Girls like Priscille are continuing their education during the COVID-19 lockdown. Photo © Save the Children

With support from Education Cannot Wait, Save the Children is distributing home learning kits and extending educational opportunities through innovative radio programmes to provide refugee girls and boys – and host community children and youth – ongoing remote learning opportunities.

Stories from the Field

Special Contribution by Save the Children. View Original.

As the COVID-19 pandemic escalates in many parts of the world, Education Cannot Wait investments implemented by Save the Children in Uganda are working to reach refugee girls and boys with innovative remote learning programs. Schools are still closed in Uganda – possibly for the remainder of the year. For these vulnerable children and youth, life-saving education and health awareness materials are essential in keeping children safe, extending learning and slowing the spread of the coronavirus.  Over half of the primary school refugee children in Uganda have yet to receive home learning materials, highlighting the need to expand the global education in emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  For girls and boys like Priscille, Ronald and Kato,* education and continued learning are provide hope, safety and opportunity in these tough and troubling times.

Priscille is keeping up on her schoolwork with the distance learning packs. Photo © Save the Children

Meet Priscille

Getting back to school is 15-year-old Priscille’s biggest wish.

She is in her final year of primary school, at an age when many girls in her community often drop out. In late March all schools in the Rwamwanja refugee settlement in Western Uganda, closed as part of prevention measures against Covid-19.

“Imagine… I am in P7 (the seventh and final grade of primary school). As a girl, I am very proud to have reached this class,” says Priscille. “This virus should stop so that I can sit the Primary Leaving Examination since many girls cannot make it. This makes me happy and keen to complete my studies!”

Through Education Cannot Wait’s education in emergency COVID-19 response, Priscille received a new home learning kit from Save the Children. The study books will help her keep learning while she’s at home and the schools are closed.

Priscille and her family fled to Uganda to escape the war in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. She now lives with her parents and four sisters in the vast refugee settlement.

The family doesn’t have a radio, but she’s heard about the Covid-19 outbreak from listening to her neighbour’s radio and from the community awareness sessions being held in the settlement.

When she heard about the importance of washing hands, she installed a handwashing facility at the family home.

As part of the ECW-funded response, Save the Children will be providing some of the most vulnerable families in the refugee settlement with radios, so that they can listen to information and education programmes – and stay entertained while stuck at home.

“I will listen to music over the radio to make me happy,” says Priscille. “I will also look for stations that are conducting lessons, as reading alone is very hard.”

At home Priscille reads as much as she can while keeping up with the daily chores like cooking, fetching water and washing clothes.

Ronald and his brothers with their new learning materials. Photo © Save the Children

Meet Ronald

Every day Ronald and his three brothers all gather round the family radio and listen for the latest news about the Covid-19 outbreak.

He knows from the radio that the virus can be deadly and how it can spread in the community. “The virus spreads through handshaking, sneezing and coughing in public. Our people do not fully follow the President’s directive on social distancing,” he says.

At 13 years old, Ronald is in his last year of primary school. He’s Ugandan and his community in western Uganda has received a lot of refugees over the past few years.

At home Ronald encourages his family and friends to keep distance as much as possible. “Children should maintain social distance everywhere and wash their hands with soap every time!”

He’s looking forward to sitting his Primary Leaving Examination this year, but the schools were closed in late March as part of the Covid-19 prevention measures, and he has been at home ever since.

Ronald reads as much as he can at home, “but it is challenging without guidance.”

“The children should be given books and supported to learn from home,” says Ronald’s father.

Working closely with the local government, Save the Children provided Ronald with learning packs that included study books with exercises designed for each grade of primary school. Together with the radio programmes, these distance learning materials are helping keep Ronald and other children like him from falling too far behind during the lockdown.

Ronald’s mother and father are at home due to the lockdown, along with their eldest son who is normally away at secondary school, and the father says they will support Ronald and the younger ones to study the materials.

Brenda helps Kato continue his lessons. Photo © Save the Children

Meet Brenda and Kato

Brenda is a teacher in Rwamwanja refugee settlement, where more than 70,000 refugees now live.

With schools closed due to Covid-19, Brenda is determined to ensure that children keep learning at home during the lockdown. With support from Education Cannot Wait, Brenda and other teachers are distributing these home learning packs and child-friendly information about the virus and how to stay safe.

Every day she walks miles around the vast settlement, visiting some of her most vulnerable pupils at home to answer their questions and give one-on-one support, which is allowed under government guidelines.

Kato, 15,  is in his fifth year of primary school and one of the children to have received a home learning pack. Just before school closed he borrowed a science textbook and has also been using that to read.

Brenda frequently visits him to check in on how his studying is going.

“I’ve found it easy to do the tasks provided in my learning pack because my teacher has guided me on how to use the textbook to answer the questions in the pack,” says Kato.

Kato looks forward to the day when schools will reopen. “Learning at school is better than at home as sometimes we are disrupted by housework!”

