Christmas Appeal: From a few old trucks to providing aid for children across world's war zones

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The Independent Online
DURING THE Yugoslav conflict, in 1993, film-makers Bill Leeson and David Wilson decided to form the charity War Child to help the innocent young victims of war.

"War Child began, like a number of other charities, as an emotional response to the war," said Mr Leeson. "With a few old trucks and a handful of unpaid volunteers we started delivering food and medical equipment to where it was most needed."

Initially raising money through appeals to the public and entertainment events, the charity organised aid convoys of food and clothing, provided medical equipment for hospitals in Croatia and Bosnia, and set up diabetes testing centres.

Much of War Child's work remains focused on the Balkans. Following the conflict in Kosovo this year, the charity launched a programme to help returning Kosovar Albanians. At one point, War Child's field bakery at Kukes in northern Albania was producing 25,000 loaves of bread a day.

At Skenderaj, in northern Kosovo, the charity has now established a permanent four-oven bakery to feed a population of 95,000 in the town and the surrounding area.

The charity has spread its care to war zones world-wide, supporting Tibetan refugees in Nepal and street children in central America, South Africa, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

In Pakistan, it is providing education for child refugees from Afghanistan. In The Gambia and Azerbaijan, it is also making education a priority by developing a programme of school rebuilding.

One of War Child's most recent operations was in East Timor. Within a week of this year's outbreak of violence in the former Portuguese colony, an assessment team was in Darwin, where it met escaping refugees.

War Child has decided to concentrate its efforts on providing emergency relief for people forced to flee their homes, providing basic healthcare to these isolated people. It has also provided basic items such as clothes, torches, batteries and hygiene products.

War Child has worked in more than a dozen countries and hopes to do more.

"Sadly we live in an age where in more than 50 countries around the world children are suffering from the effects of conflict," said Mr Leeson. "They are the ones least responsible for these wars and yet are the most vulnerable to the affects."