Nujeen Mustafa is a Syrian refugee, youth advocate and champion for children with disabilities for the UN Refugee Agency.

At just sixteen years old, Nujeen Mustafa made the 3,500-mile journey from Syria to Germany in a steel wheelchair. Nujeen was born with cerebral palsy and spent the majority of her life confined to her apartment in Aleppo, Syria, where she taught herself English watching shows on TV.

As war broke out, she and her family were forced to flee – first to her native Kobane, then to Turkey. Her family didn’t have enough money for them all to make it to safety in Germany, where her brother lived, so her parents stayed in Turkey while she set out with her sister across the Mediterranean, braving inconceivable odds for the chance to have a normal life and an education.

Nujeen’s optimism and defiance when confronting all of her challenges have propelled this young refugee from Syria into the spotlight as the human face of an increasingly dehumanized crisis. Since moving to Germany, Nujeen has continued to tell her remarkable story and to capture the hearts of all who hear her speak.

ECW: Your story of triumph over struggle has inspired people around the world. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up as a girl not able to go to school in Aleppo, Syria, and how you worked to ensure you got an education?  

Nujeen Mustafa: Growing up and not being able to go to school, I realized pretty early on that my life was unusual – but I kind of wanted to do the best with what I had. I mostly noticed it when the kids in the building would go and I wouldn’t, but I was surrounded by a very supportive environment that just made it so easy to live with the fact that there was something missing in the routine of my life.

When I turned about 6 or 7, my older sister taught me how to read and write in Arabic and then it was left up to me to practice. This was when I kind of used television as a way of educating myself and learning how to read and write. Then these mechanisms evolved and the things I wanted to learn also evolved, so I moved on to other things with English – a bit of general knowledge, and a bit of background in every subject and topic that I could find. Of course, my sisters also brought me the schoolbooks for each year when I was growing up. I would finish them in one day because I turned out to be such a bookworm! From then on, when I was old enough to start being self-taught, I just did it.

Of course, I still recognize it was not fair that I was not able to go to school but, as I said, I tried to do the best with what I had. I think this was my way of defying the circumstances that I was in, and it kind of gave birth to this desire to prove myself and prove that I can overcome all these obstacles, even if they are hard. To this day, I think one of my most fundamental traits is the desire to prove that I can do things and that I can accomplish a lot of things that are not expected of me.

ECW: Today, 75 million children and youth caught in emergencies and protracted crises are not able to go to school. Education Cannot Wait and its partners are working to get them back to learning. Why do you think this is so important, particularly for perhaps the most vulnerable: refugee girls with disabilities?

Nujeen Mustafa: I found this question quite strange because it shouldn’t even be a question as to “why” we should educate our children. It just has to be a fact of life, because everyone should know “why.” Children are always emphasized as the future of their countries and communities. But when you do not invest in a portion of the population, which is the population that has a disability, this is just not right. This is a violation of your rights as a human being, your right to education. It is discriminating against you on the basis of your disability, if you don’t get an education. It’s very unfair treatment of young people – of people who should be planning and thinking out the future.

There have been a lot of pledges and resolutions about the importance of education, especially for young people and people with disabilities. To live in this kind of cognitive dissonance, where there is this acknowledgment that this is important and yet there is nothing being done to carry it out, is very concerning. We can all agree that it has very dire consequences on our society and even the living standards of any country.

Education of the public and of youth are factors in all of these things. A prosperous and educated youth means a prosperous and thriving country. There is no logical reason as to why any country would want to ignore its children, its youth, and people with disabilities. It’s really disturbing that I even have to say that. They are not a burden on anybody. They can contribute and they are this kind of untapped treasure, untapped resource, that is not being used sufficiently.

From a human rights point of view, no one has the right to discriminate against you on the basis of something that you have no control over. You don’t make a choice to be born with a disability just as you don’t make a choice to be of a certain ethnicity. So even from that point of view, there is no logical reason as to why this should be happening.

ECW: What key message(s) do you have for world leaders about the urgent, important need to address and fund education for refugees and for children with disabilities in emergency and protracted crises settings?

Nujeen Mustafa: I think the most important thing for decision makers to know is that education needs to always be a priority, even in emergency situations and crisis response. It is not enough to ensure basic living conditions for survivors of conflict or people who are now living through a pandemic. There needs to be an awareness that the future of the entire generation is on the line and their need for an education needs to be prioritized. I know that it can be overwhelming at times, but I think that education needs to be viewed and seen as something as essential and crucial to the well-being of everyone – especially people with disabilities – as providing shelter, food, or water. It needs to be prioritized in emergency situations, whatever they may be. There needs to be an acknowledgement of the vitality of education to their futures and to their lives.

Of course, the situation with COVID-19 is unprecedented in this century, but we should have been better equipped to deal with such an unexpected change in our daily routines and such disruptions in our lives. That just goes back to the point of making sure that education is accessible to all and that everyone, wherever they may be and whatever their circumstances may be, has access to it and is able to smoothly transition from one mode of education to the other. It should have been essential everywhere around the world. We see that countries with a colder climate (where some children are unable to attend school during the winter months) are much better equipped, already having this kind of digital form of attending lessons and school. So, I think that countries all around the world should strive to be on that same level, ready and prepared for any kind of unprecedented situation.

When it comes to people who have fled conflict regions, refugees, and refugees with disabilities, it is not enough to make sure that they survive, but that they live and thrive as individuals. Receiving an education is a building block of that. You can’t say that you are doing them right if you don’t provide them with access to education as soon as possible. Prioritize education as a part of the essential means of survival – prioritize it in every plan of action.

ECW: You wrote an inspiring, best-selling book about your amazing journey: Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-Torn Syria in a Wheelchair. Could you tell us the three books that have influenced you the most personally and/or in your current studies, and why you’d recommend them for other people to read?

Nujeen Mustafa: One of them is The Time Keeper by one of my favorite authors, Mitch Albom. It tells a story of the first person to measure time. It comments on humanity’s obsession with time, being late, and having clocks all over your environment. People have forgotten to enjoy their lives and actually live them because they’ve become obsessed with time; everyone wants to get everything on time and not be late, to the point where we have forgotten how to enjoy living in the moment. There is a quote that is very inspiring and memorable for me, which is, “when you are measuring time, you are not living it.” It’s a very inspiring and soulful book about enjoying the moment, truly experiencing it, and not being worried about whether you are late or too early. As we see in nature, only humans measure time. Nature and animals are not plagued by worries about being late to the meeting, or being too early, or what the social standard is.

The second one would have to be 1984 by George Orwell… We see it in the way that our phones watch us and how essential they have become to our lives. Even I am guilty of it. I spend my day on an iPad. But there is this voice nagging in the back of my head for my life not to turn into 1984 – using technology in that sense and giving everyone access to my thoughts. Every time we Google Search, there is some kind of record of the question that we thought about at that moment, so I think it’s very unsettling but it is necessary in this day and age.