ECW funding also supports teachers in sharing broadcast lessons on Nyumbani FM – the only radio station in the settlement.

Kato says his father owns a radio and lets him listen to the daily sessions. These have also helped him learn about the virus. “I first heard of the measures to prevent Corona through the radio, and from my parents and community leaders,” he says. “So I make sure I collect enough water to wash my hands.”


Learn more about Save the Children’s ECW-supported investments in Uganda.

Education Cannot Wait’s ‘Stories from the Field’ series features the voices of our implementing partners, children, youth and the communities we support. These stories have only been lightly edited to reflect the authentic voice of these frontlines partners on the ground. The views expressed in the Stories from the Field series do not necessarily reflect those of Education Cannot Wait, our Secretariat, donors or UN Member States.

*The names of the children featured in this story have been changed for their safety and protection.


Finland and Verizon commit funds and highlight the importance of education in emergencies in building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over US$10 million in funding to ECW announced this week, including new pledges from Canada and the United States.  

Finland and Verizon commit funds and highlight the importance of education in emergencies in building back better from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over US$10 million in funding to ECW announced this week, including new pledges from Canada and the United States. 

27 June 2020, New York – At today’s ‘Global Goal: Unite for our Future’ concert and summit events – presented by Global Citizen in partnership with the European Commission, top artists and global leaders – the Government of Finland and Verizon committed funding to Education Cannot Wait, joining others to highlight the importance of education in building resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the Global Goal events, the Government of Finland and Verizon announced new contributions to Education Cannot Wait, of €3 million and US$1 million respectively. Hosted by Dwayne Johnson, the ‘Unite for our Future’ concert features performances by Shakira, Coldplay, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Yemi Alade and many more.

With the commitments made at the Global Citizen events, a total of over US$10 million in funding to Education Cannot Wait (ECW) was announced this week alone. Just a few days earlier, both the Government of Canada announced CAD$5.5 million and the United States announced US$2.3 million in increased support to ECW, the global fund for education in emergencies.

The new funding will support efforts to provide crisis-affected children and youth – already impacted by armed conflicts, forced displacement, natural disasters and protracted crises and now doubly hit by COVID-19 – with the safety, hope and opportunity of an education. This crucial funding expands ECW’s education in emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic and supports its ongoing efforts to achieve universal and equitable education by 2030 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

During the Global Citizen livestream event, Finland’s Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Mr. Ville Skinnari, announced €3 million (approximately US$3.3 million) in new funding to ECW. This is the first commitment to ECW by the Government of Finland. “In Finland, we believe in education. Education for everyone, everywhere, including in emergencies. That’s why, this year, we pledge 3 million euros to Education Cannot Wait,” said Skinnari.

One of the world’s largest companies, US-based telecommunication provider Verizon, also committed US$1 million to Education Cannot Wait during the event, joining other private sector partners increasingly concerned with the need for education in emergencies. “One of the areas most transformed by COVID-19 is education. That’s why during this pandemic, Verizon has extended our long-term commitment to students and teachers. Today, we continue our support for education by supporting Education Cannot Wait,” said Hans Vestberg, Chairman and CEO, Verizon.

In addition to these announcements, earlier this week, the Government of Canada announced an additional CAD$5.5 million (approximately US$4 million) contribution to ECW to address the urgent educational needs of refugees and refugee-hosting communities, and adolescent girls in secondary school, including support to distance learning and teacher training. This contribution brings Canada’s overall support to ECW to over US$56 million. The United States also pledged US $2.3 million in additional funding to ECW, expanding its pledges and contributions to over US$60 million to date. The funding will be dedicated to scale-up the education in emergency response in Burkina Faso and will provide 43,390 children (including 26,034 girls) with formal and non-formal education in a safe, inclusive and quality environment.

“This continued and growing support from Canada, Finland, the United States and Verizon is profoundly appreciated and is, we hope, recognition that ECW is delivering results and making a real difference for children and youth left furthest behind,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. “The ECW model seems to work where it is most needed and we call on public and private sector donors – and people everywhere – to join our movement and invest in education for children and young people in countries of crisis. This is their hope, their potential and their power to build back better. We need US$310 million in immediate support for Education Cannot Wait’s responses in countries of conflict, forced displacement and natural disasters. This funding is critical for both the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises. Together with Global Citizen, government donors, the private sector and UN and civil society partners, we are united in leaving no child behind as we build back better from this pandemic, leveraging the power of education to achieve SDG4.”

ECW’s education in emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic focuses on ensuring continuous access to education, including distance, online and radio learning; information campaigns, risk communications and community engagement in local languages, including psychosocial and mental health support; and, water and sanitation facility upgrades in schools and learning centers as a first line of defense. ECW has already reached over 3.4 million crisis-affected children and youth, and mobilized more than US$650 million since its inception just over three years ago.

