Monday 24 February 2014

Save the Children Bloggers Conference

A trip to London on a Saturday morning is always a welcome opportunity, and even more so when you are going to hear about all of the fantastic work which Save the Children (STC) are currently doing around the world. 

Set in the middle of London, the Save the Children head offices are a hive of activity as people are sent out to locations throughout the world and the efforts are coordinated from various locations. STC invited bloggers to their offices to learn more about their work and the campaigns which they are undertaking to try and make a difference around the world.

To kick off the day, we heard from Kieran, who heads up STC's humanitarian team. Did you know that at any one time, STC could be responding to at least fifty emergencies around the world? In 2013, they responded to over 119 emergencies, including 84 new responses, many of which are small and more "localised" responses. STC currently work in over 48 countries, reaching out to at least six million children in one year. Their work focuses on helping children by responding to natural disasters, conflicts, and other humanitarians crises.

Much of the work of STC and other similar humanitarian organisations goes unnoticed by traditional media outlets, only being reported when it promotes human interest - such as the response to the Philippines flood efforts which made the headlines around the world. STC are currently working inside Syria, responding to efforts to help children there. You can follow their work by searching #syriacrisis on twitter.

They are also working in South Sudan, where around thirty staff are currently coordinating the response to the tribal conflicts which began there in September. STC have been calling for governments to put pressure on the government in Sudan to help resolve the conflict, and have also been providing support on huge ground.

Although numbers reported have been greatly downsized, it is estimated that between ten and fifty thousand people have been killed in this conflict, and over seven hundred and fifty thousand people have been displaced from their homes. Bad health care and education systems have lead to high levels malnutrition, and a severe food crisis, which adds to a multitude of other issues being experienced there.

On the ground, STC have sought to establish primary health care units, and provided child friendly spaces for unaccompanied children, ensuring that children have a safe space that they can go to seek shelter from untoward situations which can escalate during a period of instability. Within five days of the conflict starting, STC had sent out three aid flights with essentials such as clothing, pots and pans, fuel and household items to help those who were suffering. They have reached over 9000 people within the first three months.

STC are also working within the Central African Republic, where their work is having a huge conflict, but the conflict and humanitarian aid is very under reported as it is deemed that people don't have an interest in African conflicts and so they are not worth reporting through more traditional media outlets.

In the CAR there is a huge risk of children being recruited into gangs or to become child soldiers. STC have also set up mobile health centre's here, in areas where people don't have access to primary health care centres. Forty five percentage of children are suffering from malnourishment, and so STC are conducting screenings to try and identify those who are and treat them for it.

In some areas, such as in the Philippines STC have had to work in partnership with the military and other local organisations on the ground in order to implement the response, Six million children have been affected by typhoon Haiyan and over 4.1 million people have been displaced.

When a natural disaster occurs such as an earthquake, typhoon, or flooding hits, the public are more likely to donate to organisations such as the DEC which STC belongs to. The DEC have raised six million pounds in two years for the relief project for the political conflict in Syria. They raised over 48 million pounds around the world in the first 24 hours following typhoon Haiyan to help with the relief efforts.

STC take a holistic approach to their humanitarian efforts and so unlike other charities, when they enter a project or crisis hit area, they aim to meet all of the areas of need. Teams will try to communicate/coordinate with other relief efforts to find out where the gaps are and fill those gaps.

It was extremely interesting to hear Kieran talking about the humanitarian work of STC. Their work is ongoing and they desperately need people to donate funds to help with this work. Often individuals may organise their own drives to collect things like clothes, and household items to donate to STC to help with the efforts. This can actually be counter productive as it incurs significant transport and import costs and requires man power to transfer and distribute. By donating money, STC can use the funds donated to put back into local industry, and to source items needed from businesess on the ground' helping them to earn money and sustain their own futures rather than importing goods from outside of the country.

Next we heard from filmmaker Joe Wade from the BAFTA award winning film production agency "Don’t Panic", and creator of popular political satire show "The Revolution will be Televised" who has put together some new adverts for STC which will be released soon. He suggested making videos which would have an impact and would get shared to earn media. He also suggested following current trends to get your video trending - we all know how popular the Harlem Shake video became and the recent spate of copycat neck nominate videos have shown just how willing people are to follow trends - whatever the consequences. I really enjoyed Joe's talk and will be thinking about how I can put some of his tips into practice.