The third one, a fairly recent read, is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. That book is just a must-read for everyone about perseverance and resilience… even in the most dire and horrifying circumstances. That you could still maintain your humanity, even in a concentration camp. It tells of a lot of horrible, horrifying things and the lengths that we humans can go to. But it was also a message of hope that we could thrive and rise above all that and become better people because of it. So, I think it appeals to me because it essentially says that we are stronger than we thought – even in the most unimaginable, horrifying, terrible circumstances, we can be better and we don’t have to succumb to the desperation and the helplessness. It also talks a good deal about grief and how you can emerge as a stronger person from it; how suffering is also a part of life and that it initiates a part of you and builds you as a person. Your response to it is so crucial. Its essential message, I think, is that there is still hope for humanity. You’re a human being, even in situations of genocide. There are still heroes out there who have lived through it and survived. Not only physically – but emotionally and morally and every other sense of the word. And I just thought that that was inspiring. I think everyone should read it because it gives a message of silver lining, of hope, and just that you can be that person that overcomes these challenges.

ECW: What were the common misconceptions about children with disabilities that you faced as you were growing up?

Nujeen Mustafa: The fifth question is just my favorite. I love to talk about this aspect of having a disability because, where I grew up, disability meant that you were expected to just live on the sidelines and not grow at all as a person – be it academically or personally. I absolutely despised meeting people for the first time because there would be a recount of how I was born and how it was discovered that I had a disability. And then I would see the looks of just people feeling sorry because they thought that I would have no future and no life. That I would just be there, not being an active member of society or contributing anything to my family or to anyone. Just be someone that wouldn’t be of use to anybody. So, I think the misconception that people may have is that we are expected to play into these expectations and act as though we were doomed – but that, of course, is not the case.

I recognize and realize that it depends on the mentality that your first caregivers and family has, and my family was absolutely adamant about me receiving and having what they had. And being as equal to them as possible. I would be hammered on to do homework and learn how to read and write and advance my education and learn English… Of course, I did it on my own, later on, in my teenage years. But there was always pressure to learn a lot about math and to enrich myself intellectually. Even if I couldn’t do it physically. Of course, many of these children didn’t have this kind of supportive and encouraging environment. How society perceived them might have damaged their sense of self and made them very insecure and have a low self-esteem. I consider myself lucky that I grew up in a family that pushed me to be better – that didn’t view me as a kind of a nuisance or as a girl who didn’t have any potential.

So, I think the biggest misconception that society has of these people is that it expects us not to have any ambitions or dreams. That the mere fact of us having a disability should eradicate any glimmer of hope inside of us that these dreams might come true. I encountered that even on my journey here. I would meet people who would be surprised that I spoke English or that I was socially active – and, you know, not at all awkward or hiding from anyone. Even when I was younger, I limited my exposure to that kind of negativity. I just surrounded myself with mostly adults and people who loved me and appreciated me for who I am. And I think that helped. I kind of eliminated any possible person that I thought, okay, this person doesn’t really like me, he is just pitying me or looking at me in a very condescending way. The secret to that was that we, as a collective family and everyone around, were able to kind of stay away from that type of negativity and that kind of mentality that “okay, this person has a disability, so he is useless—he or she is useless.”

ECW: From your own experience, what does inclusive education mean to you and what makes a school accessible for all boys and girls with disabilities?

Nujeen Mustafa: Inclusive education, for me, has a lot of meanings. I only experienced it when I arrived here in Germany and realized how smooth and easy it can be to make education inclusive. Of course, inclusive education means not just enrolling someone with a disability in a school, it’s about accommodating their needs without making them feel isolated or separated or something different than the other students who may not have a disability. It’s not just about making the restroom or making the building accessible, it’s about capacity building.

For example – I always laugh and find it very encouraging and impressive about what I experience here – there is nothing that I do, or that I go through, that people my age do differently. I’m also applying for apprenticeships, filling out applications, filling out paperwork, and working in accountancy. I study business, that’s what we do. And I don’t think that the experience of a person who doesn’t have a disability differs so much from mine. There’s no discrepancy—there’s no, “this level is for you and this level is for that person.” It’s more about accommodating your needs and making sure that you have full access to whatever you may encounter in your professional life and you are well-versed in whatever it is that you are trying to specialize in. I would say that I have the same amount of experience in business as anyone in the same grade, or level, as I am now. So, having a disability, they wouldn’t level it down for someone who is disabled. They would accommodate your needs in such a way that you get the full content and that you grasp everything that is needed of you and that you learn about.

That, for me, is what inclusiveness means. It’s about finding methods that would make your working environment better—and equal to your non-disabled peers. It’s about making sure that you receive the same kind of treatment and that you understand the same curriculum. That your needs are accommodated. For example, if somebody’s disability is in speech, there would be all kinds of assistance to him or her, using iPads or specific programs on their PCs, and it’s very encouraging because we know – I personally know – that nobody is dumbing stuff down for me to grasp and nobody’s going a level down just to teach me about it. I know that I would be as equally qualified to a co-worker that is not disabled. So, this, for me, is what inclusive education means. It’s about accommodating the needs of a person with a disability so that it’s integrated into a non-disabled structure or a curriculum that might not originally be for people with disabilities.

For me, the key point is not isolation—I don’t want to be taught separately—it’s about the merging of education, ideas, and concepts, so that everyone can benefit and absorb information equally and effectively. And that would be the main goal – the optimal option – for everyone, just to merge these ideas and methods so that every school in the world can and would receive a person with disability.

I also think that integrating people with disabilities into schools with people who have no disability is essential in changing any misconceptions that non-disabled people might have about people with disabilities. Because exposure lets you know how that person lives. You’ll know that he’s not pathetic, he doesn’t want you pity. You learn that he’s just like you—he or she is ambitious, is working on his plans, has career plans, has dreams he wants to achieve, and that he can be independent. He or she can have fun and dance and do stuff. And they will go far in life.



Spanish version

Lima, March 2021 – “On behalf of the Government of Peru, I would like to thank the commitment of the United Nations, partner governments such as Canada and civil society organizations for working together on the challenges we face in education, especially those that involve the most disadvantaged children and adolescents, such as migrants”, with these words, Peru´s Minister of Education Ricardo Cuenca welcomed the of the Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Programme, which seeks to respond to the challenges of education in emergencies.

ECW is a global fund dedicated to education in emergencies. “We first worked with ECW in 2019 to respond to the Venezuelan migration crisis and now we are starting a multi-year development programme that will allow us to directly reach the migrant population settled in Lima and the region of La Libertad,” said Ana de Mendoza, UNICEF Representative in Peru.

