A history of civil war and regional conflict has left Afghanistan struggling to rebuild civil society and infrastructure and severely mine-affected. Achieving human security is critical. The majority of people, particularly women, are not having their basic rights met. Providing social infrastructure, building governance structures from the community level upwards and working with the most excluded are all important in achieving sustainable solutions to the continuing crisis of instability.
Landmines have killed more than 400,000 people and maimed around 800,000 people across the country in the last 10 years. The current landmine situation in Afghanistan remains critical, with an estimated 6 to 7 million landmines still active.
Ongoing conflict in Afghanistan has caused a huge refugee crisis. According to UNHCR 2.1 million Afghan refugees were reported in 72 asylum countries, making Afghanistan the largest country of origin of refugees. There are 912,000 internally displaced people in the country.
Afghanistan is currently facing a hunger crisis due to expanding drought conditions. The hunger crisis will affect up to an estimated 2.5 million people, in addition to the 6.5 million people who are already seasonally or chronically food insecure.
Our Current Work in Afghanistan
Austcare is working with Afghan Amputees Bicyclists for Rehabilitation and Recreation (AABRAR), a local NGO based in Kabul that works with disabled people towards their physical rehabilitation and socio-economic integration. The purpose of the project, scheduled until December 2007, is to provide vocational training to people with disabilities in Kabul and to increase the income generating capacity of mine survivors by the end of 2007. We aim to provide education and vocational training to people with disabilities, many of whom are landmine victims. Additionally, the program will help to provide job placement to people with disabilities, and micro-credit support for those starting their own business.
- Community awareness strategy developed and implemented on public awareness raising of the needs of people with disabilities in Kabul. - Basic education and life skills training program completed successfully for 75 people (37 women/38 men) with disabilities. The student retention rate was 100%. 92% of students passed their final exams and graduated. - Microcredit support and training provided to 40 people with disabilities to help them start their own business. Job placement of 50 people with disabilities has commenced. - Over 300 displaced families were able to resettle and farm after clearance of mines and unexploded ordnance from 25,455m2 of land in nine different villages in an Austcare mine action program that concluded in 2003. - Container delivered to Herat University in 2004 with: over 5,000 books and journals, one purchased second-hand photocopier, two donated photocopiers, and laboratory equipment donated by St Vincent’s Hospital; thirteen donated computers with seven of them upgraded, three filing cabinets and various office accessories from AC Nielsen, and; a donated whiteboard and retractable AV screen.
Bangladesh is a developing country of 157.5 million residents. The Government of Bangladesh (GoB) faces severe challenges in providing for the basic needs of its own citizens, many of whom live in acute poverty.
The country has a history of hosting Rohingya people from the Northern Rakhine State of Burma, with the earliest arrivals recorded in 1948. The most recent influx occurred in 1991-92, when over 250,000 Rohingyas moved to Bangladesh fleeing state repression in Burma. This group was recognised by the GoB and United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as a refugee group, and hosted within twenty camps in the Cox''''s Bazaar district on the Bangladesh-Burma border. There are an estimated 100,000-200,000 Rohingya that have not been recognised by the GoB as refugees and are forced to live ''''illegally'''' outside the camps.
Recent reports indicate that refugees remain dependent on humanitarian assistance and an end to assistance will only be possible when refugees are provided with opportunities for self-reliance.
On 15 November 2007, Cyclone Sidr compounded Bangladesh''''s problems with poverty and population pressure when it hit the South and Southwest of Bangladesh. The cyclone killed over 2,000 people, destroying at least 500,000 homes and 1.4 million acres of crops.
Our Current Work in Bangladesh
Austcare is working with local organisations Technical Assistance Incorporated (TAI) and Empowerment of Law through the Common People (ELCOP) to contribute to long term durable solutions to the problems facing Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazaar. Initiatives include education, vocational training, nutrition, sanitation and sports and recreation programs.
The educational component is introducing the local language of Bangla to the school curriculum, which will help if the refugees are integrated into the local community in the future. This includes teacher training in both the language and in participatory learning methodology. The civic education component covers respect and understating of the rights of Rohingyas in Bangladesh, and the rights and responsibilities of Bangladeshi citizens.
Diversified vocational training activities are being introduced and will involve a greater number of camp residents. These activities are aimed at enhancing refugee involvement in the production of items that they need in the camp. The tailoring project is being expanded to include men as well as women, producing school uniforms and bags for children, while the soap making will be expanded to produce personal soap. Slipper making is introduced in this activity with the specific purpose of reducing the incidence of hookworm (contracted through bare feet) in the camp.
