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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
5 May 2021, New York – Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today a US$1 million grant to ensure refugee children and youth arriving from the Central African Republic receive access to quality learning in Cameroon.
Recent estimates indicate that approximately 6,700 refugees (over half of whom are children) from the Central African Republic (CAR) have fled into Cameroon following violence around the December 2020 election. With newly arrived refugees entering Cameroon through various entry points, there is an essential need to identify and document non-registered refugee girls and boys to ensure they can enroll in government-run schools.
School attendance among CAR refugee children has increased in Cameroon over the past years – from 40 per cent in 2014 in primary education to 46 per cent in 2020. Nevertheless, the number of girls going to school has not significantly increased due to socio-cultural barriers. Disability and poverty also keep too many children out of school.
Implemented by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in partnership with the Government of Cameroon, the 12-month ECW-financed first emergency response will provide over 6,000 refugee children and youth (including 3,500 girls, 2,400 boys and 250 children with disabilities), with access to safe learning environments. Over 1,000 host community children and youth will benefit from the new investment.
“The Government of Cameroon is stepping up efforts to bring these refugee girls and boys into the national education system. With expanded international support, we can help ensure no girl or boy is left behind. We urge world leaders, donors and the private sector to join our movement to support vulnerable children and youth in Cameroon and beyond. Education Cannot Wait urgently appeals to donors for US$400 million so we can deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and leverage the power of education to build a more peaceful, more prosperous world,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations’ global fund for education in emergencies.
“When refugee girls and boys have access to education, they can contribute meaningfully tomorrow to the society in which they live and to peace between nations. As UNHCR Representative in Cameroon, I want to believe that giving access to education to all refugee children is not a utopia but a possible and realistic dream. Education Cannot Wait’s support contributes to making this dream true,” said Olivier Guillaume Beer, UNHCR Representative in Cameroon.
The new investment will build 10 new classrooms in the village of Nandoungue, where a sizeable number of newly arrived refugees is expected to be transferred. Water and sanitation facilities will be upgraded to ensure girls and boys are able to wash hands and prevent the spread of diseases such as COVID-19. Learning materials, hygiene kits and other school materials will also be provided through the new grant.
To get refugee girls and boys into the classroom, the investment will deploy a mobile registration team to identify, register and provide documentation to all CAR refugee children.
With a lack of qualified teachers, the grant provides incentives to recruit and retain new teachers. Teachers will be trained to provide recently arrived refugees, unaccompanied children and survivors of gender-based violence with the psychosocial support they need to learn, grow and thrive.
The response builds on ECW investments in both Cameroon and the Central African Republic. In May 2020, ECW approved a US$1.5 million COVID-19 education in emergencies response in Cameroon. The ongoing investment reaches 3.9 million children and youth. Approximately 900,000 children and youth benefit from an ECW-financed multi-year resilience programme in CAR.
Approximately 100 million children are out of school in the Middle East and North Africa as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts and protracted crises. To provide these girls and boys with the mental health and psychosocial support they need to deal with the trauma and stress of these multiplying crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today US$250,000 in new funding to support the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Better Learning Programme in the Middle East.
New $250,000 ECW Acceleration Facility grant will enhance Norwegian Refugee Council’s Better Learning Programme
4 May 2021, New York – Approximately 100 million children are out of school in the Middle East and North Africa as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts and protracted crises. To provide these girls and boys with the mental health and psychosocial support they need to deal with the trauma and stress of these multiplying crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today US$250,000 in new funding to support the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Better Learning Programme in the Middle East.
The nine-month ECW Acceleration Facility grant will provide school-based mental health and psychosocial support, strengthen regional capacity to integrate the Better Learning Programme into education programming, advocate for enhanced mental health services for children, and ensure the Better Learning Programme is available as a public good that can be taken to scale and replicated across education in emergency projects.
