Mike McRoberts reports from the Gaza crisis

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Mike McRoberts, TV3 news journalist and UNICEF NZ Ambassador has just returned from Gaza. This is his report.

We hadn’t been in Gaza for more than two minutes before we saw our first body. Cameraman Simon Ashwoth and I were part of group of 30 media who had waited for four hours to travel through Erez crossing. The relief and anticipation among the group as we arrived on the Gaza side of the border quickly disappeared as we passed the woman’s corpse on the side of the road.

The northern part of Gaza is where the heaviest fighting has taken place and while we heard plenty on shelling on our journey on the “safe’ side of the trip, most of the neighbourhoods we travelled through showed few signs of the conflict.

Our driver of course had taken the least dangerous route to the coast, but did slow down briefly in almost tourist operator fashion to point out “Shajaiya, on your left”, the eastern district that was reduced to rubble a day earlier, killing more than 60 and wounding hundreds.

I remember seeing reports of families fleeing with what worldly belongings they could carry and helplessly asking reporters “where could they go?” its true there is nowhere to hide in Gaza. And I heard it many times when I was there “we live in a prison”.

I immediately felt it. The heat, the weight of my flak jacket but moreover that sense you were closed in, I’ve never felt so claustrophobic in the open before.

There wasn’t a moment in the days I was inside Gaza that I didn’t hear a drone above me. They sound like motorbikes riding in the sky. Occasionally they’d be drowned out by shelling or an F16 fighter jet, but that noise was ever present. It has me constantly on edge.

Living with that noise and knowing what it means day in and day out must be torture for Gazans. Within an hour of arriving we came across an 11-strorey apartment-block that looked like a giant hammer had smashed one side of it. On this occasion the hammer was an Israeli F16 fighter jet’s payload.

Hundreds had gathered as a frantic search and rescue effort was under way. A crane perched on top of a mound of dirt was being used to access the top of the building. Men dangerously suspended with ropes were using sledge hammers to try and clear the rubble when they found a woman’s body. They pulled it out and dropped it from what would have been the eighth floor to the dirt below. She was the 19th corpse they’d removed. Then the crowd started chanting “ali akbaa” in a spine tingling respect of her body and defiance of her killers. I saw an ambulance nearby and optimistically asked the driver if he was waiting for survivors. He told me they were no survivors, and then without warning he opened the door to show me a collection of body parts that had been recovered. I felt physically sick.

I’ve covered enough wars and disasters over the year to have a thick, pragmatic skin about in situations like these.

They are gone, and while they are mourned over and reported on, what really matters are the living. That feeling was reinforced when I spent the morning at Al Shifa hospital. It is a sprawling collection of buildings united in misery. Every ward is full of wounded and utterly gut wrenching stories of loss.

When I first saw five-year-old Maha Sheik Khalil I thought she was dead. Her tiny frame seemed so still. Then I was told shrapnel in the back of her neck and severed her spinal cord and she was unable to move. The hospital doesn’t have the equipment to operate on her and so she had spent four days just lying on her back.

In the faintest of voices she told me that her home in Shajaiya had been bombed and her mother and two sisters killed. She had been stuck under rubble for six hours before neighbours rescued her.

Between sobbing, my interpreter translated her story. We learned her she had two brothers somewhere else in the hospital but she didn’t know where.

The image of her lying there by herself with no one to comfort her still brings me to tears. I’m picking it will for some time. I was determined to show as many faces in my 3News stories as I could. I am sick of hearing about death tolls and the number of wounded. One innocent life lost is enough.

 

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Youth vs MPs: Meet the debaters

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We believe it is important that our young people be given opportunities to have their voices heard in this important election year. People under 18 can’t vote. Who is looking out for their interests? People older than 18 can vote, but voter turnout among young people in New Zealand is much lower than all other age groups. In recognition of this fact, we have invited young people to battle out with MPs in a debate streamed live on our website. During the debate held on Tuesday, July 22 teams of young people will face off against teams of MPs to answer two important questions.

Tune in to this page to watch the debate live and contribute to the discussion via Twitter @UNICEFNZ #YouthvsMPs.

Ahead of the debate we want to introduce the debaters, as well as the questions they will be debating.

