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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo © Manan Kotak/ECW


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

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

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

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

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

Photo © Manan Kotak/ECW

Every Action Counts – The Global Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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



Photo Tarek in Homs
Tarek is back to learning and excelling at math and other studies. Photo UNICEF Syria.


Conflict is ripping Syria apart. It’s taking lives, uprooting families and leaving millions of girls and boys behind.

Efforts are underway to get these children back to learning. With the financial support of Education Cannot Wait, a global fund for education in crisis hosted by UNICEF, a broad coalition of frontlines heroes, international partners and donors are joining forces to address the pressing humanitarian crisis that has left 2.1 million children out of school and 1.3 million at risk of dropping out.


The children of Syria’s conflict have faces and names. One of these children is a bright 10-year-old boy named Tarek. The name means ‘Morning Star,’ a thoughtful designation in a place where dreams have been shattered for an entire generation.

Tarek has lived his life surrounded by conflict and violence. The boy who loved math and was an outgoing child when he was young, comes from the Al-Waer neighbourhood in the historic city of Homs, an area heavily affected by violence.

When he was six, a bullet ripped through Tarek’s room while he was sleeping. The trauma – and the unspeakable horror of seeing his father injured and losing other family members – left Tarek with a speech impediment.

Without support, Tarek likely would have fallen through the cracks.

“I did not have any friends and other children were making fun of me because of stuttering,” said Tarek. “I was always at home alone.”

With support from a 2-year US$15 million Education Cannot Wait initial investment launched in 2017, UNICEF partnered with international and local NGOs to create an educational programme to get children like Tarek back to learning.

In all, some 75,693 children have already been reached with back-to-learning campaigns. The programme reinforces the value of education and has provided psychosocial support for children like Tarek to get back on track.

Tarek enrolled in catch-up classes in math, Arabic and English, and is also attending group and private counseling sessions with the school’s counselor, Miss Nour.  The counselor worked with Tarek to improve his self-esteem and decrease his anxiety, which sometimes made it difficult for Tarek to see the difference between dreams and reality.

“[The counseling sessions] were one of the things I loved the most [about the programme],” said Tarek.

The boy now has “a lot of friends” and is excelling in his math studies.

Mohammad took remedial classes to get his studies back on track. Photo UNICEF Syria.


Mohammad is another victim of this senseless conflict that risked falling behind. He was forced to flee from his home town of Hama when he was just nine. Now 14, the highly gifted boy was seeing his grades slip.

“I used to be in the first place in my classes from grade 1 to grade 6, but changing residence had affected me,” said Mohammad.

With their home in Hama totally destroyed, Mohammad’s parents have limited resources to pay for school tuition.  Determined to “make up the gap” anyway, Mohammad began studying during the night to regain his grades, and signed up for a remedial education programme sponsored through the Education Cannot Wait initial investment.

“The timing of remedial classes was perfect as it prepared us to start formal school,” said Mohammad. During the programme, catch-up classes in core subjects were combined with group activities and counseling sessions to bolster students’ psychological wellbeing and teach study skills.

With this much-needed support, Mohammad significantly improved his grades, especially in English and French. He is now placed second in his class and has hatched plans to become a doctor one day. “This year, I’m trying hard to get full marks.”



Due to renewed violence, 1.6 million people were displaced across Syria, with close to half a million people displaced in Northwest Syria in the first six months of 2018, including an estimated 150,000 children. Across Northeast Syria during 2018,  80,817 people were displaced, including 25,295 school-aged children.

The first response investment was in response to the 2017 displacement crisis across the north of Syria, which is being exacerbated by the continued flow of Internally Displaced People into the area.  To respond to the escalation of the crisis in these areas, Education Cannot Wait announced a 12-month US$3 million First Emergency Response allocation to meet the most pressing needs and build on the Fund’s initial investment.

The ongoing crisis means teachers aren’t getting paid, and girls and children with disabilities face additional barriers to go to school.

Thanks to the First Emergency Response, 202 teachers have already received incentives to teach, with plans to reach a total of 600 by the end of the programme. Schools have received heaters and fuel to keep children warm during the bitterly cold winter months. Girls and boys are being transported to school, including children with disabilities.

The needs are still great. As the investment scales-up and accelerates its support, 41 schools will be rehabilitated including 430 classrooms, 500 teachers will receive advanced training and 20,000 children will receive learning materials including textbooks.

Hala is back in school.

For displaced girls like seven-year-old Hala, the combination of counseling, remedial classes, and new learning opportunities means hope for a brighter future. Hala was out of school for an entire year. Now she’s back to learning and is one of the best students in her class.

