Africa, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here

They Deserve No Less in Central Sahel

Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait

NEW YORK, Nov 16 2020 - “I am so happy. This is my success!” says 13-year old Cynthia, beaming proudly as she shows her Primary School Certificate with an average mark of 120 out of 150. Thanks to the Radio Education Programme, she will now graduate on to Grade 6! Cynthia’s sense of pride, joy and achievement can only be fully understood when placed in the context of her circumstances. Cynthia is an internally displaced girl, living in Burkina Faso in Central Sahel.

Yasmine Sherif

According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, insecurity and direct attacks on school infrastructure and staff had already forced some 4,000 schools in the Central Sahel to close in early 2020. The impact of COVID-19 further exacerbated this situation, resulting in an estimated 13 million children now out of school across Burkina-Faso, Mali and Niger. The violence of armed conflict first forced Cynthia and her family to flee for their lives, quickly followed by the pandemic.

The result? Cynthia – a young girl already burdened by extreme poverty and gender-inequality – was forced out of school. Yet, she held onto her dreams, had the opportunity to participate in the Radio Education Programme, and now she looks forward to continuing to learn in Grade 6. Cynthia is an inspiration, and her sense of success is testament to the transformative power of delivering education with speed and quality in emergencies and protracted crises.

Empowering Cynthia to surmount the obstacles placed around her was only made possible because donor funds were readily and rapidly disbursable to UN agencies and civil society organizations working with the Ministry of Education. Through pooled investments from Education Cannot Wait, the Ministry of National Education and UNICEF rolled out continuity of learning of 65,000 children by April 2020, with a focus on girls, affected by both armed conflict and COVID-19. Cynthia was one of them.

Oumar, a 17-year-old refugee boy from Mali, now living in Burkina Faso, also succeeded in overcoming the barriers to his education. Due to violence and insecurity in the region, Oumar has been fleeing from refugee camp to refugee camp for the past eight years, while always yearning for some stability to attend school. And then came COVID-19, shattering his last shred of hope.

But today, Oumar has returned to learning! Since June 2020, Education Cannot Wait has provided investments to UNHCR, who together with the government, implements a Radio Education Programme for primary and secondary refugee students. “I now dare to hope again,” says Oumar, who is benefitting from radio-based education just like Cynthia.

Over the past 18 months, Education Cannot Wait has invested almost $30 million in over 20 partners in the areas hardest-hit by the multiple crises confronting girls and boys in the Sahel. These funds are currently reaching over a quarter of a million children and youth. This is possible thanks to continued, generous support from ECW’s 20 strategic donors (see ECW’s Donor Chart below), including recent, top-up support for the Sahel by the United Kingdom and the United States.

But much more needs to be urgently done. The Central Sahel Ministerial Roundtable convened on 20 October 2020, and Education Cannot Wait was invited to join 23 donor partners, who together pledged over US$1.7 billion to Central Sahel. Education Cannot Wait pledged important seed funding to cover one-third of the total budget of its forthcoming Multi-Year Resilience Education Programmes (MYRPs) in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Donor support to close the remaining $94 million funding gap is now a priority for children like Cynthia and Oumar.

The ECW-facilitated joint programmes bridge humanitarian and development efforts in the education sector. Governments in Central Sahel, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations on the ground are ready to work together in delivering holistic, crisis-sensitive, protection-oriented and gender-responsive quality education, with a focus on the most disadvantaged children and youth, especially girls.

However, without full funding, millions of crisis-affected children and youth may never experience feelings of pride, joy and achievement and may never dare to hope again. Instead of learning, they will be even more vulnerable to poverty, gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, child labor, recruitment into armed and criminal groups, hunger, trauma and loss of hope. This can all be prevented. These barriers can be surmounted. Cynthia and Oumar have proven this, as have many other resilient girls and boys in the region.

The UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed, is currently traveling in the Sahel. She has just visited a girls’ secondary school in Nigeria and met with 300 girls surviving the horrors of Boko Haram. All of them are now learning, achieving and able to fulfill their dreams.

In her opening statement to Education Cannot Wait’s High-Level Steering Committee, in September, UN-DSG Amina Mohammed stated: “Education is foundational to all the Sustainable Development Goals, but to advance on the Decade of Action and to recover better from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must step up our efforts to ensure that all girls and boys, including the poorest and most marginalized, are able to complete their primary and secondary education.”

With the Central Sahel Conference, we stepped up our efforts. Now, pledges have to be delivered and education has to be given priority in the allocations. Education Cannot Wait therefore calls on all our strategic donor partners in government and the private sector to fill the $94 million gap for the ECW-facilitated Multi-Year Resilience Education Programmes in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Cynthia and Oumar not only yearn for hope and education, but they have worked for it and persevered by surmounting high barriers. They show that it is possible to succeed even in the most difficult circumstances. We must rise together to the challenge, too. The 13 million children and youth in Central Sahel deserve no less from us.


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