The massive March fires in the Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp in Bangladesh took 15 lives and affected more than 61,000 Rohingya refugees. In response to the devastating fires, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today a US$250,000 first emergency response grant that will support non-profit BRAC and other local partners in rebuilding learning centers, and building back better from the tragic disaster that continues to put vulnerable refugee children and youth at risk.  

Photo: UNICEF/UN0431936/Saeed

With new funding, local non-profit BRAC and partners will rebuild learning centers, provide mental health services for vulnerable children and youth, and build back better

6 July 2021, New York – The massive March fires in the Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp in Bangladesh took 15 lives and affected more than 61,000 Rohingya refugees. In response to the devastating fires, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today a US$250,000 first emergency response grant that will support non-profit BRAC and other local partners in rebuilding learning centers, and building back better from the tragic disaster that continues to put vulnerable refugee children and youth at risk.

While many major international non-profits and UN organizations have already stepped up their response to the fires, smaller organizations like BRAC lack the funds to fully rebuild.

The ECW investment will provide a targeted 12-month response in four camps found in the sprawling Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp – the largest refugee camp on the planet. Approximately 5,000 girls and boys will benefit from the investment, with specialized support for girls and children with disabilities.

“Before the fires, Rohingya refugee children and youth had already lived through horrific traumas. They have fled through the night and lost loved ones. They’ve been targeted for attacks. They’ve been kidnapped. Girls have been raped and faced unspeakable attacks. These devastating fires displaced over 45,000 people – half of whom are girls and boys. Many now only have the clothes on their backs. To build back better, we are supporting smaller local organizations such BRAC to provide these children and youth with the protection and hope that quality learning environments provide,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies.

According to recent reports, 212 learning centers (including 54 BRAC learning centers) were damaged beyond repair in the blaze. Child friendly spaces run through the Child Protection Sub-Sector were also damaged, and water and sanitation facilities were burnt to the ground. This poses a serious protection risk for girls, who are fearful to sleep in group settings or use non-gender-specific facilities.

“The fire in the camp reminded us once again that the situation is still very volatile. We quickly responded by providing psycho-social support to every household. We understood that we need to create a system where every beneficiary – in this case, every child and caregiver – need access to psycho-social support. However, we also must remember that every frontliner who is providing this support also needs access for her own wellbeing. We developed a ‘system of care,’ which we think is absolutely necessary in the humanitarian setting,” said Dr. Erum Mariam, Executive Director of BRAC IED.

Among its outputs, the new investment will rebuild six learning centers run by BRAC and other small-scale organizations, reconstruct toilet facilities and hand-washing stations – an essential step in preventing the spread of COVID-19 – provide targeted mental health and psychosocial support services, and distribute uniforms and hygiene kids.

To build back better and reduce the risks from future disasters, fire extinguishers, first aid equipment and trainings on disaster risk reduction will be provided.

The first emergency response grant builds on existing ECW investments in Bangladesh. In 2018, ECW announced US$12 million in catalytic grant financing for a multi-year resilience programme in Bangladesh. A US$100 million funding gaps remains to reach over 560,000 refugee and host community children and youth through the ECW-financed multi-year programme. Key partners who have participated in the development of this framework include the Government of Bangladesh, UNHCR, UNESCO, UNICEF, and international and local civil society organizations.

According to Education Cannot Wait’s 2019 Annual Report, ECW investments have already reached over 90,000 children in Bangladesh. Close to 2,000 teachers have been trained and over 300 learning spaces have been built and equipped with the necessary learning supplies.


Photo: UNICEF Uganda/2021/Abdul

This first of its kind curriculum acknowledges the immeasurable resilience of adolescents living in crisis settings, encouraging them to use their experience to become their potential.

29 June 2021, New York – Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies – is developing a curriculum derived from the seminal work of world-renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning”, and its related branch of psychotherapy, Logotherapy. The curriculum, which has been preliminary field-tested in Uganda, aims to fully tap into the resilience of girls and boys living in crisis settings.

Psychosocial support is a core component of the holistic education programmes supported by ECW and its partners to help adolescent girls and boys in armed conflicts, forced displacement, climate change-related disasters and protracted crises to cope with the incommensurable hardship and adversity they face.

