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Education in emergencies

A lifeline for the overlooked

Theirworld is dedicated to ensuring every child has a safe place to learn. Our campaigning and advocacy work has influenced governments to place a higher priority on education in crises, and helped create the first global fund dedicated to delivering learning in emergencies.

Humanitarian emergencies like conflicts, natural disasters and health-related crises are devastating for people of all ages – but children tend to be disproportionately affected. Alongside the trauma of becoming displaced or losing loved ones, young people in desperate circumstances can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, radicalisation and violence.

Being in school can be a lifeline for the most overlooked youth. Not only does it stimulate their desire to learn, but the structure it offers can provide a sense of stability their life has been desperately lacking. The opportunity to be cared for, socialise with other children and express themselves are things that can give a traumatised child a foundation to help them start to rebuild their confidence and sense of security.

Humanitarian aid for education in crises was, for decades, an afterthought amongst the international community. Theirworld has campaigned ceaselessly to reverse this entrenched mindset. We’ve worked to gather evidence of the value of education for young people, never more so than when they find themselves at the mercy of humanitarian emergencies.

75 million

children have their education interrupted by conflicts and emergencies

In Lebanon, as hundreds of thousands of refugee children from Syria languished with no access to education, Theirworld helped devise and mobilise funding for Double-Shift Schools. Here, the capacity of existing schools was split so that local children and refugees were able to continue their schooling in different ‘shifts’.

The success of this innovation bolstered our determination to ensure education for children in emergencies become a global priority. Our campaigning helped to galvanise civil society organisations and governments, and the Education Cannot Wait fund was created: the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies. To date (as of January 2022) it’s reached more than 4.6 million children.

Our partnership with Education Cannot Wait meant we were able to help thousands of displaced children subjected to wretched conditions in camps on Greece’s Aegean islands. A quarter of the 42,000 refugees gathered on the islands are children, with many forced to live in the Moria camp on Lesvos, at one time the largest refugee camp in Europe. Very few of these children had any access to education before Theirworld launched the first major education intervention on the Greek islands.


When Covid-19 threatened to interrupt the education of refugee children on the Greek islands, Theirworld intervened to secure €1.35m in extra funding which meant they were able to continue learning.

education in emergencies

Dignity, respect and care

Providing learning for 5,500 children was the start; we also went on to fund the expansion of the beloved Tapuat Centre, where young people of all ages could spend precious time away from the squalid conditions of a refugee camp. With three new classrooms, a large communal space, a Mother and Baby Corner and a Female-Friendly Space, the new wing of the centre meant hundreds of youth every day could experience a sense of dignity, respect and care.

2020 brought a new emergency to the islands. When Covid-19 threatened to exclude displaced children all over again, Theirworld was able to secure €1.35m in funding to help continue the provision of education in the region. We also leveraged our experience of working on the Greek islands to publish a report, ‘Finding solutions to Greece’s refugee education crisis’, whose proposed way forward was adopted by UNICEF and the Greek government. The outcome was a pathway for 30,000 refugee children to receive the education they deserve.

Since 2015, when only 2% of global humanitarian aid was being spent on education, Theirworld has diligently gathered evidence about the importance of education in emergencies and shared it with policymakers at the European Union. Our goal was to demonstrate why we felt the international community should increase education spending to at least 4%-6%.

In 2019, after four years of engagement with Theirworld, the EU announced that it had exceeded the recommended 4-6% target and dedicated 10% of its aid spending to education. The move set a new benchmark and brought us one step closer to getting every child access to a school education.

Of course, the largest refugee crisis since World War II means there is a lot more work to do. And the needs can be complex. In Turkey we work with partners who train teachers to identify signs of trauma in children who exhibit troublesome behavioural patterns. Our Trauma Informed Schools programme works to ensure these teachers also have the skills to address these youths’ needs by training them in delivering psychosocial support.

More than 5,000 children have benefited from the programme; our hope is that the dedicated care and attention they receive provides the help they need to adjust to their new life and, one day, become who they were meant to be.

Children are the future doctors, lawyers, scientists and artists. Whether those children who are displaced get the opportunity to fulfil their potential – in their homelands or their new host countries – depends on the support they get. It’s only by receiving structure, care and education that a generation of young people will be able to build a new future for themselves, their families and their societies.

Whether children’s lives are disrupted by conflict, pandemic or disaster, providing them with quality education as soon as possible is key to ensuring their long term wellbeing. We can only do this if the international community joins us to provide the will and financial support to prioritise the right of every child to a safe place to learn.

Give children a safe place to learn

Every child deserves a safe place to learn, especially refugees and children affected by emergencies and conflict. Even before Covid-19, there were more than 260 million children and youth around the world who didn’t go to school and at least 75 million will have their education interrupted this year due to conflict and emergencies – including natural disasters.

If you want to ensure every child has a safe place to learn, add your name.

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