“I love school more than my home. Here, I play with my friends. I study and learn Arabic, English and math. I have a dream of becoming a doctor so that I can treat children,” said Hala.



Photo: RATSIMBAZAFY Olivas Josias
Photo: RATSIMBAZAFY Olivas Josias


When disaster strikes, children are the ones that lose out the most.

In March of 2017, Cyclone Enawo hit the coast of Madagascar with gale-force winds that gusted up to 180 miles an hour. The destruction displaced some 240,000 people, and the damage to school infrastructure was unprecedented. Over 3,900 classrooms were damaged, with 2,300 totally destroyed. The devastation in Enawo’s wake left over 120,000 children without a safe space to learn.

“Our two classrooms were destroyed to the ground and we could not go to class for two months. We were unhappy but there was nothing we could do,” said Faniriantsoa, a young girl who was ready to complete her last year of primary school before her life and her future were interrupted.

As a result of climate change, the world is seeing an increase in severe weather like cyclones, droughts and floods. When these life-changing events hit, families struggle to access food and water. For girls like Faniriantsoa, risks of gender-based violence increase, and without access to the relative safety and stability of schools, young lives are put in limbo.

To respond to the crisis, Education Cannot Wait – a global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises that seeks to mobilize US$1.8 billion by 2021 to reach 8.9 million children – invested US$400,000 in a fast-acting 12-month programme in the Sava Region of Madagascar. The programme closely aligned with the Flash Appeal issued by the Government and humanitarian organisations after the cyclone, and was implemented on the ground by UNICEF, UNESCO and the Regional Education Authorities.

The Sava region was the hardest-hit part of the country. In all, 80 per cent of the children affected by the hurricane were from here, and close to 60 per cent of the classrooms here were completely destroyed by the cyclone.



Rachel Razafindrabetrema is a preschool teacher and the founder of the Andamoty school in the Sava Region. Her school was completely devasted by the cyclone. With funding from Education Cannot Wait, the school now has four working classrooms – complete with school tables and learning materials – that caters to students from pre-school to Grade 5.

Before, children were sitting on stones or stumps. Now they are more comfortable. Our school has become very attractive and parents are happy to send their children to school because the learning conditions are better. The number of students has continued to grow. In 2017 and 2018 we had only 100 students. In the 2018-2019 school year, our number of students is 500,” said Razafindrabetrema.

At the close of the investment, in August 2018, the programme had helped over 54,000 pre-school, primary and lower secondary students to access temporary learning environments. The investment also rehabilitated 110 classrooms. Special efforts were made to bring school materials, tents and school-in-a-box kits to hard-to-reach places. According to UNICEF, some goods were transported 5 hours by boat before being carried on foot another 2 to 3 hours to reach children living in remote or cut-off locations.


The programme also aimed at insulating the children and families of Madagascar from future risks and ‘building back better.’ As part of the long-term investment in disaster-risk reduction, UNICEF was able to replenish pre-positioned supplies to prepare for more cyclones. In January 2018, when Cyclone Ava hit Madagascar, the humanitarian organizations in-country had tarpaulins, recreation kits and school-in-a-box kits ready to quickly help the 48,000 children across 14 regions whose education was interrupted by the hard-hitting cyclone.

With the support of Education Cannot Wait’s investment, and the broad coalition of implementing partners that made it happen, Faniriantsoa is back in school.

“We received books, notebooks, pencils, balloons and jumping ropes to play and restart our studies,” said Faniriantsoa. “For me, being able to continue my studies is very important so I can acquire the necessary knowledge to go very far in life.”

Story by Liva Ratsambizafy, Education Emergency Specialist, UNICEF Madagascar, with Greg Benchwick, Education Cannot Wait.



Photo Noreen Chambers/UNICEF
Photo UNICEF/Noreen Chambers


Ms. Julie James Rodney, the teacher in charge of the Injua II Elementary School in Papua New Guinea’s remote and wild Kutubu District describes living through the horrors of the February 2018 earthquake and its aftershocks as “the longest night.”

During that long night, children of Rodney’s school lost everything: their homes were shattered, and their school was destroyed, profoundly wounding the young hearts and minds. In the wake of the disaster, many families struggled to get enough to eat or drink and returning to school seemed like a far-fetched dream for many.

In all, some 127,000 people required emergency humanitarian assistance after the quake. Half of the schools in the affected area were partially damaged with three totally destroyed. Student attendance dropped drastically. As a consequence of the quake, lawlessness and tribal violence spiked, further increasing the vulnerability of people. Girls and women in particular face increased risks of gender-based violence. This affects the academic and social development of girls and boys in the region, putting their futures in jeopardy.

