Emergencies – 11 July 2018

Putting children’s safety first in high-risk environments

The evacuation of Juigalpa Village in Nicaragua shows how SOS Children’s Villages responds in potentially dangerous situations

When SOS Children’s Villages Nicaragua evacuated its Village in the central city of Juigalpa amid violent demonstrations, it was not the first time that a high-risk situation has prompted the organisation to move quickly to ensure children are safe.

All 38 children at SOS Children’s Village Juigalpa were moved to another location on 28 June along with 20 staff. Benito Rivas, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Nicaragua, said the decision was taken as demonstrations near the Village turned violent. All the children and staff were safe.

“SOS Children’s Villages is a neutral and impartial organisation that is dedicated to the care and protection of children,” Mr Rivas said after the decision to evacuate. “We are taking precautions everywhere we work in Nicaragua to ensure the safety and protection of the boys, girls and adolescents in our care. We will return to the SOS Children’s Village Juigalpa only when we are confident that it is safe to do so.”

The families of SOS Children's Village Juigalpa were able to return home when the neighbourhood was deemed safe. Photo provided by SOS Children's Villages Nicaragua
 
‘Special responsibility’

SOS Children’s Villages’ presence in 135 countries and territories means it is not immune to natural disaster or political turmoil. Nicaragua, for example, has been rocked by weeks of social unrest.

“As a child-focused organisation, we have a special responsibility to ensure the safety of the children in our care and those who work to care for them,” said Andreas Papp, International Director of Emergency Response for SOS Children’s Villages. “We are investing more in emergency preparedness and safety training on a global level for this very reason, and we must be especially diligent in conflict situations and areas prone to natural disaster.”

High-risk situations have led to protective measures in other countries.

Throughout the seven years of the Syrian war, SOS Children’s Villages on several occasions relocated children and staff to ensure their safety. In September 2012, the SOS Children’s Village Aleppo was evacuated and 60 children were transported to Damascus. Similarly, in April 2016, an Interim Care Centre in Aleppo was evacuated with children and staff moved to other SOS Children’s Villages facilities in the capital, and in September of that year, families at the SOS Children’s Village Damascus were relocated for nearly a month because of shelling near the village compound.

The SOS Children’s Villages Jaramana Drop-in Centre outside Damascus was closed for five days in February 2018 due to the fighting in the nearby Eastern Ghouta district. The centre provides activities and temporary shelter for children from besieged areas near the Syrian capital.

Global risks

Throughout much of its nearly 70-year history, SOS Children’s Villages has had a presence in some of the world’s major hotspots, providing vital care for children and support for families despite the risks.

SOS Children's Villages is renovating a war-damaged building in Stanytsia Luhanska for use as a social centre. Photo by Katerina Ilievska

 

The conflict in eastern Ukraine prompted five SOS families, including 20 children, to leave their homes in Luhansk in mid-2014 as fighting intensified across the region. SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine issued a statement at the time saying that the violence “has made it impossible for SOS Children’s Villages in Luhansk to continue operating as usual. Since the safety and well-being of the children in the care of SOS Children’s Villages is of paramount importance, the decision has been taken to relocate children from SOS families in Luhansk to safer locations in Ukraine. Children in Ukraine, and indeed anywhere, have a fundamental right to security.”

Four years later, SOS Children’s Villages is one of the few organisations providing child-focused services and support for at-risk families on both sides of the Ukraine conflict.

History repeats itself in South Sudan

Following a war that erupted between rival political groups in South Sudan in late 2013, some 100 children and 40 young people under the care of SOS Children’s Villages in Malakal, along with 30 co-workers, were forced to flee the village and seek shelter at a UN compound in the northern city in January 2014.

SOS Children’s Village Malakal just months before it was evacuated in early 2014.  Photo by Ulrich Kleiner

 

As fighting intensified in northern South Sudan, the SOS families and employees from Malakal were evacuated to Juba, the capital. Isaac Adowk, a youth leader from South Sudan, would later receive the Helmut Kutin Award for his role in evacuating children from Malakal. He also earned a special distinction from the Hermann Gmeiner Academy Board for his outstanding courage in a dangerous situation.

Some of the same children and SOS staff who went through the evacuation of Malakal would later have to flee their new home in Juba. In July 2016, an outbreak of fighting in South Sudan’s capital forced the evacuation of the SOS Children’s Village, which was looted by marauders. It was six months before repairs were completed and the village was deemed safe for the children to return.

Children at the SOS Children’s Village Juba were evacuated as fighting broke out in South Sudan’s capital in July 2016. Many personal items were left behind when the children were taken to safety. Photo by Ashley Hamer

 

See a related video on how SOS Children's Villages prepares for disasters and emergencies:

Main photo: Children enjoy activities at the Jaramana Drop-in Centre outside Damascus in early April 2018. Photo by Fares Haj Ebraheem

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