Global Citizens shared over 1,000 messages with world leaders through a campaign to support education during COVID-19, including through Education Cannot Wait. “The fact that we are receiving support from Global Citizens around the world and from new and existing donors, further inspires our global movement to protect girls and boys from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and provide them with a brighter future through education,” said Sherif. “For many crisis-affected children and youth, education is more than just learning; it is often lifesaving. Let us unite for these children and for humanity’s future. We are grateful to all Global Citizens calling for support to Education Cannot Wait and to our strategic donors, UN and civil society partners who support the work we do every day.”

“Global Citizen knows the critical role education plays in ensuring COVID-19 and other emergencies don’t become a barrier to opportunities and education for children living in poverty around the world,” said Mick Sheldrick, Chief Global Policy and Government Affairs Officer of Global Citizen. “We are very proud to partner with Education Cannot Wait and commend the crucial contributions announced by Finland and Verizon through Global Goal: Unite for Our Future in support of ECW’s life-saving work for the most vulnerable children and youth around the world. We encourage more government and private sector leaders to support Education Cannot Wait to ensure no child is left behind.”

Additional Resources


Ms. Amina J. Mohammed is the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group.

Ms. Amina J. Mohammed is the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group. Prior to her appointment, Ms. Mohammed served as Minister of Environment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria where she steered the country’s efforts on climate action and efforts to protect the natural environment. Ms. Mohammed first joined the United Nations in 2012 as Special Adviser to former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with the responsibility for post-2015 development planning. She led the process that resulted in global agreement around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms. Mohammed began her career working on the design of schools and clinics in Nigeria. She served as an advocate focused on increasing access to education and other social services, before moving into the public sector, where she rose to the position of adviser to three successive Presidents on poverty, public sector reform, and sustainable development. Ms. Mohammed has been conferred several honorary doctorates and has served as an adjunct professor, lecturing on international development. The recipient of various global awards, Ms Mohammed has served on numerous international advisory boards and panels. She is the mother of six children and has one grandchild.

ECW. As an inspirational global women leader who has dedicated your life to service, how do you see the progress and challenges we face in advancing gender equality and empowering the next generation of women leaders through girls and adolescent girls’ right to a quality education?

Amina J. Mohammed. I am inspired by the upcoming generation of women leaders who in the face of disasters, conflicts, and health emergencies prioritize their education and use their platforms to advocate for the right of all girls and young women to a quality education. Advancing gender equality and amplifying the voices of these young women needs to be at the center of all our work.

The great progress we have made globally to advance gender equality cannot be underscored enough – more girls are going to and staying in school than ever before and the number of out-of-school girls has dropped by 79 million in the last two decades. Yet, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 132 million girls were still out of school.

Girls – particularly adolescent girls – face significant barriers to a quality education in many contexts. There are risks of sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse and violence – both on the way to and at school. Many girls have competing demands on their time due to care and household responsibilities. Many families face the difficult choice of which of their children will get an education due to financial constraints – and many times, boys are chosen over girls. Girls’ education is particularly under threat in emergencies and for children on the move and we need to continue to empower this next generation of women leaders through a quality education.

All these issues have been exacerbated by COVID-19. Lockdowns and the socio-economic crisis have brought dramatic increases in domestic violence, including for girls and adolescent girls. Furthermore, rates of child marriages have increased, and it is not clear what effects that would have if schools remain closed for a long period.

To tackle the challenges exacerbated by the current pandemic, we need strengthened efforts to not only ensure gender equality dimensions are prioritized in all our work, but also apply targeted measures to ensure girls, and the most vulnerable, do not bear the heaviest burden and are protected.

ECW. There is a global education crisis in the world, and it is increasingly clear that education, or Sustainable Development Goal 4, is foundational to realising the full spectrum of the Sustainable Development Goals. How do you see the interrelation and why is it so important to connect those dots in advancing all of the Sustainable Development Goals?

Amina J. Mohammed. Education is a human right and is central for building sustainable and resilient societies, as well as for achieving personal aspirations and all the other Sustainable Development Goals. There is no doubt that equipping children and youth with relevant knowledge and skills has a catalytic impact on eradicating poverty, reducing inequalities, improving health, driving economic growth and achieving gender equality.

Without investing in youth to create an enabling environment for them to learn and acquire skills for decent work, sustainability, climate change awareness and global citizenship, we will not deliver on our promise for the future we want.

Without ensuring quality and inclusive education for all, we will not be able to advance our efforts for more peaceful and inclusive societies and for promoting respect for human rights. Yet, we have seen warning signs that on current trends, the world is not on track to achieve the SDG4 goal and targets.

Before COVID-19, more than 260 million children, adolescents and youth were out of school. while more than 617 million were not learning, achieving only minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. Now COVID-19 has exacerbated the global education crisis with more than 1.5 billion children who face disrupted education while too many children are still at risk of not returning to school, especially those most marginalized – including girls, children with disabilities, and children on the move. Violence against children is increasing. COVID-19 is not just a health crisis – it is a human crisis and an education crisis.