Photo UNICEF/Noreen Chambers


Rodney lives with her husband and three daughters in the school grounds where she teaches. In the morning they assessed the damage from the quake, finding the roof of her home blown away, the foundation of the school building ripped apart, and collapsed buildings and destruction everywhere.

Photo UNICEF/Noreen Chambers
Ms. Julie James Rodney. Photo UNICEF/Noreen Chambers

“People’s houses were flattened to the ground and covered in debris. It was a miracle that no one in my village was killed. We still feel the tremors and they send chills down my spine. We are still so anxious that this thing ­– or something worse – will happen again,” said Rodney. “It was difficult to get the children back into a school routine because they were deeply traumatized. They found it difficult to concentrate and worst of all they would react to any noise or bang and run out of the classroom shouting ‘earthquake.’ They are still scared, and we have not been able to fully re-establish their routine or make them feel safe again. It’s a long process.”

Rodney and hundreds of other teachers like her are receiving support from a fast-acting US$1.5 million emergency response allocation from Education Cannot Wait. Coordinated by UNICEF, the programme is implemented on the ground by trusted local and international partners that include the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, the Catholic Diocese of Mendi, The Evangelical Church of Papua New Guinea and Save the Children.

The programme was designed to get children back in school, to establish temporary learning spaces, and to support these communities in building back better after the quake.

To build community buy-in and ownership, community leaders, school boards of management, church leaders and provincial and district education office representatives were consulted and involved in the programme from the start and included in ongoing school monitoring visits. Children and youth were actively involved in both the design phase and in selecting sites for water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. Hygiene clubs have encouraged children to improve handwashing practices. Parents and community members are being engaged on multiple levels to encourage school attendance.

The programme has made great progress in its first six months (as reported in October 2018): close to 3,000 girls and 3,900 boys were enrolled in safe temporary learning spaces, and more than 7,000 children (43 per cent girls) accessed psychosocial first aid services and were trained on how to best prepare to face such disasters. Training workshops for teachers like Rodney were also provided so they can help children cope with their trauma.



Even before the quake, Papua New Guinea had alarming rates of insecurity and gender-based violence. Two out of three women have suffered from some sort of physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, while over 40 per cent of men have admitted to raping someone (ODI, 2015). To help address this, ECW’s investment focused on supporting the safety of girls and gender equality. Gender-sensitive facilities where both girls and boys have access to toilets and sanitation facilities and services in schools were designed. This includes provisions to allow girls to manage menstrual hygiene with dignity. In addition, gender topics were included in the training workshops to raise awareness on how disasters exacerbate gender inequalities and gender-based violence and how to foster a more protective environment.

Rodney was one of the teachers that received advanced training from UNICEF in close collaboration with Save the Children through the programme.

“These resources will help us to start teaching again – properly. The children will be so excited to see the [new] resources,” said Rodney.
Papua New Guinea

Story by UNICEF Papua New Guinea, with Greg Benchwick, Education Cannot Wait


Photo © UNESCO
Photo © UNESCO


When Peru suffered unprecedented damage from floods and mudslides induced by the El Niño phenomenon in 2017, Education Cannot Wait sprang into action to fund a rapid response to restore educational services for affected children.

In all, 162 people died in the disaster and over 66,000 homes were destroyed, leaving a quarter of a million men, women and children homeless. The Piura Region in Northern Peru was especially hard hit. Around 100,000 people were made homeless, and the education of an estimated 37,000 children was interrupted as their classrooms were destroyed.

Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crisis, allocated a fast-acting US$250,000 grant to UNESCO that was implemented in coordination and close collaboration with the Government of Peru, UNICEF and other frontline agencies to build new schools and get children back in the classroom.

The grant helped build prefabricated classrooms in nine schools. In addition, gender-segregated bathrooms were built to ensure a better protection for girls in the precarious environments that often follow natural disasters of this magnitude.

Beyond this immediate response to restore infrastructures, Education Cannot Wait also supported efforts to “build back better.” This meant helping to develop the response plans necessary to insulate children from future risks.

This was done through 27 workshops organized to map community risks, especially around schools, create family emergency plans, and build improved disaster and risk management plans, strategies and frameworks.

The family emergency plans helped households to identify better housing materials, reduce risks, identify hazards, and protect children when disaster strikes.

With the new school facilities in place, some 590 students were able to return to school, including 288 girls. The project closed in September 2018 but has had a lasting impact.

