April 26, 2016

Inspiration from Lebanon: a Global Youth Ambassadors workshop

Eleanor Gall

Project Co-ordinator, Theirworld

Global Youth Ambassadors from Lebanon take part in the weekend workshop  Pictures: Theirworld/Yara Harake

Global Youth Ambassadors from Lebanon take part in the weekend workshop  Pictures: Theirworld/Yara Harake

 

An hour’s drive south of Beirut, just outside the village of Dibbiyeh, morning sun spills across a quiet garden. A group of twenty-somethings sit under the shade of olive trees and listen intently as they take it in turns to speak.

I watch on silently - the expressions on their faces tell me that the words being spoken are powerful and I don’t want to break the spell.

These campaigners have come together for a weekend workshop. They are part of A World at School’s network of Global Youth Ambassadors - more than 500 young people across the world who are leading the movement to get every child into school and learning.

Each of them has an individual story. Each has experienced a unique sequence of events that has brought them to this moment, to this garden, where they’ll gain new skills and knowledge to help them become effective advocates on education.

What unites them? It’s the belief that every child has a fundamental right to learn, that our voices are stronger and louder when we speak together, and that every one of us has potential to make an impact on another’s life.

It's also the confidence that theirs is a voice worth raising and the desire to see, with their own eyes, tangible change take place in our world.  

For some, passion for a global issue is born out of opportunity - volunteering or travelling somewhere new - for example. For others it's sparked by a particular event or an encounter with a particlar individual.

There’s certainly an element of that here. Lynn cites a volunteer trip to Chad as a pivotal moment in her life and several of the group have volunteer experience with organisations like the Red Cross and UNICEF. 

By far a more common driving factor among these young people, though, is the shifting landscape that they have found themselves living within. The global narrative being sewn into the fabric of their lives.

Global Youth Ambassadors from Lebanon take part in the weekend workshop  Pictures: Theirworld/Yara Harake

In Lebanon, refugees from Syria now represent more than one quarter of the population. At least 1.1 million people have fled the conflict in Syria to Lebanon since 2011 and approximately half of those people are thought to be children.

That's 500,000 children whose families, homes and educations have been pulled apart. 500,000 children whose entire worlds have fallen from beneath their feet.

Within this context the Global Youth Ambassadors in Lebanon step up to their role as advocates for education and supporters of A World at School. Our workshop begins with a simple question: "Why is education important to you?"

For everyone here, the fundamental importance of education has been brought into sharp focus by the refugee crisis. Despite great commitment from the Lebanese government to offer access to basic education through the double-shift system, hundreds of thousands of children remain out of school around the country.

Child labour, child marriage, trafficking, extremism, abuse, rape, exploitation - the menu of horrors on offer to a child out of school is almost incomprehensible.

"Education is important because, otherwise, what happens to these street kids, these kids working instead of learning?" Nina asks.

Along with providing an induction to A World at School and an opportunity to connect with one another, this workshop has been designed to build specific knowledge to support GYAs here in Lebanon. 

Speakers from Lebanese and Syrian organisations join us to deliver sessions on campaign skills, advocacy success stories and the impact of gender on education.

Our team talk to the group about the education in emergencies situation worldwide, A World at School’s recently published "scorecard", next month's World Humanitarian Summit and pilot projects operating within Lebanon’s double-shift system by Theirworld, the children's charity behind A World at School.

Global Youth Ambassadors from Lebanon take part in the weekend workshop  Pictures: Theirworld/Yara Harake

As our day draws to a close, the sky blushes pink and scents of cinnamon and garlic fill the air. Sarah shares one final story with the group about her experience as a volunteer tutor.

She says: “Although I was there to teach the children, they have taught me many lessons in life. Their smiles taught me that no matter what our problems are, we shouldn’t give up on solving them. These children are ambitious and have dreams, regardless of the situation they face.”

It is often said that the main attribute of youth is energy or sometimes passion. Of course, this group of young people feel huge enthusiasm for what matters to them. And yes, they are immensely passionate about every child’s right to go to school.

To limit their potential to these attributes alone, however, is to underestimate them. Their determination to use the time and skills at their disposal to make a positive impact in their communities, their desire to see genuine change take place in front of them, their commitment to learning and questioning and investigating - these are the qualities to which they add their enthusiasm and passion.

These are the qualities which make them not only beneficial, but essential, to the movement to get every child into school and learning. 

Last year, 80 million children around the world had their education disrupted by emergency - 37 million were forced out of school entirely.

There is currently a $9 billion gap in funding for education in emergencies. The statistics are shocking at best, utterly overwhelming at worst.

Political focus, economic commitment and decision making power are crucial to tackling this crisis but I believe that so too are creativity, talent and optimism - the assets that this group of young people can supply in abundance.

The Global Youth Ambassadors are a network of young people, aged 18 to 30, leading the movement to get every child into school and learning. They are currently campaigning for #SafeSchools around the world. Join them by signing the #SafeSchools petition here.

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