Indeed, a quality education and lifelong learning is foundational to all other aspects of human development and sustainable development. The foundations for learning start in the womb – maternal health and nutrition is vital for brain development. We know that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are critical and set the stage for learning throughout the lifecycle. We know that children who experience stunting also experience difficulties with learning. When children do not have access to clean water and sanitation or life-saving vaccines for preventable diseases, their lives are at risk. Without access to quality and relevant education, young people cannot build the skills needed to succeed in life and work, and consequently they and their communities suffer.

We need to make sure that all children and youth have an equal chance – girls and boys, children and youth with disabilities, children and youth from marginalized communities. In order to achieve real progress on any of the SDGs, our approaches need to put education at the center.

ECW. The UN General Assembly President recently stressed the need to continue to invest in education during the current COVID-19 crisis and pointed out that many governments in the South do not have the infrastructure to provide adequate remote learning through technology, and this risks deepening the already existing global education divide. How do we translate global cooperation into a concrete bridge that reduces the divides, starting with financing, economic cooperation, and socio-economic development and equity?

Amina J. Mohammed. The COVID-19 crisis in combination with the existing global digital divide has posed considerable challenges for addressing the learning crisis. The pandemic has presented an additional risk of deepening the global education divide and losing the gains that have been made so far. With nearly three quarters of learners being affected by the school closures globally, many countries are facing unprecedented economic challenges including how they can ensure the equity and inclusion of their education systems. Reliance on new technologies for the provision of education during the crisis has highlighted the importance of investing more into making all education systems more resilient, open, inclusive and flexible.

The lack of access to technological readiness and connectivity in some developing countries, but also the overall level of their preparedness to adapt the curricula, prepare learners, educators and families, as well ensure efficient assessment and certification processes, would need to be addressed at scale if we are to learn from the COVID-19 crisis.

To address this complex situation, we all need to work together in partnership to ensure that all children and youth continue to learn, maintaining a focus on the those most in need.

The technology to reach everyone everywhere is available. It’s up to all of us to make sure that at all levels we can scale up these solutions empowering teachers to meet every child and young person’s learning needs in every context. Of course, this should be complemented with improving education systems’ preparedness to face global challenges while advancing on the achievement of the sustainable development for all.

ECW. The UN Secretary-General’s Reform places strong emphasis on ‘The New Way of Working,’ the ‘humanitarian-development coherence’ and the principles of ‘less bureaucracy and more accountability.’ These approaches and principles are also embedded in the strategy and work of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), which is hosted by the UN (UNICEF). Having followed ECW’s work closely since its inception, how do you see ECW contributing to UN reform and the SDGs, especially as we accelerate during the Decade of Action, through concrete measures and results.

Amina J. Mohammed. Despite progress on education provision in crisis-affected situations, the persisting barriers to education have worsened due to the pandemic. ECW’s response during COVID-19 has exemplified the ways in which it implements the new way of working with humanitarian speed and development depth. During the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic, ECW and partners mobilized to provide education support at record speed. The quick release and flexibility of funding allowed UN country teams to respond quickly and to implement education interventions in the ways most appropriate for each context.

At the onset of COVID-19, utilizing the in-country education coordination mechanisms, a total of US$23 million was rapidly disbursed to 55 grantees across 26 countries within a period of 9 days between the receipt of initial applications and the first disbursements of funds.  This collaborative approach ensures transparency, and promotes coordinated response and efficiency and effectiveness within the sector.

As an example, in Cameroon, the COVID-19 education response was developed in alignment with the national COVID-19 response strategy in education in multi-stakeholder collaboration with five Ministries of Education. UNESCO and UNICEF received the ECW first emergency response funds for an innovative distance learning platform and the safe protocol for both formal and non-formal education settings. The US$1.5 million allocation in Cameroon for the COVID-19 response will ensure access and continuity of children’s learning, reaching 3.9 million children, of whom 2.2 million are girls, as well as 8,600 teachers, 60 per cent of whom are women.

ECW. With COVID-19, we have all had to adjust and reassess how we operate in the current environment to continue to deliver on the SDGs and will also need to look ahead as this crisis will stay with us for some time. What do you see as the priorities, both in terms of development sectors and strategic approach in mitigating the impact of the global COVID-19 crisis and the people we serve, especially those left furthest behind, such as low-income countries affected by conflict and refugee-hosting countries?

Amina J. Mohammed. Our first and foremost priority really is to address the human face of this global crisis and do it with a global response, which really does need solidarity. Therefore, in the UN, we see the emergency response as threefold. The health response in suppressing transmission of the virus. The Humanitarian response which we have to keep fueling to ensure people are safe in this crisis situation; and an urgent socio-economic response to stem the impact of the pandemic, by helping Governments and people act in a way that builds a better and greener future.

A UN socio-economic response framework was developed to protect the needs and rights of people living under the duress of the pandemic, with particular focus on the most vulnerable countries, groups, and people who risk being left behind.

