UNITED NATIONS, May 22, 2021 (IPS) – Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the global fund that brings teaching and learning to children in emergencies and protracted crises, observes five years of reaching boys and girls in some of the conflict zones and hardest hit disasters in the world.
The initiative, launched in 2016, aimed to close a major gap in humanitarian funding for education. At that time, less than 2% of humanitarian aid was allocated to education, even though, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 75 million children in crisis and in regions torn apart. the war were “in desperate need of educational support.”
ECW has stepped in as a lifeline for millions of school-aged children at risk of missing school.
Five years later, with health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic adding to problems like war, protracted conflict, displacement and disasters, this lifeline is more important than ever.
As the fund turns five years old, IPS speaks with ECW Executive Director Yasmine Sherif about her historic accomplishments, her efforts to scale up educational support during the pandemic, and her vision for the next five years – to amidst hunger and growing conflict. Excerpts from the interview follow:
Inter Press Service (IPS): As you reflect on ECW’s fifth anniversary, what do you think are some of the most important achievements of the program?
Yasmine Sherif (YS): That we have reached the children and youth most left behind in some of the world’s most complex crises and that we have been able to invest in their quality education. We’re talking about girls in rural Afghanistan – a country where girls now make up 60 percent of our joint multi-year resilience agenda. We were among the very first to respond to the influx of Rohingya refugees in 2017 and were able to quickly provide them with educational services and psychosocial support. We have made a huge leap forward in our investments in the central Sahel and throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where children and adolescents are constantly forcibly displaced and where their need for a holistic and integral child education is a top priority. And we were able to reach conflict zones and active sieges in Syria, Gaza, Palestine and Yemen, to deliver to those who would otherwise be considered “inaccessible.” ECW now has investments in 38 countries.
These results, the difference we are making in the lives of girls and boys affected by crisis, are our most important achievement. And here I would like to stress that this would not have been possible without more than 20 strategic donor partners, governments, foundations and the private sector, who have consistently provided both strategic and growing financial contributions. In the same vein, without our close relations with host governments, [local] communities, civil society and United Nations agencies, we could not have become such an action-oriented global fund. They do the real work on the ground. Through ECW’s work with long-established United Nations coordination mechanisms, both on the humanitarian and development sides, we have been able to grow rapidly and evolve at an unprecedented speed.
IPS: What are some of the main challenges ECW faces as it strives to educate children in emergencies?
YS: Access is always a challenge in countries affected by crises, especially armed conflicts. In countries like the Central African Republic or Yemen, you have different factions and different controls over different territories. In such emergency situations, you must apply humanitarian principles to the maximum. We are here, helping our colleagues across the country to focus on children and youth and their right to inclusive, quality education. They are our priority. Lack of infrastructure and digital access is also a challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, for example.
However, the biggest challenge is funding. If all of ECW’s multi-year resilience programs – which are joint programming between humanitarian and development actors – in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America, were fully funded, we could reach $ 16 million. girls and boys with inclusive quality education, rather than the current five million. More funding means that more children and young people, more girls, more children with disabilities, more refugee children, finally access their right to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: quality education – and, with it, additional development goals, such as extreme poverty, empowerment through gender equality and education, [they are] ready to bring peace and justice to their societies.
IPS: ECW announced this month that with a $ 300,000 acceleration grant, psychosocial support would be extended to children in emergencies, alongside education. How important is mental health support to these boys and girls?
YS: Mental health and psychosocial support are a top priority. Most, if not all, children and adolescents are traumatized by protracted armed conflict, forced displacement and climate-related disasters. Imagine what they went through and are forced to go on living. As a child or youth, you see your family members killed, your house destroyed, militiamen wandering, trafficking, bombs and rockets, forced recruiting and hastily fleeing across the border to another country. . What does that do to the mind of a young person? This traumatizes them and seriously affects their ability to feel safe and to learn in a safe environment. Unless we talk about their traumatic experiences, provide them with psychosocial and mental health support, very little learning can take place.
Trauma and chronic stress can either break them down or create them. With mental health and psychosocial support, as well as several other elements, such as social and emotional learning, school learning, sports, the arts, school feeding, protection, safe learning environments and empowered teachers – who also suffer, by the way – we can empower them to overcome the difficult situations they face and reach their potential. Without this support, their direction in life will likely go the other way and break them, leading them to survive rather than thrive.
IPS: According to UNICEF, refugees are five times more likely to be out of school than other children, as girls face unique risks. Tell me a bit about ECW’s focus on gender equity in education in emergencies.
YS: Refugees and IDPs represent 50 percent of ECW’s investments. We follow the populations, those who are the most neglected. This is our starting point and our added value. Among them, high school girls are among the most neglected. At the Refugee Forum in 2019, we engaged with the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education to jointly advance the education of refugees, especially refugee girls. At ECW, we have taken positive steps and set the goal of 60 percent girls and adolescent girls in all ECW investments. But it’s not just a question of numbers or percentages. We also focus on protection measures for girls and adolescent girls, teacher training and sanitation facilities.
We must also work with teachers, men and boys to advance girls ‘education, to sensitize them to girls’ right to safety, respect and encouragement to succeed academically. I meet so many inspiring teenage girls on my travels to our investments in various countries, who, upon graduation, will become powerful leaders in their communities and countries. Seeing them fiercely defending their right to education and finally being able to exercise it is very gratifying and brings hope. They’re the ones we’ve been waiting for, to paraphrase Alice Walker.
IPS: As you look to the next year or the next five years, what is your vision for ECW and the boys and girls you support?
YS: To get back to the results and make a real difference, the vision is to reach at least 2/3 of children and young people – 50% of whom are girls – in the regions of the world most affected by the crisis and their ensure inclusive and continuing education of quality. But it will require making education in emergencies and protracted crises a top priority for funding by governments, the private sector and philanthropists. Without the finances, we cannot reach these girls and boys. Yet, with funding, anything is possible.
Over the next five years, ECW, which is already a billion dollar fund (considering the trust fund and national contributions combined), will need billions more to change the world. This is the key to this vision: deserve and urgently need billions of investments. If we are to close the gap on the SDGs, we must start by investing in quality education (SDG 4) for those who are most left behind. Through these investments, we are also investing in several other sustainable development goals. Without it, none of the other SDGs can be achieved. It is logically impossible.
More generally, I see the experience or innovation of the Education Fund Cannot Wait, which was designed and continued by the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, who chairs the group high-level piloting of ECW, with governments, such as UK, Canada, US, UN agencies, civil society and foundations,… leading by example.
It was a vision of impatience to reach out to those most left behind, a vision of less bureaucracy and more accountability, and a vision of breaking down silos and finally working together and, in doing so, placing education at the forefront of international funding. in this direction and in five years, I hope that the greatest part of those who care for the world will join ECW in the quest that every child, girl, boy, youth, who suffers today wars, forced displacement and sudden climate-induced disasters, will see the light of inclusive and child-centered education. This is how we are changing the world and making it a better, more peaceful, more stable and more just place for the human family. This vision is priceless.