The multi-year programme called “Promoting Inclusive Education with equal opportunities for migrant and refugee children and adolescents in host communities in Peru” will be implemented from 2021 to 2023. The goal is to improve the education of 30,000 migrant? children, adolescents and their families. The programme starts with a “seed” fund of US$ 7,400,000 and is expected to raise, by the end of the project, a total of US$ 13 million.

Igor Garafulic, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Peru noted that the focus of this multi-year programme is the social integration of refugees and migrants, including the full inclusion of children and adolescents in quality education. “We welcome efforts to open doors for them. The evidence we have from before the pandemic confirms that migration has had a positive impact and can have an even greater positive impact on our economy and our society.”

As the project launch coincided with the celebration of International Women’s Day, Minister Cuenca highlighted that migrant girls and adolescents face a triple challenge to stay in school: “They must ask for permission to study because many times there are no conditions for them to keep doing so; they have to try to insert themselves into spaces that are not theirs; and, finally, they must break with cultural norms that tell them that what is different is scary”.

Ralph Jansen, Ambassador of Canada to Peru, stated that interventions such as this one must have a clear gender approach: “This approach guarantees the fulfillment of other rights and helps to guarantee a dignified life. Everything done for the benefit of migrant children and adolescents has an impact on their emotional health, and this is a fundamental aspect in this intervention”.

The project has five expected outcomes. The first is to achieve better access to an inclusive and quality education, the second is staying in the educational system. The third objective is to develop life skills and socio-emotional capabilities. The fourth is that authorities and officials improve decision-making on access and educational inclusion based on available data and evidence. Finally, the ECW project seeks to promote the mobilization of resources.

This new multi-year ECW programme was designed by a working group made up of the Ministry of Education, RET, Plan International, Save the Children, UNESCO and UNICEF. By joint agreement, UNICEF has led the programme since 4 January  2021.  The Steering Committee is made up of the Ministry of Education, the Embassy of Canada, the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office and the Roundtable for the Fight against Poverty.

 Para mayor información ,o en UNICEF favor contactar a Marilú Wiegold al celular 99757-3218, e-mail y/o a Elsa Ursula al celular 991982525, e-mail y/o a Consuelo Ramos al celular 999089558, e-mail


ECW’s First Emergency Response grant will reach over 6,000 girls and boys in the Tillabéri and Tahoua regions of Niger with expanded COVID-19 prevention measures, new classrooms and integrated educational support

French version

9 March 2021, New York – The education system in Niger faces major challenges: COVID-19, climate change, insecurity, armed attacks on schools and other factors are pushing refugees and internally displaced girls and boys out of school and into the shadows and margins of society.

To address these immediate, critical challenges – and to support Niger in achieving its goals for equitable and inclusive quality education as outlined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals – Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today an additional US$1 million grant to the UN Refugee Agency in Niger.

“The uprooted children and adolescents and their host-communities in Tillabéri and Tahoua endure unspeakable suffering. Reports allege terror, kidnapped teachers and burnt down schools. We must not only condemn such attacks, we need to take action” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. “We can all take action and Education Cannot Wait is therefore partnering with UNHCR in Niger to support their admirable efforts on the ground to deliver education combined with protection now.

“The beginning of 2021 has been particularly dramatic, with several attacks having forced tens of thousands of people to flee, and depriving children of school,” says Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR Representative to Niger. “Education is without a doubt the strongest tool to protect children and youth affected by armed conflict from death, injury and exploitation. Education alleviates the psychological impact of armed conflict by offering routine, stability and psychosocial support.”

“We are grateful for this strategic partnership with ECW, which will contribute to the objectives of UNHCR’s refugee education strategy that aims to support access to inclusive, equitable and quality education in national systems, create conditions in which children and young people can learn, thrive, be more resilient, and become agents of peaceful coexistence who contribute to their society,” Morelli added.

The 12-month grant will be implemented by UNHCR in partnership with the Government of Niger and other key stakeholders. Building on ECW’s recently announced US$11.1 million in catalytic grant funding for Niger’s multi-year resilience programme, the fast-acting investment will reach over 6,000 crisis-affected girls and boys in the Tillabéri and Tahoua regions of Niger.

The new programme will: expand COVID-19 prevention measures with the rehabilitation of water and sanitation facilities; help build and rehabilitate classrooms and learning centres; and provide teachers and students with the training, tools and resources they need to respond to the unique needs of children and youth who have been displaced by ongoing violence in the region. The progamme has a specific focus on ensuring access to learning opportunities for girls and children with disabilities.

Niger hosts the largest number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Central Sahel. At the end of 2020, UNHCR Niger registered 573,059 refugees, IDPs and asylum seekers in Niger, resulting from years of widespread insecurity and armed attacks. The Tillabéri and Tahoua regions in particular continue to face an unpredictable and volatile security environment, which has led to the displacement of 138,229 Niger citizens, adding to the already existing caseload of 60,244 Malian refugees in both regions as well as an estimated 7,000 Burkinabe refugees in the Niger-Burkina border area. The start of 2021 saw renewed attacks and secondary forced displacement.


Notes to Editors

Learn More

Programme Outcomes

Outcome 1 – Crisis-affected girls and boys access education services

UNHCR will construct or improve, as well as equip 15 classrooms with a capacity of 50 students (creating an additional capacity for 750 students) in durable material. Next to the construction of the classrooms, annexes will be built according to the needs identified through different multisectoral evaluations carried out in the intervention areas. Special attention will be given to physical security of girls and boys in the classrooms by constructing fences around the schools. Children with disabilities will benefit from improved accessibility.

To continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR will equip the new classrooms and classrooms in need of rehabilitation with appropriate WASH facilities.  A total number of 1,200 persons, including teachers, will be trained on WASH and COVID prevention.

In addition, UNHCR will offer material support to improve the learning environment. Over 6,000 girls and boys, including adolescents and children with special needs, will receive a schooling kit with notebooks, pens and books. 88 teachers will be equipped with a didactic kit, which includes books and material in function of the discipline taught.

Furthermore, awareness raising campaigns on back to school and school retention will be organized. UNHCR will organize 12 mass sensitization campaigns and 2 regional workshops, diffuse messages through media, set up commemorative events linked to education and distribute visibility material.

Outcome 2 – Formerly out-of-school boys and girls completed an accelerated education program (AEP)

Coordinated with the educational authorities, UNHCR will support the establishment of remedial classes for some 1,000 students, mostly Burkinabe refugees and IDPs out-of-school. The authorities will train 100 teachers (50% female teachers) for 5 days and offer them fixed-term contracts of three months to deliver remedial classes, which will be supervised by the Government. The content of these classes will be developed by educational authorities such as inspectors, pedagogic counselors of primary education and the regional directorates of primary and secondary education.