The five streams of work that constitute this framework include: 1. ensuring that essential health services are still available and protecting health systems; 2. helping people cope with adversity, through social protection and basic services; 3. protecting jobs, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, and informal sector workers through economic response and recovery programmes; 4. guiding the necessary surge in fiscal and financial stimulus to make macroeconomic policies work for the most vulnerable and strengthening multilateral and regional responses; and 5. promoting social cohesion and investing in community-led resilience and response systems. These five streams are connected by a strong environmental sustainability and gender equality imperative to build back better.

The UN´s response in the field of social protection and basic services includes supporting governments to adapt, extend and scale-up services to secure sustained learning for all children, and adolescents, preferably in schools. As such, the UN is working with national education authorities and private sector education service providers to support preschools and schools that can safely remain open, while assisting governments to scale up digital and other forms of remote learning.  All efforts need to be put in place to make sure all children and youth remain engaged in remote learning if available and return to school once these reopen.  The UN is also supporting teachers through professional training programmes on alternative learning methods.

The UN recognizes a multilateral response like none ever before is required. One that needs the courage to flip the current orthodoxies because we need new tools, new measures and we need to lift the policy barriers that we often find as an excuse as to why we can’t do things at the speed that it needs to be done.

We are presented with a once in a generation opportunity to reach all children and deliver on the SDGs. To do so, we need to work together and leverage partnerships. Our priority is to ensure that all children are learning – whether that’s returning to school, accessing education for the first time, utilizing digital technologies or sitting in a classroom. We need to reach those that are furthest behind, we need to innovate how we do business, and we need to provide real-time response. Children in emergencies and children on the move are in greatest need of support and must be included in any approach.

ECW. In the face of the global COVID-19 crisis unprecedented to our generation, it is also a time for reflection and a real resolve to building back better. Considering that an inclusive quality education for every child and adolescent is one essential part of the solution, how can all of the UN’s constituencies pro-actively and concretely provide unwavering support to realize the values and commitments made 75 years ago?

Amina J. Mohammed. COVID-19 presents us with an opportunity for countries to build back better with equity and inclusion at the center, anchored in the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change. We have an opportunity to reimagine the overall purpose, content and delivery of education in the long term and importantly how the UN system could best support countries in making their education systems more resilient with current and future crises. It is important that we utilize the comparative advantages of each UN entity and other partners for a strengthened, efficient, and comprehensive global response. With UNICEF’s global field presence and education programming in 145 countries, and UNESCO’s network of specialized institutes and mandate to lead the global coordination of the achievement of the education related targets, the UN can utilize inter-sectoral approaches and tap into collective experience and practices from our expertise around the world.


This story was built from the analysis and reporting in Education Cannot Wait’s upcoming 2019 Annual Report. Stay tuned for more stories, high-level virtual events and analysis from the report. All figures reflect reporting as of 31 December 2019 unless otherwise noted. Photo © Avsi Foundation

Education Cannot Wait investments are reaching refugee children and youth in crisis-affected countries around the world, providing them with the hope, opportunity and protection of an education. In places like Uganda, this means disabled girls, like Sunday Harriet, are regaining access to education, allowing them to learn, grow and thrive.

Everyone can make a difference and every action counts! This is the rallying cry of 2020’s World Refugee Day, led by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and supported by stakeholders and partner across the world, including Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises.

For refugee students living in the Palake Refugee Camp in Northern Uganda, like Sunday Harriet, even the smallest of actions can make a big difference.

As an infant, Sunday suffered a serious infection in both her ears. Now 11 years old and in primary school, Sunday’s learning ability is impaired because her hearing is now limited.  “I used to be picked by teachers and brought to the front of the classroom because I did not hear well,” she said.

Sunday’s challenges are complex. Because she has a disability, and because she was forced to flee her home, her chances of receiving quality education were limited.

The spread of COVID-19 now exacerbates the hardships faced by refugee children like Sunday.  Refugee girls are especially at risk, often pressured by economic hardship, culture and tradition to stay home and work, or vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. According to the Malala Fund, approximately 10 million more secondary-school-aged girls could be out of school as a result of the pandemic, putting them at even higher risk.

To support Sunday, and other students like her, Education Cannot Wait provides funding for the Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities in Uganda and through a fast-acting First Emergency Response to the COVID-19 pandemic, announced in early April.

In Uganda, ECW’s education in emergency COVID-19 response includes $1 million in funding to Save the Children and UNHCR, which focuses on ensuring continuous access to education, including: distance, online and radio learning; information campaigns, risk communications and community engagement in local languages, including psychosocial and mental health support; and, water and sanitation facility upgrades in schools and learning centers as a first line of defense.

Recent reports indicate that 60,000 refugee and Ugandan children are benefiting from extended learning and mental health support during the lockdown through ECW’s first emergency response.

These interconnected programmes were developed through a collaborative process, including the Government of Uganda, donors, NGOs, UN agencies, the education in emergencies working group and other key stakeholders.

