Last week in Cox’s Bazar, I met Tasmin, a 17-year old Rohingya girl who was learning how to repair solar panels at a multi-purpose learning center operated by the NGO BRAC. Tasmin comes to the center for 2 hours 3 days a week. She and other youth are learning other skills there too, such as tailoring and sewing, vegetable gardening, and crafts. These skills will be handy when these young people enter adulthood soon and establish families of their own.
Giving children the opportunity to learn again
In another learning center for younger children, I sang “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” with Mohammed Rafik, 6, Yasmine, 9, and many of their friends. The children looked happy to be here and to participate in singing, reading, writing and other learning activities.
The learning center, located in Camp 4 in Cox’s Bazar, is operated by DAM, a Bangladeshi NGO, and had opened just a month before our visit. The center makes it possible for about 40 children to attend classes 5 days a week from now on instead of staying home with little to do.
The learning centers I visited are just 2 among more than 3,000 now operating across the 34 camps in Cox’s Bazar, where more than 1 million Rohingya refugees live. The centers are a testament to the remarkable response organized in a very short timeframe by the Government of Bangladesh and the international community after the arrival of Rohingya families fleeing violence in Myanmar two years ago.
A humanitarian crisis of enormous scale
In 2017, the needs for emergency humanitarian support in Cox’s Bazar were massive, in shelter, food, health, psychosocial support and education. Now two years later, I was struck by the progress made by various actors to provide services, despite working in difficult conditions.
The humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis is overseen by the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner for the Government of Bangladesh and by the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) on the humanitarian side. Within the ISCG, the education sector response is coordinated by the Strategic Advisory Group, with UNICEF and Save The Children as co-chairs, and with close to 40 other active partners, both national and international.
In late 2018, the Government of Bangladesh and its local partners decided to allocate US$8.3 million of GPE funds for the emergency education response to the Rohingya crisis and to supporting the surrounding communities in Cox’s Bazar. The grant is managed by UNICEF. The new DAM learning center I mentioned earlier was established with support from this grant.
So far, the GPE support has meant the establishment of 237 learning centers and the training of 474 teachers (including 213 female teachers), allowing more than 15,000 Rohingya children to be enrolled in education activities.
This is just one of many contributions toward the education response, which is estimated at US$59.5 million for 2019 and is only 36% funded so far. However the GPE grant has an essential feature: it supports education for Rohingya children AND for Bangladeshi children living near the camps in Cox’s Bazar.