Normally on Fridays I bring you the funniest political moments around the web. This weekend instead I would like to introduce you to a tremendous organization. An organization that is helping children in the war zones of the world and how we can help them.
I recently had a chance to sit down with James Topham, Communications Director at War Child and he shared with me some insight about an amazing organization http://warchild.us that is making some real impact on a subject that is rarely covered in the mainstream media. That being children in the war zone.
56: James thank you for your time and your work that you do.
James: It’s a pleasure. We’re so grateful for this opportunity. We’re new to the Social Vibe community, so to get picked by you as a charity of choice is really something special.
56: How did Warchild begin?
James: War Child began in the UK in 1993, in response to the Bosnian war. As you can imagine, that conflict had a great impact in Europe – it was taking place in what only a couple years ago was a holiday destination. It was started by two film makers who were making a documentary on artists in warzones for the BBC. They found themselves spending more of their time smuggling food and medical supplies in than filming, and so they decided to go back to the UK and do a fundraiser. That fundraiser led to the establishment of War Child. War Child in north America started in 1999 in Toronto. It is affiliated with the UK and Dutch branches but is an independent organization with its own board and mandate.
56: James, what is the purpose of Warchild?
James: The purpose of war child is essentially what our name implies – to help children affected by conflict build a brighter future for themselves.
56: How long has Warchild been active in North America?
James: Since 1999 in North America.
56: How did you get involved?
James: I’m a lifer! I first got involved in 1994. I was working for the musician, Brian Eno, and he was determined to do something to help Bosnia. He came across War Child and we did all of their fundraising for the first four years. Brian was a founding member of Roxy Music and has worked with Talking Heads, David Bowie and U2, amongst others, so his address book was quite helpful at the beginning!
56: Where does Warchild currently carry out their activities?
James: We currently work in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Darfur, Uganda, the DR Congo, Sierra Leone, Georgia and Haiti.
56: What kind of projects would you say is a normal job of Warchild?
James: All our projects are long-term development and are designed to give local people the capacity to rebuild their lives. It is always our intention to leave a country as soon as possible but only when the communities we have been working with are in a position that is sustainable.
56: What is an exciting thing Warchild has done that you never pictured in a thousand years you would be doing when you started with Warchild?
James: I once had to make a 3′x3′ replica of the Saturday Night Fever dancefloor for the Pet Shop Boys to sell in a War Child auction. Never saw that one coming!
56: What void do you fill that say the United Nations, Red Cross or Red Crescent fail to?
James: We’re so much smaller that we’re not even comparable. The larger institutions are facilitators – they organize the various smaller organizations, distribute money and so on. Then there are bigger international organizations who take on the ‘heavy lifting’ – large-scale feeding programs, field hospitals. But however many of these there are, there will always be needs that aren’t being met. For example, in Uganda, where we found that girls were being abused and raped with impunity because of a lack of legal aid and a lack of awareness about women and child rights within the community. So we are providing free legal aid and carrying out a large-scale awareness campaign through workshops and radio broadcast. And we are now seeing the abusers brought to justice.
56: How is Warchild received in those areas that you operate?
James: We work almost exclusively with local partner organizations, so we are working with community members to build their capacity. As such, we don’t ship in fleet loads of white 4x4s stocked with expats. So, we are welcomed because we are empowering the people themselves.
56: Where does Warchild get most of their funding from?
James: We get about 50:50 institutional funding and public donations. We would prefer that to be more balanced towards public but programmes like the one in Uganda are not as easily understood as, say, buy a goat….
56: Normally how do you distribute those funds? Is it mostly for infrastructure? Or getting fresh water and medicine to children? Rehabbing child soldiers? Changing the thought process of a culture about children soldiers?
James: Our focus is on three areas – education, poverty reduction and child rights protection. How we implement depends on circumstances. So, for example, in the Congo we are rebuilding and re-equipping schools, because 75% were destroyed in the conflict. In Afghanistan we are training single mothers and giving them micro finance loans to start their own business. Families are being pulled out of destitution that way. So it varies – there is no set prescription.
56: Can you give my readers an example of what a day in the life is like for some of these children? What they have on their minds as opposed to some one in the United States or Canada?
James: What is so extraordinary isn’t so much the differences but rather the similarities. Kids in the Congo have lived through one of the most brutal wars since the WWII and yet they still want to go to school, they still want to learn and they have aspirations to be doctors, engineers, Presidents, just like kids here. The normalcy of their aspirations is actually awe-inspiring.
56: In a perfect world what would Warchild like to see?
James: In a perfect World, War Child would not exist.
56: Do you ever think that one day there will be no need for an organization like Warchild?
James: It is what we strive for every day. It probably won’t happen in our lifetimes but one has to hope that humanity will evolve to the point where other options but conflict present themselves.
56: I understand a lot of celebrities have given either their time or money to help the cause. Who are some that have gone above and beyond the call of duty?
James: Yes, we have had a lot of support from the music industry. Everyone from David Bowie to Beck to Feist to Radiohead. Radiohead have actually been one of our most consistent supporters over the years – they have given us three exclusive songs. But we’re humbled by the support of all donors, famous or not.
56: How can my readers make your job easier? What do you need? I am sponsoring with Visa through the SocialVibe widget to raise funds for Warchild. Do you know the exact specifics of what my readers need to do and what that will do for WarChild?
James: SocialVibe’s first goal is to raise enough points to pay for an hour’s worth of radio programming in Uganda – the project I mentioned earlier. So all people have to do is go to the site, sign up, pick War Child and then follow the instructions. It’s easy and costs nothing. If people want to give then it’s easily done on our website. You can also find us on Twitter – @samanthanutt is our founder and @TopsAtWarChild is me – or on Facebook. And if you get in touch with@alysonrowe, she has a ton of other ways you can get involved.
56: Great! On behalf of my readers and myself I want to thank you James for your time and you and your organizations effort to help make this world a better place by helping the most unfortunate and weakest of society. The children. Thank you.
James: No, thank you. And if anyone would like more information, tweet me! Oh, and our websites are warchild.us and warchild.ca. One of these days I will combine them and make my life a whole lot easier!
I want everyone who reads this to think about how easy we have it in America and to take 2 minutes out of your day to go to the top of the page click on the Social Vibe widget/box and just do 1 activity! That’s it. If you can do more great! If you want to do more James explained what you can do by going to the Warchild.us website and donating. But all I ask is for you to step up to the plate this one time and press the Social Vibe Widget and help Warchild so they can help out these children. Thank you and pass this on to anyone you know who wants to help make this world a better place.