Christmas gifts for children

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

I am sure most of us have been asked the same question by children — why can’t Christmas be all year round? Why must Christmas come only once a year? Even in the Philippines, which has the reputation of having the world’s longest Christmas celebration, it always seems like Christmas comes and then goes away too fast.

Perhaps it is because I now have two grandchildren — Diego and Emilio — that I feel Christmas is most joyous when seen from the eyes of children. But as I watch the joy on the faces of my grandsons with the many gifts that they are receiving these days, I cannot help but also remember with distress the many scenes appearing almost nightly on foreign television channels of suffering children in other parts of the world.

I see the faces of refugee children of Iraq and Jordan where ISIS has made the enslavement of children as an accepted way of life. I saw the scenes from the deliberate killing of scores of schoolchildren in Pakistan by the Taliban. I still remember the hundreds of schoolgirls abducted and sold as child brides in Nigeria by the Boko Haram. Then there are the horrible stories of the Yazidi children enslaved and raped in northern Iraq.

But even in the United States, there are  now familiar stories of deliberate shootings in schools. Then in Europe there are those children that are kept in basements as prisoners for years. I also remember the faces and stories of children in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. Also in the midst of all the traffic jams and rush for last minute shopping, there are the street children that press their faces to the car windows and are obviously exploited by parents or even syndicates.

There are, however, those who are clearly devoting themselves to try and give each child a chance at a decent life. Ned Olney, country director for Save the Children Philippines, talks about how each one of us — who have more in life — doing our best for children. He says: “Every time a war is fought, or a disaster hits, children almost always die and are injured in the largest numbers.”

Save the Children is the world’s leading independent organization dedicated to children. It started in 1919 when children in war ravaged Europe were living in horrendous conditions and dying of hunger. An Oxford educated teacher and sociologist named Eglantyne Jebb started up Save the Children after being moved by their plight.

The First World War had just ended. The victors were the allied countries composed of the British Empire, France and the United States. The defeated enemies were Germany, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. She believed that children — whoever and whatever they are — have the right to a healthy, happy, fulfilling life. She wanted to start a relief scheme in Austria, supplying food to malnourished children.

During her first attempt to raise funds, Englantyne faced angry views that she was helping children of the enemy since Austria had been part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. She was arrested and charged while distributing leaflets in London.

The judge, however, ended up being convinced by her arguments and was her first donor. In 1923 she helped change the world’s attitude towards children by writing the first Declaration of the Rights of the Child. This was eventually adopted by the United Nations. In 1989, this became international law known as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Save the Children has been in the Philippines since 1981. Its priorities have been education, health and nutrition, child protection, disaster risk reduction, child rights governance and livelihoods programs.

Its many varied programs should be an inspiration and a concrete guide for those wanting to launch their own programs to help children. Save the Children started its first program in 1982 on Guimaras Island in Western Visayas, reaching out to impoverished children and families with health, education and livelihood projects that benefited over 3,000 children. It then expanded to new areas like Ilocos Norte, where it builds bridges and classrooms for schoolchildren and monitors child health and nutrition. In Metro Manila it started urban poor programs focused on land acquisition for squatter families.

The best way to break the cycle of poverty for poor children is to give them the opportunity for a decent education. This is the reason why the K to 12 program is so important. But we also need to provide the necessary classrooms, school materials and, most important, dedicated and qualified teachers.

However, for the poor, these things are not enough. In many rural areas, physical access to classrooms is difficult. That is why sometimes a footbridge and pathways become critical investments. Poor healthcare is often a major obstacle to learning for poor children. It is important that they get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy and strong. Access to healthcare and feeding programs for schoolchildren are needs that are as critical as classrooms.

Child protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation is also very important especially for those separated from their families due to natural disasters, armed conflict, extreme poverty and exploitation. Children are also the most vulnerable during natural disasters like Typhoon Yolanda. They face possible injuries, serious illness and malnutrition. They also need emotional support during these emergencies and even during the period of recovery and rehabilitation.

Perhaps this is the best Christmas gift we can give to the most vulnerable children in our society – the right of every child to have access and the opportunity to a decent education and a life of human dignity.

But what about the children of the privileged families who will be receiving so many material gifts this Christmas? Let me share some messages about children:

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” —James Baldwin

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give to our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” —Hodding Carter

“Children need love, especially when they do not need it.” —Harold S. Hulbert

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” —Rachel Carson

The greatest gift we can give all children throughout the whole year is the gift of good example.

Merry Christmas to all the children of the world.

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Email: [email protected]


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