To get Sunday back to learning, the AVSI Foundation screened her using a contact disability assessment tool, which helps detect children and youth with impairments. Having clearly qualified for assistance, she was referred for further clinical assessment from an ear, nose and throat specialist in Gulu, in northern Uganda, who recommended she be fitted with hearing aids.

The assistance has been life changing! Having eventually received her digital hearing aids from Kampala Audiology and Speech Centre, Sunday can now properly engage in classroom exercises and listen clearly to what her teachers are saying.

Photo © Manan Kotak/ECW


According to ECW’s upcoming Annual Report, Uganda is host to the third largest refugee community in the world as more than 1.3 million refugees have crossed its borders from Burundi, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 60 per cent of the refugees are under the age of 18; girls and women make up a total of 51 percent of the total displaced population.

The Education Response Plan for Refugees and Host Communities in Uganda, was launched in September 2018 and aims to improve access and delivery of quality education for refugees and host communities affected areas in the border regions. The Education Response Plan is based on the ‘Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework’ (CRRF) and these work together to make the education system more inclusive for refugees and other vulnerable groups, such as children with disabilities, girls and child mothers.

In 2019, the Uganda Education Consortium, working under the national emergency response plan, delivered a comprehensive package of services that include the distribution of scholastic materials to 150,941 children (48 per cent girls), the construction of more than 150 new classrooms, the recruitment of 640 teachers, and the establishment of referral pathways alongside accelerated learning programmes.

This multi-pronged approach helped improve the gross enrolment ratio for refugee children from 53 per cent in 2017 to 75 per cent by the end of 2019.

Taken together with other actions, this provides a strong enabling environment for the government of Uganda to roll out effective education in emergencies relief to the COVID-19 pandemic and other fast-acting emergencies that derail development gains and push budgets and coping mechanisms to the breaking point.

Photo © Manan Kotak/ECW

Every Action Counts – The Global Picture

The global population of forcibly displaced people reached 70.8 million in 2019 – the highest level since World War II. This includes almost 26 million refugees and over 41 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs), who often face significant barriers to access education in host countries.

In 2019, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, only 63 per cent of refugee children attended primary school (compared to 91 per cent globally) and only 24 per cent of refugees accessed secondary education. COVID-19, climate change, armed conflicts and a trend toward longer periods of displacement and protracted crises are putting even more girls and boys at risk, and derailing global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG4,which focuses on universal and equitable quality education.

While host countries took in large numbers of refugees, they were not always able to accommodate the increased demand for services, and the 26 million refugees around the world face particularly dangerous, life-threatening obstacles in the fight against COVID-19. In a camp in Northwest Syria hosting 1 million people, people face cramped living conditions, little or no healthcare and a lack of access to clean water. In Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, as many as 16,000 people currently live in quarantine zones. Even worse, these multiplying crises that could result in 300,000 people starving every day, cost our economy trillions of dollars, and push millions back into poverty.

Education is part of the solution. Schools and learning centers provide refugee children with meals, they provide them with sanitation facilities, and they provide them with a safe haven to escape the fear and danger of life that they may face in exile. In short, education provides them hope.

Immediate relief is needed. ECW has expanded its education in emergencies COVID-19 response appeal to US$300 million. Much of this funding will directly reach refugee and other displaced children.

To create true transformational change, however, the education system needs to be built back better with integrated long-term approaches that bridge the humanitarian-development nexus, and put refugee children and education first.

Statement by the Signatories of the Pledge at the Global Refugee Forum to Make Geneva a Global Hub for Education in Emergencies

Call for action to address the threat by the COVID-19 pandemic to the education of those left furthest behind

The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a global health and socio-economic crisis; it is also a massive education crisis with potentially extremely severe ramifications, especially for vulnerable children and youth impacted by armed conflicts, forced displacement, and protracted crises.

Read the full statement here: Statement Geneva Hub for Education in Emergencies


Theirworld, the global children’s education charity, has been awarded €1.35 million ($1.53 million) to fund emergency education for thousands of refugee children on the Greek islands during the Covid-19 epidemic, in partnership with Education Cannot Wait, a global fund for education in emergencies.

Refugee children are receiving the safety, opportunity and protection of an education at the Tapuat Centre near the Moria camp on Lesvos — Photo © UNICEF

16 June 2020 – Theirworld, the global children’s education charity, has been awarded €1.35 million ($1.53 million) to fund emergency education for thousands of refugee children on the Greek islands during the Covid-19 epidemic, in partnership with Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in emergencies.

The award from the Dutch Postcode Lottery (Nationale Postcode Loterij) will support vital education programs for vulnerable children on the islands and on the mainland who have often fled war in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan.

Without this donation, funding for education programmes for young refugees on the islands would have run out by the end of this month.

More than 10,000 people in the overcrowded refugee camps in the Greek Aegean islands are school-aged children and fewer than 15 per cent have any form of education. Including the Greek mainland, there are about 46,000 refugee children and youth. Only 13,000 of them are in formal schools.

