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Jun-06-2011 22:25printcomments

Africa: A Fresh New Approach to Humanitarian Work

Children who are deprived of a chance to enjoy their childhoods become adults without having followed the logical progression of their growth process.

Arina Richard
Arina Richard

(WASHINGTON D.C.) - The stories of humanitarian work in Africa are mixed. Some mean well – and do great in transforming the lives of the poor, sick and helpless children. Others just take advantage to profiteer from the misery of such a category of children.

But as much as there are so many humanitarian agencies especially in the war ravaged parts of the continent, very few that I know of address the deep-seated psychological effects that turn children, who despite their tender ages have already experienced hell on earth, into dangerous global citizens of tomorrow.

First, children from every society these days suffer from abuse in one way or the other. Such abuses range from the most common yet horrendous ones in form of either physical or sexual nature or both and neglect in the sense that parents no longer have time to spend with their children, which lead a to gaping hole in their souls that deter them from becoming responsible adults of the future.

As a result they feel empty on the inside – and emptiness that no drugs, no alcohol, no sexual encounter, money and all the luxurious vacations and lifestyle can fill. They end up losing control of themselves, devoid of sympathy and empathy, they develop hearts of stone.

If such people become leaders, the world suffers from the wrath of their childhood hurts. Children who are deprived of love at home tend to crave for attention that may make them susceptible to sexual and other forms of abuses which, may in turn, wreck their lives forever.

The world we live in is filled with children whose desperate cry to be heard is only met with deafness of adults who themselves don’t know what to do. They could have themselves gone through worse yet they expected to make their children any better.

It is like expecting poison to neutralize poison. But whatever these adults are, in closer inspection is mimetic of their own childhood experiences with their own parents; it is like blind leading the blind. Most seek solace in material things which, in turn, doesn’t help at all.

What is most remarkable about most children in the contemporary world is deprivation from everything that makes human beings holistically healthy; mentally, physically and spiritually. Of this, African children are the most disadvantaged.

Not only are they denied the very basic necessities of life, they are also never experience the kind of love only a parent can give, let alone the fact that they bear the greatest brunt when it comes to neglect, emotional and physical abuses – much of which go unreported.

This is not to say that the children’s problems are uniquely African, seeing how in the developed world, children are neglected, sexually and physically abused with alarming regularity. The issue therefore should be how to solve the deep-seated psychological pain the entire humanity seems to be drowning in.

I assert that every problem that is related to the alarming rates of failed marriages, crimes, substance abuse, loss of family values and respect for self and others all stem from unresolved childhood issues. It is a haunting feature of the current generation and requires immediate intervention if humanity is to recover its humaneness.

The reason I started with humanitarian agencies is because I feel there are not many of them that are focused on achieving this. All the agencies can incorporate programmes that are designed to address psychological healing into their humanitarian work, on top of the materials benefits they give to the children from the continent.

This way the entire needs of the needy can be addressed and humanitarian work made more meaningful in creating both physically and mentally healthy global citizens and leaders of tomorrow.

I believe that all the humanitarian agencies can join hands to create a brighter and better future for all through a collective effort to provide not only the material needs but also help in the process of psychological healing for all the tormented children throughout the world.

The new approach should be to allow people to shape their own worlds during childhood by being freed to grow up knowing and feeling that they can participate in shaping the world of tomorrow. Who knows, may be the problem of leaders who cling to power like leeches may be consigned to the dustbin of history since leaders, like any of us, are products of their childhood experiences as well. Leaders who cling to power could only be exhibiting their depraved backgrounds.

No wonder Africa produces most leaders who never want to step down after their term expires.

What is important to note is that children who are deprived of a chance to enjoy their childhoods become adults without having followed the logical progression of their growth process. As such, a crucial part of their childhood is left still screaming to be heard and sympathized with, pampered and even loved even after they have reached adulthood. But the mental health problem is not uniquely African. At present, most people are wounded, which, perhaps, explains why the quality of our mental state is degenerating with each successive generation.

At A Child Unheard (ACU) we acknowledge the truism that children must play to shape their brains, open their imaginations and invigorate their souls. It helps us identify their giftings, their inborn talents and their potential which helps us mentor them in ways that maximizes that to the benefit of the entire humanity.

For more information, visit


Submitted by: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW; a correspondent, Assistant Editor, and Volunteer Coordinator for NGO News Africa through the volunteer project of the UN. Jennifer is also the media co-coordinator and senior funding executive for The Africa Global Village (

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.