“Crisis-affected girls and boys endure abnormal challenges of armed conflicts, widespread violations of their human rights, chronic insecurity and constant threats to their lives and sense of safety. To achieve quality learning outcomes and empower them to thrive towards their potential, one must address their trauma and experiences of adversity. By empowering them to find a meaning in their experience, they stand greater chances of healing, unleashing their resilience and becoming positive agents of change in all walks of life. Logotherapy is a forward-looking and profound approach that ignites the strength of the human spirit,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. “With this ground-breaking curriculum we want to shift the dominant narrative that hardship prevents young people from achieving their goals or fully living their story of life. Viktor Frankl provides an empirical and inspiring example of how extreme hardship can actually fuel global contributions. At Education Cannot Wait, this is also our stance. We want to empower children and adolescents in armed conflicts and forcible displacement to turn their gruesome adversity into ultimate hope and capacity to shed their light of  knowledge, wisdom and compassion onto their communities, nations and the rest of the world.”

Frankl posits that human beings can withstand significant suffering if they can access meaning and hope and recognize their choices and potential. Frankl tested his research while enduring Nazi concentration camps in World War II. The themes he conveys include dehumanization, profound loss, injustice, and unspeakable cruelty. Without making comparisons, Frankl presented logotherapy in his world-renowned book, “Man’s Search for a Meaning,” which is today universally recognized as one of the top schools of thoughts in Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS). Thus, all of these concepts are relatable and relevant to adolescent girls and boys living in conflict and disaster-affected communities.

By providing a curriculum as a global good, ECW aims to offer a structured alternative approach to partners who work with adolescents experiencing hardship. Through dialogue, reflection and activities focused on the life and teachings of Viktor Frankl – as well as role models such as Malala Yousafzai, Wangari Maathai, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela – young people will explore how to create connection, find meaning, imagine a different future, and contribute to the world in big and small ways.

ECW supported the field-testing of the curriculum package – titled “An Instruction Manual for Life” – with groups of adolescents in a non-formal community setting with upper secondary students in Northern Uganda in early 2021.

Initial results from the testing found that young people and facilitators enthusiastically embraced the curriculum as “relevant, exciting, engaging, and new.” Youth reported high satisfaction and showed that they learned and internalized key concepts. Facilitators expressed strong interest in the curriculum as they felt that local schools fell short in supporting adolescents in profound and critical thinking, individual expression and self-reflection to access their resilience, inner strength, hopes and dreams.

Based on the feedback of the field testing, ECW filmed introductory videos to accompany each of the three “blocks” of the curriculum: “Deep Dive”, “Find Your Meaning” and “Dream Big.”

Watch videos

Watch all the ECW Logotherapy Life Lessons Videos on our playlist.

Additional testing will be conducted before the curriculum is finalized and published.

For more information on the curriculum, please contact


Responding to displacement, school closures and violence, new grant delivered by UNICEF and Norwegian Refugee Council will reach 18,300 children and youth

French Version

30 June 2021, New York – Half of the children in the Central African Republic (CAR) have been affected by the increased violence, displacement, and closure and occupation of schools connected with civil unrest following the December 2020 elections.

In response to this complex humanitarian crisis, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today a US$1 million first emergency response grant that will be delivered by UNICEF (US$600,000) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (US$400,000) to ensure access to education in safe, inclusive and protective learning environments for displaced and returnee children affected by the recent post-election violence.

“This new wave of violence and forced displacement has increased humanitarian needs at a time when Central Africans are already dealing with the crippling consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, years of conflict and insecurity, and the devastating impacts of climate change and other crises,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies. “Once again, children bear the brunt of the crisis. Their education is disrupted, their rights violated; they are experiencing violence, being separated from their families, and at risk of being recruited into armed groups. Due to school closures, girls are suffering sexual violence, being forced into early marriage and are exposed to other risks that no child should ever have to face. They need the support of the world, and they need it now.”

First Emergency Response

An estimated 1.4 million students have been affected by school closures in the Central African Republic. Some of these students may never return to school. Analysis carried out in Bangui shows an increase in sexual violence against children, particularly girls, during the closure of schools.

In all, the conflict has forced nearly 200,000 people – almost half of them children – to flee their homes. While many have since returned home, around 100,000 people remain displaced. This brings the total number of displaced people to 1.5 million, or nearly one-third of the country’s total population.

The ECW First Emergency Response grant targets 18,300 conflict-affected girls and boys aged 3 to 18, of whom 60 per cent are girls and 10 per cent are children with disabilities. The ECW funding will be used to provide safe, clean, and inclusive learning spaces with basic learning materials.

“The extensive disruption of education over the past year alone risks having profound consequences in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Central African children, already affected by years of crisis,” said Fran Equiza, UNICEF Representative in CAR. “We are very grateful to Education Cannot Wait for this generous and timely contribution that will allow us to improve equitable and inclusive access to education for the most vulnerable children and to keep them in school. We will also be able to invest further into alternative learning opportunities – such as accelerated classes and radio education – for out-of-school children, in combination with psychosocial support – a crucial need in such an emergency context.”