“This isn’t just about building infrastructure, but also about building happy spaces,” said UNESCO Representative Magaly Robalino.



Climate change is affecting educational outcomes the world over – and putting children at ever greater risk.

Rising seas, more extreme weather, drought, floods and rising temperatures push resources, economies and livelihoods to the edge. Farmers in poor countries are seeing decreasing yields and are struggling to adapt. Nations are seeing vast economic impacts that are syphoning off resources. And families are struggling to find the resources they need to send children to school, feed children healthy meals, and save money for the future.

With more frequent and severe risks from sea-level rise, stronger and more intense hurricanes and other natural disasters, the world’s most vulnerable children face ever-increasing risks. This will make it harder to reach global goals of achieving universal and equitable education by 2030 as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals.

The economic returns for investing in education in emergencies are significant. For each dollar invested in education, more than US$5 is returned in additional gross earnings in low-income countries and US$2.50 in lower middle-income countries.

In the same way, investments in disaster risk reduction also have similar benefits, with recent World Bank reports indicated that risks from climate change, of which natural disasters are a core component, could cost up to 20 per cent of GDP.

Education Cannot Wait’s modalities, designed to link emergency relief and development efforts are well placed to support disaster risk reduction and emergency preparedness from the onset of responses through to recovery.

In the end, the goal is not just to get children back in school, but to also insulate these communities from future shocks to build a brighter future for generations to come.


Photo Gallery



The author Benoite Gyubahiro (right) at Bambasi refugee camp primary school with a classmate. She is the only student from DRC in her 8th Grade class, whereas the vast majority are from Sudan. © UNICEF/Ethiopia/2019/Tsegaye
The author Benoite Gyubahiro (right) at Bambasi refugee camp primary school with a classmate. She is the only student from DRC in her 8th Grade class, whereas the vast majority are from Sudan. © UNICEF/Ethiopia/2019/Tsegaye


I came to Ethiopia in 2013, and lived in the Sherkole refugee camp, where I spent four years. Before Sherkole I was studying in a government school in Uganda. Now I am in Bambasi Camp [in Ethiopia], where I have been for the last two years. When I left my home country the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I was 12 years old and studying in Grade 2. We lived in a rural area close to the capital Kinshasa.

War made us leave DRC. It was a war between two tribes. When it broke out in Rwanda, some Rwandan people fled to the Congo. Many in the Congo wanted them to go back. And that’s why there is conflict there.

My parents could sense there might be a problem and decided to leave before things became bad. While the conflict was on, we were not there to see it. I was in Uganda at the time studying in a government school in Grade 4. I did not see anyone get killed because we left before the real danger.

Eventually, we had to leave Uganda as well. My parents decided that we needed to get away to the farthest place possible. They communicated with relatives in Kenya who advised us to go to Ethiopia, because it was safer there.

We traveled by bus. I took one bag with clothes only. Everything else, we left behind. We couldn’t bring anything as we didn’t have the time. I don’t even have a passport or any identification. My parents do, but I have nothing.

Both my parents are educated. Back in the DRC my father worked as a photographer for the government. He took pictures and held exhibitions. Among other things he photographed dying people. He now studies at the University in Assosa. My mother worked simple jobs with UNICEF and Save the Children.

Right now, I am a 2nd Grade teacher. I teach mathematics: addition and subtraction. But I am also a Grade 8 student. I try to manage my time between teaching and studying. Between 8 am and 12 pm, I am at school teaching 100 students. Then I come back in the afternoon to pursue my own studies. It is difficult to manage, but I try. As a teacher I make 805 birr per month.

An Ethiopian national teaches my Grade 8 class of 65 students. He teaches in English and is very helpful. He’s a good teacher, but I want to be better than him.

I don’t get to interact much with the Ethiopians — our host community — because I am always busy, usually at school. I also have chores to do: making food and collecting water. When I cook, it’s usually rice, beans and meat. Tonight, I will cook fish that I bought from the market today.

For fun, I sometimes play volleyball, which I like. I have made some friends from Sudan in the camp. We communicate in English and I help whoever is interested to learn more.

After Grade 8 I want to go to Grade 9. I will then go to the new school (constructed with funds from Education Cannot Wait), something I am looking forward to.

I received some basic training in teaching (but not a professional certificate). I want to continue teaching now but eventually, I want to become a doctor. I am not married yet and I don’t want to have kids either. Maybe in the future.

For now, I want to stay in Ethiopia as it is better here. I think it is possible to learn Amharic and settle down and live here, where there is peace.