Due to the shortage of land around individual camp dwellings, community kitchen gardens are being implemented to produce a diversified range of vegetables and fruits, to increase the nutrition of the refugees and promote community co-operation.
In addition to our work with Rohingya refugees, Austcare launched an emergency appeal to relieve Bangladeshi people affected by Cyclone Sidr in November 2008.
- 120 refugee teachers provided training on participatory teaching and active learning methods. The outcome was a 10% reduction in student dropouts. 85% students passed in Bangla examination in quarterly exams.
- Recreation and sports activities organised with communities in refugee camps. This improved opportunities for social interaction between refugees and resulted in a reduction in disputes within refugee camps.
The Aceh province of Indonesia was the region worst hit by the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami. An estimated 169,000 people died and a further 572,926 were displaced.
In May 2006, an earthquake struck Java, Indonesia’s main island. More than 5,700 people died, and 38,000 were injured. The massive devastation to buildings meant that 1.5 million were left homeless.
Following these disasters, these provinces faced serious humanitarian emergency situations, resulting in large scale displacement and severe shelter, food and health problems. Indonesia continues to be affected by a range of small and large scale disasters including floods, earthquakes and landslides.
Our current work in Indonesia
Austcare has a team local and international staff based in Aceh and Jakarta. Our approach is to work collaboratively with community groups and other agencies, to identify the needs of local communities that are not being served by other organisations or the Indonesian Government.
As a result of our successful program in Aceh, Austcare has permission from the Indonesian Government to extend its work in poverty reduction throughout Indonesia. Austcare’s work in Indonesia includes income generation, sustainable agriculture, and education. We aim to build people-to-people connections in pursuing our work.
Revolving micro-credit schemes have been established in Aceh, enabling individuals and families to establish small businesses, or re-establish businesses that were destroyed by the tsunami.
Austcare’s response to the devastation includes rebuilding a high school in Lhoknga, a village on the west coast of Banda Aceh. This project has been made possible through the Wollongong City Council and the Vietnamese Australian Buddhist Assistance Trust (VABAT).
Austcare has been working with local NGOs to strengthen civil society through capacity building and implementing programs for disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness.
In Java, Austcare’s program is focused on recovery of livelihoods and improving food security in earthquake-affected areas, and aims to strengthen communities'''' preparedness for potential future disasters. Activities include micro loans and business training to earthquake-affected businesspeople and farmers, and encouraging participants to source alternative fuels for environmental sustainability and sustainability of their businesses.
- Local NGOs and communities provided with training in Participatory Vulnerability Assessment and Disaster Risk Reduction practices. 60 people representing a variety of agencies have participated in a Disaster Preparedness Forum which allowed participants to further develop DRR practice and theory appropriate to local needs.
- Local NGOs and their partner organisations provided with organisational development training, mentoring and support. We have also assisted with education and awareness-raising in the local community on issues such as community mobilisation, gender-based violence, protection, and economic, social and cultural rights.
- Austcare is working with vulnerable community members to help them build restore livelihoods and businesses from waste management and recycling, by providing small grants. The project extends to Nias also.
- 40 brick factories that were damaged in the tsunami rehabilitated in Aceh, employing around 500 workers and producing the materials required to construct new homes.
- Austcare is working with community groups to strengthen civil society and the provision of basic social services, and improve the capacity of community groups to support their own communities through income generation activities.
It is now 60 years since Palestinian refugees first fled into Lebanon from the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, and they continue to face worsening conditions in camps. Their plight has been one of continued, government-sanctioned, systematic discrimination in a situation with no political resolution. More than 220,000 Palestinian refugees live in 12 overcrowded camps with inadequate health services, high unemployment, and a lack of basic infrastructure such as adequate sewerage systems. They are denied many social and economic rights, such as the right to own or inherit property or their right to work.
Austcare launched a Lebanon Crisis Appeal in July 2006, and still the turmoil has continued. In May 2007, an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 refugees (International Committee of the Red Cross estimate) fled Nahr el-Bared camp when conflict erupted between the Lebanese Government and Islamist militants. Most of the refugees made their way to the relative safety of Bourj el-Barajneh camp in Beirut, where Austcare has been working for the past decade.
Our Current Work in Lebanon
Austcare’s ongoing work in Lebanon targets social development within Palestinian refugee camps, with a focus on those impacted by the recent crisis and victims of cluster munitions and other remnants of war.
