EXILED Saharaui children are being given the opportunity to enjoy a summer holiday, thanks to warm-hearted expatriates.
The project, called ‘Vacaciones en Paz’ (Vacations in Peace), has been running for more than 20 years but has suffered a dramatic decline in the number of volunteer families following the recent financial crisis.
The volunteer families offer children between eight and 12 years old the opportunity to enjoy relief away from the 60 degree heat of their home in the South West Algerian Desert.
Graham and Karen Bygate (pictured with foster children Yamila, Nazra and Asfara) are an expat couple who settled in Jimena de la Frontera in Andalucia, after leaving England in 1996 to travel the world.
They have been involved with the project for the last four years, after hearing about the Saharaui’s plight from a neighbour, and have had the same three children back to stay each year.
“The children arrive dirty and tired after an open top truck takes them to a military airport across the desert to catch a plane,” said Graham, who represents ‘Vacaciones en Paz’ in three villages in Campo de Gibraltar.
The foster parents provide everything the children need, including a balanced diet, a comfortable bed, new clothing, trips to the beach, and lots of summer activities.
Whilst in Spain, the children are also given a full health check, including vaccinations. If suffering from any serious health issues, the child is allowed to stay until they are well again and can return to their family.
This is the final year these three children will return to the Bygates, as after turning twelve the children are expected to work hard at secondary school.
Graham said: “It’s going to be tough to say farewell this year but we know we have helped them along a little bit and they are free of health problems.”
He added: “Next year we will welcome first-timers but we now have the experience to make it easier for them in the first weeks away from their families.”
After fostering a child for the first time in June 2010, Graham felt he needed to see the conditions in which the children live for himself and travelled to the camps near Tindouf in Algeria.
“Nothing can prepare you for the harsh conditions in which they live, with food and water arriving on trucks and donated mainly from Spanish organisations,” Graham said of his experience.
“Living under the stars and in tents is not glamorous when your families have lived like this since 1975!”
The Saharaui people originate from the western Sahara, and consist of a mix of nomadic desert tribes.
They were exiled from their homeland by Moroccan forces in 1975, when Spain withdrew at the pending death of Franco.
Now, nearly four decades on, the Saharaui want nothing more than to return to their homeland with their independence from an occupied territory.
“We are privileged to meet these tough little kids from the desert and will continue to be so until the problem is sorted,” said Graham.
“We think we will have a long wait.”
If you are interested in giving a child the opportunity to enjoy a summer holiday, visit http://www.saharandalucia.org/index.php/2013-05-30-13-07-43/vacaciones-en-paz for more information.
Karen Bygate will be completing The Great North Run in Newcastle in September this year to raise funds for the project. To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/karen-bygate
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