Following a delicious lunch, laid on by STC, we heard from Kirsty J McNeill  who served as a political advisor to Gordon Brown, and also served as an elected councillor in London, and who also campaigned as a parliamentary candidate. She advises STC about their political campaigning

She spoke to us about how people can up their power in their campaigning work, up their power in lobbying their local MP and use their blog to get traction from local politicians, which offers them a public platform.

Kirsty suggested that as politicians are quite vain, finding out what they are interested in will be one of the key things which helps you to get them onside, and telling them a story in order to help them understand the everyday struggles which people are going through, and explaining why it matters and why you are right will hopefully help to get them onside.

Although I wouldn't call myself a particularly political blogger (even though my Dad seems to think that I am always campaigning for feminist issues!), it was good to think about how to lobby to affect change, and how to get people to stand up and listen to what you are trying to tell them, so I was very interested to hear what Kirsty had to say and was glad to hear a great talk on using your blog to campaign.

To round off the day, Rosie Childs from Save the Children spoke to Gemma Raby, who is one of the midwives featured on the series "One Born Every Minute". Gemma visited Liberia as part of a new campaign from Save the Children which aims to save the lives of newborn around the world. The campaign to ease newborn death rates will be launched on the 25th February and to support the campaign, Gemma visited hospitals and clinics and learnt more about midwifery in Liberia. As an antenatal teacher, and someone working within maternity services alongside midwives, Gemma's talk was of extreme interest to me, and so I was very excited to hear about her experiences.

In Liberia, maternity care is quite spread out and women have to travel a long way to their nearest clinic. In Liberia, women need access to facilities, they need access to things like iron supplements, and malaria tablets and nets, and they need access to antenatal education. Most of all, they need access to midwives.

There are many women practising as traditional lay midwives, but they are not trained and have not completed the three year course which midwives complete here, and which qualified midwives in Liberia undertake also. The practise of Lay midwives has been passed down through generations, and they undertake cultural traditions to try and help women in labour which we we would find strange such as witch doctoring, having husbands urinate on women, having their feet set on fire and being tied up with rags to try and help them during labour. A six month programme is currently being run to try and give midwives the skills to try and help women in labour. The status that the training gives is a little like that of a maternity support worker. It aims to teach them good practice, and tries to help them give basic support to women in labour, if they cannot get to a hospital or midwife, or before they can get to one.

Gemma visited a Maternal Waiting Home, which is a little like a midwife led unit. The home tries to pre-empt women giving birth on their own in bad unsanitary conditions. Women can come to the home close to their due date and stay until three days after. Here they have access to clean water, meals, and mosquito nets. They can stay until three days after the birth, and staff will help to get breastfeeding established.

Gemma visited a hospital where she got stuck in and helped with a Caesarean birth, performed by a qualified doctor who had stepped in at the very last minute after a woman was having problems giving birth. The woman had been in labour for three days, and she was bought into the clinic from a remote village in an ambulance which was paid for by STC. The woman called the baby Gemma, after the midwife who had assisted her, showing the lasting effect that midwives leave on the women that they care for.

Gemma also met another woman who had not had such a good birth experience. In Liberia there is no infrastructure or public transport, so people live in villages which are very isolated and so it takes a long time to reach a midwife when you are pregnant. This woman had walked for nine hours, before finally having to give birth by the side of the road. She and the baby were both in a bad way and needed help as her birth had not been managed in sanitary conditions, and she had not had any support throughout it.  She had lost a lot of blood and the baby was not feeding properly.

Nearly half of all births go unattended around the world. It is shocking to hear that women don't have the access to a midwife during the birth, and don't even have the support of women like a Doula to help them through those vulnerable moments in life. As a Doula who attends women in birth, I shudder at the thought of women having to go through it on their own without a trained person to watch out for the signs that lavour may not be going to plan. Gemma's talk was very enlightening and I am grateful to her for sharing her experiences with us. 

Following Gemma's talk, as bloggers, we then got together to think about how we could gain support for the Newborn Deaths campaign, which launches on the 25th of February. There are lots of things that you can do to support this campaign and I will be writing more about this in a follow up post on Tuesday, so please stay tuned.

However for starters, you can join the Twitter Party happening on Tuesday 25th February from 1-2pm to launch the new campaign, make some noise, and draw political attention to the cause. The twitter party will follow the #firstday and will be cohosted by @savechildrenuk and Chris from @thinlyspread. Nigerian midwife Catherine will be sharing what a baby’s #firstday is like in remote health clinics in Nigeria.

There will also be questions about your memorable #firstday and the #first day of your baby's life, so do ensure you join in if you are able. 

Thanks to Save the Children for a fantastic conference. I can't wait to work with them further on this campaign and to tell people about their work. 

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