Children are paying the price of adult wars and unrest. Here's how we can help them.

Children pay the price of adult conflicts around the world—and the cost is way too high.  

A new report from UNICEF—the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund—paints a tragic picture of our world, where war, conflict, and poverty define daily life for millions of children.

The numbers for 2018 alone are staggering—30 million children have been forced from their homes by violence and insecurity. Those who remain in war zones face horrific and ongoing violations, including being recruited to fight, being used as human shields, being raped or forced into marriage, and experiencing severe acute malnutrition.


Those numbers are hard to wrap our minds around, but 30 million children is more than the populations of America’s 10 largest cities—New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose—combined. And that’s just the children who have fled violence, not the ones still living in it.

“It is devastating,” Caryl Stern, CEO and President of UNICEF USA told Upworthy. “It’s been a year of conflict, and the children, because they are the most vulnerable, suffer the most.”

In some countries, more than half of children are in need of humanitarian services.

Parts of the Middle East and Africa in particular are dire places for children, though kids in Eastern Ukraine and Myanmar are also under duress due to conflict.

Stern shared with us some of the specifics:

  • Violence and bloodshed remain a daily occurrence in Afghanistan. Some 5,000 children were killed or maimed within the first three quarters of 2018—equal to all of 2017. Children there make up 89 percent of civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war.
  • In Cameroon, 93 villages have allegedly been partially or totally burned due to increasing conflict in the areas, with many children experiencing extreme levels of violence.
  • The Central African Republic has seen a dramatic resurgence in fighting, and two out of three children are in need of humanitarian assistance.
  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, children are being forced into fighting and suffering sexual abuse by armed groups and militias. In addition, an estimated 4.2 million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition (SAM), meaning they’ll die without intervention.
  • In Iraq, children and families returning to their homes after heavy violence continue to be exposed to the danger of unexploded devices. Thousands of families remain displaced and now face the additional threats of freezing winter temperatures and flash floods.
  • In the Lake Chad basin, at least 1,041 schools are closed or non-functional due to violence, fear of attacks, or unrest, affecting nearly 445,000 children.
  • A recent surge in violence in the border region between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger has left 1,478 schools closed.
  • In Myanmar, the UN continues to receive reports of ongoing violations of the rights of Rohingya remaining in northern Rakhine State, which include allegations of killings, disappearances, and arbitrary arrests, in addition to barriers to health and education for children.
  • In northeast Nigeria, armed groups, including Boko Haram factions, continue to target girls, who are raped, forced to become wives of fighters, or used as ‘human bombs’. In February, the group abducted 110 girls and one boy from a technical college in Dapchi. While most of the children have since been released, five girls died and one is still being held captive as a slave.
  • In Palestine, over 50 children were killed and hundreds more injured this year, many whilst demonstrating against deteriorating living conditions in Gaza. Children in Palestine and Israel have been exposed to fear, trauma and injuries.
  • In South Sudan, more than 150 women and girls in Bentiu reported suffering horrific sexual assault. Relentless conflict and insecurity throughout the annual lean season pushed 6.1 million people into extreme hunger. Even with the advent of the rainy season, more than 43 per cent of the population remain food insecure.
  • In Syria, between January and September, the UN verified the killing of 870 children – the highest number ever in the first nine months of any year since the start of the conflict in 2011. Attacks continued throughout the year, including the killing of 30 children in the eastern village of Al Shafa in November.
  • In eastern Ukraine, more than four years of conflict destroyed and damaged hundreds of schools and forced 700,000 children to learn in fragile environments, amidst volatile fighting and the dangers posed by unexploded weapons of war.
  • In Yemen, the UN has verified 1,427 children killed or maimed in attacks, including an ‘unconscionable’ attack on a school bus in Sa’ada. Every 10 minutes in Yemen, a child dies due to preventable diseases, and 400,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

"The earthquake, you can’t predict, or that disease we don’t have a cure for," says Stern. "But these are man-made emergencies, which is different than some other years . . . In the year 2019 we can do better, we must do better, we should do better."

Here’s how UNICEF is helping—and how you can too.

UNICEF helps the world's children by providing nutrition aid and water where needed, and also by ensuring access to education and creating child-friendly spaces everywhere they serve.

“We do that in the refugee camps, we do that along some of the long walks children are taking these days,” says Stern. “And we do that because we recognize that for future development, children need to be afforded the opportunity to just be a kid. They have to play, they have to sing, they have to dance, they have to have music, they have to be able to let some of what they’re bearing witness to out of them.”

Stern points out that creating child-friendly spaces helps free up parents to deal with the crisis they are facing and make a plan for what’s next. It also helps give UNICEF workers a chance to diagnose severe trauma and direct children to the services they need.

UNICEF is also “the plumber of the UN." They do all the water plans in addition to providing nutrition response and emergency aid. “UNICEF are the people who monitor the children on the ground in countries all over the world,” says Stern, “measuring arms, weighing babies, checking and trying to provide emergency response when it’s severe acute malnutrition.”  

How can those of us who live in secure nations help? The most direct way, of course, is funds. Donations are always welcome at unicefusa.org.

"In addition to dollars, which are truly desperately needed,” Stern says, “I think the American people need to depoliticize the care and feeding of children. We need to understand that children don’t vote. Children don’t make decisions about where they’re going to grow up or which country they’re going to be born, they don’t get to pick where they’re born. Children are the innocent victims of the decisions of adults.”

“There is nothing political about saving the lives of children,” Stern adds.

Stern says that a society should be and is measured by how we treat children, and by that measure, we are failing.

“As long as 15,000 children die each day from causes we already know how to prevent, we’re failing,” she says. “Children are our most precious resource and it’s not okay that 15,000 die every day. And that’s not going to change until we—everybody—take responsibility and stops referencing them as Syria’s children, or Myanmar’s children, or Latin America’s children, or American children. They are children, plain and simple. And we need to protect and ensure their futures.”

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Your weekly roundup of internet sunshine.

Hey everyone! Hope you're staying safe and healthy, and if you're not, at least you know you're not alone. I mean, omicron? Phew. Pandemics certainly know how to keep us on our toes.

If you need a respite or distraction from all that, we've got you covered. If immersing yourself in cute animal videos and feel-good stories of human awesomeness is wrong, who wants to be right? Nobody, that's who.

We all need a break from the less pleasant parts of life, and cheering ourselves up with simple, happy things is a tried and true way to push those endorphins and lift our mood for a bit.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

The scarf, a simple accessory that some find an essential fashion piece. Both fashionable and function with the warmth they provide, scarves can be a valuable gift for any occasion or person. Here, we've selected our best selling scarves from our store. At Upworthy Market, when you purchase a product, you directly support the artisans who craft their own products, so with every purchase, you're doing good. These scarves are not only unique, but they are hand-made by local artisans and all under $30.

1. Fair Trade Woven Dark Gray Alpaca Blend Scarf

Celinda Jaco selects a cozy blend of Andean alpaca for this handsome men's scarf. Classic in style, it features fine stripes of white and black woven through the dark grey textile. Hand-tied fringe completes a distinguished design.

cdn11.bigcommerce.com

Keep Reading Show less

Ronny Tertnes' "liquid sculptures" are otherworldly.

Human beings have sculpted artwork out of all kinds of materials throughout history, from clay to concrete to bronze. Some sculpt with water in the form of ice, but what if you could create sculptures with small drops of liquid?

Norwegian artist Ronny Tertnes does just that. His "liquid sculptures" look like something from another planet or another dimension, while at the same time are entirely recognizable as water droplets.

I mean, check this out:


Keep Reading Show less