Benoite Gyubahiro at Bambasi refugee camp primary school with her Sudanese classmates. Of the more than 62,000 refugees in the region, 72% are from Sudan, 26.5% are from South Sudan, and 1% are Congolese (with 0.5% from other places). © UNICEF/Ethiopia/2019/Tsegaye
Benoite Gyubahiro at Bambasi refugee camp primary school with her Sudanese classmates. Of the more than 62,000 refugees in the region, 72% are from Sudan, 26.5% are from South Sudan, and 1% are Congolese (with 0.5% from other places). © UNICEF/Ethiopia/2019/Tsegay

Benoite Gyubahiro (17) is a Grade 2 teacher and student from Democratic Republic of the Congo, currently living as a refugee in Ethiopia. As told to Amanda Westfall, Communications and Resource Mobilization Specialist at UNICEF Ethiopia. View original.



Pal Biel Jany, 15, grade 4, wants to be the future president of South Sudan. He goes to school in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region. UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha
Pal Biel Jany, 15, grade 4, wants to be the future president of South Sudan. He goes to school in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region. UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha

Refugee primary school teacher Changkuoth Ter Wal explains the importance of investing in new schools and teacher training diploma programmes. With US$15 million from Education Cannot Wait (ECW), new schools and trained teachers are on the rise in the refugee-hosting regions of Gambella and Benishangal-Gumuz.  Story originally published  on UNICEF Ethiopia.

By Amanda Westfall

Like most children in Tierkidi Refugee Camp in Gambella, Ethiopia, 15-year-old Pal Biel Jany fled from violence in South Sudan five years ago. He left his entire immediate family behind and currently lives with his aunt in the camp.

Pal has been displaced and separated from his parents and siblings for nearly one-third of his life. For refugee children, especially those experiencing traumatic displacement processes, it is imperative that they find stability and support – and schools can play a significant role.

Pal is lucky to have Changkuoth Ter Wal as his fourth-grade teacher at Teirkidi #3 Primary School. Changkuoth was never given the opportunity to attend formal training for teaching – like most refugee teachers who hold no professional diplomas and only participate in short trainings offered at the camp. Nevertheless, he is determined to improve the conditions for the next generation.

Changkuoth, Ter, 26, is a grade 4 science teacher. He joined Tierkidi School No. 3, Refugee Camp in 2014. His first daughter, 6, goes to the same school where he teaches. Whereas his wife, 22, is in grade 10 and goes to Diaca Secondary School located in the same Refugee Camp. He is hopeful that the buildings currently being constructed will help overcome the various obstacles that the students face such as; rain, outdoor noises and heat created by the metal walls. Tierkidi School No. 3, Refugee Camp, Itang Woreda, Gambella Region. UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha
Changkuoth, Ter, 26, is a grade 4 science teacher. He joined Tierkidi School No. 3, Refugee Camp in 2014. His first daughter, 6, goes to the same school where he teaches. His wife, 22, is in grade 10 and goes to Diaca Secondary School located in the same Refugee Camp. UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha

“I can see how education is good for the community and the children. In South Sudan and here in the camps, there are more illiterate people than educated,” said Changkuoth.

But the situation changed last summer when he was given an opportunity of a life time. He and 343 other refugees were told they would be able to attend college and pursue teaching diplomas. Now, they can finally become professional teachers and improve the quality of education for refugee children.

In addition to investing in teachers, the refugee camps are benefitting from the construction of new schools and classrooms. Primary and secondary school access is still low (at a 75 per cent and 12.5 per cent Gross Enrollment Ratio for Gambella region) and class congestion is extremely high (the primary school student/teacher ratio is 106:1). With the expansion of learning spaces and investments in teacher training, the hope is to bring more children to school, reduce congestion, and improve the delivery of education.

The new schools are part of a US$15 million two-year investment by Education Cannot Wait, a new global fund for education in crisis hosted by UNICEF. The investment includes the construction of three new inclusive model secondary schools, 41 classrooms in eight secondary schools, 84 classrooms in four primary schools, and the provision of classroom furniture (desks, chairs, chalkboards) in Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambella regions, which are host to mostly South Sudanese refugees.

But the support goes further than construction, since infrastructure alone may increase access to schools, but doesn’t guarantee quality of teaching in the schools. The investment also supports teacher training through diploma programmes (like the one Changkuoth attends) as well as providing teaching and learning materials.

