The first World Humanitarian Summit will be held in Turkey in May. World leaders are being urged to commit to launch a fund that ensures children return to school quickly after an emergency such as a conflict or natural disaster. Theirworld, the children's charity behind A World at School, is running the #SafeSchools petition and campaign and our Global Youth Ambassadors are addressing the issue in a series of blogs.
By Fideline Mboringong, an A World at School Global Youth Ambassador from Cameroon
From the mountains in Afghanistan down to the sandy deserts of Gaza and to the evergreen rainforest of Central African Republic, millions of children have been deprived of sorely-needed education due to emergency situations entirely outwith their control.
According to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” Education is the best gift to all children. Yet, for many, this is a gift they might never have.
In 2015, 80 million children had their education disrupted by an emergency and 37 million were forced out of school entirely. Wars and violence have never been a solution to any problem but education is a way to build back better, peaceful and more prosperous societies.
According to Susan Nicolai from the Overseas Development Institute, education in emergencies can be defined as a set of linked project activities that enable structured learning to continue in times of acute crisis or long-term instability.
Emergencies could be man-made or natural - for example, wars, conflicts, floods, earthquakes etc. The consequences of these on education are enormous; schools are destroyed, children drop out, remaining schools are insecure.
Girls and women are often the most severely affected when it comes to these issues. Take, for example, the 200-plus girls in northern Nigeria abducted by Boko Haram.
Education should continue in areas of emergency just like in any other area because the right to education is imperative for children all over the globe.
If they are robbed of this, they are robbed of their opportunity to contribute to society - an outcome detrimental to any country.
During past conflicts or crises, humanitarian aid, such as provision of food and health services, has been the primary focus whilst education has been neglected.
Education in emergencies, however, offers a sense of normalcy to children and communities while ensuring child protection and psychosocial support.
A temporary classroom after the earthquake in Nepal last year Picture: Kashish Das Shrestha for USAID
Children living in areas affected by emergency are being denied their basic human rights. They will not be equipped with the basic skills and knowledge needed to effectively contribute to their communities and the wider world.
Considering the fact that children and youth make up the greatest percentage of Africa’s population, a whole generation of leaders will be rendered unproductive.
Getting children back to school after emergencies is a way to stabilise their lives and take their minds off the terrible experiences they have gone through.
According to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy: “Schools and education are [about] more than just teaching - they could become places where children are safe and secure.”
I am thinking of the little girl who was born and raised in a war-torn country like Syria, living the reality of having to be on the run every day.
The only thing that can help this child psychologically, the only thing that can bring some normalcy to her life, is education.
Heba, a 17-year-old living in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, told UNICEF in December: "My dream was to go to university and study pharmacy. It was on my mind and in my heart, but it’s been reduced to ash."
Like Heba, this is what will become of today’s children if we remain indifferent to the challenges education faces in emergencies.
We must all put together efforts to provide basic education to children in emergencies. Education in emergencies should be promoted by governments, organisations and the international community.
It is the basic right of children to have access to education no matter who they are or where they come from. Together let’s make schools a better and safer place for our children. #SafeSchools.
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