Our Director of Advocacy and Engagement Tom Burke blogs on his experience with Fairthorne YMCA as he tours YMCAs across the UK to mark the launch of Y Care International’s Tools for Recovery campaign to help rebuild lives devastated by Ebola.
Day nine of our Tools for Recovery tour saw Tim and I visit the Fairthorne YMCA Group. One of the larger YMCAs in the UK, the group provides services to children, young people and families across the south – from Dorset to Southampton; Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight. The group have been strong supporters of Y Care International for many years, for example by collaborating on global youth work projects, so it was great to visit them again.
A key theme through the day was the impact of Ebola on family life and especially on children. Our first meeting was at YMCA Winchester Café. Opened in July 2014, the family friendly Café has a wonderful play area for children and we were greeted by the sounds of toddlers playing. The café were donating 20 per cent of income from the day to our Tools for Recovery appeal.
We were joined by YMCA Fairthorne Group trustees as Tim shared his story. The setting inevitably led us all to reflect on the ways Ebola had especially affected young parents and families. Teenage pregnancy is high in Liberia – with teenage women making up more than 11 per cent of all pregnancies every year are from women aged 15 – 19 year-olds. These young mothers – and their children – face stigma and discrimination and can struggle to get healthcare and income they need to survive. Yet, life became even tougher when Ebola struck; these young Mums were often at risk as they lacked access to places to wash in Liberia’s crowded slums.
They were a key group the Liberian YMCA were seeking to reach through their peer education. Sadly, whilst the YMCA mobilised more than 1,600 peer educators to share Ebola prevention education – playing a huge role in making Liberia Ebola free – many of these parents passed away and thousands of children more lost one or more of their parents from Ebola.
These children were in our mind as later that afternoon we visited Fairthorne Manor – a large outdoor education centre. The bustling space was filled with hundreds of children on end of term school trips. As we toured the site we saw children laughing and making life shaping memories as they went rock climbing; zoomed down zip-wires and paddled in canoes. Me and Tim spoke to them before their dinner – the group I was most anxious of speaking to on the tour! We briefly explained about what Ebola was and how it affected children in Liberia; especially when parents were worried to even touch their own children.
Whilst heart-warming to see the ways that Fairthorne was bringing joy to these children; it sits in in sharp contrast to the experience of children in Liberia right now. Many orphaned and living in make shift care centres or being placed with relatives and wider families. Traumatised as they have lost those closest to them; they are having to move homes and often communities. Their wider families or adoptive parents struggle to get by with an additional mouth to feed at a time when the economy is fragile.
Our Tools for Recovery campaign will help young people in these communities. From the young Mum struggling to get by as the economy restarts to the family taking in an orphaned relative. By providing the tools they need to rebuild lives; we can ensure that these children get a chance at a better life. Children are incredibly resilient and with the right support they can thrive – but that needs the help of people like and you.