Students learning in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region. UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha
Students learning in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region. UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha


Pal’s camp sits within three kilometers of the neighboring ‘host’ Ethiopian community. Like their refugee peers, the host community also struggles with poverty and limited access to quality education. The Education Cannot Wait-supported investment brings equal opportunities for education to both host and refugee children and introduces integrated services through the construction of new secondary schools where both refugee and host children can learn together in government-run schools overseen by the Ministry of Education. Key project partners include the Ministry of Education, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, UNICEF, and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Niyakueka Gatluak, 20, teaches grade 1 students in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp. She teaches Nuer language (Thok Naath), spoken by Nuer people of South Sudan and people of Gambella. She has a 9 months old son. She wants him to be a doctor when he grows up. Gambella Region, UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha
Niyakueka Gatluak, 20, teaches grade 1 students in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp. She teaches Nuer language (Thok Naath), spoken by Nuer people of South Sudan and people of Gambella. She has a 9 months old son. She wants him to be a doctor when he grows up. Gambella Region, UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha


Classrooms like those currently at Tierkidi #3 were first constructed as temporary solutions when it was uncertain how long the refugees would stay in Ethiopia. the temporary low-cost structures were made of wood and metal sheets that could be destroyed by harsh weather but as the conflict continues in South Sudan, services can no longer be viewed as short-term solutions.

“The [temporary] school may fall down because of rain and wind so we are very excited with the new classrooms [permanent structures built from concrete bricks]. There will be so many advantages. When the students hit the metal sheets, it makes loud sounds and disturbs the children who are learning inside. With the new buildings this won’t happen,” said Changuoth.

Students posing for a picture for the camera outside of their classroom in Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp, Gambella Region. UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha
The Makod Primary and Secondary School in Tierkidi Refugee Camp provides a safe and secure learning environment. Gambella Region. UNICEF Ethiopia/2018/Mersha


Pal’s family trusts in him to gain a good education so he can help his younger siblings one day. For this reason, his family agreed that he lives with his aunt in the Tierkidi camp since there are no educational opportunities in South Sudan where his immediate family still lives.

“I have to work hard to complete my education so I can support my two younger brothers and three younger sisters who are still in South Sudan and can’t go to school,” said Pal.

Through the investment in construction, teacher training, and provision of teaching/learning materials, Pal and an expected 12,000 other children from refugee camps and surrounding host communities will enjoy an improved quality of education.

Story by Amanda Westfall, published with express permission from the original.


Gambella Region, Ethiopia



‘When we learn and play here, I feel peace in my heart, and forget what has happened to me.’ Janat Ara, 12. Name changed to protect identity. Photo: Save the Children/Daphnee Cook


Janat Ara is a survivor. She’s a dreamer. She’s a unique symbol of hope and resilience in a world gone mad.

In her short 12-year life, the Rohingya refugee has lost both her parents. She’s hidden in the woods for 15 days to escape bandits that were reportedly threatening to rape and abduct young girls in her native Myanmar. She’s been attacked by gunfire.

Around 725,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since the ethnic violence, which some have labeled a crime against humanity, started in August 2017. The new arrivals and asylum seekers are putting a strain on local communities and resources and around 1.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance today. An estimated 54 per cent of these refugees are under 18. That means close to 400,000 children are nationless, lack consistent access to education, and live in makeshift, overcrowded camps in the Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh.

While much work is being done to protect these children by both the government of Bangladesh as well as international donor agencies, local non-profits and the United Nations System, the camps are still a dangerous place. Girls are particularly at risk to sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. And malnutrition, disease and unsafe water pose health risks for children and adults alike.

Photo: Save the Children/Daphnee Cook
Attending class in the Learning Centre. Photo: Save the Children/Daphnee Cook


Out of this chaos, a sense of hope and redemption is emerging for children like Janat Ara. It all starts in the new learning centers where children receive daily instruction through an investment backed by Education Cannot Wait and implemented through UNICEF, Save the Children, Friendship and BRAC.

“I love the learning center. I have been through a lot back in Myanmar. When we learn and play here, I feel peace in my heart, and forget what has happened to me,” said Janat Ara (whose name has been changed for her own protection). “When I grow up, I want to work at an NGO or at the hospital. My teacher also said that he sees that I could become a teacher. He has suggested that I maybe can join an NGO when I am older, to teach other children Burmese.”

The first educational emergency response is making a real difference for the 400,000 Rohingya children and youth and host community children that have been impacted by this crisis, exceeding most targets by 200 per cent.

