Millions of children are forced to leave their homes, families and friends. Girls are especially vulnerable. But with the right support, they are not just getting the strength to survive, they are getting the chance to start a new life. Save the Children works with girls around the world: here are some of their stories. 

Meet Gazal, who was denied asylum in Sweden and is likely to be sent back to Afghanistan with her family.

Meet Gazal

Gazal is 10 years old and in third grade. Her request for asylum in Sweden has been rejected, so she is likely to be sent back to Afghanistan with her family. She lives with her mother, father, brother and sister in a small village in northern Sweden. They are from the Afghan capital Kabul and arrived in Sweden four years ago. 

“It is better here than in Afghanistan,” Gazal says. “Here, we can go to school and play.”

Gazal likes school, her favorite subject is maths and learning Swedish has been quite easy for her. Many of her friends, also living in temporary accommodation from the Swedish Migration Agency, are from Afghanistan, but they usually speak Swedish to each other to learn the language together.

“I help new people who don’t know the language,” Gazal says. “But I don’t translate and speak for them, they have to learn themselves.”

The family is now waiting to hear back from the authorities regarding the application to stay for Gazal’s little sister. The rest of the family have all been rejected asylum and have gone through all the appeals possible already. Her one-year old sister was born in Sweden while the family was waiting for decisions on asylum.

“I give her food if she wants some,” Gazal says about her baby sister, “and I put the duvet on her when she sleeps. I sleep next to her sometimes, but she wakes up and cries.”

Gazal often goes to the library close to school. She likes books with pictures in them, like the books about Pippi Longstocking.

“I’m a bit strong. But I can’t lift a horse.”

She listens to Indian music a lot and watches Indian music videos. She likes dancing and singing and would like to be a singer when she grows up.

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Meet Adriana, a refugee from Venezuela.

Meet Adriana

“We crossed the river in a canoe,” Adriana* says. “I was a little scared, but I had to do it.”

Adriana, 14 years old, is a refugee from Venezuela. She lives in Colombia, just across the river border, with her grandmother,aunt and two of her younger sisters. A younger sister and brother are still in Venezuela. Her mother and father have both died.

“My dream is that we can all be together again.”

“We came here because we didn’t have anything there,” Adriana says. “Sometimes we didn’t have anything to eat and no money to live. We couldn’t go to school, sometimes there was no water.”

The crisis in Venezuela has forced nearly five million people to leave the country. Increased violence, food shortages and collapse of basic functions in society like schools and health care have made life unbearable.

“Here in Colombia it is better than in Venezuela,” Adriana says. “Because, we are not as hungry here as we were in Venezuela. It is hard here too, but a little bit better.”

Children that are refugees, and girls especially, are vulnerable. In the border regions of Colombia, a fragile peace between different guerrilla groups, government forces and other paramilitary forces means that recruitment of children is a real risk. There are established networks for child prostitution and the constant presence of armed men means abuse is common.

Adriana had to stop school when she left Venezuela, but she now attends Save the Children’s Child Friendly Space almost every day. It is a center close to her home where she can feel safe, meet other children and learn. She loves crafts and painting the best.

“I’m not in school, because I do not have legal migration documents. But I would really like to study here if I could. Math is my favorite subject.”

“I made my own bracelets and earrings,” Adriana says. “Necklaces are harder to make, I haven’t learned that yet, because it is very hard.”

It is hard for Adriana to think about the future. Her focus is on her younger sisters and the sister and brother still in Venezuela.

“Right now, I’m not thinking anything about my own future. Just that my sisters move forward in life, that God helps them. My dream is that we can all be together again.”   

*Name has been changed.

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Meet Luisa, who is a Venezuelan refugee having fled from Colombia due to lack of food, economic hardship and violence.

Meet Luisa

Luisa*, is 12 years old and one of over a million people that have fled to Colombia from neighboring Venezuela, leaving because of lack of food, economic hardship and increasing violence.

“Everything I brought fit in my small bag. I took my clothes, my notebooks and a few books.”

“I came across the border with my dad, but he had to go and work in a place where he couldn’t take me, so he left me here with my mom,” Luisa says.

“I was sad leaving Venezuela, because I knew I would miss my relatives a lot. But I was also happy, because I was going to see my mom again. We had a big big big hug when I first saw her.”

Migrating to Colombia was a big change for Luisa. She didn’t know where anything was, the places were not familiar, people spoke strangely, using different words for things and she no longer had her friends and relatives close.

Girls that are migrants and refugees are especially vulnerable when families are on the move. The border area of Colombia, where Luisa lives, is home to several of the armed guerrilla groups that have fought the government and each other for decades. Organized crime, dealing in both narcotics and human trafficking, is well established and violence is common.

“At first, I didn’t go out much, but then I got used to it, people taught me where the stores and other things are.”

Luisa had to stop school when she moved, and she misses her friends at school and the park and mall she used to go to when she lived in Venezuela.

