UNICEF's commitment to Zambia's children

Casey Marsh is part of a delegation of U.S. Fund for UNICEF staff and supporters currently visiting UNICEF's country programs in Zambia. She has been reporting on her experiences from the field this past week.

The final few days of our trip to Zambia have been incredible. On Thursday morning, our group flew from Lusaka to Ndola. As we wondered why we were delayed for about an hour, the crew announced that their vehicle had run out of gas on the way to the airport. It is a different world. Our first stop was the Arthur Davison Children's Hospital in Ndola. This is only one of two children's hospitals in the entire country, and there is only one pediatric doctor on staff. That day, he was out of town for meetings, so there were none.

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Green "Cyclones" play for UNICEF on the Disney Channel Games

Disney Channel Games

Sure, the Olympics have been exciting, but there's another sporting event this August that's had us here at UNICEF sitting by our TVs and cheering like crazy"the 2008 Disney Channel Games. For the third year in a row, each of the teams competing in the Disney Channel Games is playing for one of four children's charities. This year, it's the green "Cyclones" who are playing for UNICEF. The games feature relay races, obstacle courses and other events, which can be seen every Saturday night at 8 pm (ET) on, of course, The Disney Channel. Be sure to tune in on Saturday, August 30 for the finals. In the meantime, check out The Inside Track, a special behind the scenes broadcast about the games exclusively on disneychannelgames.com, hosted by Disney Channel stars Meaghan Jette Martin ("Camp Rock") and Cody Linley ("Hannah Montana"). Also on the site, you can vote for your favorite players and dive into the action via online versions of the games seen each week. Be sure to check it all out at disneychannelgames.com.

Zambia: A toilet for every family

Casey Marsh is part of a delegation of U.S. Fund for UNICEF staff and supporters currently visiting UNICEF's country programs in Zambia. She will be reporting on her experiences from the field all week.

We have learned a lot about water and sanitation during our time in Zambia. The schools that we visited yesterday featured "hand-washing corners" and the schools and villages told us proudly about the fact that they are striving for one toilet for every family. For many years, villagers have defecated in the fields for lack of better facilities. This caused all kinds of diseases, and UNICEF is supporting a widespread effort to bring healthy sanitation, including pit latrines and water wells, to the region.

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© UNICEF/ HQ96-1166/Giacomo Pirozzi
Children drink and play with water from a handpump financed by UNICEF at Nthombimbi Primary School, a community school in the village of Nthombimbi, Zambia.

When our group woke up this morning in our lodge, there was a problem with the water tank and there was no water available for most of the guests. We take clean water, toilets and showers for granted every day, but for hundreds of thousands of people in this tiny country alone, there are no such facilities. When we missed one shower, complaints were filed on our behalf by our hosts, and apologies were made. However, everyone has a right to clean water and safe, hygienic facilities, and the irony did not escape us!

"Talking Walls" in Zambia

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© US Fund for UNICEF/Casey Marsh
Moms and their kids came from miles around when we came to visit their schools, even though the school year doesn't start for another month.

En route to visit UNICEF programs in the southern province of Choma, Zambia, today we learned that the president of Zambia, Dr. Levy Mwanawasa, has died. So, today begins a national mourning period of 7 days, and the country is in quite a state of shock and grief. Everyone is being urged to stay calm in this time of crisis. Our first stop out in the field was Child Hope Africa, a pre-school with capacity for 150 children. It seemed as though all the mothers and their children"hundreds of them"walked for several kilometers to greet us at the school today, despite the fact that classes are not in session until September. But despite their numbers, there are unfortunately more than 1,000 pre-school-age children in the area that want to attend the school, and many have to be turned away because of overcrowding. Training and early-childhood education are key priorities for our colleagues at UNICEF Zambia, in close conjunction with the Zambian government. In fact, everything that UNICEF does is in partnership with the government and typically with other NGO partners as well. The idea is for the government to be self-sufficient, and ultimately, for there to no longer be a need for UNICEF in the country in the future.

Ethiopia is in trouble

I've always wanted to travel to Ethiopia. From all I've read and seen, it is a strikingly beautiful country with ancient temples and churches, and a geographical bonanza of tropical forests, mountain ranges and desert. (You can see some of it quite nicely on The Long Way Down.) Ethiopian food is fabulous"complexly spiced stews eaten with a spongy flatbread called injera.

