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27.04.2020 - News

From 1965 until today: Terre des hommes on humanitarian missions

During the first years after the founding of Terre des hommes, suffering children were brought to Switzerland to recover. However, new challenges caused by the continuing conflicts of the 1960s revealed that not all children could be helped in this way. Tdh adjusted its approach to work directly in the field in order to make a difference locally. 

The Vietnam War, 1965: Media reports show the horror of children being burned by Napalm bombs. As the world demonstrated against this, the war continued. Tdh initially set out to evacuate these children to Europe so they could receive specialised facial reconstruction treatment. However, upon looking at the extent of the crisis and the desperate state of overcrowded and poorly equipped regional hospitals, Tdh decided to change its approach. For the first time during a humanitarian crisis, the organisation began working directly in the field, supporting local healthcare teams with medical staff and first-aid equipment.

Read also: Tdh is 60 years old!

One crisis rolled into another. The independence war in Biafra, 1967 to 1970: A deadly bloackade by the Nigerian army and its international allies results in the starvation of hundreds of thousands of children. By the arrangement of the self-appointed government, Tdh successfully evacuated 1132 children from Biafra to Gabon. Most were accommodated in the village Mindoumbé, built especially to provide shelter for these vulnerable children. In this village, Tdh helped to provide food and medical treatment to the children until they could be repatriated at the end of the war.

The complexity and long duration of humanitarian crises present many challenges. Emergency relief was adapted in response to these challenges. Organisations and key actors created networks and standardised processes to guarantee high-quality aid. In 2003, Terre des hommes established its humanitarian aid department as a means to react quickly to natural disasters and armed conflicts, bringing together experts from diverse fields and ready-to-use resources and equipment. The department has been active in many countries such as in IraqNigeria and Bangladesh, in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis.

In order to combat not only the effects but also the causes of crises, we aim to strengthen the capacities of communities. By working together, we are more efficient, responsive and able to bring about long-term changes to the lives of vulnerable children. This is more relevant now than ever; in light of the coronavirus crisis we have to quickly adjust to ensure that we continue to bring assistance to the people affected, as well as reduce the spread and impact of the virus. In doing this, we remain committed to working alongside children, their families, communities and governments.

A look into the past: this is the fourth article of 10 about the history of Terre des hommes on our 60th anniversary.