The problems of frustration and boredom, coupled with overcrowded classrooms and a lack of employment opportunities, severely restrict the opportunities for young refugees to develop the skills they need to become productive members of their society. By helping them to overcome the difficult physical, economic and social conditions in the camps, Austcare aims to improve the personal development opportunities and security of young people.
Austcare''''s youth leadership training works to assist young refugees in Bourj El-Barajneh Refugee Camp, which is home to more than 20,000 Palestinian refugees, 60% of whom are under 16 years of age.
Working in partnership with the Women’s Humanitarian Organisation (WHO), Austcare provides youth with leadership and teambuilding skills, as well as physical and mental stimulation. Project activities include teaching in core subjects and art and cultural initiatives.
Austcare has established a youth club where young people create newsletters, produce artwork and perform puppet shows and dances.
- Youth and community committees established. These have helped WHO staff in the delivery of workshops to 100 youth. During the Lebanon Crisis in July 2007, many of the young people who had participated in the leadership training were able to take on leadership roles and help other people in the camp. - More than 400 children have participated in outdoor trips. - More than 100 children have participated in educational activities to help them improve school performance and to prevent school drop out. - 20 WHO staff and volunteers have been trained in psychosocial counselling and working with children affected by war and trauma. - Food vouchers provided to 116 families and personal hygiene kits provided to 250 children following the May 2007 conflict. - Arts and handicraft classes run for younger children. Some of the products were paintings, drawings, dolls, toys, sewing, and embroidery. Because of the security situation, some of these classes had to be held in bomb shelters, but they provided a valuable outlet for the children involved. - A ''''Little Journalists'''' club comprised of children was established to promote reading and research skills. Members of this club collected data about children in the camp and have learned and practiced skills in interviewing, photography and archiving. - 12 WHO staff trained in project design and management.
In Sri Lanka
Austcare supplied humanitarian relief immediately following the December 2004 Tsunami. We are currently collaborating with ActionAid and local partner Women and Child Care Organisation (WACCO) to rebuild the lives of women affected by the war and the Tsunami. The goal of this partnership is to create economic opportunities for women and enable them to achieve their basic rights and entitlements from the government.
Activities have included agricultural projects, business and marketing training and the creation of local cooperatives to help women get their goods to local markets. Austcare is working to train local women to recognise and deal with incidences of sexual and gender based violence. Psychosocial care services are also being provided to support women dealing with trauma.
Austcare Protection Officers are being seconded to UN partner agencies to ensure the most vulnerable of Sri Lanka’s displaced population are protected and supported. Austcare’s Protection Officers aim to enhance the ability of United Nations agencies to improve human security and address human rights issues. To date, Protection Officers have been deployed to Batticaloa, Colombo, Vavuniya and Mannar.
Our current work in Sri Lanka
Austcare is currently collaborating with ActionAid International (AAI) to rebuild the lives of women affected by the 2004 tsunami. The eastern coastal region of Trincomalee was one of the worst-hit areas, and two and a half years on, the residents are still struggling.
The community of Trincomalee were directly involved with the planning process for this program – they identified which groups were most in need of support, and worked alongside Austcare and AAI to determine livelihood opportunities, and how skills available within the village could be utilised.
The outcome has been the establishment of agricultural projects, and local cooperatives to increase the bargaining power of women who produce a variety of goods for sale at the local markets.
Austcare has also been working to provide protection and increase awareness amongst service providers of the critical issues that women and girls face. In partnership with local organisations, Austcare has developed sustainable mechanisms for the longer term needs of women at risk of abuse in the current situation of displacement.
To ensure the protection of women it is of critical importance that they are represented at all levels of decision making including policy, planning and implementation as well as monitoring. Austcare is working to train local women to recognise and deal with incidences of sexual and gender based violence.
Austcare Protection Officers are being seconded to UN partner agencies to ensure the most vulnerable of Sri Lanka’s displaced population are protected and assisted. Austcare’s Protection Officers aim to enhance the UN’s ability to improve security and address human rights issues. To date, Protection Officers have been deployed to Batticaloa and Colombo.
- 40 women employed in a greenhouse cultivation centre in Anandapuri village, and 30 women employed in a chilli production facility in Puthukudiyiruppu village. - Cooperatives established in fishing, agricultural, sewing, leather-working, and coir fibre (coir fibre is used for making ropes, baskets, etc) industries. The cooperatives enable the women involved to increase their income and reduce the risk of their being exploited. - Six Train the Trainer community level training sessions provided across six tsunami affected districts to community-based workers. The training participants have developed skills in human rights, gender issues, sexual and gender based violence, and making referrals for tsunami affected women to officials and institutions. - Networks established in six districts, which can continue working on issues related to tsunami affected women and girls. - 105 women interviewed about their experiences with sexual and gender based violence and other effects of the tsunami. Interview and database records have been completed, and lobbying documents and tools have been drafted. - Following the tsunami, 100 families were provided with shelter packages purchased by Austcare. These shelter packages provided materials to assist families in reconstructing their own homes. The shelter package offered a list of materials, from which affected families could choose what they needed most to meet their transitional shelter needs.
Due to continued conflict in Burma, hundreds of thousands of Burmese have fled across the border into Thailand to seek refuge and to escape military attack, forced labour and forced relocations. About 140,000 Burmese refugees live in camps in Thailand along the Thai-Burmese border. Many of these people have lived there for 20 years.
The border is covered in landmines, which claim an estimated 500 victims each year. These landmines are laid by both the Burmese Army and anti-government forces. It is alleged that the Burmese Army lays mines close to villages to prevent people from returning to their lands after being forcibly evicted.
Many refugees in this region regularly risk their lives to cross the border in to visit their families, seek food, hunt and trade. Because Burmese border provinces lack a good education system, Burmese children often cross the border into Thailand to go to school in the refugee camps. The local host communities in Thailand are poor and face a heavy burden, which they share with Thai government authorities.
Our Current Work in Thailand
Austcare is providing mine risk education to Burmese refugees along the Thai-Burma border. This is being achieved through the publication and distribution of a magazine dedicated to mine risk education. The magazine gives information to Burmese refugees in mine affected areas about the dangers and how to avoid becoming victims of landmines. As many people may not read at all, the magazine is produced in a cartoon format, with many visual images.
The magazine includes topics such as how to identify landmines, why landmines are a public health concern, how to give first aid to mine victims, and where and how to get help along the Thai-Burma border. In addition, stories and testimonies from community members are used to create articles.
Austcare is working on this project with Handicap International, the organisation that won the International Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in 1997. HI has been implementing a mine risk education program in the camps along the Thai-Burma border since 2000.
In another program, Austcare is addressing the issues of sexual abuse and gender based violence (SGBV) in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border to enhance protection of Burmese refugees. This project is addressing the most urgent protection concerns of refugee women and men by raising awareness of the issues of SGBV with humanitarian actors, Thai authorities, and with the refugee community through refugee women’s organisations.
- By the end of September 2006, 5673 copies of the magazine had been distributed, 3711 of them to refugee camps - A magazine launch was held at Mae La Refugee Camp on October 27 2006, and was attended by approximately 4000 people. At the launch, in addition to mine risk education, sporting events were held with each team comprised of disabled and able-bodied players, encouraging awareness and re-integration of mine victims and other disabled people into society.
The legacy of war in Vietnam has left the country crippled. There was widespread destruction of agriculture, social services, roads and other basic infrastructure. The country’s susceptibility to natural disasters, particularly flooding, is further affecting the livelihoods of those in poorer regions. Despite notable achievements in reducing poverty, particularly over the last decade, serious obstacles to development still remain.
Vietnam’s development strategy focuses heavily on health, with priority given to diseases that affect the poor. Blindness is an acute health problem affecting over 1 million people, particularly the rural poor and internally displaced people. Cataract disease accounts for around 70% of blindness.
Our current work in Vietnam
Every year in Vietnam approximately 400,000 new cases of cataract blindness are reported. The majority of afflicted people live in poor and rural areas. Blindness often proves to be a death sentence for these vulnerable people, with reports showing that they frequently die a few years after losing their sight.
Austcare aims to improve the health of the rural population in Vietnam by helping to rectify the lack of essential medical resources and expertise required to counter cataract disease. A group of volunteer Australian doctors work with local Vietnamese medical professionals and provide travelling clinics in various provinces in partnership with Austcare.
They select the most poor and vulnerable people and perform a 20 minute cataract operation on them. Approximately 24 hours after the operation, the patient will again be able to see.
Our Partner organisation is the Vietnamese-Australian Buddhist Assistance Trust Inc. (VABAT). For more information on VABAT please click here.
July 2007: Austcare targeted 2 provinces in the south of Vietnam and completed successful cataract operations on 316 patients.
Since 2003, Austcare’s projects in Vietnam have restored sight to more than 2,500 people.