“Improving access to quality education for children and youth affected by displacement through support to public education and opening up out-of-school children and adolescents to alternative learning opportunities is the goal of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s CAR education programme,” said Powel Tchatat, Country Director for NRC CAR. “Thanks to the ECW funds, NRC will improve the education of 7,498 children (including 60 per cent girls and 10 per cent children with disabilities) in the Ombella-M’Poko prefecture. The intervention will focus on access and retention in a safe, inclusive, protective and quality education system through back-to-school campaigns, construction of classrooms, provision of school kits and dignity kits, water and sanitation services in school, payment of incentives and training for teachers.”

ECW’s Regional Response

In response to the displacement and violence in CAR, ECW has approved First Emergency Responses in neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The total regional First Emergency Response grants now amount to US$5 million, aiming to reach over 43,000 children and youth overall (of whom 56 per cent are girls).

An additional US$3.8 million has been allocated for ECW’s COVID-19 education in emergency response in the region.

An ongoing multi-year resilience programme in the Central African Republic seeks to mobilize US$77.6 million in additional funding to reach an estimated 900,000 children.

“To respond to this crisis, world leaders need to come together to fully fund educational programmes in the Central African Republic and across the region, and join ECW’s global movement to mobilize US$400 million to provide millions of children worldwide with the hope and opportunity of an education,” said Sherif.



21 June 2021, New York – We are deeply alarmed by reports of the abduction of 80 schoolchildren in the State of Kebbi in Nigeria on 17 June and call for their immediate release. This news comes only a few days after another tragic attack in which 150 students were abducted in north-central Nigeria. Such heinous violence has been increasing in the country, with around 1,000 girls and boys reportedly abducted by armed elements in recent months, according to the United Nations.

Every child – especially girls – deserves the right to go to a safe school free of fear of violence or kidnapping.  Every school-aged child and adolescent, every girl, has an inalienable right to protection under international law. With the increase in school abductions in Nigeria, government efforts to reestablish a Safe Schools Initiative, which derives from international law, and take new measures for school safety must be accelerated. Every child should have the confidence that all parties – local governments, national government, civil society and the international community – are working together to make their safety and right to a quality and inclusive education a top priority.

Under international humanitarian law and human rights law, students, schools, and their personnel must be protected. Yet, the horrific reality is that impunity remains pervasive for the perpetrators of attacks against education and schoolchildren. It can no longer be allowed to stand.

Around the globe, a growing number of States have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration – a total of 109 to date, including Nigeria. As Nigeria prepares to host the Fourth International Conference on the Safe Schools in October this year, it must lead the way on how to turn the Declaration’s commitments into action to ensure that all students and educators can learn and teach in safety. The children of Nigeria, especially the girls, have suffered enough and deserve no less than physical and legal protection to learn in safety.

Justin van Fleet, President of the global children’s charity Theirworld

Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait


Kevin Watkins is the Chief Executive of the Save the Children UK. Kevin joined Save the Children in September 2016, after spending three years as Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute.

Kevin Watkins is the Chief Executive of Save the Children UK. Kevin joined Save the Children in September 2016, after spending three years as Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute.

Previously, he held a senior academic role at the Brookings Institution, and acted as an adviser to the UN Special Envoy for Education, before which he spent seven years at the United Nations, as director and lead author of UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report and UNDP’s Human Development Report.

He is a senior visiting research fellow at Oxford University’s Centre for Global Economic Governance and a Visiting Professor of International Development at the London School of Economics.

ECW: We’ve witnessed a horrifying spike in attacks on schools in recent months, undermining both the Safe Schools Declaration and breaching International Humanitarian Law. How can we keep children and youth caught in emergencies and protracted crises safe from these terrible attacks and achieve the goals outlined in the Safe Schools Declaration?

Kevin Watkins: I’m torn on this one because on the one hand it’s very complicated – we recently released an academic and legal report on this that ran to 148 pages because law and policy and practice around protecting children have built up over time with lots of different provisions and instruments, some of which overlap and some of which don’t and we wanted to get to the bottom of what’s really working to keep children safe. We found structural barriers to justice for children, like how attacks against them are prioritized for prosecution and how few experts there are who are qualified to investigate and document crimes against children.

On the other hand, this isn’t very complicated at all. Children being caught up in attacks on civilians is unbearable but attacking them at school or, in other words, attacking children because they are children is unspeakable. All of us at Save the Children are so glad to see increased attention across the world to stop attacks on children’s education, with 108 countries now having signed the Safe Schools Declaration. This October, the world will again meet in the 4th International conference on Safe Schools, in Nigeria and digitally, to strengthen this commitment. Our data indicates that the Declaration has led to change for children, reducing the number of attacks in some countries in conflict who have endorsed it.

