Global Managing PartnerA&O: 1987-present
Associate, MadridA&O: 2015-present
In March 2017, A&O Managing Partner Andrew Ballheimer travelled to Jordan to visit the Emirati Refugee Camp, home to around 8,000 Syrian refugees. Emirati Camp is one of the newer and therefore smaller refugee camps in Jordan – only about a tenth of the size of nearby Za’atari Camp. It was set up by the Emirati Red Crescent who now run the camp alongside the Jordanian police.
“The camp is literally in the middle of nowhere, in the centre of the Jordanian desert,” Andrew explains. “There’s nothing to see for miles around. The camp feels very controlled, almost prison-like. It is home mainly to women and families who come here for the medical services available, as well as the opportunity for adults to access vocational courses.
“What’s clear, though, is that there’s nothing for young children to do. Communal kitchens and bathrooms serve blocks of caravans so, as one mother told us, they have to bring their children with them to cook, which makes accidents common. The alternative is to let the children play outside in the dirt, increasing the risk of infection.”
Andrew’s visit was organised by War Child, an international charity that provides education and protection services to children affected by conflict. In November 2016, A&O launched a two-year partnership with War Child to support its Rescue Childhood programme and fund a child-friendly space in Emirati Camp, providing psychosocial support and education to Syrian refugee children.
Helen Barley, War Child’s country director in Jordan, says the facility in Emirati Camp will offer a safe space for 2,160 children to play and learn over the course of the partnership. It will also provide support to nearly 200 parents and carers to help their children.
“The children who come into our centres often exhibit behavioural traits that indicate psychosocial distress from fleeing Syria,” says Helen. “They’ve seen so much conflict that they’re mentally removed from human interaction. So you might have children who are very aggressive, or withdrawn and isolated. We work with the children to manage their emotions in the most healthy way.”
Children at Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan.
A&O staff chose War Child in a worldwide vote and the response to the partnership from the outset has been, in Andrew’s words, “incredible”. Through a global fundraising campaign in which people across 41 offices donated the first hour or first day of their pay in January 2017, A&O raised a record GBP467,000 – exceeding the previous record by nearly GBP100,000.
“Within just six months of the partnership launching, we reached our target of raising GBP500,000 to fully fund the facility in Emirati Camp,” Andrew says, “allowing plans to move forward quickly and construction to get under way. The contribution from right across A&O has been far greater than we expected.”
As well as donating through the ‘First Hour, First Day’ campaign, A&O offices around the world have been raising funds to support War Child.
One of the year’s fundraising highlights was a performance by A&O staff and alumni of the Cole Porter musical ‘Anything Goes’ at London’s famous Hackney Empire theatre.
A&O’s two-year partnership with charity War Child is working to improve the life chances of Syrian refugee children trapped by the civil war in their homeland.
‘FIRST HOUR, FIRST DAY’ CAMPAIGN ACROSS 41 OFFICES, RAISED A RECORD AMOUNT IN JANUARY 2017
THE TOTAL NUMBER OF DISPLACED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD – ITS HIGHEST LEVEL EVER
HOURS OF PRO BONO WORK OVER THE PAST YEAR TO SUPPORT DISPLACED PEOPLE
On stage, more than 80 A&O and alumni performers, joined by local primary school children and singers and dancers from War Child and client organisations, entertained a packed Saturday night crowd. Together with the orchestra and backstage crew of set builders, costume makers, choreographers, stage managers and directors – in total 140 people – they raised GBP26,700 for War Child.
The production received rave reviews and was, as former A&O Senior Partner Guy Beringer put it, “an absolute triumph from beginning to end. I loved it”.
Elsewhere across the international network, A&O’s Amsterdam office raised more than EUR13,000 by hosting an international five-a-side football tournament with 20 teams from across Europe competing.
In Hong Kong, people bid in a silent auction to see A&O partners running a tea trolley service in fancy dress, and staffing the reception desk. More than 70 people from A&O and client organisations also paired up with the Crossroads Foundation to organise a Refugee Run – a simulation designed to put participants in the shoes of a refugee. In total the events raised HKD163,500.
In the U.S., our New York and Washington offices hosted a ‘Week of War Child’, raising nearly USD20,000 through cake sales, an office yard sale and silent auctions at office summer parties.
