December 07, 2016

Young people learn why school is as vital as food and medicine for children in emergencies

Ewan Watt

Online Editor, Theirworld

An innovative awareness campaign by the European Union and UNICEF called #EmergencyLessons used real-life stories to explain how schooling can protect children in humanitarian situations.

Everyone has heard and read the stories of children whose lives have been turned upside down by wars and natural disasters.

But fully understanding why education is vital for them during times of conflict or in the aftermath of an earthquake or hurricane is not always easy.

That's why the European Union and the United Nations children's agency UNICEF have been spreading the word in a programme aimed at engaging young people in Europe.

An innovative awareness campaign called #EmergencyLessons used real-life stories to explain how schooling can protect children in humanitarian situations.

“When conflict or other crises strike, children need more than food, shelter and medicine”, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, told a public event at the European Parliament in Brussels. 

Children return home past rubble after the first day of school in eastern Aleppo in September.

“Education can be just as much of a life-saver, providing children with a safe, protective space and helping ensure they learn the skills they need to build a better future for themselves and their communities. The EU is leading the way in its support for education in emergencies.”

Almost two million children in 20 countries have been able to continue their schooling over the past four years as a result of a partnership between the European Commission's department for humanitarian aid and civil protection and UNICEF.

About 75 million children had their education disrupted by emergencies last year - but less than 2% of humanitarian aid goes to education. The Education Cannot Wait fundwas launched in May to try to solve that issue.

The EU has also led the way by announcing last week it will increase the education share of its aid funding in 2017 from 4% to 6% - six times higher than in 2014.

The seven-month #EmergencyLessons campaign reached more than 70 million people on Twitter alone, targeting in particular young people in Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.

Supporters were encouraged to spread the word among their peers through social media platforms, as well as at their own schools and in public events. 

The campaign drew on the inspirational real-life stories of children in Iraq, Ukraine, Nepal and Guinea who continued to study despite war, natural disaster and disease outbreaks.

“Children are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to continue their education even in the worst of circumstances,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth. 

”It’s up to the rest of us to make sure the necessary resources are available for them. The European Union has set an example by committing to increase the EU humanitarian aid budget to education in emergencies to 6% in 2017 and we hope others will do the same”.

Support for the campaign came from celebrities such as British actor Tom Hiddleston, Italian European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, Slovenian Basketball player Boštjan Nachbar, Hungarian news presenter and media personality Kriszta D. Tóth and Slovakian dancer Jaro Bekr.

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