Outcome 3 – Crisis-affected girls and boys in ECW-supported schools feel safe in their classrooms

To improve the quality of education, UNHCR will organize teacher trainings on a various set of subjects. Next to WASH, teachers will receive training on COVID-19 preventive measures, SGBV, child protection issues, mental health and psychosocial support, code of conduct, positive disciplining, conflict management, social cohesion, disaster prevention and risk management.

Finally, UNHCR will ensure that ECW-supported learning spaces have a functioning school-management committee and/or parent-teacher association. UNHCR will map, set up and train committees. The members of 30 community educational structures will receive training on their roles and responsibilities, the management of these structures and community mobilization.


About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):
ECW is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings around the world. ECW’s investment modalities are designed to usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve education outcomes. Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. The Fund is administered under UNICEF’s financial, human resources and administrative rules and regulations, while operations are run by the Fund’s own independent governance structure.

On Twitter, please follow: @EduCannotWait  @YasmineSherif1  @KentPage
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To support our efforts and donate to Education Cannot Wait, text ‘ECW’ to 707070 (*from the US and Canada only) or visit

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International Women’s Day, 2021 Every Girl Has a Right to An Education

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day, March 8.

NEW YORK, Mar 7 2021 (IPS) – Access to an inclusive quality education is a universal human right. When the inherent right to a good education is ignored or denied, the consequences are severe. For a girl in country of conflict or forced displacement, the impact is brutally multiplied.

Besides their already marginalized role in war-torn countries or as refugees, adolescent girls and girls are being disproportionately affected by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic broke in early 2020, some 39 million girls had their education disrupted as a direct result of humanitarian crises. Of these, 13 million girls had been forced out of school completely.

Such is the level of discrimination that, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, refugee girls are only half as likely to be enrolled in secondary school as boys. There is a two in three chance girls in crisis settings won’t even start secondary school. At primary level girls in crisis settings are two and a half times more likely to be out of school.

In crisis settings, adolescent girls are more likely to be married by 18 than to finish school. Early pregnancies, gender-based violence and sexual and physical exploitation are realities faced by millions of girls daily. Take a moment and reflect on this brutal reality. Imagine if these figures were the reality of our own adolescent daughters.

The UNFPA projects that the diverse consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic could result in 13 million additional child marriages between 2020 and 2030. These traumatic experiences lead to higher dropout rates, perpetuating cycles of exploitation and entrenching millions in poverty. Such is the excruciating consequences of girls already enduring conflicts and forced displacement and now surviving another threat: the pandemic.

Providing girls and adolescent girls in crisis with an education is absolutely essential today in order to empower them and bring hope. Their access to an inclusive quality education during already challenging circumstances is as transformative for them as human beings arising from the ashes of hopelessness, as it is for their societies in urgent need of empowered girls and women to build back better.

Studies show that increased access to education dramatically raises their lifetime earnings, national economic growth rates go up, child marriage rates decline, and child and maternal mortality fall. Girls’ education breaks down cycles of exploitation, protecting and empowering young girls and adolescents to reach their potentials and become change-makers. And, the world need change-makers more than ever, not the least in countries affected by conflicts and displacement.

The World Bank estimates that if every girl worldwide were to receive 12 years of quality schooling, whether or not in a crisis setting, they would double their lifetime earnings, with the aggregate value running into trillions of dollars.

Education provides girls with practical skills and tools; it supports them emotionally and empower them process their traumatic experiences; it prepares them to face their unique challenges, helping them to not only become productive members of society, but more and more, to become confident leaders of their societies.

It is a small crowd right at the top, however. Only about 20 countries have a female head of state or government, and fewer have at least 50 percent women in the national cabinet. But as COVID-19 has demonstrated, several have played decisive roles in protecting our humanity on the basis of universal human rights.

So, what does the pathway to leadership look like when you are young? How do we get young girls in crisis situations into education and then later to play important roles in the decision-making of their communities, their economies and nations?

Education Cannot Wait – the global fund launched at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit to deliver quality education for those left furthest behind, that is 75 million vulnerable children and youth in countries affected by armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate-induced disasters and protracted crises. At Education Cannot Wait we place girls and adolescent girls at the forefront of our work – because it is their inaliable human right and we believe in them as the change-makers. We take affirmative action: sixty percent of our total spending is geared at an inclusive quality education for girls.

Afghanistan, for example, is one of the most dangerous countries for children because of ongoing insecurity and conflict. UNICEF estimates that 60 percent of the 3.7 million children out of school are girls. Some 17 percent of Afghan girls will marry before the age of 15 and 46 percent will marry before they reach 18. Early marriages contribute significantly to school dropout rates.
The Welfare Association for the Development of Afghanistan, an ECW implementing partner, reaches out to community leaders to deliver real results for girls in the most remote areas of Afghanistan, who until recently were held back from going to school and from receiving a quality education.

ECW has given priority in Afghanistan to female teacher recruitment. This is being achieved in Herat, where 97 percent of teachers are women and 83 percent of students in accelerated learning classes are girls. The first year of ECW’s Multi-Year Resilience Programme – with teaching starting in May 2019 – saw some 3,600 classes established in nine of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. This required newly recruited teachers, 46 percent of whom are women, to teach 122,000 children. Nearly 60 percent of the enrolled children are girls.

In Rodat district in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, for example, community stakeholders and religious elders agreed the lack of qualified female teachers was hindering girls’ access to education, and immediately set about to find one. It was no easy task but eventually a female graduate in chemistry and biology was hired and she has turned into a beacon of hope, helping some 40 girls return to classes.

This emphasis on girls’ education is crucial for our future as a human family and the priority must be with those girls and adolescent girls left furthest behind. As Deputy-Secretary of the United Nations, Amina J. Mohammed, recently stated: “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.”

On March 8 we celebrate International Women’s Day with this year’s theme of ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’. From the perspective of those living in developed countries, what that equal future might look like for girls in crises settings has been perversely highlighted by the grim consequences of the new coronavirus world. As each month of lockdowns in rich countries passes, reports mount up of the mental health issues and child abuse being suffered by those unable to get to their normal safe learning environment at school. Girls especially are at risk and the ones more likely to be pressed into domestic chores and subject to discrimination – deprived of a future.

Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of the ECW High-Level Steering Group, reminds us that the world in 2030 risks being as far away from meeting the Sustainable Development Goals for education (SDG4) as we are now – unless we act decisively. No one should be left behind and that means addressing support needed by over 75 million children and youth in need of urgent education support in crisis-hit countries.

Education cannot wait for a conflict or crisis to be over so that crisis affected children and youth can resume normal life, or refugee children can go home. Protracted crisis often last for decades and families caught up in conflicts spend an average of 17 years as refugees. When education is denied to children, hopes for a better, the last glimmer of hope is extinguished.