In the end the thing that will keep children safe is collective revulsion about the destruction of the hopes of a generation.

ECW: Save the Children is providing children and youth caught in some of the world’s most complex crises and emergencies with the safety, hope and opportunity of an education through Education Cannot Wait-financed first emergency response and multi-year resilience programmes. You were one of the founders of Education Cannot Wait. How do you see the progress from the first ODI report in which you were involved, and where ECW is today?

Kevin Watkins: The first thing to say is congratulations to everyone at ECW for what has been achieved since your formation. It’s hard to believe, looking back, that there was a time when the world felt it was okay to leave children out of school for huge periods of time during emergencies as long as their basic needs for food, shelter and medicine were met. It was particularly infuriating for those of us who conducted research with children and families, knowing that they consistently put education top of their wish list for what they needed after being caught up in an emergency. As with so many things, we should listen to children!

So I think you should be hugely proud of what is being delivered by your partners, of the lives changed by your support and that of the donors who fund ECW. Even more than that, you’ve won the argument and won it forever – I don’t think anybody will ever again be able to say with any credibility that providing education in emergencies is either not necessary or not possible.  You’ve broken open the imagination of the global system and given everyone the confidence to think they can do this – now that’s proven we can’t ever go back.

ECW: ECW’s multi-year resilience programmes are built to bridge the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. How can we ensure whole-of-child education responses meet whole-of-society challenges, provide children with the mental health and psychosocial support they need to recover from displacement and violence, and build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Kevin Watkins: The whole challenge around mental health provision strikes me as similar to what we were talking about before. It’s not enough for everyone to decide it would be good to support children with mental health programmes, or to investigate it when appalling crimes have been committed, we need to have decided it far enough in advance that the qualified people are there to do the work.

At Save the Children we’ve been working in Jordan to develop something called the Child & Adolescent MHPSS Diploma to help skill up mental health professionals in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, because we know there is a pre-existing regional shortage of mental health professionals, particularly for paediatric care.

We’ve also been working with Imperial College London on a toolkit for treating blast injuries in children and one thing the lead researcher on that always says to me is ‘remember children aren’t little adults’. In other words what you need to do to treat a child’s shattered skeleton or shattered heart for that matter is different to how you’d do it for an older person, and we always need to design and invest in services and programmes that are specifically for children. I would love to see more investment in mental health and psychosocial support across the board, but I’ll always argue for it being targeted and tailored if we want it to work for a whole generation of children who in some cases have known nothing but war and exile.

ECW: ECW celebrated its 5th anniversary on 24 May 2021. We’ve reached close to 5 million children and youth left furthest behind in crisis with quality education, and an additional 10 million children and youth in response to COVID-19. Yet, much more needs to be done now. What message do you have for current and potential new public and private sector donors to ensure we leave no child behind?

Kevin Watkins: Happy birthday! What’s been achieved to date is fantastic. We’re very proud to be partnering with you and would definitely recommend ECW to others. This work is vital, urgent and we’ve got the stories and data to show that it works, so come and join us!

ECW: Climate-induced disasters are impacting the education of more children every year. This year the United Kingdom hosts both the G7 and the global climate talks (COP26). How can education in climate change-related disasters and crises contexts be leveraged more effectively to build more sustainable development pathways and support achievement of the Paris Agreement targets?

Kevin Watkins: One of the strange things that’s happening at the moment is a tendency to pitch one issue against another – so should we prioritize action on climate change or COVID-19 or education? When you put children at the center and start from their perspective, this is even stranger. All these things matter to a child, and they are heavily interlinked. By educating a child today, you are helping to set them up for a more secure future, with more chance of a decent livelihood and better health so they will be less vulnerable when crises hit in future. This is even more important for children living in areas that are already vulnerable to climate risks like floods or droughts, or children from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s vital that we do more to help vulnerable communities to build their resilience and adapt to what’s to come and education is a vital part of that.

It’s also worth noting that it’s young people around the world, including school children, who are showing the most leadership right now on the climate emergency. They know their future is at stake and are rightly calling on us, as the ‘grown ups’ to get on with it.

ECW: ECW puts girls first in everything we do, and girls represent 50% of those we reach, with our affirmative action targeting 60% girls. How does Save the Children support girls’ education, and education for other vulnerable populations such as children with disabilities, and what more needs to be done?

Kevin Watkins: Save the Children is a child rights organization, founded over 100 years ago to fight for the rights of children – especially those who are being left behind because of inequality and discrimination, wherever they are in the world. This commitment applies across all our work, which is focused on three ‘breakthrough’ ambitions: that more children survive, get the chance of a quality education and are protected from violence, underpinned by action to tackle child poverty and defend child rights.

