Freedom Award for War Child
Take a child out of the war so it no longer has to live in fear, can go back to school and contribute to the peace and development of its country.
This is what War Child Netherlands has been trying to do for the past 12 years. Today, the childrens’ rights organisation receives recognition for its work during the presentation of the Four Freedoms Awards at the Roosevelt Institute in the southern Dutch town of Middelburg.
War Child has been trying for year to focus attention on children in conflict areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Children who grow up in a war zone live in constant fear. Often, they are on the run, lose their parents or are forced to fight as child soldiers. The resulting fear and uncertainty seriously hamper their development. So far, War Child has provided assistance to more than 850,000 children.
War Child founder Willemijn Verloop
in Sierra Leone (photo © War Child)
War Child was founded by Willemijn Verloop in 1995 when she was working for the
European Action Council for Peace in the Balkans. During her travels across Bosnia Herzegovina, she came into contact with two Britons who were teaching traumatised children to play musical instruments to help them forget the war, at least for a little while. War Child has developed specialised psychosocial programmes, and, because of its expertise, is often enlisted by organisations such as UNICEF, the United Nations childrens’ fund.
The creative and musical therapies developed by War Child are sometimes questioned by critics, who point out that children in war zones need food and shelter rather than food for the soul. Ms Verloop partly agrees with the criticism.
Therapeutic dance: children at play
in Sierra Leone (photo © War Child)
"We never work in emergency aid areas. First, you have to hand out food and medicines. But as soon as immediate needs have been met, you have to remove fear from the children."
Ms Verloop says the strength of her organisation lies in trying to increase the ability of traumatised children to come to terms with their experiences.
“You can never fully resolve their traumas, but you can help the children deal with their war experiences. War Child has set up an educational programme intended to help children catch up. Children who never attended primary school are being taught various professional skills during an accelerated training course. In the DRC I met a girl who had fought in the army and had been abused as a sex slave. After four years, she returned to her native village with a baby. This was unacceptable in her culture. She ended up in our shelter, and took a course to be a car mechanic. Today, she runs her own garage and employs other former child soldiers. Her family has accepted her now that the she can make a financial contribution”
Sometimes, corruption, an ineffective legal system and a weak local government place limits on what Ms Verloop and her organisation can achieve.
"It is especially frustrating when you have to leave because a conflict flares up again and the situation becomes too dangerous, like in Eritrea. You are forced to abandon the children and that’s really frustrating."
On Saturday, the Four Freedoms Awards will be presented to UN emergency aid coordinator Jan Egeland, former German President Richard von Weizsäcker, religion expert Karen Armstrong, and Lakhdar Brahimi, special UN envoy to Iraq. Each year, the prizes are awarded to people safeguarding the four essential human freedoms formulated by former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: freedom from fear, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom from want.
By Saskia van Reenen