Children in Conflict: An Australian Youth Ambassador, On Making a Difference...

Features Issue 16 Aug, 2010
Text by Melina Simmond

I can clearly remember the day when I was first notified that I had been offered a position as an Australian Youth Ambassador. It was early June, and at that stage I was working voluntarily at a paediatric medical centre in Sai Gon. I enjoyed my work in Viet Nam immensely, so much so that I had applied to the Australian Youth Ambassadors’ Program so I could continue to work towards the betterment of children’s health in Asia. And where better to do this than Nepal, the land of the mighty mountains, monasteries and momos. I was no less than ecstatic - Nepal here I come!

Time has flown, and I have now been in Nepal for almost four months. Despite the short duration of my stay to date, I have been exposed to a myriad of wonderfully exciting and inspiring cultural experiences. I will fondly look back on these times forever. However, as time passes and my understanding of the social and political situation of the country broadens, the more my concern for the welfare of the Nepali child grows.

My role as an Australian Youth Ambassador sees me based in Nepalgunj in the mid west where, alongside my counterparts at Social Awareness for Education (SAFE), I am working towards improving the quality of life of the Badi children, members of an untouchable Hindu caste who are, for the greater part, born into a life of poverty and prostitution. The current state of conflict is severely disrupting the functioning of the Badi community, which for the children means being denied access to many basic rights of life such as nutritious food, medicine, shelter and quality education. Forced migration to India, recruitment as child soldiers, sexual abuse and exploitation and exposure to violence resulting in severe psychological trauma are also major concerns for SAFE and myself.

With the financial and technical assistance of Save the Children, SAFE has recently been able to begin implementing a project for the ”children in conflict”. Based on the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, this project aims to mitigate the impact of the current situation by protecting child rights and creating opportunities for development of children and families affected by the armed conflict. A wide array of activities are planned including the provision of emergency medical care, food and shelter, establishment of a community based counseling service and socialisation centre, increased access to education facilities and infrastructure support for schools, and an awareness raising and advocacy campaign promoting children as a “Zone of Peace”.

The situation in the field makes progress quite slow, but already several children have been identified as being ‘at-risk’ and steps are being taken to improve their immediate living circumstances. The past few months have also given me the opportunity to witness the fighting spirit of the Badi children shine through, offering hope and reassurance for the future of these young survivors.

Working as a Youth Ambassador has enabled me to better understand the realities of life in Nepal through the eyes of the local children, a perspective I could never fully appreciate by being a tourist alone. My only wish is that through my work at SAFE I can somehow make the lives of the Badi children more meaningful and peaceful despite these trying times.