief effort, and the urgency with which people have fled from a burning landscape, substantial additional aid is needed. This will help to establish a sense of order and a mechanism to treat and make safe hundreds of thousands of persecuted people who have fled from an already tumultuous area they have hitherto called home.         

22nd September, 2017

Horticultural Garden in Tamba Kunda, The Gambia

Initiative set up by Penny Appeal brings hope and sustainability to rural town in The Gambia

 

The Garden

 

The Gambia used to rely heavily on the export of groundnuts, especially peanuts - as the cornerstone of its rural economy, in recent years the industry has declined rapidly, leaving many agricultural labourers with little work and few means of supporting their livelihoods. This was the case in Tamba Kunda, a rural town in the south of the country, close to the border with Senegal.

 

Thanks to the help of Penny Appeal, the denizens of Tamba Kunda - especially farmers and agricultural labourers - now have a sustainable place to grow crops, and a way to secure their livelihoods with their horticultural garden, an initiative set-up and subsequently supported by Penny Appeal through the Feed our World programme.

 

One such beneficiary of the initiative is Ousman Gibba, a farmer who works a plot of land within the garden. He spends his time maintaining the ground, removing weeds and overseeing the growth of his crops from planting right through to harvest.

 

He describes the boon the garden has brought him, and his fellow townsfolk, “Since we've had the garden we have all sorts of foods and a healthy diet, and we don't have to get them from town - now the people in town want to buy from us! We also get money from selling the crops. We're very happy thanks to the garden."

 

Another farmer who uses the garden, as part of a mother and daughter team is Awn Gibba, her daughter, Mariatou helps her maintain her plot of land. They grow mint in this area, which is particularly sought after in local markets as a delicious flavouring for traditional Gambian dishes. She explained how the money she earns from her crops helps to send her children to school, "I earn money by selling the things I grow in garden, which means I can now afford to send my children to school. I can even afford to give them lunch money and some pocket money!"

 

Awn and her son

 

The garden enjoys the use of three different types of wells to ensure sustainability and the assurance of water in all seasons; this means that the farmer’s crops are always nourished. Within the garden there is a 2 metre well, a 35 metre well and a more sophisticated solar well, which can reach water much deeper in the ground. Even in the difficult dry season, crops are always irrigated.

 

As the garden is a particularly important asset to the local community, it has a management committee. The committee oversees any important decisions that are taken regarding the garden’s growth, its maintenance and its overall sustainability.  As part of this, everyone who owns a plot of land in the garden pays a 10% subsidy from their income to keep the garden well maintained, which ensures that if anything needs repairing, the funds are always available. One of the most popular decisions the committee made was to plant lemon trees around the garden, to both mark the border and to harvest the fruit, which is shared between all the farmers here.

 

One particularly difficult problem the committee has yet to find a workable solution for is the amount of thieving sabaeus monkeys who like to raid the garden at night, and make off with the farmers’ okra crops. What is certain, however, is that if the garden continues to be maintained in an appropriate manner, it will provide income and nutritious food for the local town for years to come. 

 

Children at the well

19th September, 2017

Penny Appeal on the ground in Sana’a, Yemen

Food parcels and hygiene kits distributed to cholera and famine victims

 

Distribution in Yemen

 

Penny Appeal emergency response teams are on the ground in Yemen, responding to the ongoing humanitarian crisis, with famine and cholera specific aid being delivered.

 

The project’s objectives are two-fold, to improve the food security for 100 of the most vulnerable families in Sana’a City, and to participate in controlling the wider cholera epidemic through aid distribution.

 

Due to the alarming deterioration in countrywide food security in Yemen and the problematic spread of cholera in the country, aid is desperately needed.

 

Much of Yemen’s infrastructure has been destroyed in the ongoing civil war, with capacity to treat and prevent the spread of cholera almost completely falling on NGOs and outside aid.

 

The humanitarian aid is being distributed in Sana’a City’s poorest neighbourhoods, with Sho’ob and Bani Al-Harest districts, in which the cholera epidemic is at its most potent.

 

Food parcels delivered contain flour, rice, cooking oil, beans, sugar and tomato sauce. The hygiene kits contain, amongst other items; soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, water purification tablets and detergent.

 

Hygiene kits have been delivered to poor families who previously fetched water from public tanks, which were most likely contaminated. Community-based volunteers bore the brunt of the distribution efforts, with special care taken to ensure aid was coordinated efficiently to reach those most in need.

 

Food distribution took place in a designated yard, wherein families were asked to bring appropriate documents, to crosscheck against existing databases to ensure all those who received aid were eligible.

 

Figures from the end of June reported that well over 200,000 people in Yemen were affected by cholera, with an estimated 5,000 new cases daily. 

14th September, 2017

Statement from third sector and independent providers on the reporting of ‘Christian child placed into Muslim foster care'

 

On Monday 28th August, The Times published a story titled ‘Christian child forced into Muslim foster care’. The story was highly critical of the foster carers, the fostering service and in particular the idea that a white Christian child should be placed with a Muslim foster family. The story has since been found to be inaccurate in many respects.

 

As organisations which work with highly vulnerable children as well as foster carers, we are concerned about the potentially detrimental impact of this article on the child in question, the foster carers, the birth parents and others involved directly with the child, as well as on the wider fostering sector. 