In all, the fast-acting 12-month Education for Children of Rohingya Refugees and Host Communities in Cox’s Bazar investment has built more than 270 learning centers to date, and is on track to complete an additional 50 more to reach investment targets. According to the latest reports (December 2018), over 25,000 refugee children aged 4 to 14 have received access to safe and protective learning environments – that is three times more than the number of children initially targeted by the project. Additionally, more than 270 sets of early childhood development and school-in-a-box kits have been shared.

The investment embraced innovative and flexible learning models to mobilize fast education responses, including using podcasts and video conferences to train teachers in the camps. Along with other innovative measures, this enabled more children and youth to be reached than originally planned.

Community involvement is key in a complex context like the Rohingya crisis. To encourage involvement from parents and community members, outreach activities have reached close to 20,00 people with important messages advocating for school enrollment, hygiene and sanitation, and the importance of a safe learning environment for children and youth.

Girls and children with disabilities often fall behind in crisis situations like this. More than 50 percent of the students enrolled since the beginning of the project are girls. Total access to education for girls and adolescent girls reached more than 12,800 girls, that is nearly three times more than the original number targeted by the programme. To encourage enrollment and retention of girls, the recruitment and training of female teachers has been highly encouraged. In all some 546 teachers have been trained through the investment, over 85 per cent of whom are female. The project has also identified 620 children with disabilities in these camps with the aim to reach at least 95% of them by June 2019.

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Janat Ara’s Aunt Halima has taken on the responsibility of caring for the young dreamer and her sister.

“We came here in March 2018. Even after the outbreak of violence we tried to stay. But then armed groups started tormenting us. They wouldn’t let us go out at night. They started taking away girls and young women, and raping and killing them. When the threats become too much to bear, all of us in our village decided that we would come to Bangladesh,” said Halima. “I worry a lot about Janat Ara, because she doesn’t have parents. The children had nothing to do when we arrived, and I thought – if Allah brought these children to me, then there must be something special about them. So, I registered them into the learning center.”

Since starting school Janat Ara has made new friends, started learning English and is finding a “new normal” after enduring a perilous and traumatic journey. Her Aunt reports that “she has changed a lot since being here and she seems happy now.”

‘When we learn and play here, I feel peace in my heart, and forget what has happened to me.’ Janat Ara, 12. Name changed to protect Janat Ara's identity. Photo: Save the Children/Daphnee Cook
Surviving crisis, the loss of her parents and other life-changing ordeals, Janat Ara is returning to a sense of normalcy in the camp. Photo: Save the Children/Daphnee Cook


Humanitarian crisis like this need more than one-off responses. Working with the Government of Bangladesh, UNICEF, UNESCO and UNHCR, Education Cannot Wait launched a new US$12 million grant in November 2018 to benefit an additional 88,500 refugee and host community children and adolescents. With efforts to mobilize resources from multiple partners and donors, the multi-year grant will connect with other initiatives to reach more than half a million refugee and host community and youth, and 9800 teachers over the coming years.

With continued support, class sizes are going down, and students will benefit from more time with more highly trained teachers in the learning centers. As new learning centers are built and reorganized, student contact time will increase from two to four hours, and class sizes will drop from 105 students per learning center to around 80.

It’s a powerful step forward for girls and boys caught in this cycle of violence, migration, crisis and fear. For Janat Ara and others like her, more needs to be done, and Education Cannot Wait is working to bring multiple partners to work together towards a lasting solution to protect these children, provide them an education, and a safer path to become productive and essential members of society. Through stronger partnerships and collaboration, we can address this pressing crisis.


Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh


In crisis stricken Somalia, children often need to work to provide food for themselves and their families. One of these children is 12-year-old Nadifa, who worked in a quarry to support her family. With support from Intersos and Education Cannot Wait, Nadifa is back in school and thriving. Photo: Zakaria Awil Sirad/Intersos


Nadifa Ibrahim picks up her hammer and strikes down on the chalk white stones at the quarry where she works with her family and other children displaced by Somalia’s years of civil war, drought and poverty. This seemingly un-ending crisis has displaced 1 million school-aged children and left an estimated 3.4 million girls and boys out of school.

Nadifa’s 12-year-old hands are hardly big enough to hold the hammer – and she makes less per day than the bigger boys and adults who are able to smash bigger stones – but in order to survive and support the family she needs to work.

Nadifa isn’t alone. Most of Somalia’s internally displaced children are out of school because they need to work to feed themselves and their families, or they need to spend a big chunk of their days fetching water or simply scavenging for food.

To make things even more complicated, these children living far from their homes face ever-increasing risks of child marriage, sexual assault and recruitment into armed groups.

These destabilizing forces are like a ticking time bomb that threatens the future of an entire generation.