The award is part of the ongoing support which Theirworld has received from the Dutch Postcode Lottery to support education in emergencies, in partnership with Education Cannot Wait.

Working with partners like UNICEF and UNHCR, the contribution will bridge the divide between in-person and remote learning opportunities, aiming to reach 18,900 children with formal and distance learning, as well as in non-formal education centres adjusted to COVID-19 measures. Additionally, the contribution will be used to implement preventative measures in education centres to curb the spread of COVID-19 when they reopen. These will include hygiene and medical items.

Without access to education, refugee children face an uncertain future. They also face the additional threat of the coronavirus, which the Greek government has described as a “ticking health bomb” in the islands’ refugee camps.

According to Theirworld, €20 million will be needed to secure quality education for these children over the next two years.

As part of the larger collaboration, funds have so far been used to build informal education centres for young refugees that concentrate on teaching the Greek language and providing psychological and social support to traumatised children. This helps them to be better prepared for a return to school alongside their local peers.

Sigrid van Aken, Director of Dutch Postcode Lottery, said: 

“From school closures to isolation and a persistent sense of anxiety, the effects of this pandemic are having a huge impact on children and young people in refugee camps, especially girls,” she said.

“Despite the crisis, learning should never stop. This is why the Dutch Postcode Lottery is committed to supporting UNHCR, UNICEF and Theirworld in offering remote learning and ensuring inclusion and equity for refugee children in the Greek Islands so that no one is left behind.”

Justin van Fleet, the President of Theirworld, said:

“Every child, wherever they are in the world and whatever their circumstances, has the right to quality education. In emergency situations, education can give displaced or traumatised children a sense of structure and direction. A safe place to play and learn can also help children heal by providing a return to familiar routines.

“It’s because of the vital role that education plays in emergency situations that we are calling on the international community to secure crucial education provision for young refugees on the Greek islands who are among the most vulnerable children in Europe. We are incredibly grateful to the Dutch Postcode Lottery for responding to this humanitarian crisis and giving these children a chance of a better life.”

Sarah Brown, the Chair of Theirworld, said:

“Refugee children on the Greek islands are living in overcrowded, unsanitary camps. They are among the most vulnerable children in Europe. I firmly believe that just a few hours of lessons a day, away from the camps, can be transformative for learning language and skills, and, importantly, can restore hope for a better future, which is so vital in emergency situations.”

Theirworld’s report, Finding Solutions to Greece’s Refugee Education Crisis, was written by international education expert Maysa Jalbout, and based on extensive visits to Greece and dozens of interviews with key players in government, aid agencies and local NGOs.

Its three-point proposal calls on the international community to recognise the pressure and drain on Greece’s education system created by the refugee crisis and to more actively support the country’s efforts with refugees over the next five years. At the same time, it says the Greek government needs to demonstrate more thorough planning that the international community could then get behind.

About Theirworld

Theirworld is a global children’s charity committed to ending the global education crisis and unleashing the potential of the next generation. Its mission is to ensure that every child has the best start in life, a safe place to learn and the skills they need for the future. Theirworld is dedicated to providing education for refugees,and has been among the leading donors to refugee education in the Greek islands through its partnership with Education Cannot Wait.

About the Dutch Postcode Lottery – society always wins

The Dutch Postcode Lottery was established in 1989 to support charities that work to create a better and greener world. The lottery raises funds for its charity partners and draws attention to the work they are doing.

With the Postcode Lottery, your postcode is your lottery number, so that when you win, you win together with your neighbours. At the moment, more than 3 million Dutch households play the Postcode Lottery every month, giving them the chance to win hundreds of thousands of prizes. At least 40% of the Postcode Lottery’s gross proceeds goes to 105 charities on a yearly basis. Since its foundation, the Dutch Postcode Lottery has donated over 6.2 billion euro to organizations dedicated to ‘people’ and ‘planet’. They include the Clinton Foundation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)Médecins Sans FrontièresOxfam Netherlandsthe World Wildlife FundAmnesty International and Greenpeace.

The Dutch Postcode Lottery, the FriendsLottery and the BankGiro Lottery are part of the Holding Nationale Goede Doelen Loterijen N.V. The format of the Postcode Lottery is also used in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany and Norway. These lotteries together are the second biggest private donor in the world.

For more information, please contact:

Nicole Martin

Head of Partnerships and Media



The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many different issues across societies, while further exacerbating disparity and inequity by driving millions of already vulnerable people even further to the margins. Nowhere is this more evident than the Greek Islands where thousands upon thousands of refugee children are forgotten – and downright ignored – by the international community.

Photo © Theirworld

By Justin van Fleet, President, Theirworld & Executive Director, Global Business Coalition for Education

While it may be a different summer than most – with precautions in place to stave off the coronavirus pandemic – Greece is opening up for tourists.  Starting on 15 June, travel restrictions were lifted and tourists were able to begin going to their favorite islands to soak up the sun.  While this is a good thing for the Greek economy, it underscores an even deeper crisis of humanity: disparity and inequity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many different issues across societies, while further exacerbating disparity and inequity by driving millions of already vulnerable people even further to the margins.  Nowhere is this more evident than the Greek Islands where thousands upon thousands of refugee children are forgotten – and downright ignored – by the international community.

