Since the war started in Syria, I have witnessed huge turmoil in my country. For eight long years, Syrians have fled one city for another, running away from armed attacks and violence. Millions took refuge in neighbouring countries, hoping desperately for safety and security. The situation is heartbreaking and challenging for everyone involved, but we always keep our hopes high for a better future.
I believe that my future and the future of all displaced people around the world will be built on education. It is the best strategy that will create a solid foundation towards a better future for my country. Yet sadly, it is the strategy we seem to be drifting away from with every day.
A distressing visit to a Syrian refugee settlement
Thanks to my work with Save the Children, earlier this year I had the chance to visit a Syrian refugee settlement in Lebanon. Hundreds of Syrian refugees were living in an overcrowded block under construction in the most deprived circumstances I have ever seen. Children were playing out in the open in a very harsh and difficult environment.
The visit tore my heart apart and made me so worried. Most Syrian children living in the camp were not allowed access to formal or informal education, although an education is what they wanted the most.
Parents were doing all they could, sometimes depriving themselves of food, in order to afford transportation cost for their children to attend schools where they’d secured places. I stood in the camp haunted by the questions: How will these children survive in our world? What future is waiting ahead for them and our country?
Above all else they wanted to go to school. Exactly like children affected by humanitarian crises all around the world.
Children prioritize education
For ‘Education Against the Odds’ published today by Save the Children, I reviewed the results of studies that asked 1,215 children living through humanitarian crises about their priority needs. The surveys were conducted with children living through conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo; children struggling to survive in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines; unaccompanied child refugees from Syria and Afghanistan; Rohingya children in refugee camps in Bangladesh; and children internally displaced by fighting in Ethiopia and South Sudan.
The results are stark and surprising. Even when children were overwhelmed by crisis and displacement, nearly one third (29%) identified education as their top priority. That was more than twice the number who identified food (12%), health (12%), or water and sanitation (12%) as their primary concern.
Education Against the Odds shows that, time and time again, children living in the world’s toughest places wanted one thing above all else: the chance to go to school.
The report also tells individual stories of children engaged in that struggle – from those living in conflict zones or facing environmental disasters, to those forced to flee, work or marry, to children with disabilities and living in remote areas. You can read their stories extracted from the report in the slideshow below.
* names have been changed to protect the children's identity
More funding is needed for education in emergencies
Education Against the Odds closes with a series of recommendations to governments and the international community to deliver on the global commitment to give every child the chance to learn, including by closing the education funding gap that stops children from accessing a quality education.
We now know that education is a critical lifesaving and life sustaining service for children in emergencies. However, our efforts to actually provide children caught up in emergencies with an education are limited by a persistent lack of funding. Despite some progress and the leadership of donors like the European Union, education still receives less than 2% of all humanitarian funding, and development aid for education is in decline.
We still have the chance to protect children’s hopes this week at the UN General Assembly. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak about my experience advocating for education for all refugee boys and girls at the Leave No One Behind: Accelerating the SDGs through Quality Education event co-hosted by Education Cannot Wait and the Education Commission tomorrow.
This week I hope to witness strong new financial commitments from world leaders, which will change the lives of refugee boys and girls.