Over the last year, violence and instability fueled a sharp increase in the number of displaced people in Baidoa District, where the majority of Somalia’s displacement camps are found. In the Diinsor District – largely controlled by the extremist group Al Shabaab – the situation is even more dire.  There are no secondary schools and only two primary schools available to educate and protect the growing influx of displaced children. Food and safe drinking water are hard to come by, and 1.5 million people face acute food insecurity.

Nadifa back in school. Photo: Zakaria Awil Sirad/Intersos
Nadifa studying in her new classroom.  Photo: Zakaria Awil Sirad/Intersos


Getting children like Nadifa out of the quarry and back in school requires a unique approach that looks not just at access to education, but also at the intersections of conflict, crises, poverty and hunger, and the root causes that force children into the quarries, into armed groups and out of school.

To reach these children, Education Cannot Wait partnered with the Italian humanitarian organization Intersos in a fast-acting 12-month first emergency educational response programme designed to expand access to quality education services for the children of the Baidoa and Diinsor Districts and enhance community coping mechanisms and resilience to crisis.

The project came to a close in August 2018, increasing school enrollment by 13 per cent for boys and 17 per cent for girls, and reaching 4787 children in all, 41% of whom were girls. In Somalia, fewer than 50 per cent of girls attend primary school, and the last countrywide survey from 2006 showed that only 25 per cent of women aged 15 to 24 were literate.

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Now there’s a chance to reverse this cycle, and Nadifa, and other children like her, are back in school, and no longer need to work in the quarry.

Mohamed Nur is an 11-year-old boy that worked in the quarry. His hands are blistered and aged from his time blasting rocks apart with a hammer. With support from the investment, Mohamed is back in school and has a brighter outlook on life.

“At least the pen is softer than the hammer,” the affable boy jokes. “I never ever want to go back to the quarry again, I felt bad seeing other children go to school, but there was nothing I could do.”

Students are receiving warm, healthy meals.
Students are receiving warm, healthy meals through the programme. Photo: Zakaria Awil Sirad/Intersos


Unlike many schools in Somalia, the schools for displaced children supported by Education Cannot Wait are free. Through the investment, the children also receive a warm, healthy meal each day – sometimes the only food they will get. The delivery of food is managed by the headmasters, to ensure food doesn’t go missing, and to provide an incentive to keep children in school.

The investment also set up innovative water and hygiene programmes that support healthier children and easier access to safe drinking water.  Safe drinking water is being delivered in 13 schools through the investment. Project personnel indicate that three months after the project close, the water trucks, donkey carts, and permanent connections to water systems are still working. Hand-washing stations and girls-only latrines were also developed.

“Educating girls is educating a nation,” said Isaq Abdi Hussein, head teacher at the Warsan school for displaced children. “Many girls and boys were unable to attend school, due to poverty, but with the introduction of school feeding, the school enrolment has significantly improved.”

Girls find a safer learning environment. Photo: Zakaria Awil Sirad/Intersos
Girls find a safer learning environment. Photo: Zakaria Awil Sirad/Intersos


To deal with the scars of displacement and early childhood trauma, the children have access to improved psycho-social support from teachers that have received advance training through the programme and also receive a US$100 monthly stipend.

“These schools have saved the lives of many children. Their future was uncertain, and this is how they become vulnerable to abuse and bad elements in the community who enlist them in armed conflict. But now they are settled in school and this is also good for us as a community,” said Ibrahim Adan Ali, head teacher at the Al-Amin school.

Providing water has helped encourage parents to send their children to school. Photo: Zakaria Awil Sirad/Intersos
Providing water has helped encourage parents to send their children to school. Photo: Zakaria Awil Sirad/Intersos


To entice families to send their children to school, the investment created a “back to school” campaign that included community forums, home visits and sensitization on the value of education, especially for girls and children with special needs. Learning materials and books were also distributed, along with the introduction of other recreational activities designed to make learning fun and engaging.

Education stakeholders in Somalia are currently developing a multi-year resilience programme funding proposal for Education Cannot Wait. This programme will build on the success of this first emergency response and other Education Cannot Wait-funded investment and ensure that gains made so far are not lost.

Nadifa dreams of taking her new chance at an education and paying it forward.

“I would like to be a teacher so that I educate as many girls as possible. I have also told my friends in the quarry to come to school as there is everything we need to learn,” said Nadifa.

With ongoing support, less children need to work the quarry. Photo: Zakaria Awil Sirad/Intersos
With ongoing support, less children need to work the quarry. Photo: Zakaria Awil Sirad/Intersos


Also available in Italian on the Intersos website.