I’m proud that in 2020, across our global movement, we supported 14.7 million people through our education interventions, including many women teachers and nearly 6 million girls. We know that education is one of the best investments out there and girls’ education stands out as particularly transformative – for the girl, her family and wider community.

We’re also stepping up our focus on children with disabilities as an area that needs far more attention. We did a global survey with children and their parents on the pandemic and this brought out clearly the extra challenges faced by children with disabilities, including in education.

This work must be grounded in the local context, working with local partners and families. For example, Save the Children’s partnership with UWEZO in Rwanda works with 137 youth volunteers with disabilities in a project called ‘Mureke Dusome’. This is helping the parents of more than 2,200 children with disabilities to support their children’s reading.  In Kosovo, since the Covid pandemic started, Save the Children has supported 69 families with disabilities to access the internet, including by providing 250 children with tablets and 308 children who’ve been giving education toolkits so they can keep learning even when school is not open.

ECW: We’d love to learn a bit more about you on a personal level. Could you tell us what are the three books that have influenced you the most personally and/or professionally, and why you’d recommend these books to other people?

Kevin Watkins: Last year Save the Children’s Executive Leadership Team committed to regular learning and reflection days on diversity and inclusion, so I’ve been reading up (and acting on) issues of allyship and anti-racism. I would recommend anything by Layla Saad, Reni Eddo Lodge or Ta-Nehisi Coates, who are all brilliant and insightful writers.


These results, the difference we make in the lives of crisis-affected girls and boys, is our most important achievement. And here I would like to stress that this would not have been possible unless we had over 20 strategic donor partners, governments, foundations and private sector, who steadfastly provided both strategic and growing financial contributions.

IPS: As you reflect on the 5-year anniversary of ECW, what do you think are some of the programme’s most important achievements?

Yasmine Sherif: That we actually reached those children and youth left furthest behind in some of the most complex crisis situations on the globe and were able to invest in their quality education. We speak of the girls in the countryside of Afghanistan – a country where girls now amount to 60% in our multi-year resilience joint programme. That we were among the very first responders to the Rohingya refugee influx in 2017 and able to quickly provide them with educational services and psycho-social support. That we made a huge leap forward in our investments in Central Sahel and across the sub-Saharan Africa, where children and adolescents are constantly being forcibly displaced and their need for a holistic and whole-of-child education is a top priority. And, that we were able to reach active conflict zones and sieges in Syria, in Gaza in Palestine, and in Yemen, to deliver to those who would otherwise be considered “unreachable.” ECW now has investments in 38 countries.

These results, the difference we make in the lives of crisis-affected girls and boys, is our most important achievement. And here I would like to stress that this would not have been possible unless we had over 20 strategic donor partners, governments, foundations and private sector, who steadfastly provided both strategic and growing financial contributions. In the same vein, without our close relationship with the host-governments, the communities, civil society and the UN agencies, we could not have become such an action-oriented global fund. They are doing the real work on the ground. Thanks to ECW working with the long-established UN coordination mechanisms on both the humanitarian and development side, we were able to rapidly grow and move with unprecedented speed.

To see this collective passion, quest for results and action, cooperation and determination among all ECW’s stakeholders brings me close to tears. It is possible to change the world and make it a better place, and education is that very foundation. ECW’s model works.

IPS: The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, protracted conflict, rising hunger and displacement is presenting a challenging time for the world. What are some of the main challenges that ECW is facing as it strives to educate and support children in emergencies?

Yasmine Sherif: Access is always a challenge in countries affected by crisis, especially armed conflict. In countries like the Central African Republic or Yemen, you have different factions and different control over different territories. In such situations of emergency, you need to apply humanitarian principles to their utmost. We are there, supporting our colleagues in-country to focus on the children and youth and their right to an inclusive quality education. They are our priority. Lack of infrastructure and digital access is also a challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance. They have neither electricity, let alone access to Wifi. We need serious investments in their infrastructure and creative solutions, or what we call innovation to drive positive change.

However, the overarching and biggest challenge is financing. If all of ECW’s multi-year resilience programmes – which are joint programming between humanitarian and development actors – across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America, were fully financed, we could reach 16 million girls and boys with an inclusive quality education, rather than the current 5 million. More funding means more children and youth, more girls, more children with disabilities, more refugee children, are finally accessing their right to Sustainable Development Goal 4: quality education – and, with that, additional development goals, such as rising up from extreme poverty, being empowered by gender-equality, and through education, ready to bring peace and justice to their societies.

