03/03/2004 - SOS Children's Villages Liberia is to extend its emergency relief programme to orphanages after the end of years of warfare in Liberia. Upon request by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, a number of orphanages in the capital of Monrovia will be supported starting this week, with extension of relief measures to rural areas planned for the future.
SOS Children's Villages already started an emergency relief programme last year when there was still armed conflict in Liberia. Up to this day, the focus of the relief programme has primarily been on providing families in need with emergency medical aid and food.
According to the latest information, refugees in camps run by various UN organisations receive sufficient support, which is why SOS Children's Villages focuses on orphans in need. Currently, about 7,000 children with 1,300 childcare staff are living in 128 orphanages. Additionally, there are 35,000 AIDS orphans, however, it is to be feared that actual figures would show up to 80,000 AIDS orphans when including rural areas.
The Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Affairs has referred to the catastrophic living conditions in facilities for orphans and has asked SOS Children's Villages for help. In a first move, the ministry recorded ten facilities in Monrovia with about 700 orphans who are in need of help from outside. Early this week teams from SOS Children's Villages Liberia co-started to distribute foodstuff like rice and cooking oil and blankets at the orphanages. Extension of the relief programme to areas around Monrovia is due for the coming weeks; teachers with the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School and the SOS Kindergarten are actively involved in the relief effort.
Our team members were deeply shocked by the children's living conditions after having visited the orphanages: "During the extremely hard times of the past six years, facilities like those mushroomed. The government authorities, rocked by crisis, were barely in a position to cater for these facilities; the situation is deteriorating at the orphanages. Children, barely five years of age, have to produce clay bricks and are send to sell things at the market to get some money for the orphanages."
In a meeting with the Deputy Minister of Social Affairs, SOS Children's Villages co-workers highlighted the deplorable state of affairs. Co-operating with other NGOs, government authorities are finally ready to implement serious measures for improving the situation of the children. Based on SOS Children's Villages years of experience when it comes to childcare in Liberia, the organisation has been invited to participate in the effort in an advisory capacity.
Liberia's regional security situation has generally improved since the deployment of UNMIL troops; UN units have already started to advance to the hinterland. In the course of demilitarisation, fighters receive a small food package plus the equivalent of USD 150 in return for handing in their guns. How long former soldiers, among them countless children, will be able to make a living from that and what their future will be like with such a kind of "start-up capital" without a proper re-socialisation programme in place remains to be one of the big unsolved questions in the context of stabilising this war-torn country.
As the emergency relief programme is scheduled to end in August 2004, there are plans for subsequently establishing an SOS Social and Medical Centre in the building that currently houses the SOS Emergency Medical Centre. After a general overhaul the medical centre will go on offering services and the social centre will reach out to street kids and former child soldiers via a number of programmes to support their process of reintegration into society.