Domestic debate: NZ is a great place to be a child

 

Arguing against:

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Ruby Sands, 19, UNICEF NZ Youth Ambassador

Ruby studies International Relations at Victoria University and is in her second year as  UNICEF NZ Youth Ambassador. She believes low voter turnout among young people is evidence that this age group doesn’t realise the true value of democracy. She says unresolved issues such as substandard housing, inadequate access to healthcare, and low minimum wages, paint a grim picture of the future for Kiwi kids. In her opinion, these problems have not been considered from the point of view of young people.

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Rawinia Thompson, Vic Uni Students’ Association

Rawinia is in her second year studying Political Science and Public Policy at Victoria University and is the Vice President (Academic) of the Vic Uni Student’s Association. She says her identity as a queer, Māori woman from a background of financial hardship shapes everything she does. It is her intention to pursue a path of politics and academia to affect change and make life better for people from disadvantaged groups.

Bing edit

Bing Ying Lou, Wellington City Youth Councillor

Bing recently graduated from Victoria University with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, Political Science and Media Studies. She has been a member of Wellington City Youth Council for the past four years. She says her time with the council has helped her to brainstorm new ideas for bringing young people’s perspectives into decision making.

Arguing for:

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Simon O’Connor, National

In 2011, Simon was elected as the Member of Parliament for Tamaki.  Prior to his election, his background included a broad range of experiences from the commercial, public, and voluntary sectors. Simon was educated at the University of Auckland, and also trained to become a Catholic priest.  Though he completed his training, he did not seek ordination.  Instead, he sought wider involvement in the community to make a practical, hands-on difference.

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Andrew Little, Labour Party

After a background in student leadership and administration at university, Andrew practised as a lawyer for 8 years in all aspects of employment law, including ACC. He was the national secretary of the EPMU for 11 years, leading negotiations with a number of major NZ companies and developed a focus on high productivity work practices based on strong worker engagement. Andrew kept up an interest in tertiary education sitting on the boards of the TEC and WITT (Taranaki polytech). Metiria

Metiria Turei, Green Party

A Green MP since 2002, Metiria was elected Green Party Co-leader in 2009. Metiria holds the Education, Society and Maori Affairs portfolios. Her focus is policy work that helps build a more equitable society. She is a member of the Parliamentary Services Commission and is part of the Maori Affairs select committee. She’s previously led campaigns to end child poverty, save our National Parks from mining, protect the Mokihinui River, and has fought for greater protection of marine animals and the marine environment.

International debate: Aid is the best way to combat global poverty

Arguing for:

Quan edit

Quan Khanh Nguyen, 20, Victoria International Development Society

Quan is a second year international student at Victoria University, studying Political Science and International Relations. He has a deep interest in human rights and politics. He says the issue of young people not participating in politics is common in many countries. In his view, this gives New Zealand a unique opportunity to be world leaders in providing a solution to this problem.

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Victoria Rea, 19, UN Youth

Victoria studies International Relations, Political Science and Public Policy, and is the current Vice President of UN Youth Wellington. She recently was the Assistant Coordinator for Youth Declaration, which gives high-school aged young people from all around New Zealand the opportunity to develop and express their own ideas about what they want to change in New Zealand. She sees this as another opportunity  to advocate  for young people on issues as wide ranging as child poverty, youth rights, business and health. Holly

Holly Walmsley, 20, Victoria International Development Society

Holly studies Development Studies at Victoria University and is a member of the VicIDS and takes part in the Victoria International Leadership Programme. She has completed a CELTA ceritficate and was employed as an English Language Assistant/ESOL Teacher Aide at a high school in Hamilton. In this role she learned much about the lives of refugees from Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Congo and Columbia. She sees the debate as an opportunity to learn more about development and overcoming global poverty and the best ways to achieve these goals.

Arguing against:

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John Hayes, National Party

In the National-led Government, Wairarapa MP John Hayes ONZM is Parliamentary Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence & Trade Select Committee and a member of the Finance & Expenditure Select Committee. John was elected as the Member for the Wairarapa Electorate in the 2005 General Election. Tracey

Tracey Martin, NZ First Party

Tracey is a past Treasurer and current member of the national Council of Women’s Hibiscus Coast Branch. 

In 2008 and 2011 Tracey was the New Zealand First Candidate in Rodney. Since 2009 Tracey has served as the Party’s membership secretary and was elected to the Party’s Board of Directors later that year.  Jan

Jan Logie, Green Party

Jan has been a Green Party MP since 2011. She is passionate about reducing inequality, eliminating violence and promoting participation in society, locally and globally. She says we are all important and have a duty of care for each other and this planet.

