Schools of hope

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

June 20 was World Refugee Day, when we hon­our the strength and courage of those who have been forced to flee their homes. On the day I was think­ing of Mo­hammed, a Syr­ian refugee whom I met when I vis­ited Is­toc Pri­mary School in Turkey last month.

In a bustling school, al­ready full to burst­ing to ac­com­mo­date a large lo­cal pop­u­la­tion, I watched Mo­hammed at the back of the class­room, in­tent on fin­ish­ing an art project. The class was draw­ing ar­ti­facts from mu­se­ums and hold­ing a lively dis­cus­sion about the i mpor­tance of pre­serv­ing cul­ture and her­itage.

Mo­hammed stopped to ex­plain how his class­mates had helped him learn their lan­guage, and how he was catch­ing up on lessons af­ter flee­ing his war-torn coun­try to set­tle in Istanbul. But his dream is to have the chance to re­turn home one day, and he is de­ter­mined to study hard now to gain the knowl­edge and skills needed to build a new fu­ture there.

I no­ticed that Mo­hammed’s art­work was dif­fer­ent from the other stu­dents, and he ex­plained through an in­ter­preter that he wanted to cap­ture an im­age from home. His teacher thought that he was draw­ing an im­age of Palmyra, a his­toric city so dev­as­tated that UNESCO has stepped in to pre­serve it be­fore noth­ing is left. I won­dered what Mo­hammed will see when he re­turns to his beloved Syria.

Mo­hammed’s story is one that has been re­peated count­less times. Dur­ing the past five years, 4.8 mil­lion Syr­i­ans have fled their coun­try as a re­sult of the civil war – half of them chil­dren. At Their­world, one of our many projects has been to help refugee chil­dren get an ed­u­ca­tion. We be­lieve that ed­u­ca­tion for all chil­dren should be part of the hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse to con­flict and dis­as­ter – a right that must be up­held along­side the pro­vi­sion of food, shel­ter, and med­i­cal care.

Ed­u­ca­tion brings chil­dren and their fam­i­lies hope, the se­cu­rity of a rou­tine, and the abil­ity to plan for the fu­ture. Get­ting and keep­ing chil­dren in school also keeps them safe from dan­gers such as child labour, early mar­riage, and rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion.

Their­world was the first to cam­paign for fund­ing for a pi­o­neer­ing dou­ble-shift sys­tem to ed­u­cate Syr­ian refugee chil­dren, which has be­come hugely suc­cess­ful in Lebanon, Jor­dan, and in­creas­ingly in Turkey. The con­cept is sim­ple: one group of chil­dren is taught in the morn­ing, and the same build­ings and re­sources are used to ac­com­mo­date more chil­dren in the af­ter­noon. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of chil­dren have en­rolled, and we are now work­ing to un­lock fund­ing to en­able a to­tal of one mil­lion chil­dren across the Mid­dle East to re­turn to school by 2017.

To date, Turkey has spent more than $8 bil­lion on the cri­sis, more than any other coun­try, and has wel­comed nearly two mil­lion refugees, promising school places for ev­ery child when funds are avail­able. So far, the Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties have cre­ated well over 200,000 school places for Syr­ian chil­dren – more than half the ca­pac­ity needed so far.

Host coun­tries like Turkey stand ready to im­ple­ment this huge un­der­tak­ing; but it is up to all of us to en­sure that the promised funds are de­liv­ered in time. In April, the EU pledged 3 bil­lion euros ($3.4 bil­lion) to sup­port Syr­ian refugees in Turkey, and ed­u­ca­tion has been listed as a top pri­or­ity – a mark of recog­ni­tion for all those who fought to bring the is­sue to the table. Now every­one has to gather around that table and guar­an­tee that no red tape, no po­lit­i­cal is­sues, and no prac­ti­cal bar­ri­ers stand in the way of th­ese chil­dren’s chance to re­turn to school.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity took a ma­jor step in this di­rec­tion at last month’s World Hu­man­i­tar­ian Sum­mit in Istanbul, where the Ed­u­ca­tion Can­not Wait fund was launched to cope with the in­evitable “next” emer­gency. The new fund aims to es­tab­lish a per­ma­nent source of fi­nance to bridge the gap be­tween hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tions dur­ing crises and long-term post-cri­sis de­vel­op­ment.

For now, ed­u­ca­tion is at the back of the queue in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of crises, ac­count­ing for only 2% of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, the bulk of which is al­lo­cated to health, hous­ing, and food. But with a target of $3.85 bil­lion over five years, Ed­u­ca­tion Can­not Wait hopes to reach more than 13.6 mil­lion chil­dren like Mo­hammed, who oth­er­wise would have to wait years to re­turn to their stud­ies.

For chil­dren in much of the world, the sum­mer hol­i­day has ar­rived; many refugee chil­dren will spend it work­ing to bring in small amounts of in­come for their fam­i­lies, or sitting idle in un­fa­mil­iar cities or camps. But let’s hope that school fund­ing for Syr­ian refugees is sorted out across Turkey, Jor­dan, Lebanon, and wher­ever it is needed so that the plan­ning needed to ac­com­mo­date ev­ery child can start. The com­mu­ni­ties where refugees re­side are ready to make it hap­pen; it is now time to un­lock the fund­ing they need.

This commentary was pro­duced in co­op­er­a­tion with Women and Girls Hub.

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