“Many girls and boys in the Middle East have lived through unspeakable traumas. They have hidden in basements during bombings, been forced to flee their homes, or lost loved ones. For these children and youth, education represents a safe place to learn, grow and thrive,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations’ global fund for education in emergencies. “With this new grant, we are accelerating our work to provide whole-of-child solutions that include access to education, access to remote learning tools during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and access to the mental health and psychosocial support these children need to recover from these terrifying traumas and grow up to be productive members of society.”
The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Better Learning Programme focuses on improving learning capacity by integrating techniques for coping with stress and adversity into daily teaching and learning. This encourages a natural recovery for children and youth who are struggling to recover from the impacts of violence, displacement and the disruptions to regular school routines caused by the COVID-19 school shutdowns. Evidence-based multi-layered approaches provide targeted psychosocial support in the classroom and through small-group interventions for academic under-achievers. The programme also provides specialized services for children experiencing nightmares, a chronic symptom of severe stress.
In the region, ECW supports education in emergency responses in Iraq, Lebanon, the State of Palestine and Syria, providing children with protective learning environments along with the psychosocial and mental health support they need to cope with stress and adversity.
A recent Norwegian Refugee Council investigation indicates that the fear of COVID-19 is leading to an alarming rise in stress levels amongst refugee and displaced children in the Middle East. Without reliable access to the internet or other remote learning tools, many of these children have spent months now without access to the safety and consistency that quality learning environments provide.
“Children who were once forced to flee hunger, bombs and bullets, now face an epidemic of fear caused by the global coronavirus. With no end to the outbreak in sight, toxic stress poses a major health threat to the Middle East’s most vulnerable children. This poses a significant threat to the future prospects for this generation of learners, who will enter adulthood without the necessary cognitive and social-emotional skills to meaningfully participate in society, perpetuating cycles of violence, displacement, poverty and hunger,” said Camilla Lodi, Regional Psychosocial Support Advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is an independent humanitarian organisation helping people forced to flee.
We work in crises across 31 countries, providing emergency
and long-term assistance to millions of people every year. We stand up for people forced to flee, advocating their rights. NORCAP, our expert deployment capacity, supports the UN and other authorities in crises. NRC also runs the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva, a global leader in reporting on and advocating for people displaced within their own country.
Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today a new US$1 million grant that will provide some 7,800 Central African Republic (CAR) refugee children and youth fleeing violence in CAR, and children in host communities welcoming them in Chad, with the safety, protection and opportunities of quality learning environments.
Implemented in partnership with the Government of Chad and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the ECW first emergency response will enhance protection and learning opportunities for 7,800 refugee and host community children and youth
3 May 2021, New York – Education Cannot Wait (ECW) announced today a new US$1 million grant that will provide some 7,800 Central African Republic (CAR) refugee children and youth fleeing violence in CAR, and children in host communities welcoming them in Chad, with the safety, protection and opportunities of quality learning environments.
Violence associated with the December 2020 elections in CAR has forcibly displaced over 200,000 people within and outside of the country, including another 2,000 who recently fled into Chad. Out of the 117,000 CAR refugees who fled their country in the wake of the post-electoral violence to neighboring countries, Chad currently hosts close to 11,000. This brings the total number of refugees from the Central African Republic in Chad to close to 105,000 persons.
Among the newly arrived refugees registered by UNHCR in Chad, more than 3,000 school-aged children have been settled in two refugee camps and three host villages. An additional 4,000 refugee children and youth were already living in the refugee camps in the host villages of Beakoro, Don and Bekan, in the South Province of Chad.
“Innocent children and youth are fleeing unspeakable horrors. We hear reports of pillaging, extortion and other violent acts at the hands of rebel groups. Families must flee in the night, wading through rivers with few personal belongings. Their situation poses severe protection issues for girls and boys. Without the safety that quality learning environments provide, girls are at risk of sexual exploitation, early child marriage, child labor; boys are at risk of recruitment by armed groups. Many of these children and adolescents have never even had the chance to attend school. They are the ones left furthest behind,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies. “We must act together with urgency: their education cannot wait. I urge world leaders to step up to fund the education in emergency response in CAR, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and other countries impacted by this ongoing crisis.”
