War Child was founded in 1993 by film-makers David Wilson and Bill Leeson. Whilst on assignment in the former Yugoslavia they were shocked by the way children’s lives were being torn apart by the conflict. When they returned home they were further shocked by politicians’ apathy towards the massacres and ‘ethnic cleansing’ taking place on their European doorstep.
Whilst the politicians did nothing, the music industry didn’t. A 'Serious Road Trip' convoy brought much needed supplies to the besieged people of Mostar, and a mobile bakery was set up to bake tens of thousands of loaves every day. And for some 'food for the soul', Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson was smuggled into Bosnia to play a concert.
In 1995 Paul McCartney, Oasis, Blur, Radiohead and the cream of British music recorded and released the iconic ‘Help’ album in just three days. Twenty years later, it is still the ‘charity’ album that all others are compared to.
The £1.25m raised helped pay for the construction of what was to become the Pavarotti Music Centre in Bosnia – a unique project which provided children from all sides of the conflict with music therapy as a way of helping them cope with the terrible traumas they’d experienced.
Of course it wasn’t just in Bosnia that childhoods were being devastated by wars they didn’t start. War Child’s mobile bakeries baked millions of loaves for conflict-affected families in Afghanistan, Albania, Iraq and Chechnya over the next decade. We also delivered wind-up radios to impoverished families in Rwanda, Ghana and Kosovo.
Plus we responded by funding education, health and emergency programmes from El Salvador to Kenya. During this time the War Child International family grew – as independent sister organisations were established in Holland and Canada.
Exactly ten years after the Help album was released, the music industry came together again in similar fashion to record ‘Help! A Day in the Life’ – this time in just 24 hours. It quickly became the fastest selling download in history. The decade milestone also provided us with the opportunity to reflect on everything we’d achieved and to focus on where we’d like to go in the future. We committed to investing in more long-term sustainable projects that target the most vulnerable and marginalised children in conflict-affected areas.
This type of work is a lot more intensive and requires our presence long after the TV cameras have left. Our work was consolidated into delivering a much bigger impact in Iraq, Afghanistan, D.R. Congo and Uganda – where we’ve been on the ground for at least five years.
We’ve recently expanded our work into Central African Republic – one of the world’s most forgotten countries. And, just as is in Bosnia twenty years earlier, we couldn’t just watch the news from Syria every night without taking action – so we’re just across the border in Lebanon helping to protect and rebuild young Syrian lives.
Although we can now command the ears of politicians and decision-makers thanks to the knowledge and credibility acquired through our fieldwork, we aren’t burdened by the bureaucracy that many bigger charities incur – instead we’re proud to retain the energy and can-do spirit that inspired so many people to the War Child cause in Bosnia two decades ago.
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