IPS: ECW announced this month that through a US$300,000 Acceleration Grant, psychosocial support would be extended to children in emergencies, alongside education. How important is mental health support to these boys and girls.

Yasmine Sherif: Mental health and psychosocial support is a top-priority. Most children and adolescents, if not all, are traumatized by protracted armed conflicts, forced displacement and climate-induced disasters. Imagine what they have gone through and are forced to keep going through. As a child or a young person, you see your family members killed, your home destroyed, militia roaming around, trafficking, bombs and rockets, forced recruitment and fleeing in haste across the border to another country. What does that do to a young person’s mind? It traumatizes them and severely impacts on their ability to feel safe and actually learn in a safe environment. Unless we address their traumatic experiences, provide them with mental health and psychosocial support, very little learning can actually take place.

We must remember that trauma and chronic stress can either break them or make them. With mental health and psychosocial support, along with a number of other components, such as social and emotional learning, academic learning, sports, arts, school feeding, protection, safe learning environments, and empowered teachers – who also suffer, by the way – we can empower them to make it through the difficult situations they face and reach their potential. Without this support, their direction in life will most likely go the other way and break them, leading them to only survive rather than thrive. We need all these crisis-affected countries to change direction and thrive. The education of the young generation is the determining factor.

IPS: According to UNICEF, refugees are 5 times more likely to be out of school than other children, with girls facing unique risks. Tell me a bit about ECW’s focus on gender equity in education among youth in emergency settings.

Yasmine Sherif: Refugees and internally displaced make up 50% of ECW’s investments. We follow populations, those left furthest behind. That is our starting point and added value. Among them, girls in secondary school are amongst those most left furthest behind. At the Refugee Forum in 2019, we committed together with the World Bank and GPE to jointly advance refugee education, especially refugee girls. In ECW, we have taken affirmative action and set the target 60% of girls and adolescent girls in all ECW’s investments. But it is not just about numbers or percentage. We also focus on protection measures for girls and adolescent girls, training of teachers and sanitation facilities. In Afghanistan, just to take one example, we built schools closer to their homes, worked with the parent-teacher association composed of teachers, fathers and brothers, to ensure that their daughters and sisters are able, encouraged and protected in school, while also investing in accelerated learning programmes for adolescent girls who have never attended school before.

We also need to work with teachers, men and boys to advance girls’ education, to sensitize them to girls’ right to safety, respect and encouragement to succeed academically. I meet so many inspiring adolescent girls in my travels to our investments in various countries, who, once they complete their education, will become powerful leaders in their communities and countries. To see them speak up fiercely for their right to an education and finally be able to exercise it is very rewarding and brings hope. They are the ones we have been waiting for, to paraphrase Alice Walker.

IPS: As you look ahead to the next year or next 5 years, what is your vision for ECW and for the boys and girls you support?

Yasmine Sherif: Coming back to results and making a real difference, the vision is to reach at least 2/3 of the children and youth – of whom 50% are girls – in the most crisis-affected parts of the globe and secure for them an inclusive, continued quality education. But this will require making education in emergencies and protracted crisis a top-priority for financing by governments, the private sector and philanthropists. Without the finances, we cannot reach these girls and boys. Yet, with financing, all is possible.

In the coming five years, ECW, which is already a one-billion-dollar fund (counting trust fund and in-country contributions combined), will need billions more to change the world. That is the key for this vision: deserving and urgently needing billions in investments. If we want to close the gap on the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to start by investing in a quality education (SDG 4) for those left furthest behind. Through such investments, we are also investing in multiple other Sustainable Development Goals. Without it, none of the other SDG’s can be attained. It is logically impossible.

More broadly, I see the experiment or innovation of the Education Cannot Wait Fund, which was conceived and pursued by the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, the Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, who serves as Chair of ECW’s High-Level Steering Group, together with governments, like the European Union and its members, United Kingdom, Canada, USA, UN agencies, like UNICEF, UNESCO, UNHCR, civil society and foundations, like Save the Children, Plan International and Dubai Cares, hence established at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, setting the example.

This was a vision of impatience to reach those left furthest behind, a vision of less bureaucracy and more accountability, and a vision of breaking silos and of finally working together and, in doing so, place education at the forefront of international financing.  We are moving in this direction and in five years, I hope the larger part of those who care for the world will have joined Education Cannot Wait in the quest that every child, every girl, every boy, every youth, who today suffers in wars, forced displacement and in sudden climate-induced disasters, will see the light of an inclusive and whole-of-child driven education. That is how we change the world and make it a better, more peaceful, stable and just place for the human family. This vision is priceless.