Today, she attends Save the Children’s Child Friendly Space, where migrant children are given the opportunity to meet friends, play and learn. Children from Venezuela have the right to attend schools in Colombia by law, but since there are now so many refugees in the area, the schools have run out of space.

“I studied until sixth grade,” Luisa says. “I just missed two months at the end. My mom is looking for a space for me in a school here.”

“The best parts about living in Colombia are that I made friends here, I can be with my mom, we have a little house, and that I am with my new little sister.”

Luisa wants to be a flight attendant, travel and learn lots of languages. Sometimes, when people say that she can do it, she says:

“The easy things? I already conquered them. The difficult things? They are already happening. The impossible? I haven’t done it yet, but I will.”

*Name has been changed.

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Meet Anna, who loves football and is living in Thailand after her mother emigrated to Thailand.

Meet Anna

Anna*, 14, loves football and wants to be a football player more than anything.

Anna is from a mixed ethnic background from Myanmar. She doesn’t know why her mother decided to emigrate to Thailand – it’s not something they talk about in the family. Hundreds of thousands of people from minority groups in Myanmar have fled violence and economic hardship for decades, many settling permanently in Thailand.

“Nothing much happens here,” Anna says. “It is safe to stay here.”

Anna goes to a Christian school and she lives with her mother and sister inside the school compound. She meets Thai people, but does not speak the language. All her friends have a Myanmar background.

She has loved football since she was small, and loves to watch matches on TV.

“When Ronaldo and other players play football, I feel inspired,” Anna says. “When I see them playing, I feel energized and I want to play like them, but there is no one to teach me.”

She is often met with scepticism when she says she wants to be a football player.

“Sometimes I feel depressed, when people tell me that I can’t be a footballer. People my age don’t tell me things like that, only older people, teachers too. I want to talk back to them, but since they are older, I just put up with them. And I just keep playing football.”

“You know, every child has their own ambitions. And when it comes to sport, there is no man or woman, boy or girl, everyone can play.”

Anna and her sister don’t have official documents from Myanmar or Thailand, so they have no official status in either country. Since they are young, they can still show their birth certificates if asked, but their mother Joy* is worried about them not receiving medical treatment if they get ill.

Anna’s school is part of a non-formal education system for migrants, but if she wants to continue to study, she needs the right documents from the Thai authorities.

“I will finish my education,” Anna says. “And whatever happens along the way, I will not be depressed, I will face all of the obstacles. I will try. And I will try to get the skills a footballer needs.”

*Name has been changed.

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Meet Naw Si Si, who is a migrant from Myanmar and living with her grandmother in Thailand.

Meet Naw Si Si

“If the times are good, I see my parents every other year,” Naw Si Si* says. She is 14 years old and lives with her grandmother in a wooden house on stilts in Thailand, close to the border with Myanmar.

Naw Si Si is from the Po Karen ethnic group. Most migrants in her community are economic migrants, coming from Myanmar to Thailand.

Decades of armed conflict in Myanmar have forced many Karen people to flee to Thailand. There is a ceasefire now, but many stay in Thailand and only occasionally go back across the border. There is a large community of people from Myanmar in the Thai border areas. Refugees and migrants often live separately from the Thai population, speak their own languages and only occasionally mingle.

“The best thing about living here is that I get a chance to study,” Naw Si Si says. She is in 8th grade and wants to be a doctor. “Here in Thailand you can go to school, even if you are from Myanmar.”

“I do want to be a doctor, but I don’t know if it is possible or not. It requires my parents support.”

“You don’t know the future, so you can’t judge who I am, or who I will become.”

Her biological father passed away. Naw Si Si’s mother lives with her new husband, but they work in Bangkok and she only sees them every other year if they can afford to come home. She lives with her five siblings and grandmother.

“I have lots of friends, but I don’t have my best friend anymore. She went back to Myanmar. We don’t have any contact. I want to cry when I think about it.”

Naw Si Si takes part in a leadership training for young refugees and migrants, run by one of Save the Children’s partner organizations.

“I feel stronger today,” Naw Si Si says. “In the past I didn’t dare speak to my teachers, after the training started, I became braver.”

Naw Si Si tries to support her friends and girls in the community to speak up. Young girls’ ambitions are often ridiculed, and girls are reluctant to speak to adults about their needs and wishes.

“Don’t be shy, there is nothing to be ashamed of! I am from Myanmar, but I can be anything if I try.”

*Name has been changed.

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Meet Leen, a Syrian refugee living in Sweden.

Meet Leen

Leen, 11, is from Damascus in Syria. She came to Sweden as a refugee five years ago. She lives in northern Sweden with her family. Her memories of their home in Damascus are both peaceful and violent.

“We lived in a cozy apartment, my brother and I had our own playroom,” Leen says about their home.

But the on-going war was always close.

“I was at my aunt’s house and needed to go to the toilet,” Leen says. “But I was afraid of bombs… And after a long time arguing with my mom, I went… And then a bomb struck really close. I broke the toilet seat; I was so scared.”

