Save the Children is a leading international organisation helping children in need around the world. First established in the United Kingdom in 1919, separate national organisations have been set up in more than 28 countries, sharing the aim of improving the lives of children through education, health care and economic opportunities, as well as emergency aid in cases of natural disasters, war and conflict.


Today, 28 national Save the Children organisations participate in the International Save the Children Alliance -- a global network of nonprofit organisations working in over 120 countries around the world. Founded in Geneva in 1977, the Alliance relocated to London in 1997.


In addition to promoting greater public awareness of the needs and rights of children worldwide, Alliance members coordinate emergency relief efforts, helping to protect children from the effects of disasters, both natural and manmade.


Most recently, members of the Alliance launched Rewrite the Future, a programme to bring quality education to 8 million children living in countries affected by conflict. Together, they are working in 16 countries to try to ensure access to education for 3 million children and improve the quality of education for 5 million more, to make schools safe and protect children from exploitation and abuse, and to influence national governments and international institutions to make quality education a priority for conflict-affected children.



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The Save the Children Fund was founded in London, England in 1919 by Eglantyne Jebb and her sister Dorothy Buxton. Their goal then was to create 'a powerful international organisation, which would extend its ramifications to the remotest corner of the globe'.


Originally an offshoot of the Fight The Famine Council, a group set up to campaign against the Allied blockade of Germany and Austria-Hungary after the First World War, the Save the Children Fund was created to raise money to send emergency aid to children suffering as a consequences of the wartime shortages of food and supplies, which were continuing partly as a result of the blockade. A counterpart, Rädda Barnen (which means "Save the Children"), was founded later that year in Sweden, and together with a number of other organisations working for children - some using the Save the Children name or a local variant - they founded the International Save the Children Union in Geneva in 1920. Under the banner of this organisation, emergency relief was distributed to children in several countries.


The Fund was innovative in its use of fundraising techniques, and was the first charity in the United Kingdom to use page-length advertisements in newspapers. The movement was not intended to last long, and as conditions in Western Europe improved, there were expectations that it would be wound down. However, conflict continued, and emergency funds continued to be raised following the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) and the Russian famine of 1921.


By the middle of the 1920s the organisation began to face what would become a continuing problem - they had developed an efficient and professional charitable organisation, one of the best of its time, and yet the wartime crisis conditions that had created it were coming to an end. As the emergencies receded, income began to fall dramatically.

Their response was to change focus in two ways: the first was to concentrate on smaller, more targeted work; it was at this time that the Fund first began to run projects in the United Kingdom. The second was to look at the broader picture of children's rights in general.


In 1923, Jebb wrote: "I believe we should claim certain Rights for the children and labour for their universal recognition, so that everybody - not merely the small number of people who are in a position to contribute to relief funds, but everybody who in any way comes into contact with children, that is to say the vast majority of mankind - may be in a position to help forward the movement." The result was the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, drafted by Jebb, which was adopted by the League of Nations in 1924. This was the first important assertion of the rights of children as separate from adults, and began the process that would lead to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations in 1989 and now ratified by nearly all countries worldwide.


The Declaration became, in effect, the mission statement of the Save the Children movement. It sustained the organisation after Jebb's death in 1929 and on into the lean years of the 1930s, when income shrank to a trickle. Indeed, inspired by the document's universal commitment, Save the Children began to work beyond Europe, promoting an international conference on conditions for children in Africa in 1931, and opening a nursery school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1936. Despite this, the general direction of the organisation's work was in response to the prevailing economic and political climate. In 1936, it published Unemployment and the Child, a study of the effects of the Great Depression on children. In the same year, the school just opened in Ethiopia had to shut suddenly when the country was invaded by Italy.


As the 1930s drew to an end, the increasing international tension was to affect the organisation's work even more. Assistance was given to Basque child refugees from the Spanish Civil War and Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution. The growing likelihood of an international conflict led to an attempt to promote a convention on the treatment of children in wartime. Such optimistic ideas were quickly swept aside by the start of the Second World War.


In wartime, aid was concentrated mainly in the United Kingdom. From early on, however, planning began for dealing with the anticipated need for postwar relief work. When the war ended, Save the Children staff were among the first into the liberated areas, working with refugee children and displaced persons in former occupied Europe, including survivors of concentration camps. At the same time, work in the United Kingdom focused on improving conditions for children growing up in cities devastated by bombing and facing huge disruptions in family life.


The 1950s saw a continuation of this type of crisis-driven work, with additional demands for help following the Korean War and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, but also the opening of new work in Africa, Asia and the Middle East in response to the decline in Britain's colonial empire.


Like other aid agencies, Save the Children was active in the major disasters of the era - especially the Vietnam War and the Biafra secession in Nigeria. The latter brought shocking images of child starvation onto the television screens of the West for the first time in a major way. The sort of mass-marketing campaigns first used by Save the Children in the 1920s were repeated, with great success in fundraising, although questions would later be asked as to the long-term effects of such images on the popular consciousness.


Disasters in Ethiopia, Sudan, and many other world hotspots, led to appeals which brought public donations on a huge scale, and a consequent expansion of the organisation's work. However, the children's rights-based approach originated by Eglantyne Jebb continues to be an important factor, with, for example, a major campaign in the late 1990s against the use of child soldiers.



Related Videos

  • Children and War. Lecture given by Mattito Watson, Deputy Field Office Director for Save the Children/U.S. November 8, 2006, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.





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