Our Sydney office also sent eight of its keenest swimmers to take part in the Sydney Harbour Splash, a 1km open-water swim in Sydney Harbour. The team braved cold water, marine life and a strong current to complete the race, raising more than AUD2,000. Trainee Phoebe Miley-Dyer stormed home to take second place, with Banking lawyer Isabelle Whitehead finishing third in the female division.
“Within just five months of the partnership launching, we reached our target of raising GBP500,000 to fully fund the facility in Emirati Camp.”
Perhaps the most ambitious fundraiser saw an international team of 20 people from A&O complete a 70km, four-day trek across Jordan in nearly 40°C heat. The team crossed the four biosphere climates of Jordan’s largest nature reserve and finished in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Petra, taking in some of the region’s most spectacular scenery along the way.
Madrid associate Louise Young went on the trek. “Like all of us, I had heard so much about the issue of displaced people and wanted to do something to raise money and awareness,” she says. “There were incredible moments throughout the trek. The scenery was beautiful and, camping in the desert, I saw so many more stars than you ever see in the city.
“The A&O and War Child team were a truly great group and very diverse – different nationalities, jobs, ages. They made the experience unfailingly upbeat and the differences are pretty irrelevant when faced with a literal mountain to climb!”
In total, the trek raised more than GBP75,000, both from the fundraising efforts of participants and a matched donation of GBP20,000 from the Allen & Overy Foundation. The team also met War Child’s representatives in Jordan who, as Louise says, spoke emotionally and openly about their work.
“The refugee camps are far from the cities where they live, so each day they make a four-hour round trip to get to work. The stifling heat makes living and working in the camps difficult, and internet access is restricted to prevent extremism,” Louise explains.
“Refugees cannot legally work in Jordan so once children turn 18, there’s little for them to do. I asked if the refugees had any hopes of ever going home. ‘That is their dream,’ I was told.”
“I can’t say I found the walking easy,” Louise reflects, “but it certainly makes you think about the kids that War Child works with, who would all have travelled considerably further without the blister plasters and walking boots we were lucky to have. They don’t do this out of choice, but out of necessity to escape a war zone.”
“In addition to our efforts with War Child, we’ve provided around 4,000 hours of pro bono support over the past year to displaced people.”
“There really has been an unprecedented response to the War Child partnership from our people,” says Andrew Ballheimer, “and with good reason. The issue of displaced people is one of the worst humanitarian crises our generation has faced.”
In 2016 alone, more than 10 million people – nearly half of them under 18 – were forcibly displaced from their homes through persecution and conflict. The UN’s Refugee Agency – UNHCR – puts the total number of displaced people in the world at 65.6 million – its highest level ever. Of the total, Syrians account for 11 million, half of them displaced inside their own country and half – some 5.5 million people – escaping to neighbouring countries.
“The majority of Syria’s displaced people are in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey,” explains Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, the UNHCR’s Representative to the UK.
“But these countries do not have the infrastructure or resources to cope with such huge numbers of people. And with no end in sight to the conflict in Syria – which has now lasted longer than the Second World War – there is very little hope for people in refugee camps to build a future for themselves and their children. So desperate people look north to Europe and put their lives in the hands of people smugglers and traffickers, with devastating consequences.
“There are virtually no safe and legal routes for refugees to cross the Mediterranean, which is why we end up with 2,000 people missing or dead trying to make the crossing to Europe in 2017 alone,” Gonzalo says. “The answer is to increase the amount of aid and support we provide to hosting countries that are struggling to cope with the volumes of refugees flooding in. We also need to do far more to provide displaced people with legal and safe avenues to resettle in other countries.”
War Child country director Helen Barley with a facilitator at Za’atari Camp.
Andrew agrees. “In addition to our efforts with War Child, we’ve provided around 4,000 hours of pro bono support over the past year to displaced people: preparing asylum applications, protecting human rights for migrant and trafficked people, and providing employability workshops and access to education,” he says.
“Given the strength of people’s response to our War Child partnership, we have extended our fundraising target to GBP1m. With one year to go, we’re already at GBP715,000, so I’m confident we’ll reach our new target and be able to provide even more support to War Child’s work with children affected by these terrible conflicts.
“I was humbled by what I saw in Jordan, but also inspired. The positivity and the spirit of the refugees we met was remarkable.
“War Child is doing an excellent job – their skill, professionalism and deep knowledge of the issues at play are impressive. Our support is very much needed and appreciated, and we hope it will have a lasting impact on the futures of the children and families at Emirati Camp.”The A&O Trek Jordan team.
A child at a Jordanian refugee camp.