19-year-old Syrian activist Muzoon warns of impact that conflict is having on education during trip to Chad
When Muzoon Almellehan travelled to meet children in Chad last week, she was met with a scenario of which she had an all too recent understanding.
At 14, Muzzon’s entire life was uprooted. Her secondary education was disrupted by conflict. The places where she’d once happily lived and learned came under attack. Fleeing her home in the middle of the night, the only things she packed were her schoolbooks, carried with the hope and expectation that things would get back on track; that normal life, and learning, would resume.
She travelled to Chad last week to highlight the challenges faced by children, and met many whose experiences echoed her own. Displaced, facing an uncertain future and craving the stability and safety of school. “I never imagined that other children around the world could be experiencing the same pain and fear as I did in Syria,” she said, “while at the same time they cling to the same dream – dreaming of a future that only education can allow,” she added.
Muzoon’s work as an education activist was born in Zaatari refugee camp, where she travelled from tent to tent, encouraging families to send their children to school. In Chad, she met with children who were able to continue their education despite the obstacles, and community members who, like her once, are risking it all to get children into school.
Chad’s already fragile education system has been totally destroyed by what is now the fastest growing development crisis in Africa. Education Cannot Wait has responded to this with a US$10 million investment to provide quality education for displaced children and children living in host communities. Only 8% of refugees are enrolled in secondary school and there are nearly three times as many primary-school-age out of-school girls as boys.
The fund is playing a critical role in Chad, allocating funding in areas where grants have not been available. This focus on the hardest-to-reach and most vulnerable children, especially girls, is a guiding principle for Education Cannot Wait’s operations.
The fund is also piloting new approaches to build the capacity and accountability of local actors. Existing schools are overcrowded and understaffed with only 30% of teachers properly qualified. ECW is delivering professional and community development training for teachers and education officials to strengthen the community’s ability to respond.
Speaking from Chad, Muzoon sent an urgent message to members of ECW’s High-Level Steering Group. “I feel so lucky to have met the girls in Chad, but I’m sad to see that so many are missing out on school,” she said. “Education Cannot Wait is dedicated to reaching these children but I can count on every single one of you to do more.”
Muzoon’s past experience and those of children living in Chad reflect the stories of 75 million children worldwide whose education has been disrupted by crisis. This battle for every child’s right to learn, no matter where or how they live, is one that Muzoon has personally fought but is now championing for children everywhere.
Education Cannot Wait is championing the collaborative effort needed to reach them and has brought together powerful advocates like Muzoon, political and private sector champions, and a wide range of donors and civil society groups to wage this battle together. Ultimately, ECW is based on the recognition that no one agency or one programme can address this challenge.
As she moves towards completing her final high-school exams, Muzoon is proof that with the right attitude, we can prevent challenging times becoming challenging lifetimes. ECW is dedicated to mobilizing the extraordinary effort needed to give every child the same chapter in their story- a fair chance to learn.