Implemented by UNHCR in partnership with the Government of Chad and the NGOs ACRA (Associazione di Cooperazione Rurale in Africa e America Latina) and ADES (L’Agence de Développement Economique et Social). ECW’s 12-month first emergency response $1 million grant focuses on: ensuring access and continuity of education; improving educational infrastructure with the rehabilitation and building of new classrooms; and community mobilization to get vulnerable children back to the protection of safe learning environments. To ensure access to and continuity of education for newly arrived refugees, the strategy specifically aims to support all new refugees with accelerated remedial classes, with targeted interventions for girls and children with disabilities.
“Education is nothing less than a life-saver for crisis-affected boys and girls. The opportunity to continue going to school not only protects children in the present emergency, but also gives them a hope to change their life in the future. Only education can do the magic of transforming lives,” said UNHCR Chad Representative, Papa Kysma Sylla. “These Education Cannot Wait funds will enable UNHCR to support the Chadian Government in providing quality education to the Central African Republic refugees and to the host communities welcoming them in the south of Chad.”
The ECW investment targets a total of 7,790 children including 3,871 girls, refugee and host community children as well as 600 out-of-school girls. The preschool level includes 600 children, the primary level includes 5,212 children, and lower and upper secondary levels include 1,978 children. A total of 2,364 host-community children, including 1,120 girls, will benefit from the ECW-financed activities.
The Government of Chad has committed to offering refugee children the right to access the national education system through its 2030 Refugee Education Strategy for Chad. While refugee camp schools are integrated into the official Chadian educational system, the intervention remains insufficient to respond to the needs of the local host population and the increasing refugee community. The Government of Chad has also endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration in July 2015, which outlines commitments to strengthen the protection of education during armed conflict.
The COVID-19 pandemic further affected access to education in the past year. Schools were closed from March 2020 to October 2020, and less than a quarter of children have returned to schools. The grant builds on existing ECW investments in Chad. In 2020, the Fund announced US$21 million funding in support of Chad’s multi-year resilience programme. An additional US$1 million grant was allocated in April 2020 for COVID-19 education in emergency. A further US$30 million is still required to fully fund the programme, which is designed to reach a total of 230,000 crisis-affected girls and boys.
The new funding is part of ECW’s regional response to the crisis in CAR, which includes newly announced funding for DRC, as well as a multi-year resilience programme in the Central African Republic, which will reach an estimated 900,000 children in the next three years.
Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Director Yasmine Sherif today called on world leaders to urgently support the children and youth in desperate need of education support in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), affected by new emergencies and multiple protracted crisis.
4.7 million refugee, displaced and host community children and youth in urgent need of educational support
23 April 2021, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo – Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Director Yasmine Sherif today called on world leaders to urgently support the children and youth in desperate need of education support in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), affected by new emergencies and multiple protracted crisis.
An additional US$45.3 million is required to reach 200,000 children and youth impacted by the large-scale, complex and protracted crisis in the DRC through Education Cannot Wait’s multi-year resilience programme. The programme was launched with US$22.2 million in catalytic seed funding from ECW in December 2020, and is delivered by UNICEF as grantee, through a joint programme with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN agencies and civil society organizations.
Sherif, the Director of ECW – the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies – made the appeal after meeting this week with senior government officials of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, key donors, UN agencies, and international and National NGOs in Kinshasa and visiting refugees from the Central African Republic in a settlement located 30 kms outside of Yakoma, Nord-Ubangi province, DRC.