“[The war] became normal. We had fun. I could come to my mom’s work. And mostly, nothing happened.”

Leen’s father went to Sweden first. He paid to be smuggled by sea and entered Europe, like so many others, through Greece. He travelled to Sweden and six months later his family was allowed to join him, travelling safely on a regular flight.

“I didn’t think it was dad,” Leen says about meeting her father at the airport in Stockholm after being apart for half a year. “But then I recognised him. And he came towards us, and I hugged him.”

Parents sometimes have a harder time building relationships in a new country. Save the Children works with newly arrived families to support and find ways to empower them to find friends and a coherent social environment. Feeling safe and that you are in control is essential when finding your way into a new society. 

Children usually connect to their new environment faster than their parents. Leen went to school right away, joined the scouts and played football for a while in their new hometown in northern Sweden.

“A good friend is kind and cares about others,” Leen says. “And stays with you and supports you.”

“My mom and dad are my role models,” Leen says. “It is like a ‘future-machine’ when I see them. They have it the way I would like to have it later in life.”

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Meet Claudia, a refugee from Venezuela living in Colombia.

Meet Claudia

Claudia* is 12 years old; her mother was forced to leave her and her little sister in Venezuela. She was desperate and needed work and money. Like millions of people, Claudia’s mother left Venezuela, a country in deep political and economic crisis. In neighboring Colombia, she found work but had to sleep on the streets.

“I worried the most for my little sister, because she was still very small,” Claudia says.

Claudia also crossed the border with Mariana*, a friend of the family. Now she stays with Mariana, close to where her mother and little sister sleep and work in a Colombian border town. She sees them sometimes.

“In Venezuela, I was always with my mom, we were always together,” Claudia says. “But here I have to live with Mariana because my mom is living on the street in the market. And to be with her… well, the money is to buy food, lunch, for my little sister. So I can’t.”

Girls that are migrants and refugees are especially vulnerable when families are on the move. Families fleeing from economic hardship sometimes find themselves in similarly difficult circumstances in the new country. The border area of Colombia, where Claudia lives, is home to several of the armed guerrilla groups that have fought the government and each other for decades. Organized crime, dealing in both narcotics and human trafficking, is well established and violence is common.

“I would tell children in a similar situation to me to think before they make decisions. Because sometimes things can turn out bad.”

Claudia is not in school, but she goes regularly to the nearby Child Friendly Space that is set up and run by Save the Children. In this tent, migrant children can play, learn and be safe. The informal education and playing at this center help children find friends and support.

“When I go there and when I play with the children there, I feel happy,” Claudia says. “I like to be with my friends.”

“I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up,” Claudia says. “Well… maybe I can become a police officer, to help save children who live in the street. To help people.”

The crisis in Venezuela has forced nearly five million people to leave the country. Increased violence, food shortages and collapse of basic functions in society like schools and health care have made life unbearable.

“The situation is really ugly there,” Claudia says about Venezuela. “If I could tell the politicians in both Venezuela and Colombia something, I would ask them both to stop the anger and to speak with each other.”

*Name has been changed.

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Meet Karma, who lives with her family in Sweden after emigrating from Egypt.

Meet Karma

Karma is 10 years old and misses her friends in Egypt a lot. She lives with her family in an apartment in a small village in northern Sweden. They are waiting to find out if their request for asylum in Sweden has been granted or denied.

“I knew they would speak another language. I thought it would be easy, but it was a little bit hard.”

Karma is tough, but also laughs a lot. She doesn’t remember much about the family’s first day in the far north of Sweden a year ago, only that she ate a lot of chips that day and that it was cold and rainy. The quiet village where they now live has less than 1,000 inhabitants. The contrast to the Egyptian capital Cairo, the city they left, could hardly be bigger.

“There were cars there all the time,” Karma says. “Here, it snows in winter. My siblings and I were really excited because we had never played with snow. When it started to snow, we didn’t have any winter clothes yet, so we just put on everything we had and went out to play.”

When Karma’s family arrived at the bus station in Northern Sweden a year ago, they did not know where to go and what to do. By chance, they met staff from Save the Children Sweden who helped them and told them that people from the municipality’s refugee reception service would come soon to assist.

Most children on the move are migrating with their families, but they are still vulnerable in their new environment. Families need support to cope with change and stress when they find themselves in a totally new environment, and children need to feel safe.

Although Karma misses her two best friends from Egypt – they spent her last day in Cairo together – she has found new friends in Sweden, mostly through school.

“I had a strategy: I asked them their name!” Karma says. “Then they would ask me mine and then more questions about me and so on. I got to know them that way.”

The teachers at the school mostly speak English, and many of them are from countries other than Sweden. Karma likes the school, because she learns new things and this school is not focused on ranking, the way her school in Cairo was.

Karma loves drawing and her mother says she has an artist’s soul.

“I might want to be a painter,” Karma says. “But I have been thinking about this and maybe I will change my mind… or not.”

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