Education Cannot Wait Fifth Anniversary Videos



New US$300,000 ECW Acceleration Facility grant will be delivered by the Child Protection Area of Responsibility, focusing on creating new public goods to improve linkage between education in emergencies, mental health and child protection actors

12 May 2021, New York – To improve the linkage between child protection, education in emergencies, and mental health and psychosocial support services, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today a US$299,600 grant to be delivered by the Child Protection Area of Responsibility (CP-AoR) of UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programmes.

Through this 18-month ECW Acceleration Facility grant, CP-AoR and ECW will scale up child protection actors’ capacities to respond to children and adolescents’ mental health and psychosocial support needs, with a special focus on creating public goods that will promote holistic responses for girls and boys impacted by displacement and crisis.

The grant to CP-AoR will open new pathways by which child protection actors are better able to support education actors, schools, and teachers to appropriately respond to learners’ mental health and psychosocial needs. The outcome is that education actors will be better able to serve and refer students to the appropriate level of mental health services across all four levels of the IASC-MHPSS pyramid.

“Nearly all children and adolescents impacted by displacement, climate change-related disasters, armed conflicts and emergencies have gone through toxic stress and soul-shattering adversity. While the majority of these girls and boys are enormously resilient, what they have experienced may either make or break them. With good mental health services, we can empower them to process and channel their experiences through a quality education,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies. “Education actors must join forces with child protection to ensure that children who need mental health support receive the best possible support, which they need to learn, grow and thrive. They deserve no less.”

The initial investment will evaluate mental health and psychosocial support services for children at level four of the IASC-MHPSS pyramid across five countries. This top layer of the pyramid represents the specialized support required for the small percentage of the population who have severe mental health issues and who may have significant difficulties in basic daily functioning. It will also assess and address the capacity of local child protection and education actors to deliver mental health and psychosocial support services in four pilot countries.

“All children are exposed to threats during and after emergencies. Those who are out of school are at a much higher risk of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect. This makes it imperative that the ‘child protection in emergencies’ and ‘education in emergencies’ sectors strengthen the way they work together in crisis, joining up with mental health and psychosocial actors to promote a well-coordinated, inter-sectoral process,” said Global CP AoR Coordinator Ron Pouwels. “Given these girls and boys have specific mental health needs, the new investment works to provide child protection actors with the necessary tools to ensure that children suffering from psychological distress receive the necessary support and reintegrate fully into school and society.”


Melissa Fleming is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Global Communications – taking up her functions as of 1 September 2019 – and oversees operations in 60 countries and platforms that reach millions of people in multiple languages.

Melissa Fleming is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Global Communications – taking up her functions as of 1 September 2019 – and oversees operations in 60 countries and platforms that reach millions of people in multiple languages.

From 2009 until August 2019, Ms. Fleming served UNHCR as Head of Global Communications and Spokesperson for the High Commissioner. At UNHCR, she led global media outreach campaigns, social media engagement and a multimedia news service to distribute and place stories designed to generate greater empathy and stir action for refugees.

Ms. Fleming is a frequent interview guest on international media platforms and her talks are featured on She is author of the book, A Hope More Powerful than the Sea, and host of the award-winning podcast, Awake at Night.

Ms. Fleming joined UNHCR from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), where she served for eight years as Spokesperson and Head of Media and Outreach. Prior to IAEA, she headed the Press and Public Information team at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Earlier still, she was Public Affairs Specialist at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Munich, having started her career as a journalist. From 2016 to 2017, she also served as Senior Adviser and Spokesperson on the incoming United Nations Secretary General’s Transition Team.

Ms. Fleming holds a Master of Science in Journalism from the College of Communication, Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts in German Studies from Oberlin College.

In a recent interview for the Awake at Night podcast, Ms. Fleming sat down with Education Cannot Wait Director Yasmine Sherif to learn more about the mission of the UN’s global fund for education in emergencies, and ECW’s movement to reach the world’s most marginalized children and youth.

Please find below ECW’s new, compelling and inspiring interview with Melissa Fleming.

ECW: You have dedicated your life to bringing awareness to the world of those left furthest behind – refugees and other forcibly displaced populations. You have worked around the globe reporting on their challenges and the need for compassion, you created and manage an award-winning podcast “Awake at Night” to share the work of UN officials in crisis-affected countries and you are leading the United Nations public information efforts to advance multilateralism and solidarity under the UN Charter. Please tell us what inspired you and keeps inspiring you to take this path in life? 

Melissa Fleming: We spend most of our waking hours working for a living. From the start of my career, it was important for me to also live for the work I am doing. The best way I could find to use my talents to contribute was to communicate – not just in facts and figures, but in stories. And not just stories of suffering and death, but of resilience and hope. There is a saying – ‘statistics are human beings with the tears dried off.’ If we are going to build bridges of compassion to people who need our help, we need to stir hearts, produce wet tears and inspire giving.

