Something has changed: Lost generations on all sides

I’ve supported UNICEF emergency responses in Papua New Guinea, Kyrgyzstan, Albania, Philippines and China. The pace of UNICEF work is regularly punctuated by that unexpected call in the middle of the night with first news of an earthquake, typhoon or refugee exodus. For the next several weeks or months life is turned up-side down.

I obsessively follow media coverage of emergencies and disasters around the world. How is it impacting children? What are the complexities? As a communicator I also analyze the media’s role in reporting each major disaster or emergency.

As UNICEF releases its most recent Humanitarian Action for Children appeal, I’m overwhelmed by the deep feeling that something has changed. Children are being attacked, and traumatized around the world as never before.

Each Lyse Doucet BBC story on how children are coping in Syria seems to rip open a larger gash in my heart. Each twitter post by Peter Bouckaert catching a glimpse of children bleeding in the Central African Republic seems to wrestle me down to the ground. Even the broadly smiling faces of children in Tacloban, playing in the rubble of their homes, cuts deeper into my bones.

I can’t remember a time when the world’s wars and disasters seemed to amount to lost generations in so many places. I was doing my push-ups in front of the TV as a little guy in Yarmouk said “There is no more bread” and then dissolved into tears. Up till that point he was holding it together pretty well. A deep yearning for the simple joy of bread swallowed him on international television.

The backdrop of Yarmouk made every futuristic, dystopian movie set seem like a picnic. The front of every apartment block had been blown off for miles. That boy’s puberty is being spent dodging barrel bombs. Is his generation lost?

I’m obsessed with Human Rights Watch Peter Boukaert’s amazing twitter feed from CAR. For a while he posted riveting photos staring into the faces of young male combatants from about a meter away. You can see the souls of these man-boys struggling to come out from behind their menacing faces. Peter deserves a medal for telling an extremely close-up story of the most forsaken land in the most forsaken continent.

South Sudan is exploding now. Thinking of many UN colleagues who have supported the heady emergence of the world’s newest nation in recent years. Veteran UNICEF communicator Sarah Crowe was in Bor recently, reporting about children separated from their parents.

She tells of a 29 year old mother who, under tank fire, tied her older children to a tree to avoid losing them in the chaos and ran back to her house to collect her newborn baby before fleeing the mayhem.

Sitting in Beijing my gripes with the smog seem pretty shallow.

As channels for following the story of children affected by war and disaster multiply, I really hope it all means we can collectively begin to improve things. So far, all my digital connections just seem to make it hurt more.

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