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On the ground in South Sudan with Kent Page

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As unrelenting fighting continues in South Sudan, UNICEF is warning that famine could claim up to 50,000 children’s lives. Months of violence have kept farmers from planting crops. Now, for so many South Sudanese, there is little left to eat other than grass, leaves and roots. The possibility of the worst famine since the 1980s could leave millions on the edge of starvation in just a few months.

Help children in South Sudan by donating to our emergency appeal.

 

In this exclusive, never-before published interview, UNICEF emergency communications specialist Kent Page tells stories from the ground and shares first hand what’s truly happening to children in South Sudan as the situation deteriorates.

How long were you in South Sudan, and where were you?

KENT: I was in South Sudan on an emergency communication mission for six weeks. Most of my time was spent in Juba and the surrounding areas, but I also traveled to Minkaman, which is in Lakes state, and Bentiu, which is in Unity state. While I was in Juba, UNICEF was leading an emergency response to a cholera outbreak, and there are a couple of protection sites where internally displaced people are seeking refuge. In Minkaman and Bentiu, the focus was also on the emergency response for internally-displaced people.

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Solomon Islands’ students thank government and people of NZ

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The lyrics of the song speaks volumes of the gratitude that Titinge Primary School students have towards the Government and people of New Zealand as well as UNICEF. Their appreciation is for enhancing their learning environment through the solar power for schools pilot project and the upgrade of water and sanitation facilities.

Lyrics of the song the children sang during the visit.

Lyrics of the song the children sang during the visit.

Early this week the students got the chance to present the song to the Ms Yoka Brandt, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director (DED), Daniel Toole, UNICEF Regional Director (RD) for East Asia and Pacific and a representatives from the New Zealand High Commission Office, during a special visit to the school.

Upon arrival the students garlanded the visiting delegation with a colorful necklace made of orchids and just before they began their tour of the school, the children, dressed in bright, clean purple and white uniforms, serenaded the visitors with their song.

The delegation then toured the classrooms and were impressed with the management and sustainability of the solar power system and the cooperation among school staff in ensuring that they take full responsibility for the solar power system.

The children also presented poems on how to conserve water as well as demonstrations on hand washing. Ms Brandt and Mr Toole also sang along and washed their hands with soap with the newly installed water tap.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt on her visit to the Solomon Islands.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt on her visit to the Solomon Islands.

The School Principal is proud that since the solar power was installed, more children are attending regularly, study sessions can be held even after dark, and a higher proportion of children recently passed their exams. Even some secondary students come to the school in the evening to study. There is enough solar power to do even more at the school, and ideas such as women’s income earning projects and a digital library are under discussion.

The lack of light, clean water and sanitation is still a challenge for the many schools throughout the country often hindering the children and teachers in reaching their full potential to learn and teach.

The upgrade and installation of water and sanitation facilities is funded by the UN Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS), with work on another nine primary schools throughout the country in progress.

The solar power for schools pilot project funded by the New Zealand Government and UNICEF New Zealand commenced last year with installation of solar panels in five schools in Guadalcanal province. Work on another nine primary schools in Choiseul province have already commenced and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

This entry originally appeared on UNICEF Pacific’s blog

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Faces of UNICEF NZ: Programme Manager, Hamish Lindsay

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Welcome to our new blog series Faces of UNICEF NZ, inspired by the international Faces of UNICEF, where we will introduce members of our team. First up, Programme Manager Hamish Lindsay, who has worked with us for six years.

UNICEF NZ Program Manager Hamish Lindsay with children at Boltetei School in the Solomon Islands.

UNICEF NZ Program Manager Hamish Lindsay with children at Boltetei School in the Solomon Islands.

How would you describe your role to a child?

My children are four and six years old, and this is how I describe it to them: Children in some other countries don’t go to school, or their schools aren’t very nice places, and they get sick quite a lot as they don’t have clean, safe water to drink. I help children in other countries go to school, try to make their schools better places, and try to make sure they don’t get sick by providing clean water to drink.

I talk to my colleagues in other countries, in field offices in countries like the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu. We look ahead to see what projects we would like to be doing in the future. My job is to work out whether we can apply to the New Zealand government for funding. Do the projects align with the criteria for funding? Then we put in our proposal. When the proposal is approved we design the project and then we implement it. We visit each project at least once per year. At the end of every project we carry out an evaluation to see what has been learned.

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