ECW: Prior to COVID-19, the estimation of children and youth with their education disrupted amounted to 75 million. As a result of COVID-19, the estimation is today 128 million. In other words, the number of children and youth deprived of a quality education in crisis is rapidly growing. Why do you consider education or SDG4 such an essential service among all SDGs to those who suffer from forced displacement, armed conflicts and climate-induced disasters?

Melissa Fleming: It is deeply traumatizing for anyone to have to flee their homes, leaving the safety of their homes, the comforts of their community and the foundations of their past for a scary unknown. But for children, also being forced to leave their schools and friends and teachers behind is a calamity. That is why emergency schooling is so critical – not just so children can continue to nurture their minds, but also to give them a place of healing and hope.

ECW: You are also a staunch supporter of the UN-hosted Fund Education Cannot Wait, which is dedicated to those left furthest behind. ECW’s investments to date have reached millions of children and youth in crisis, and the Fund has dedicated 50 per cent of its investments to those forcibly displaced from their homes and countries. Could you please elaborate on your belief and trust in the Education Cannot Wait Fund and its positive influence in serving those left furthest behind and the United Nations mission

Melissa Fleming: I served for 10 years at UNHCR and it pained me to see that education programs for refugee and displaced children were acutely underfunded. Not funding refugee education, I felt, was not just shortsighted, it was also dumb. During my visits to refugee camps and settlements, I have always thought, ‘If they knew them, they would care and if they cared, they would increase funding.’ What if they met Hany, a Syrian refugee teen who – when given only minutes to decide what to take with him when he had to flee – chose his high school diploma? A talented young man who was on track to go to university and become an engineer, who realized that certificate held the key to his future. Who, after two years living in a shack in a muddy field in Lebanon, told me: ‘If I am not a student, I am nothing.’

The Education Cannot Wait Fund is clearly filling a critical gap, so refugee children no longer have to languish, but can return to learning and heal from their trauma at the same time. I believe such investments in refugee children are also a strategic investment in a future of peace. That Education Cannot Wait is hosted by the UN system is also an illustration of how the United Nations moves with speed, delivers quality and with real results.

ECW: The United Nations Secretary-General, António Gutteres, the United Nations Deputy-Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, as well as the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, consider education a foundational right and priority for the United Nations and work in partnership with the World Bank, the European Union and the African Union, among others, to achieve SDG4 as a means of achieving all SDGs. How can you, as the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, help advance the United Nations ambitions and outreach among UN Member States and the private sector to achieve greater awareness and commitment to increase financial resources for education for refugees, internally displaced and other crisis-affected young people? 

Melissa Fleming: Hearing about mass suffering and the millions of children out of school can generate shock and concern. But it can also cause people to shut off. When the problem seems too big to contemplate, it can make big refugee crises feel impersonal, and take away the sense that something can be done. The key to generate compassion and donations is to make this crisis relatable. What if this were your child? What does education mean to you? We universally love children and we instinctively want to protect them. What is effective for fundraising is relatable storytelling that connects to a potential donors’ own experience, with examples of the transformation that a contribution to education will bring. It is also inspiring to invite people to join an incredible coalition of Education Cannot Wait’s existing donors, advocates and partners.

But refugee crises are not just about numbers. They are about human beings.

ECW: You are the author of a very compassionate, highly successful and most relevant book in today’s world: A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival. You are a role model for all UN staff, and also an example of one of our most creative and empathetic women leaders in the UN. Please tell us a bit more about your book. What is your message and what can we all learn from it? 

Melissa Fleming: I met so many remarkable refugees in my work, but there is one who, for me, is a real-life hero: Doaa Al Zamel, who survived one of the worst shipwrecks on the Mediterranean Sea. 500 of her fellow passengers, including the love of her life, her fiancé, drowned in front of her eyes. And when she was rescued, after four days and four nights on just a child’s swim ring floating in the middle of the Mediterranean, she had managed to save a little baby. I first told that story at the TED stage and then I wrote it in detail in a non-fiction account. And, my proudest moment was when I saw it first in print on a bookshelf in Barnes & Noble, at Union Square in New York City, which was the first stop of my book tour. Now it is optioned for a film, all a sign that people are hungry for individual human stories of remarkable survival, resilience and hope. There are millions of refugee stories that have these elements. They just need to be told.

ECW: Any final comments or inspirational words from you?

Melissa Fleming: I often think of this quote by Maya Angelou as an inspiration for our communications:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”