Thursday, October 21, 2010

Protecting Children - All the Way to Easy Streets

Saving lives here, there, everywhere is what HRI does, but we really shine when it comes to protecting children and women. I mean, who would disagree that children need more protection and care than everybody else, even more so in emergencies. Not the donors, that’s for sure, and therefore not us.

First thing you want to do when you are in the business of protecting children is find a nice location and make sure you get it properly re-enforced – we’re talking high, blastproof walls, boom-gates, shatterproof film, the works. Once you enter the main gate, you are in the parking lot, secured with extra ram-proof structures and tire-cutters and packed with ballistic-blanketed, well branded vehicles (“HRI – our children are our future”). Then you walk through the second gate, past the admin office, the radio room, support service, through third gate into the programs compound, where, in a windowless office-container surrounded by green patches of flowers, sits the “Manager of the Protection Unit”, a highly qualified HRI old-hander, distinguished among other desirable qualities by an astounding ability to speak and write volumes without giving away any hint of practicality, all while appearing earnest and very articulate. Much of his speech is a random combination of “Effective protection”, “societal structures”, “social support systems”, along with “increased capacity” and “safety and wellbeing”, put together by an advanced algorithm hardwired in the head of any successful child protection expert.

The distance between this section of the compound and the main gate is not accidental, as the protection program team do very important creative, intellectual work the quality of which depends on a quiet, professional environment, impossible to achieve anywhere near the main entrance, where hundreds of women and children are crowding up by the gate day in day out, out of some bizarre instinct that remains unshaken in spite of the regular yelling sessions with the security officers who try to "create a secure corridor" for this or the other vehicle driving important people in or out of the compound, to and from life-saving meetings.

This quiet environment does get occasionally perturbed by some drivers’ insufferable habit to reverse through the alternative gate in the back, aiming for the water-pipe, where they proceed to washing the vehicles. The combined sound of the hose, idling engines and the driver’s banter has been known to break the manager’s calm and his habit of coming at the container door yelling when that happens earned him the nickname “The Wife” among the drivers. Two things drive him particularly mad:
  1. The fact that, during draught, they waste water that is otherwise intended for the precarious green sections between the containers (it’s the small things); and
  2. The fact that they allow unauthorized children into the compound, compromising important security protocols (some drivers “delegate” the washing to children);
The next thing to do once you have the compound set up is find a hipster photographer and fly them in regularly to take the sort of pictures that increase the quality of any report, website or calendar. Good pictures are matters of the soul, and the idea here is to offer the photographer an opportunity for “an amazing experience”, which means that trips will be taken to “the field”, as represented mostly by the “informal” squatting camps that spring in the vicinity of any HRI child protection compound, where women and children rest and cook when they are not being yelled at for queuing in front of the main gate.

Finally, and crucially, find some local partners. This serves at least three important purposes:

  1. You ensure you can channel efforts into “building local capacity”, the cornerstone of any successful child protection enterprise;
  2. You increase your chances for continuous future funding, by using the absorptive capacity strategy (in combination with those pictures); and
  3. You have someone to blame in the unlikely event that somebody will ever question what children were protected and how.

The rest is pretty straight forward – engage in “Technical Advice” and workshops on anything from school curricula to PTSD and before you know it you have a solid child protection portfolio that will keep this part of HRI on easy streets in years to come.


  1. This post had me laughing/crying. So true.
    I love your blog and am a regular follower! Please keep it coming!

  2. Outstanding.

    I'm forwarding this to everyone I know who works for at least one of the organizations from whom you've liberally adapted child protection catch-phrases.