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The World Needs You. Now.

Yasmine Sherif is Director, Education Cannot Wait

NEW YORK, Jul 20 2020 (IPS) - “We may all come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now,” Martin Luther King Jr once said. His timeless wisdom rings truer than ever today for the many challenges the world is facing. COVID-19, continued armed conflicts and forced displacement, climate-change induced disasters, deep divides and widespread discrimination mark the human family in the 21st century.

Yasmine Sherif

While COVID-19 is indeed a health crisis, the state of the world is in a bigger, multi-dimensional crisis. The one safe solution is education. Not just any education, but a quality education. One that is holistic and empowers the young generation, especially girls, to realize their potential, be productive and bring lasting peace to their communities and the world. Without a quality education, we will succumb to a spiral of crisis, as a human family.

Indeed, we are all in the same boat. However, those left furthest behind in conflicts and forced displacement may never have the chance to recover and bounce back. COVID-19 risks plunging them further into the abyss of disempowerment and hopelessness. Without education, there is no hope for them. Tragically, COVID-19 is but one crisis in their abnormal world of widespread violence and systematic violations, dispossession and extreme poverty. All impacting them at the same time.

To tell them that the world is in a health-crisis, but not in an education crisis, implies a failure to recognize their world and their suffering. They amount to 75 million today, of whom 39 million are girls, though the numbers are predicted to rise due to COVID-19. Absence from school or structured remote learning will culminate in millions never returning to school. As many recent reports show (Save the Children, UN Women, to mention a few), they risk being forced into child marriage, early pregnancy and child labor, or being recruited into violent forces and terror groups. These very real protection threats are now escalating and making their way into the daily life of millions of vulnerable children and youth in countries already affected by emergencies and protracted crisis.

Their education cannot wait until COVID-19 has passed, until peace has arrived or until the financial recession is over. On the contrary, as Canada’s Minister of International Development Karina Gould says in her interview in this month’s ECW Newsletter: “The world needs you to keep studying, to keep dreaming, to keep pushing for what you want to see in the world.”

It is now incumbent on the rest of us to move. We must sprint with speed, and we must do it together.

Since WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, Education Cannot Wait has invested in over 100 grantees (partners) across 35 different countries/contexts in multiple phases of our First Emergency Response. This includes the second phase of our COVID-19 response dedicated exclusively to refugees, internally displaced and their host-communities, as well as consolidated efforts to deepen our support to the Sahel.

Across these countries, ECW supports collaboration between host-governments, UN agencies, international NGOs and local organizations through established education in emergency coordination mechanisms. In Mali, UNICEF is working alongside Save The Children, Humanity and Inclusion, Plan International and World Vision International as a result of ECW’s continued prioritization of support to the Sahel. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNHCR facilitated a joint application from international organizations AVSI and Terre Sans Frontieres, both of whom had formed consortia with local NGOs. In South Sudan, UNHCR played a similar role, supporting the submission of successful applications from Lutheran World Federation, World Vision International and the local NGO ACROSS. In Iraq, three international NGOs, INTERSOS, Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council are partnering with two local NGOs, People in Need and Public Aid Organization. In Cameroon, UNESCO and UNICEF, collaborated to develop a joint COVID-19 application. In Chad, WFP is partnering with UNHCR and a consortium led by Humanity and Inclusion on interventions in support of the national COVID-19 response.

“At first I was in shock at the closure of the schools which had also led to the suspension of the meal,” said one mother in Niger. “But when I heard of the resumption of school meals and remote learning, I felt joy. The school meal that WFP (World Food Programme) offered to my children, allowed me to keep my children learning despite my meagre resources.”

“The massive mobilization of parents and the massive attendance of children (2,300 children in classes including 150 refugee children) in this COVID-19 learning project is a remarkable success,” said a chief of the village in Niger, in response to a complementary intervention by World Vision.

These examples highlight the diversity of these partnerships and demonstrate ECW’s commitment to joint planning as well as the localization agenda. We are grateful to our partners who work together in-country to deliver in the most difficult of circumstances. Their work is what makes the difference. As a lean global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crisis, Education Cannot Wait’s objective is to be useful to them and to the crisis-affected children and youth we serve.

But we can’t be in an emergency mode forever. There is a “new normal” and we need to adjust to this reality. Consequently, Education Cannot Wait is now also resuming its investments in multi-year resilience programmes (MYRPs), which are designed to support coordinated joint programming across the humanitarian and development community to advance humanitarian-development coherence, national ownership, recovery and sustainability.

As a cost-effective fund, ECW urgently needs $310 million to support our partners to reach the target of 25 multi-year resilience programmes by 2021. Indeed, $310 million is our immediate funding gap and we call on our strategic partners to support our collective efforts to prevent a total disruption to the education of millions of children and youth impacted by conflicts and forced displacement.

We are all in the same boat. But some may not make it through the storm. We need to prevent losses in the progress made and we need to prevent the loss of hope when all else has been taken away. We can only save this world if we first save the lives of those left furthest behind. They need an education and the world needs them. We need you to make it happen.


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