Unlike tourists getting ready to visit, over 42,000 refugees did not travel to Greece on chartered flights or ferries.  Instead, they were forced by circumstance to make a dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea, in many cases fleeing violence and risking drowning and death in hope of a better future.  Instead, many have found themselves in what can only be described as a ‘hell on earth’ confined to overcrowded camps in the Greek Aegean islands, their point of entry to Europe.

When I visited the Moria Camp in Greece last year with Theirworld’s Chair, Sarah Brown, Education Cannot Wait’s Director Yasmine Sherif and the People Postcode Lottery Country Director Annemiek Hoogenboom, I was horrified by the conditions. What was intended to be a temporary shelter for 2,500 refugees is now one such ‘hell on earth’ for nearly 20,000 people – the many of them children and unaccompanied minors.  Open sewage, no running water, lack of tents or proper shelters and reports of violence against women and adolescents.  These were just some of the things we heard and saw.

In humanitarian crises, children are the most vulnerable group – and education is often the first institutional victim – further exacerbating their vulnerability.  For the 31,000 refugee children in Greece, and about 10,000 on the Islands where less than 15% have any access to education –this is certainly the case. Creating school spaces for 10,000 children doesn’t require rocket science.  Neither is integrating the additional refugee children on the mainland into the education system. Many countries have done so against far greater odds (e.g. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, for instance, who have done so with millions (not thousands), of refugees.

With political will and sufficient financing, doing so is a relatively easy and cost-effective process – with many successful examples from around the world having proved this already, offering excellent guidance and lessons to learn from.  Research conducted across regions have proven without doubt that the benefits of doing so far outweigh any possible burden to society. In fact, investing in education is one of the soundest investments with the highest rate of return that any government can make, under virtually any situation.

The right to education – particularly for children in refugee contexts  –  is essential for a young child to develop, thrive and reach their full potential. It is also a humanitarian obligation recognized in the 1951 Refugee Convention, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and is enshrined in the humanitarian priorities stemming from the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

Photo © Theirworld

So why have too many have failed to listen?

The recently appointed European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, has stated that one of his top priorities is to support people in need as quickly as possible, with full respect of the humanitarian principles. And within the EU, there is an opportunity to quickly achieve this objective for vulnerable refugee children. The humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence boil down to the following: protecting and respecting individuals; prioritizing the most urgent cases of distress; making no distinctions based on nationality; and, taking timely action independent from political, economic or other objectives.

And it’s with the spirit of humanitarian principles that the Dutch Postcode Lottery and Theirworld have joined forces for these refugee children.  What I love about Education Cannot Wait is that it brings together diverse partners for a common purpose. In the absence of public funding, Theirworld  –  in partnership with the Dutch Postcode Lottery and Education Cannot Wait – – works alongside UNICEF, UNHCR and local NGOS to help thousands of these children realize their fundamental human right to education. By doing so, they are able to benefit from a sense of normalcy, learning and playing with their friends, and simply having a childhood with all the hope and dreams that come with it.

Our recent Theirworld report highlights a three-point action plan to effectively deliver refugee education in Greece:

  1. Mobilize an immediate €20 million in urgent financial support for 2020–2022, providing a scale up of education over two years.
  2. Cultivate international support for a comprehensive refugee education plan across Greece.
  3. Invest in the region and tackle the refugee problem closer to home.

Once again, the Dutch Postcode Lottery has stepped up to the plate so that existing education centres do not shut down this month. Their new, generous and urgently needed contribution will bridge the divide between in-person and remote learning opportunities, aiming to reach about 20,000 children with formal and distance learning, as well as in non-formal education centres adjusted to COVID-19 measures.  It will prepare education centres with preventative measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19 upon reopening.  This will include hygiene and medical items.

Photo © Theirworld

But for this to be a true public-private partnership, it’s time for governments to step and do their part.

It has never been acceptable to hide, ignore or conveniently forget child and youth refugees in need of humanitarian assistance in Europe. We must work together now to provide them with the most basic, but important, humanitarian rights, including their inherent right to education, while the broader politics are sorted out.

Why? It is good for children, who can learn, grow, develop their skills to be prepared as productive members of society.  It is good for Greece, as increased funding will support Greek organizations and teachers, creating more jobs and fostering better relations between host and refugee communities. And it is good for Europe to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe within its borders which can be addressed with the right investment and commitment.

So, while many Europeans and other tourist begin to travel to Greece this week on holidays, let us not only remember to respect the dignity thousands of refugee children on the Islands, let us also take collective action to give them the education support they desperately need.

About the Author

Justin van Fleet is​ the President of the global children’s charity Theirworld and Executive Director of the Global Business Coalition for Education.