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UNICEF/ HQ08-0440/Grum Tegene
ETHIOPIA: Five-year-old Khesna, who is severely malnourished, drinks therapeutic milk at the UNICEF-supported feeding unit of Bissidimo Hospital in East Harerghe Zone of Oromia Region. The milk is rich in micronutrients and is the first phase of a feeding regimen"eight times daily"that helps the body recover from the shock of malnutrition and conditions it to digest food. Khesna must initially be fed small portions, slowly.

But as we've reported before, that wonderful Ethiopian food has become dangerously scarce. The global food crisis has hit Ethiopia incredibly hard"in the last year, food prices have nearly doubled. Severe drought has exacerbated an already bad situation. Now, 4.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Crops are dying, livestock is dying, children are dying.

Hope for Zambia, despite challenges

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© US Fund for UNICEF/Casey Marsh
Mother and child receive medical care at a UNICEF-supported health clinic in Zambia.

Today was a fully-packed day! Our group visited the UNICEF Zambia office where the staff made several presentations about the nature of their work.

There are four key areas of UNICEF's work in Zambia: child health, which includes nutrition and HIV/AIDS prevention; basic education, which includes life skills and information on HIV prevention; water and sanitation projects; and child protection, such as the prevention of child trafficking, child labor, and other forms of child abuse.

Of course, UNICEF is always there in emergencies. Recently, there have been more floods and droughts in Zambia as a result of climate change, so more frequent urgent emergency intervention is needed.

The staff faces a variety of challenges on a regular basis, too. Zambia is a large country"similar in size to Texas"with a relatively small population of about 11 million. This means that people are scattered far and wide throughout the country, making it difficult to make services such as health clinics and schools accessible to everyone. Plus, out of 177 countries, Zambia is ranked 165th in terms of poverty on the Human Development Index.

Mothers-to-be call Helpline in India

In India, a woman dies every seven minutes from a pregnancy complication. The deaths often stem from preventable causes like infection and hemorrhaging, which can be controlled and easily treated by trained health care providers. But for families living in remote villages, paying the transportation fees to a hospital is an expense they can't afford. As a result, women in rural villages give birth at home, far from the medical help they would need if something were to go wrong. UNICEF saw a simple, effective solution to this problem and acted. It created Helpline "" a 24-hour telephone service that provides pregnant women with free cab rides to hospitals.

Our first day in Zambia

Casey Marsh is part of a delegation of U.S. Fund for UNICEF staff and supporters currently visiting UNICEF's country programs in Zambia. She will be reporting on her experiences in the field all week.

I arrived this afternoon in Lusaka, Zambia after being 'stuck' overnight in Johannesburg. It seems that everyone in our group experienced some type of delay, and we all agreed that we need to adjust to a new cultural rhythm in Africa. Nothing moves quickly.

Betty Chella Nalungwe, the Communications Assistant for the UNICEF office in Lusaka, greeted me at the airport. It was wonderful to see a bright blue UNICEF t-shirt and a warm, friendly smile as soon I stepped into the terminal. I was quickly moved through the VIP/Diplomat line at passport control, which is an indication of the esteem in which UNICEF is held within the country.

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US Fund for UNICEF
Maryanne and Paul Harvey with Betty Chella Nalungwe stand next to the UNICEF Range Rover at Lusaka Airport.

Betty gave up most of her weekend to fetch me and the other visitors, which she seemed to do happily. In fact, Friday was her birthday, and she spent many hours at the airport waiting for Sean and Griffin Flannery, 2 members of our group from the Boston area, to arrive. None of that put a damper on her energy, though!

PEPFAR reauthorization signed into law

Bipartisan support bolsters U.S. efforts to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria

President's Emergency Plan for AIDS ReliefBack in July, Congress passed an important piece of legislation"the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008. Here at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, we applaud President Bush for recently signing the legislation into law, reauthorizing the dramatically successful initiative known as PEPFAR"the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief"originally launched in 2003.

This new bill"let's call it PEPFAR II"authorizes $48 billion over the next five years to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria worldwide. That sounds like a lot of money, but it will take every penny to reach the legislation's lofty goals:

  • Preventing 12 million new HIV infections over the next five years
  • Providing care and support for 12 million people with AIDS by 2013, including at least 5 million orphans and other vulnerable children
  • Making sure at least 2 million people receive treatment for AIDS
  • Training for 140,000 health care workers in developing countries

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