Education Cannot Wait is about hope and action. We were established to accelerate the race for meeting Sustainable Development Goal 4 in crisis and disasters. By bringing together all actors in both the humanitarian and development community, we sprint forward to meet the deadline of 2030. Thanks to host-governments, UN agencies, civil society and communities, we move fast, effectively and efficiently. However, a quality education for girls and adolescent girls in crisis requires financial investments. Provided that the funding is available, we can together win this race for girls’ education. Of this, we have no doubt.

The author is Director, Education Cannot Wait



Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), today launched a new toolkit to support stronger integration of gender equality in education responses for children and youth in countries affected by emergencies and protracted crises.

In the lead up to International Women’s Day 2021 on 8 March 2021 – ECW, INEE and UNGEI – three partners working together for gender equality in education in emergencies (EiE), have joined forces to launch a toolkit promoting gender-responsive and inclusive education interventions in emergency & protracted crises settings.

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3 March 2021, New York – Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), today launched a new toolkit to support stronger integration of gender equality in education responses for children and youth in countries affected by emergencies and protracted crises.

Armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate-induced disasters, health emergencies and other crises increase barriers to safe, quality education, especially for vulnerable children and youth. Girls, boys, women and men experience these barriers to education in different ways, resulting in an exacerbation of pre-existing gender inequalities and vulnerabilities. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic which continues to cause unprecedented disruptions to learning worldwide for millions of crisis-affected girls and boys.

“As the world strives to address and recover from global impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must apply lessons learnt from previous crises. We know the tragic hardship that looms ahead for millions of girls and other vulnerable children and youth living in crisis settings. We can’t say we did not know. Unless we protect and empower them urgently with the safety, hope and opportunity of quality, inclusive education, we will have failed both them and ourselves. There is no excuse not to act now,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. “In launching this new toolkit with our partners, we appeal to all education stakeholders to join us in putting gender equality at the centre of our collective emergency response to the pandemic. At Education Cannot Wait, we are committed to making girls’ education a reality across our investments, boldly, firmly and passionately.”

Previous health emergencies, like Ebola, Zika and SARS, led to school closures which disproportionately affected girls and women. In crises, adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable and face increased risks of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, child marriage and early pregnancy. This is proving to be the case with the COVID-19 pandemic. Analysis conducted by UNHCR and the Malala Fund already show that 50 per cent of refugee girls in secondary school may not ever return when their classrooms open. This is why the new ‘EiE-GenKit’ comes as a timely, ground-breaking resource for aid practitioners to ensure education in emergencies interventions are both gender-responsive and inclusive.

“Education plays a key role in redefining gender norms in any situation, but especially in humanitarian situations, where a good education that is gender-transformative can break cycles of violence and promote tolerance and reconciliation,” said Antara Ganguli, Director of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative, “We must harness this potential and ensure that all learners of all genders are able to contribute equally and positively to their communities’ recovery, as a cornerstone of sustainable peace and development”.

When gender-responsive, quality, inclusive education is available to all – including crisis-affected girls and boys – it has the potential to transform children’s futures, build up societies and lead to sustainable peace. The ‘EiE-GenKit’ equips education practitioners with the tools to achieve that vision.

“Now is the time to leverage the power of education in emergencies. Together we can reverse gender inequalities and transform education for women and girls, men and boys. We must commit to leave no one behind,” said Dean Brooks, Director of the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies.

The ‘EiE-GenKit’ was developed over two years through an extensive consultation process involving the review of over 150 existing education in emergencies and gender resources, with contributions from over 80 global, regional and country level gender and EiE experts and other stakeholders.

The toolkit is based on internationally recognised minimum standards and guidelines and is closely aligned with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Gender Handbook, the INEE Minimum Standards for Education and the INEE Guidance Note on Gender.


Notes to editors:

For more information and to download the EiE-GenKit, visit:

For press inquiries:

Education Cannot Wait:

Anouk Desgroseilliers,, +1-917-640-6820

Kent Page,, +1-917-302-1735

About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):

ECW is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings around the world. ECW’s investment modalities are designed to usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve education outcomes. Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. The Fund is administered under UNICEF’s financial, human resources and administrative rules and regulations, while operations are run by the Fund’s own independent governance structure.

UN Girls’ Education Initiative:

Gloria Diamond,

Emilie Rees-Smith,

About the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI): 

UNGEI is a global, intergenerational partnership united by a shared commitment to advancing gender equality in and through education. UNGEI provides a platform for coordinated advocacy and collective action in order to break down barriers to education, close the gender gap and unlock its transformative power for all girls, everywhere. For more than two decades the UNGEI partnership has been championing gender-responsive education systems, policies and practices – speaking out as one and holding the international community to account.

Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE)

Laura Davison:

Lauren Gerken:

About INEE:

The Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) is an open, global network that works to ensure all persons the right to quality education and a safe learning environment in emergencies and post-crisis recovery. INEE is composed of more than 18,000 practitioners, students, teachers, staff from UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, donors, governments (including Ministries of Education), and universities who work together within a humanitarian and development framework. INEE serves its members through the core functions of community-building, convening diverse stakeholders, maintaining knowledge management, amplifying and advocating, facilitating and learning, and providing members with the resources and support they need to carry out their work on education in emergencies.


María Victoria Angulo is Colombia’s Minister of Education. She holds a Master´s Degree in Development Economics from the Universidad de Los Andes and a Master´s Degree in Specialized Economic Analysis from Pompeau Fabra University (Barcelona, Spain). The minister has more than 20 years of experience in educational policy development.

Education Cannot Wait recently announced US$12.4 million in catalytic grant financing for a multi-year resilience programme in Colombia. The initial programme will run for three years, with the goal of leveraging an additional US$70.5 million in co-financing from national and global partners, the private sector and philanthropic foundations. The programme will reach at least 30,000 children through early childhood education, 90,000 children through primary education, and 30,000 children through secondary education.

ECW: Colombia has set an example for the world in welcoming Venezuelans who have fled instability and insecurity back home. One important component of that response has been to receive over 350,000 Venezuelan children and adolescents into the country’s school system, mainly in public schools. It would be useful to highlight good practices that your Ministry has put in place that could help other countries respond in a similar positive manner.

Minister Angulo: In Colombia, education is a fundamental right and a public service, consecrated in our Political Constitution. We recognize that “Children’s rights prevail over those of everyone else”, regardless of nationality, migration status, race, sex and political and religious beliefs, among others. So, we recognize that equal rights includes all foreign citizens in our country.

One of the first actions we took in our country, and in particular in the education system, was to make the requirements to access the education system more flexible for children with Venezuelan origin in regards to documents and records. As a consequence, we have seen a 1,067 per cent increase in enrollment, from 34,030 Venezuelan students in 2018 to 363,126 in 2020.

