This week battleface takes a look at Warchild, a small charity with big ambitions to transform the lives of tens of thousands of children caught up in war and conflict zones around the world.
Warchild was founded in 1993 by film-makers David Wilson and Bill Leeson. Whilst on assignment in the former Yugoslavia they were shocked by the way children’s lives were being torn apart by the conflict. When they returned home they were further shocked by politicians’ apathy towards the massacres and ethnic cleansing taking place on their European doorstep.
Given that Warchild was born from this frustration of the political impasse for action in former Yugoslavia conflicts, their approach has been shaped by both the injustice that is inflicted upon children in war zones and the need to be differentiated in their cause. In their own words, Warchild talk about their approach to helping children in need.
‘Where others see victims with needs, we see children with rights….’
‘Charities and NGOs traditionally based their work on meeting the needs of the people they help. Nothing wrong with that, you might think, but in practice it often creates a situation where the beneficiaries become reliant on aid and their governments are let off the hook. Our approach is that yes – children have immediate needs, but they also have rights – the right to an education, the right to live free from violence, war and the safety that should be theirs by natural definition. All of these rights are supposed to be protected by international and national laws and conventions, and there are governments and councils responsible for upholding them. We do help meet the immediate needs, but it’s part of a bigger programme where we’re also helping them to campaign or lobby to make sure that the local, national and international governments and their elected bodies are held responsible.’
Continuing, Warchild make neutrality and impartiality central to their code of conduct to keep them safe on the ground, where the real assistance and works happen.
‘Humanitarian work can be a dangerous business. Afghanistan has witnessed an alarming rise in the number of attacks on NGO workers in recent years. The trust and acceptance by the local community is what keeps our staff safe and lets us deliver our work. We’re a non-political, impartial organisation. We’re not an anti-war charity and we don’t campaign to get British troops in or out of a conflict. Our focus isn’t on who started a war, it’s solely on the children caught up in it.
‘Warchild attempts to get the whole community involved in, and ultimately responsible for, our projects.’
‘Our projects are all rooted in their local communities and they involve and employ local people. Our child protection committees for example, bring together local councillors, policemen, teachers and tribal elders to train them to take responsibility for identifying and protecting vulnerable children in their communities. The best kind of project is one that will be continued by local people even after we’ve left.
‘We employ very few ex-pat staff in the field. Our projects are delivered by local people- teaching them new skills and supporting their local economy.’
‘We go where most Development charities don’t, and we stay long after most Humanitarian ones (and the TV cameras) leave.’
There’s often a vacuum between ‘Humanitarian Aid’ ending and longer-term ‘Development Aid’ starting. Usually because it’s done by different agencies and has very different sources of funding. Sometimes this gap can last for many years and leave fragile communities in limbo and without the support they need. Warchild is one of the few NGOs that fills this gap.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UNHCR and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have narrower remits: they do a brilliant job at meeting people’s immediate shelter, food and medical needs in an emergency. However, when that crisis ends there’s usually another one somewhere else that requires their attention. Similarly, agencies like Plan and Water Aid start doing their longer-term projects (child sponsorship, building infrastructure etc.) when a region is out of its conflict stage and is stable and secure enough for them to work in. We specialise in helping communities keep their children protected during, and crucially, in-between these stages.
‘We adopt a holistic approach.’
‘In line with our strategy, our work fits into three themes: Protection, Education and Livelihoods. By addressing all three we’re able to support children and their families in the short term as well as setting them up for a better long-term future. We’ve also identified three interventions or styles of working that are crucial. Within this matrix we make sure that in each country we’re working in, we’re doing a broad range of work.’
To get involved, contribute or find out more about the amazing work that this NGO is achieving, visit warchild.co.uk