 

We find the nature of the reporting to be divisive and concerned with sensationalism rather than ethical reporting. The comment sections of many papers following the story showed a worrying level of vitriol from those who took the details of the article at face value. Unfortunately many of the people who read those initial headlines will no longer be following this story and will have made up their minds about the sector, how it is decided which foster family a child should live with, and perhaps of Muslim foster carers in general, something that we consider to be desperately sad and unfair.

 

Ethnicity and religion are two very important factors that are taken into account when a child is placed with a foster family. They are, however, only two of a vast range of needs; for example, if a child has complex disabilities or presents with challenging behaviour, these needs will take priority over religious or ethnic matching. There is no set hierarchy of needs that must be met when placing a child with a foster family; instead each child will have their own personalised hierarchy of needs which will be considered when placing that child with a foster family.

 

As a result, many fostered children are placed with foster families with different religions and ethnicities. These foster carers go to great lengths to meet all of the identified needs of children in their care, including helping them to understand their birth culture and religion, and will be trained and supported to do this. None of the realities of fostering were addressed in the article, which has led to a highly biased and negative portrayal of the fostering sector.

 

We would also like The Times and related publications to note that hundreds of Muslim foster carers open their homes to both Muslim and non-Muslim children every year. These carers vary in terms of how they practice their religion, as do all carers of any faith group. Foster carers, whether Muslim or non-Muslim,  work extremely hard in caring for children who are going through challenging times and as such, they are owed a great deal of respect and gratitude. It is wholly unacceptable that one of these fostering families was denigrated by The Times and related press outlets. We would encourage and welcome news outlets to use their resources to work with us to improve society, particularly for the most vulnerable, and to give credit to good work where it is due.

 

Signatories

Further signatories are welcome – to add names to the list please contact Penny Appeal 

  1. Penny Appeal: Tay Jiva, Adoption and Fostering Manager (and statement coordinator)
  2. The Fostering Network: Kevin Williams, Chief Executive, The Fostering Network
  3. CoramBAAF (the British Association of Adoption and Fostering): John Simmonds OBE, Director of Policy, Research and Development
  4. Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers: Harvey Gallagher, Chief Executive
  5. Become (charity for children in care and young care leavers): Natasha Finlayson, Chief Executive
  6. UK Fostering (independent fostering provider): Tim McArdle, Head of Placement and Recruitment. 
  7. Acorn House (independent fostering provider): Gail Hopkins, Director
  8. AFA Fostering (independent fostering provider): Graeme Duncombe and Nigel Pickering, Directors
  9. Children Always First (independent fostering provider): Julie Elliott, Responsible Individual
  10. Swap Foster Care (independent fostering provider): Roy Walker, Registered Manager
  11. TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust - independent fostering provider): Laura Luxton, Communications Manager
  12. Eastern Fostering Services (independent fostering provider): Eleanor Vanner, Director.

30th August, 2017

Penny Appeal’s Adoption & Fostering Manager urges potential fostering families not to be ‘deterred’ by Times article

Fostering article viewed with ‘great deal of scepticism’ in professional circles

 

In wake of The Times’ article published on Monday 28th of August, entitled 'Christian child forced into Muslim foster care', Penny Appeal’s Adoption and Fostering Manager, Tay Jiva has urged any potential foster families not to be ‘deterred’ by the potential negative influence of the article which has had its accuracy brought into question.

 

Speaking to Nomia Iqbal on the BBC’s Asian Network’s Big Debate show, Tay was keen to underline the way in which the article had been viewed in professional fostering and adoption quarters, saying, “The majority of experienced social workers and foster carers are going to view this article with great scepticism.”

 

The article, which leads with an evocative headline, by contrasting the two religions in an opening salvo that eschews concrete evidence from a situation in which many factors ‘allegedly occurred’, deigns to paint fostering and adoption in a negative light in Britain. Tay explains that this is not the case. In any fostering and adoption case, she was keen to highlight an exhaustive process that comes before any approved adoption or fostering of a child. She Said, “We assess any applicants for fostering and adoption, before referring them onto 600 adoption and fostering advisors who will also carry out ‘layers’ of their own checks.”

 

Tay also discussed with Nomia the use of the word ‘allegedly’ in the article, “the key thing to bear in mind for this article is allegedly, a lot of this is allegedly”. This sentiment seems to resonate in other areas of the media, as the Guardian reports that “the five-year-old had in fact been placed with an English-speaking family of mixed race.” And the council responsible for the placement, Tower Hamlets, also confirmed that there were ‘errors’ in the original reporting of the ‘highly sensitive’ case, which was initially only a ‘temporary’ measure, the council confirms.

 

Brought into question most vividly is the difference in language between the child and their fosterers, this issue has been highlighted by the article in a case that is said to be unusual, and highly irregular in foster care in Britain. Tay explains that “one of the questions on our assessment is about language, it’s about English, do both applicants speak English reasonably well? If either applicant doesn’t speak English well, then we suggest to them that they need to learn English to a good enough standard to engage in training.” She went on to say that, “for fostering and adoption there’s comprehensive assessments and training, it’s rigorous and detailed, to engage in that your English has to be reasonably good.”

 

On the BBC Asian Network station, Tay went on to say that, she understood why people might be deterred from fostering and adoption, “the reason people might be put off is because it adds fuel to the fire of discrimination.” And although such incidents should be reported, perhaps reporting it to the proper institutions would be more prudent, due to the sensitivity of the case. “Absolutely, it should be reported. Does it need to be reported to The Times? No. It needs to be reported to social care.”

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