This exponential increase in enrollment has led us to generate innovative and transformative actions, in addition to the lines of work established in the National Development Plan “Pact for Colombia, Pact for Equality” 2018-2022, where education quality, coverage increase, school permanence and the protection of complete educational trajectories have been prioritized.

In this context we can highlight the following good practices:

  • Migration regularization: We are very close to officially telling the country the results of the joint work the Ministry has advanced with other government sectors to create the Special Permanence Permit for the Education Sector which will be a migration regularization tool for those students enrolled in the education system, (preschool, primary and secondary education) to facilitate access, continuance and promotion within the education trajectory for students with migrant status who do not have a valid identification document in Colombia; this applies to close to 85 per cent of migrant enrolled students with Venezuelan origin.

This innovative process, unique in the world, will allow these children and youth to overcome the barrier of a lack of identification documents, and allow them not only to have access to education services, but also to health and social protection services offered by the Colombian government, under the same conditions as Colombian citizens.

  • Grade Leveling: Given that the Colombian and Venezuelan education systems are different, the measures taken in the ‘Strategy for Attending Migration from Venezuela’ – established in the policy document CONPES 3950 – have allowed the Ministry to advance in different fronts like designing proficiency tests and grade leveling processes.

With Decree 1288 of 2018, we have also advanced in terms of strategies of school grade accreditation. This decree established that Venezuelan children and youth can validate grades through evaluations or academic activities in the schools they are attending, with no additional cost. This process allows grade validation for preschool, primary and secondary education until 10th grade. In the case of 11th grade, the process must be done with the Colombian Institute for Education Evaluation (ICFES).

  • Improvement in validation processes: To facilitate the validation of primary and secondary education studies, the National Ministry of Education has updated its orientations to define leveling strategies and proficiency tests for Venezuelan migrant and returned Colombian students. The Ministry validation platform has been improved to speed up the process for Venezuelans, and a specialized group has been created to solve them in less than 15 days.
  • Teacher training: Regarding integration into the school system, this Ministry has identified the need to strengthen teacher support to provide them with the necessary tools to implement the welcome and well-being strategy for the migrant and returned population within the education system. Currently, through the “All to Learn Program” and the school cohabitation system we aim to prevent any type of discrimination.
  • School Food: The School Feeding Program has been improved so that migrant Venezuelan students can have access to this program under the same conditions as Colombian students. The only requirement is that the school and grade they are enrolled in are focalized by the local education authority. This has allowed us to serve in 2019 around 140,000 students, and in 2020 around 260,000 students of Venezuelan origin.
  • Humanitarian corridor for education purposes: The National Ministry of Education has not only strived to guarantee education access to the Venezuelan population living in Colombia, but also to the population living in a situation of back-and-forth migration in the border zone. For them we designed a humanitarian corridor for education purposes, which has benefitted, since its creation, around 4,000 students living in municipalities in the border area, who study in schools in Cucuta, Villa del Rosario and other municipalities on the Colombian side of the border. Since the creation of the humanitarian corridor, the National Ministry of Education has led the necessary normative, technical, political and financial processes needed for its effective operation. Between 2015 and 2019, $13.137 billion pesos have been allocated for its operation, and for 2020, $5 billion pesos have been allocated.
  • Technical assistance: To assist territorial education authorities in regards to the education for migrant population of Venezuelan origin, actions to provide general technical assistance for local education authorities and their directive teams from different areas of the Ministry of Education have been organized. To this end, meetings are programmed to take stock of the activities that are being implemented in the territories to guarantee education service provision, as well as well-being and permanence strategies.

ECW: While there are good practices that the Government of Colombia has developed, we know that welcoming such record numbers of Venezuelans to your country has also presented challenges.  Knowing how this can strain local communities, particularly those hosting large concentrations of Venezuelans, could you elaborate on the model community and communications strategies to promote social harmony and discourage xenophobia, which has had a positive impact in schools, that the Government has put in place.

Minister Angulo: As a sector, we are committed to enabling the conditions and developing in each child, adolescent, youth and adult both respect towards diversity and a positive appreciation of differences.

To this end we have been working at identifying the best strategies for providing services for the Venezuelan population with education needs, to be able to offer them a service that accommodates their needs and recognizes their prior knowledge. Education is thus one of the best tools to prevent an attitude or behavior that goes against recognizing the dignity and equality of people in regard to their rights.

For this reason, we have promoted actions that allow us to:

  • Strengthen the socio-emotional development of educators, children and adolescents to prevent and combat expressions, acts and manifestations of xenophobia, exclusion and stigmatization against migrant and other social groups.
  • Design protocols with which we can identify risk and vulnerability situations migrants have to face in the social and cultural dynamics of school environments, to incorporate pertinent inclusion processes in the Institutional Education Projects of the schools.
  • Produce reflection exercises to transform beliefs and views present in social representations to guarantee that all ethnic and cultural identities are valued based on equality.
  • Stimulate dialogue and sharing of situations present in schools to improve school cohabitation and understand that diverse beliefs, interests and interpretations of reality exist in the education community, and that we need to value them as learning opportunities.

Understanding that migration is a social process linked to different factors, and that, until the conditions in the neighboring country and the provision of basic services like education, health and housing, among others do not improve, Venezuelan citizens will keep on seeking better life conditions in Colombia or other countries. In view of the above, we will continue working to:

  • Strengthen disclosure processes of the available route and means for access to the education system.
  • Facilitate transition and leveling mechanisms for Venezuelan students into the Colombian education system.
  • Strengthen and activate cohabitation mechanisms to prevent xenophobia.
  • Train and accompany teachers on how to receive migrant populations into the education system.
  • Strengthen mechanisms that allow us to identify the demand for education services outside the education system.

ECW: With the number of Venezuelans who have fled into Colombia having reached 2.4 million, making it the largest humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere and among the largest globally, ECW has just provided seed funding totaling US$12.4 million for a multi-year programme to assist the country in addressing the educational needs of Venezuelan children and youth, as well as the children and youth in the communities hosting Venezuelans.  Could you comment on the impact of this catalytic grant from ECW, and more specifically what activities the Ministry, in collaboration with a range of UN and NGO partners are planning to implement?

Minister Angulo: The project presented by Colombia within the framework of the multi-annual window of ECW has been turned into a tool to activate the participation of other actors, inject new resources and delve into the strategies we are developing.

