INTERVIEW WITH DR ISHTIAQ MANNAN -SAVE THE CHILDREN IRAQ COUNTRY DIRECTOR
The 2030 ambition of Save the Children is to ensure that every child survives, learns and is protected.
Dr. Ishtiaq Mannan is the Country Director (CD) for Save the Children - Iraq. Trained as a medical doctor, and public health specialist, Ishtiaq has been working with Save the Children International for more than 11 years, and moved to Iraq in December 2019 to take on the role of County Office Director.
Noor Mousa, the Advocacy and Campaigns Co-coordinator interviewed Ishtiaq and asked him about the mission of Save the Children Iraq and the ongoing #ProtectAGeneration campaign in Iraq.
Noor: What does Save the Children do in Iraq?
Ishitaq: Millions of people from Iraq and Syria have been displaced from their homes and many families are not able to go back to their places of origin. As a result, tens of thousands of children are living in difficulty. Most worrying is that many children don't have any certainty of what their future holds. Children who have been affected by war and displacement have gone through physical, emotional and mental suffering. They are children who should have been playing. They should have been studying. They should have been enjoying their childhood to the fullest extent. From these children, the golden childhood has been stolen.
Save the Children runs an important mission to help children - refugee children, children in and out of camps and children throughout Iraq. We focus on supporting child protection efforts and of course, ensuring learning opportunities for all children in the country. Our goal is to focus on every last-child, those who are vulnerable, those who are marginalized and those who in the most unfortunate situations.
Noor: What is the impact of COVID-19 on the children of Iraq?
Ishitaq: COVID-19 has added another layer of suffering to already existing plights. This pandemic is unprecedented. No one has seen something like this, it's a new experience for all of us. COVID-19 affects all children in Iraq - particularly children who are poor - even if they are not refugees or IDPs. Day after day, after many months of lockdown, we are seeing all the challenges of poverty aggravated by COVID-19, adding a complex myriad of suffering.
"With an additional 15.8% falling into poverty, children are the most impacted by the crisis. While 1 out of 5 children were poor before the crisis, the ratio is almost doubling to 2 out 5 children (37.9%) as the crisis unfolds." (UNICEF, 2020)
Noor: What does #ProtectAGeneration campaign aim to achieve?
Ishitaq: The Protect A Generation campaign by Save the Children is a global effort committed to ensuring children's wellbeing during Covid-19. It focuses on mitigating the impact of the pandemic on child survival, helping children learn, supporting family survival through safety nets and keeping children, families and communities safe. The call to #ProtectAGeneration is rightly timed, particularly because of how COVID-19 is overwhelming every one of us. The socioeconomic impact of the pandemic is increasing children's suffering. What is most important is to prepare this generation, to empower them, to make them aware and to make sure they are well equipped and protected to thrive through current and future crisis of similar nature. Their right to education also needs to be protected. Education is something that cannot wait even for a second - whatever goes on, whether a conflict or a pandemic. We cannot pause education, because every day is valuable in a child's life. As citizens and as a civilization, we have to be creative and innovative, as children need to continue with their education. Our focus should be on bringing them back to the path of learning.
Noor: Why is the campaign relevant to the Iraqi context and who can take part in the campaign?
Ishitaq: With the current reality that we are seeing across the country - multiple areas of instability, security, political, and economical challenges; another focus of the campaign is to make sure that communities and families are well supported during this crisis. It is the responsibility of everyone to act. No single entity, no single class, no single group, no single-family can survive and thrive alone. This is the time of crisis where we need to come together. Everyone has a certain role to play, everyone must feel that they are part of the solution and play their role despite its size of impact, small or big.
With the end of the conflict, Iraq is re-emerging and reconstructing areas that were destroyed. It is also faced by conflicting challenges and vulnerabilities. There is no short-term solution, no magic button to press and fix everything. In all of this, the most important investment that needs to be made is into the children of Iraq. They are valuable and Iraq needs to invest in them. I'm very much in favour of the concept of human capital, and investing into building human capital. When children have access to good nutrition, education, mental support, good all-out protection, and are being invested into, we raise citizens who are able to bring much-needed change. As Save the Children we would like to be the catalyst to every child in every stage of her or his journey through infancy, adolescence to young people.
Noor: Any last word?
Ishitaq: This generation of Iraqi children needs to be protected from the vulnerabilities around them. They must survive, learn and be protected. Failing to protect them will deny them a chance to realise their full potential. There is an urgent need to invest in this generation as a timely and important approach. Let's all be part of this campaign, let's protect this generation to protect our future.