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Reflections on 2015 by Sarah Brown

It is quite breath-taking looking back at all that Theirworld has achieved in 2015. The year has raced by as we have reached some of our goals and set ourselves new challenges.

Brain ‘pathway’ mapping at the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory

The scientists at the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory have continued to work diligently on research projects to support safe pregnancy and vulnerable newborns. This year we launched the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort study to monitor the development of hundreds of premature babies who have been MRI-scanned before birth right up to their 5th birthdays – and perhaps beyond. This is where the frontiers of science meet Michael Apted’s 7 Up (one of the all-time best TV series).

This year we also set out to take the world’s largest education petition to the United Nations. We gathered over 10 million signatures for the #UpForSchool petition, harnessing the energy of many other charities, faith organisations, businesses, teachers, parents and youth activists. Our Global Youth Ambassador programme now numbers over 500 extraordinary, dedicated campaigners based in 85 countries and many gathered together at the Town Hall event in New York in September to keep up the call for change.

The Global Business Coalition for Education has consolidated its role this year as the leading private sector group of companies working to bring out of school children their first opportunity to learn, flourish and develop skills for future employment. We hosted the first meeting this year in Washington DC to bring together international donors with the private sector – and will reconvene again in 2016.  Our technology project – the Global Education Platform – also progressed this year and we are just finishing up a report which we will share widely.

This year, we saw first-hand the desperate plight of Syrian refugee families fleeing their homes for an – at best-  uncertain and often dangerous future. At Theirworld we have led the call for double-shift schools and other emergency relief schooling to accommodate Syrian families in the Middle East so that their journey ends there for the time being. We don’t want to see families setting sail on fragile boats when they can find a welcome closer to home. This year at Theirworld we focused on our campaign and pilot projects in Lebanon and we have seen the government of Lebanon exceed its own expectations in helping Syrian children. The end of year tally was for over 220,000 (the original bold target was 200,000!) school places for children in Lebanon, and we are working on plans now for even more school places in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. We are grateful to our supportive donors who fund our work: OGSB, United Postcode Lotteries, Dubai Cares, Dangote Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Good Planet Foundation, and Helmsley Foundation.

Coming up in 2016, we have exciting new projects supported by the People’s Postcode Lottery to extend the support of a school feeding project and a ground-breaking tech club in Lebanese schools. We are working with Teach for Lebanon supported by Kano and Codeacademy to pilot the tech club and develop programmes for girls and boys. Our Lebanese Youth Ambassador group is also growing, and we are engaged in dialogue with all the international NGOs in Lebanon who can work together to create non formal education for all children still left out of school. Partnerships lie at the heart of realising solutions that ensure no one misses out.

We won’t stop there of course, as we start to look at plans for Jordan and, thanks to generous support from the Conrad N Hilton Foundation, we will be extending our Safe Schools project in Turkey and building a bigger team to make it all happen.

We do not forget that the challenges for Africa remain great and, thanks to the PPL African Trust and the postcode lottery players of Britain, we are extending our campaign for Safe Schools – we won’t forget the abducted Chibok girls and are exploring new ideas to keep girls safe to attend school. Our first girls’ tech hubs providing safe spaces for girls will open at the start of 2016 working with innovative ground breakers and African leaders.

The launch of the United Nation’s new Sustainable Development Goals also opened up the opportunity for Theirworld to realise a long held dream to focus on Early Childhood Development. We believe that every child deserves the best start in life, and our new campaign for early years, supported by the Conrad N Hilton Foundation, will start in Africa too.

I can’t cover everything we have achieved in one blog, but I do want to thank you all of our Trustees, advisory board members, partners at Astley Clarke, Hearst UK, Reed Smith, and Unicef, #UpforSchool signers, our lovely supporters and friends – and, of course, to our amazing Theirworld team who work so hard all year around to help unlock the potential of the most vulnerable children in the UK and around the world.

Thank you for all you do.