We have worked with different actors to define and agree upon the priorities of the Multi Year Resilience Programme for Colombia, convinced that this seed funding can amplify the response we are currently already giving regarding the right to education for migrant people. With ally organizations who have been with us in the formulation process, we have agreed to focus the project on four lines:

  • Increase access to education and permanence. Developing strategies to create opportunities for inclusive, gender-sensitive learning that will help children and adolescents with any disability, who have been victims of armed conflict or who are living with the effects of the migration process to overcome the barriers they find.
  • Improve quality of education and learning: Through resources and materials for work in classrooms, teachers with the capacity to respond with pedagogical practices adjusted to the characteristics, interests and barriers that are found in crisis situations, and finally the support for parents and caregivers to strengthen their abilities to accompany the integral development process of their children at home.
  • Promote socioemotional wellbeing and mental health: Provide support to parents and teachers to develop practical abilities for well-being and personal care, stress management and exhaustion prevention.
  • Strengthen the education sector: Improve capacities for an inclusive response, with gender perspective, articulated between the national and local levels and sensitive to crisis and emergencies.

ECW: Recognizing that ECW’s grant is intended to kickstart the multi-year programme and acknowledging the strides the Government is making in implementing the country’s commendable peace accord, could you please comment on how important it is for the international community donors to fully fund the multi-year programme with an additional US$ 70.5 million in co-financing.  What could happen to school children and their education if the funding gap is not be filled?

Minister Angulo: We thank ECW for the initial investment and ask the community of international donors and the private sector to give us support in our efforts to close the financing gap.

It is important to remember that Colombia has invested important resources to increase access to education for migrant and refugee children. We estimate that for 2020, the investment in education made by the government is close to US$120 million. However, the needs of children affected by the crisis are increasing, especially for migrant children who need more support to remain at school.

Parallel to this situation, in Colombia we must cope with multiple challenges. For example, the recent hurricane in the San Andres archipelago almost completely destroyed the education infrastructure. In La Guajira, due to flooding, many migrant and refugee children in informal settlements have lost their learning materials. The different emergencies we have had to respond to in Colombia exceed the capacity of any government.

We continue to be committed to providing quality education and protection to every child in our country. To achieve this enormous task, it is important to join efforts with the international community, made up of donors and partners in the private sector.

Our objective is that all children receive the same opportunities, are protected and can learn. If the financing gap for this programme is not covered, we run the risk of not providing an integral education service that will allow children to learn, prosper and be prepared for the work force of the XXI century. If we do not act now with enough resources, many children will not have access to education, and many others will drop out. If we do not act now, it will be more difficult and expensive to address the topic of access to quality education where children can fulfill their dreams to complete their education trajectory.

ECW: In fully funding the multi-year programme in Colombia, could you elaborate on the important role that the private sector and philanthropic foundations can play, such as the KOYAMADA International Foundation (KIF), co-led by Colombia’s own TED Talk Speaker and producer Nia Lyte and her husband, actor and producer Shin Koyamada, and perhaps give examples of other foundations providing funding for children’s education in Colombia.

Minister Angulo: In the Colombian education sector, we work with both the public and private sector, as well as civil society and international organizations. We share a common goal: to leave no one behind. This work is strengthened by an inter-institutional approach which is based on experience and optimizes efforts and resources to respond to the particular needs of each region, including challenges already overcome, and those yet to be faced.

Being able to count on organizations like KOYAMADA International Foundation (KIF) and its work for the empowerment and leadership of young people and women, means it will, without a doubt, offer a great boost to the mobilization of resources for educational care, helping us reach those most in need and ensuring our commitment to quality education in long-term crisis contexts.

ECW: ECW would like to reiterate its gratitude for your remarks at the UN General Assembly side event this year entitled “THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION IS HEREFor those left furthest behind.”  With Colombia leading the way for education under the very difficult challenges that the Venezuelan situation has created in the region, it would be good if you could comment on the importance of SDG 4 quality education.

Minister Angulo: The targets set for the Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular those of SDG4, are central elements for the 2018-2022 National Development Plan. One of our main pledges is the generation of conditions that ensure, progressively, a quality educational service, within the framework of a multidimensional approach (Atención integral). We want to positively impact the consolidation and monitoring of complete educational trajectories of all students.

In this regard, the country is focusing its efforts on the following areas:

  1. As a fundamental right, quality education is one of our most important pledges and its progressive universalization stands as one of our main goals to achieve in order to move forward. This is based on the multidimensional attention approach and a cross-sector perspective.
  2. Secondary education, as one of the educational levels lagging behind the most in the country today, requires special attention to strengthen and make it more relevant.
  3. One of the great challenges of the country is to guarantee all the conditions of access, quality and permanence so that all people achieve a complete educational trajectory, from initial to post-secondary education, and also facilitate the transition to the labor market. In this sense, inclusion is one of the cross-cutting concepts that guide sectoral policies.

To achieve the aim of the Declaration of Incheon of Leaving No One Behind, the Colombian government has directed its efforts so that children from Venezuela, as well as all children and adolescents in Colombia, can enjoy quality education as a fundamental right and constitutionally enshrined public service. For this reason, we are committed to the assistance and protection of children to ensure their harmonious and integral development and the full exercise of their rights.

In this sense, the Ministry of Education has determined a management strategy that combines coverage and quality actions within the framework of the Welcome, Welfare and Permanence Strategy. Cross-sector coordination has been developed due to active search processes, effective enrolment, monitoring, knowledge generation and information-driven decision-making processes. This has allowed us to strengthen teacher skills, infrastructure, school food, transport and endowment, among others, which allow migrant students to benefit equally from the available strategies.

It is also important to mention that strategies are being strengthened to facilitate psychosocial support and the effective integration of this community into the Colombian citizen environment.

ECW: Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better on a personal level. Can you tell us what education means to you personally? Could you also share with us the three books that have influenced you the most personally and/or professionally, and why you’d recommend them to other people to read?

Minister Angulo: Education for me is the most powerful tool for the integral, personal and professional development of people. It also represents the epicenter where all social policy in the region comes together. Education generates social mobility and innovation, touches the lives of many people and is the axis of processes of development, resemblance and reconciliation, where I have developed my vocation of service.

As for the 3 books that have influenced me and that I would recommend that people read, they would be:

Love in the Time of Cholera by the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, I recommend this book because it is a literary work that reaches the soul. It is dedicated to true love, a love that survives despite the challenges of a traditional city, and the changing times of the Colombian Caribbean from the late nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century. This book manages to portray human nature in a simple way, with beauty and humor, through a romantic story where the reader can feel the representation of love as the purest feeling, around each life is built.

Ética para amador by the Spanish writer Fernando Savater. I read this book in my teens and it really left an impression on me because it was a window into the world, and it led me to reflect on topics essential to life, which guide our decisions and explain why ethics, morality, freedom and choice are needed. This text reminds us that our greatest quality as human beings is to be able to think, to be aware and to create our future according to our expectations of it.

The last book I would recommend is Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by Professor John Hattie. This research helps us to categorize in a very clear way how to improve the effectiveness of the school system, and I think it is a necessary book to read for those of us who work in education.

