Thousands of refugees flock to a makeshift tent village in Jordan, fleeing from a civil unrest in Syria.
Some are sick, others are all alone.
It’s Bob Laprade’s job to make sure they have the essentials that will keep them alive.
As associate vice president of humanitarian response for Save the Children, Laprade of Potomac just returned from the Zata’ari refugee camp in Jordan, the same camp that headlined international news after actress and social activist Angelina Jolie visited there recently.
There, he said, about 2,000 people arrive each night from the war in Syria, creating a camp that did not exist a little more than a month ago and now is home to an about 30,000 people.
“They arrive mostly at night because they hide during the day to avoid being identified or captured,” he said.
Save the Children, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to creating lasting change in the lives of children in need, staffs the camp’s reception center, distributing basic items such as blankets and clothes, and works within the camp with other aid organizations to distribute food.
“On the emotional, child protection side, we do a screening for children who arrive unaccompanied. We try to identify those who are unaccompanied and find proper mechanisms that will prevent harm coming to them, like putting them in a special tent area where adults and older children can’t get [them],” he said.
He said they also try to allow the children to have fun and basic education classes so they can have a sort of normalcy to their lives.
A veteran of the front lines of world crises and a troubleshooter during times of famine, natural disasters and war, Laprade has been with Save the Children “this time” for about six months. He worked with them for five years between 2002 and 2007. He also has worked for the international programs of the American Red Cross and with CARE International, also a relief organization.
He said he always has wanted to do international work. He was in the Peace Corps in Nepal and has a master’s degree in logistics.
“I have to admit there is some excitement to it,” he said. “You are often in a place that is in the news and I feel good about what I am doing. I feel it’s important to make a difference in the world, and this is my small way of doing something.”
The hardest part of the job he said is seeing what has to be done and having to leave rather than staying to help.
Logistically, the hardest part is getting supplies where they need to be and negotiating with “the powers that be that have motives other than humanitarian,” he said.
Laprade said he always is affected by the situations to which he has he responded.
“I think I always am, maybe the day I stop will be the day I’m not effective,” he said.
The Asian tsunami in 2004 was, he said, probably the most overwhelming event with which he has dealt.
He arrived in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, within three or four days after the Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake and tsunami.
“It was utter destruction. Everywhere survivors were walking around like zombies not knowing what happened,” he said.
When it comes to the needs of children, Laprade said no matter what their circumstances, they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and each has a right to safety, security, health and education.
“We can all help through caring for our own children and creating a world where all children are able to realize their basic rights as human beings,” he said.