“We can no longer turn a blind eye to this crisis and away from those left furthest behind. We have a global responsibility, moral imperative and commitments to honour before those suffering the most in this world. We urgently call on donors, the private sector and other partners to mobilize an additional US$45.3 million to reach 200,000 children and youth impacted by this crisis in DRC by 2023,” said Sherif. “The world must respond to this pressing crisis of profound human suffering. Girls face significant risks of child marriage, early pregnancy and sexual gender-based violence. Many children may never return to school, be forced to find work, join armed groups and pushed even further to the margins, of no return,” said Sherif. “Education provides these children and youth with learning, safety and protection, it provides them with hope to arise from the ashes of human misery and create a better future.”
Children and youth face significant protection risks in this escalating humanitarian and long-standing development crisis. According to recent estimates by local authorities, over 90,000 refugees have arrived in the DRC since the December 2020 presidential elections in neighboring Central African Republic, which displaced nearly a third of the country’s population. This has occurred on top of ongoing crises in other parts of the country, such as in the provinces of Ituri, Tanganyika and Kasai Central. Throughout the country, the impact of COVID-19 and epidemics such as Ebola and cholera have been disastrous. School closures have resulted in at least six months of missed learning.
Education Cannot Wait and global partners have responded to the escalating humanitarian crisis in the DRC and neighboring countries with a number of education emergency investments in addition to the triple-nexus multi-year resilience programme delivered by UNICEF and partners.
During this week’s visit, Sherif and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, announced an additional US$2 million ECW first emergency response grant to provide educational support for the influx of refugees.
Despite these ongoing support and efforts by all partners in DRC, funding is a major obstacle to ensure the right to a quality education for the children and adolescents in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Education Cannot Wait Director Yasmine Sherif and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi announced today a US$2 million emergency education grant in response to the rapidly-escalating humanitarian crisis in the border region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).
New emergency grant will provide learning opportunities for refugee and host community girls and boys in DRC settlements near the border of both countries
21 April 2021, Modale Village, Nord-Ubangi Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo – Education Cannot Wait Director Yasmine Sherif and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi announced today a US$2 million emergency education grant in response to the rapidly-escalating humanitarian crisis in the border region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR).
Local authorities estimate that more than 90,000 people have fled from CAR into DRC since December 2020 after elections kicked off a new round of violence and mass displacement in the Central African Republic, including those who have fled to the Modale refugee site, located 30 kms from Yakoma, DRC.
“These refugee girls, boys and their families have faced horrible violence and insecurity. Thousands have walked for weeks and hid in the forests desperately seeking safety. Many have witnessed and experienced violence and soul-shattering trauma,” said ECW Director Yasmine Sherif following today’s visit to Modale. “They urgently need our support. We call on donors to urgently fund the remaining US$4 million gap for the education component of UNHCR’s response in this forgotten crisis. These girls and boys are the ones left furthest behind. We must provide them now with the safety and hope of quality education so they can survive and build a better future.”
“We have an urgent, shared responsibility to ensure that refugee children and youth are able to access quality education, delivered in a safe environment, at the earliest point possible during a crisis. We commend Education Cannot Wait for their commitment to providing targeted investments to support the response to the CAR crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including strengthening the national education system for the inclusion of refugee learners in a way which also benefits host community children and youth,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
This new, 12-month ECW ‘first emergency response’ grant of US$2 million will support UNHCR’s education response to the crisis, helping to ensure access to quality education for crisis-affected children and adolescents impacted by these forced displacements. The investment will be delivered by UNHCR in partnership with the Government of DRC and with local organizations such as AIRD (African Initiatives for Relief and Development) and ADSSEE.
The emergency response grant builds on ongoing support from ECW, UNHCR, United Nations agencies and global donors in DRC and neighboring countries. In December 2020, ECW announced a US$22.2 million catalytic grant to reach over 200,000 children and youth in DRC. An additional US$3.8 million has been allocated for ECW’s COVID-19 education in emergency response, and an ongoing multi-year resilience programme in the Central African Republic will reach an estimated 900,000 children in the next three years. In the education component of its humanitarian appeal, UNHCR is calling for US$7.8 million for its ongoing education programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.