And from this text I can highlight two conclusions that are vital to me: the most influential aspect in learning is feedback, both the one offered by the teacher to the student and the one that the teacher receives from the student. In the first case, you have to distinguish between feedback and flattery, the latter has little value if it is not associated with the work that has been done. The teacher-student relationship also has a big impact. Developing a pleasant socio-emotional climate in the classroom, promoting effort, and involving all students requires that teachers step into the classroom with certain ideas about the possibilities of progress and the relationship with students.


Mission provides the opportunity to initiate with partners the process for the   planned ECW-funded multi-year resilience education programme in Lebanon

15 December 2020, Beirut – Concluding her latest mission to Lebanon, Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – highlighted the severe impact of multiple crises on the lives and education of the country’s children and youth, and urgently appealed for additional funding to support them: “We must all invest in education in Lebanon today; if not now, it may soon be too late. I call on public and private sector donors around the world to support Lebanon’s education system with the fierce urgency of now.”

“Our will to revive the educational sector stems from our hearts’ strong determination,” said Lebanon’s Minister of Education and Higher Education, H.E. Dr Tarek Majzoub, during a high-level press conference in Beirut launching the new Education Cannot Wait and UNESCO Beirut partnership to rehabilitate 40 schools damaged by the Beirut explosions and provide 94 public schools with new equipment to replace those damaged in the blast. “The educational system is central to bringing the country back to life. If this system fails, the country will lose its backbone.”

Lebanon hosts the largest proportion of refugees per capita of the local population in the world. Since 1948, it has been home to a large Palestine refugee community. Since 2011, it has seen more than one million Syrians – many of them children – cross the border into an already over-stretched and under-funded society with pre-existing and continuing education challenges for refugee, host-community and Lebanese children.

“I appeal to the international community to stand with Lebanon by providing immediate and generous funding for the education sector. Multiple crises threaten to reverse progress made and further leave behind those struggling through these crises: refugees and host-communities alike,” said The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education, and Chair of the Education Cannot Wait High-Level Steering Group.

Just four months ago, while already in the throes of the most severe financial crisis in its history, as well as combating the socio-economic effects of COVID-19, Lebanon’s capital Beirut, was struck by a catastrophic blast. The explosion destroyed hospitals and schools, dramatically affecting the city’s infrastructure, disproportionately affecting many already marginalized citizens at a time when the country was ill-equipped to support them.

It was in this context that ECW visited the site of a Beirut blast-damaged school in Geitawi, Achrafieh during which ECW, together with UNESCO and Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education, launched their new partnership to rehabilitate damaged schools following the 4 August 2020 Beirut explosions.

  • ECW’s First Emergency Response (FER): Thanks to ECW’s funding support in September 2020, 40 public and private schools damaged in the explosions will benefit from rapid rehabilitation efforts, and 94 public schools will be provided with new equipment to replace those damaged by the blasts.

ECW’s field trips during the six-day mission included visits to informal settlements hosting Syrian refugees, Palestine refugee camps, and meetings with parents and children from marginalized Lebanese families.

  • Education challenges: ECW’s 2019 Annual Report indicates that some 631,209 Syrian children and 447,400 vulnerable Lebanese children faced challenges accessing education in 2019. This number further increased in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. During COVID-19, ECW is supporting online learning for marginalized children in Lebanon whose schools are closed due to the pandemic.

In south Lebanon’s Ein El Hilweh camp alone, the education of more than 6,000 children is under threat due to lack of continuity of funding for UNRWA, as are the multiple programmes sustained by the organization in regional camps and urgent funding is required.

  • Under-funding challenges: Under-funding is endemic within Lebanon’s current economic malaise, and ECW advocates globally for the restoration of funding to UNRWA – the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

“Every girl and boy in Lebanon has both the right to inclusive, quality education and the right to learn in safety. Education Cannot Wait stands shoulder-to-shoulder in support of every child and every government and non-governmental actor which shares our vision for guaranteeing the delivery of these rights,” said Sherif. “Lebanon’s window of opportunity is closing fast. We are not prepared to stand by and watch it slam shut in the faces of the most vulnerable children and youth when we know a solution is readily in reach if we join hands in their support.”

Beyond addressing first emergency responses, ECW is working to establish multi-year resilience programmes in Lebanon. These aim to bridge the gap between short-term humanitarian responses and longer-term development interventions and will set a milestone in advancing the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on inclusive and equitable, quality education. The mission provided an opportunity to initiate the launch process for the planned ECW-funded multi-year resilience education programme in Lebanon.

“Education is the key to addressing the many challenges faced in this wonderful country, and by investing now in children’s futures it will quickly build a stronger economy and build greater resilience and opportunity for everyone in Lebanon,” said Justin van Fleet, President of Theirworld. Theirworld was the first to advocate for the integration of Syrian students into school system in Lebanon, and views education as the best investment for girls and boys, and for the future of their country.

With its urgent objective to heighten global awareness surrounding education challenges for the most vulnerable children in the country, ECW’s Lebanon visit provided several strategic moments for the global Education Cannot Wait movement to advocate for an even more collective approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve education outcomes in line with the UN’s 2030 reform agenda. Joint analysis, joint planning, and collaborative programming, along with ECW’s value-added approach of bringing local and international actors together with a common aim, ensures effective plans are created on the ground and owned locally.

Education Cannot Wait’s mission – which included Sherif and ECW’s Chief of Strategic Partnerships, Nasser Faqih and ECW’s Chief of Humanitarian Liaison, Maarten Barends – was supported on many levels by the government of Lebanon, to whom ECW extends its heartfelt thanks.

During her six-day mission in the country, Sherif met with: Lebanon government representatives, including the Minister of Education and Higher Education; the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator; UN agencies, including UNRWA, UNESCO, UNICEF and UNHCR; civil society and bilateral partners, including Save the Children, AVSI, NRC, IRC and World Vision; and in-country donors.


About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):
ECW is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crisis. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings. ECW’s investment modalities are designed to usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve educational outcomes. Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. We re-emphazise our call to public and private sector donors to step up to mobilize US$400 million in funding in support of the establishment of a series of global multi-year resilience education programmes around the world.

About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):
ECW is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises. It was launched by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings around the world. ECW’s investment modalities are designed to usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, ensuring relief and development organizations join forces to achieve education outcomes. Education Cannot Wait is hosted by UNICEF. The Fund is administered under UNICEF’s financial, human resources and administrative rules and regulations, while operations are run by the Fund’s own independent governance structure.

On Twitter, please follow: @EduCannotWait  @YasmineSherif1  @KentPage 

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For press inquiries:
Anouk Desgroseilliers,, +1-917-640-6820
Kent Page,, +1-917-302-1735
For other inquiries: