Former UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and former European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides join the global movement to ensure children and youth caught in crises have access to the safety, protection and hope of an education

24 January 2020, New York – As part of the global celebrations of the International Day of Education, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) appointed former UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, and former European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, as ECW Global Champions for Education in Emergencies.

As the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 kicks off, the two new Global Champions will support the growing global movement to deliver quality, inclusive education to more than 75 million children and youth worldwide that are missing out on the hope, opportunity and protection of an education as the result of protracted crises and emergencies.

“I am delighted that Irina Bokova and Christos Stylianides have accepted to serve in the important advocacy role of ‘ECW Global Champion for Education in Emergencies’,” said Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair, Education Cannot Wait High-Level Steering Group. “They will be great assets to our shared cause for the United Nations and the 75 million children and youth around the world whose education is disrupted by crises.”

“Irina Bokova and Christos Stylianides are passionate and committed leaders in advocating for education, and they embody the human spirit that drives our movement forward,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. “Together with our partners, these tireless Global Champions will relentlessly advocate for education to be put front and center in humanitarian responses, upholding the right to education of the millions of girls and boys enduring armed conflicts, disasters and forced displacement.”

As the ninth Director-General of UNESCO – and the first woman to head the agency – Bokova is a staunch advocate for quality education, gender equality, women’s empowerment and sustainable development. UNESCO is a key partner for Education Cannot Wait’s educational responses, which have already delivered education to children and youth in some 30 countries affected by crises.

“Education Cannot Wait is a pioneer of the big efforts to provide education to the 75 million children and youth whose education is disrupted by crises. I am, therefore, very proud to be an active advocate and supporter of ECW’s admirable work,” said Bokova. “Despite the progress, big challenges remain. Joining forces is key to tackle them effectively. It is our moral duty to help children around the globe get the education they deserve.”

As the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Stylianides was a key proponent of the European Union (EU)’s groundbreaking decision to devote 10 per cent of its humanitarian assistance to education.  The EU has already committed €21 million (US$24.7 million) to ECW, and a number of EU member states are key donors to the Fund.

“I am excited and honored to become an ECW Global Champion and to support its ground-breaking work to bring education to children in conflict and crisis,” said Stylianides. “Indeed, education cannot wait until a conflict is over, until buildings have been rebuilt, until resources are available. Education is the best, long-term way to break the cycles of violence and poverty and set communities on the path to peace and development.”

With the support of its Global Champions and key partners in national governments, United Nations agencies, philanthropic foundations and donors, Education Cannot Wait seeks to mobilize US$1.8 billion by 2021 to support education programmes for children and youth caught in the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

The Fund has already raised over half a billion dollars in its first three years of operation and plays an instrumental role in strengthening the coherence between short-term humanitarian assistance and medium-to long-term development interventions in the education aid sector. ECW is rapidly scaling up its investments to support quality learning outcomes for vulnerable girls and boys in crises, such as:

  • In the Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where education is deliberately being targeted by non-state armed individuals and groups, including the killing of school personnel and the destruction and looting of school facilities and threats to communities that have forced the closure of hundreds of schools. Hundreds of thousands of children and youth are in urgent need of educational support across the region.
  • In Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru where half of the refugee and migrant children from Venezuela are not enrolled in formal schooling, putting them at greater risks of child labour, gender based-violence, sexual exploitation and trafficking. The worsening situation in Venezuela has pushed over 4 million Venezuelans to flee the country, a majority of whom are families with children. An estimated 1.2 million children and youth are affected in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru alone.
  • In Yemen, where 12 percent of the population is displaced after nearly four years of conflict, 7 million children need humanitarian assistance to ensure the continuation of their education. Across the country, 2 million children are out of school. Girls are more likely to lose out on education, with 36 percent out of school compared to 24 percent of boys.
  • In Uganda, the largest refugee hosting country in Africa, more than 1.2 million people have sought refuge from the crises in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Education Response Plan aims to reach almost 600,000 affected children with quality education. At the start of the 2020, $22M has been mobilized, but $89M is urgently required for full implementation of the Education Response Plan.


Peter Tabichi, a science teacher in Kenya whose outstanding dedication to his students earned him the prestigious 2019 Global Teacher Prize is appointed as the first “Champion for Children in Conflicts and Crisis” for Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in crisis.

Photo originally published on the Varkay Foundation website.
Peter Tabichi donates 80 per cent of his income to the poor. Photo originally published on the Varkay Foundation website.

It gives me great pleasure to work together with like-minded people such as Peter Tabichi to ensure that nobody is left behind in achieving our goal of universal and equitable education.’ – Gordon Brown

11 April, New York – Peter Tabichi, a science teacher in Kenya whose outstanding dedication to his students earned him the prestigious 2019 Global Teacher Prize is appointed as the first “Champion for Children in Conflicts and Crisis” for Education Cannot Wait, the global fund for education in crisis.

Tabichi will champion the cause of Education Cannot Wait and 75 million children whose education is disrupted by conflicts and natural disasters. With travels to the world’s most crisis-affected children and planned engagements at the 2019 United Nations General Assembly and other high-level events, Tabichi’s inspiring story and powerful voice will help raise the urgency on the world stage to invest in the future of girls and boys left behind in crisis.

Tabichi was awarded the US$1 million Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize last month in Dubai, with actor Hugh Jackman and Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum joining him on stage to celebrate the teacher’s tireless efforts to bring quality education to poor children in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

“The award is a testament to Mr. Tabichi’s dedication to the education of the children of Pwani and inspiration to all involved in teaching and in learning,” said Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of Education Cannot Wait’s High-Level Steering Group. “It gives me great pleasure to work together with like-minded people such as Mr. Tabichi to ensure that nobody is left behind in achieving our goal of universal and equitable education.”

Tabichi’s school in Kenya has just one computer and a student-teacher ratio of 58 to 1. In all 95 per cent of Tabichi’s students come from poor families, almost a third are orphans or have only one parent, and many go without food at home. Drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, dropping out early from school, young marriages and suicide are common.

Nurturing the talents of these students, Tabichi expanded the school’s Science Club, mentoring his students to win first prize in the national science fair for an invention they built to allow blind and deaf people to measure objects. The students have also been honored by the Royal Society of Chemistry for an experiment that harnessed local plant life to generate energy.

Enrollment has doubled in the past three years at Tabichi’s school, and in 2018, 26 graduates went on to studies at the University.

“The students I teach see true hardships every day, from poverty to drought and hunger. But I also see in them raw talent and great creativity, hard work, a determination to defy the odds, and be the best they can be. Every child, everywhere in the world deserves the chance to fulfil their full potential,” said Tabichi. “It is heart-breaking to know that 75 million children around the world see their educational chances disrupted by conflict and natural disasters. Education Cannot Wait is doing vital work to make sure these children are not left behind. It will be my great honour to help them ensure children whose lives have been blighted by war and catastrophe are given their birth right: a decent education.”

Teachers in crisis settings are today’s world unsung heroes. Day after day, they strive to preserve a sense of normalcy and hope for the millions of children and youth whose future is at stake. Some are killed or injured in performing their duties. Some go without a salary for months or years. The majority face extremely challenging working conditions: insecurity, widespread violence and psychological trauma, overcrowded classes, lack of the most basic infrastructure and teaching materials, epidemics and gender-based violence. What’s more, many are volunteers who sometimes have never been trained to perform their function but who are committed and choose to devote their life to making a difference for children.

“Every day a child is out of education is not just a tragedy for the child, it is a tragedy for the world they will inherit. To tackle the education crisis, most severe in those places plagued by conflict and natural disaster, it is vital that we learn from teachers like Peter Tabichi, who are working on the front line to give young people born into the most challenging circumstances the skills they need to face the future with confidence,” said Vikas Pota, Chairman of the Varkey Foundation.

Through its investments, Education Cannot Wait relieves the hardship of teachers in crisis settings by providing them with the support they require to fulfil their role as a fundamental cornerstone of quality learning outcomes for children and youth. This entails providing training opportunities for teachers – with a special attention to ensuring females are equally represented in the teaching force – teaching materials, monetary incentives, school infrastructure upgrades, safe teaching and learning environments, and psychosocial services for children.

“We are honored to have Peter Tabichi as our Champion for Children in Conflicts and Crises. He is a profound visionary and a scholar, and he embodies the values of Education Cannot Wait. We feel privileged to partner with Mr. Tabichi because he represents the essence of education and its transformative power. His sense of service is inspiring and his pioneering achievements are a beacon of hope for the young generation of children, their teachers and, indeed, all of us,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait.


About the Varkey Foundation

The Varkey Foundation believes every child deserves a vibrant, stimulating learning environment that awakens and supports their full potential. We believe nothing is more important to achieving this than the passion and quality of teachers. We founded the Global Teacher Prize to shine a spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over the world and we continue to play a leading role in influencing education debates on the status of teachers around the world.