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By Rashini Suriyaarachchi
14 December 2016

Wherever UNICEF responds to a crisis, we meet families who risk everything to make sure their children are safe.

Parents who risk their lives to make sure their children are safe, relatives who drop everything to help out, neighbours and friends who are there when they’re needed the most. 

We met these four families battling some of the world’s harshest emergencies - the Nepal earthquakes, Cyclone Winston in Fiji and conflict in Syria and South Sudan. They came together through disaster and war to protect each other.

These new parents dug through rubble to save their baby

Bimala doesn’t remember what she did when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake crumbled her family home to pieces. But there’s one thing she’ll never forget: the sight of her 18-month-old baby Kris being pulled unconscious from the rubble.

"It was terrible, I just remember the dust and his blue face."


She might not remember but her actions helped save her baby’s life. When the earth shook their house down, Bimala and her husband Kris rushed into the rubble and tried to dig out Kris with their bare hands.

“I can’t even express how happy I was when my husband brought the baby to my arms. I thought, ‘Oh my God, we are all alive. The world can fall apart, but we are together.’”

Mother and son in tent hospital.
Bimala and her son Kris at a tent hospital, a month after she and her husband saved his life.
© UNICEF/UNI186054/Sokol

Nepal’s devastating earthquakes left thousands of families suddenly homeless - including Bimala, Kris and their children. UNICEF acted fast, delivering prepositioned emergency supplies including the tarpaulins these families needed for temporary shelter. A simple tarpaulin can bring a family protection from harsh weather and some privacy in the traumatic aftermath of a disaster.

This dad carried his five children to safety in a cyclone

The Vota family lost their house during Fiji’s worst recorded cyclone. They would have lost much more if Lasaro and his wife didn’t act quickly to protect their children.

“I told my family to leave everything,” said Lasaro. “The TV, radio, everything - don’t worry about it and go.” Then the father of five began a long struggle against the winds of the cyclone. One by one, Lasaro carried his children to the safety of a neighbour’s house. 

“I got this taking my third child to safety,” Lasaro said, pointing to a bandage on his hand. “I lifted my hand to protect my face from a piece of flying tin roofing.” And as he went back for his fourth child, Lasaro sliced his foot on another piece of tin roof in the muddy water. In the dark of night and through the torrential rain and wind, Lasaro managed to carry each of his five children to safety.

Family cleaning up after Cyclone ravages their home in Fiji.
This is all that remains of the Vota family’s home after Cyclone Winston devastated their village in Fiji.
© UNICEF/UN011483/Sokhin

As the sun rose the next morning, the Vota family were safe and together. But new challenges emerged as they picked through the remains of their home. “We’re doing what we can to survive,” said Lasaro. “We’re living on coconut water and loose breadfruit.”

As soon as Cyclone Winston hit, UNICEF began delivering prepositioned emergency supplies for families like the Votas. Water purification tablets were essential in the aftermath of the disaster; without them, children were left to drink unclean rainwater and risk catching deadly waterborne diseases. With each water purification tablet, five litres of dirty water became a safe source of life. Buy water purifications tablets now.

This little Syrian girl grew up fast to care for her brother 

Esraa isn’t a normal four-year-old. She’s grown up watching Syria fall apart and, when we met her last year, the impact on her childhood was clear.

“My only wish for this year is that my little brother stops getting sick,” said Esraa as she wandered the cold streets of Aleppo with three-year-old Waleed, trying to find a sunny spot for the pair to sit.

Siblings sit in the rubble near a shelter for displaced persons in Aleppo.
Esraa, 4, and her brother Waleed, 3, sit in rubble near a shelter for internally displaced persons in Aleppo. Children their age who have grown up with conflict will never know the Syria their parents remember.
© UNICEF/UN013172/Al-Issa

It’s not something a four-year-old should have to worry about but Waleed was at risk. Without decent shelter, children like him are exposed to extremely low temperatures during Syria’s stormy seasons. 

There was little their parents could do. “All we can offer them is second-hand clothes from local charities, but they’re not necessarily children’s sizes,” said Esraa and Waleed’s father. His work as a cobbler was barely enough to afford food for his family.

Fortunately, UNICEF was there to help. Esraa and Waleed were two of the million children in Syria who received warm clothes, thermal blankets, school heating or vouchers for winter supplies from UNICEF last year.

“This is the best day ever,” chanted Esraa in her new warm clothes. “Now with this warm outfit, Waleed will not get sick again.”

For a child facing a freezing winter in a tent, the warmth of a blanket could be the key to survival. That’s why UNICEF distributes millions of blankets and warm clothes during emergencies every year. You can help by choosing a Christmas present with this life-saving impact in honour of a family member or friend. Dedicate a UNICEF Inspired Gift to a loved one and send a family in need supplies to help make it through an emergency safely.

This dad stayed by his daughter’s side as she made an incredible recovery

There are few families in South Sudan untouched by violence. Michael’s family has coped with one of the lesser-known struggles of the conflict: his four-year-old daughter Nyajime developed the deadliest form of malnutrition.

“There was no food at home and we couldn’t feed her well,” said Michael. Conflict had left some places in South Sudan with nothing left to eat. “She was getting sicker every day.”

“The day I brought her to the clinic she wasn’t moving. She couldn’t even walk or sit.” From that moment, Michael didn’t leave her side.

Father holds his sick daughter in a hospital bed.
In this moment, lying weak in her father’s arms, Nyajime was one of too many children dying of severe acute malnutrition.
© UNICEF/UNI201742/Rich

At the UNICEF-supported health clinic, Nyajime began therapeutic feeding to bring her body back from malnutrition. Her recovery was remarkable. By day three, she had gained the strength to sit up and smile. In eight days, she could slowly stand up again. 

Within two weeks, Nyajime had seized a second chance at life. When her father brought her in for emergency care, Nyajime’s body had weighed less than half of what it was meant to at her age. With the support of her doctors, her father and UNICEF, Nyajime had survived. 

Father plays with his daughter who has recovered from malnutrition.
Today, Nyajime has the strength to make the most of every day she has to live.
© UNICEF/UN047620/Rich

A year later, Nyajime can laugh, play and go to school. UNICEF provides 80 percent of the world’s life-saving emergency food - the food that gave Nyajime the strength to be a child again.

Dedicate these life-saving supplies to someone you love

The emergency supplies that helped Bimala, Lasaro and Michael protect their children were provided by UNICEF. You can deliver essential supplies like these to children in the name of a loved one with a UNICEF Christmas Care Package. The package helps a family in crisis with a tarpaulin for shelter, 30 high-energy biscuits, 500 water purification tablets and four blankets to stay warm.

It’s the perfect way to show your family you’ll always be there in a crisis, or tell your friends you appreciate their generosity and support. Make a loved one feel good with an Inspired Gift that changes lives in their honor. 

How do Inspired Gifts work?

When you buy an Inspired Gift for a family member or friend, life-changing supplies are dispatched to reach a child who needs it now. Your loved one receives a personalised card so they know their incredible impact.