Armed Conflicts, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here

We Stay and Deliver until the Light Shines

Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait

NEW YORK, Sep 15 2021 - Kabul 1990. I land in the capital of Afghanistan for my very first mission with the United Nations. Controlled by the government, Kabul was surrounded by the Mujahedeen. As a young female professional, living and working across the country, I felt protected by the Afghans, whether walking in the bustling cities or meeting with the Mujahedeen in the rural countryside. Afghanistan had already been at war for over ten years and we all worked with the hope that the fighting would come to an end soon.

Yasmine Sherif

In 2000, nearly ten years later, I returned to Afghanistan. I learnt of the secret underground schools run for girls; schools where girls, their families and their teachers were willing to risk their lives for the right to an education. There was a suffocating “peace,” but no justice: the rights of Afghan girls were being violated or under constant threat.

Today, 2021. The Afghans have suffered a brutal armed conflict for over 40 years. They have experienced the horrors of war and the injustice of gender-discrimination. They have lived through earthquakes, extreme poverty, droughts and a high rate of children and youth with disabilities – Afghanistan is one of most landmine-contaminated countries on Earth. Generation after generation suffers.

This cannot continue in the name of any religion, belief, honorability or humanity. Afghanistan deserves nothing less than to recover and rebuild. It will need 50% of its population – the girls and women – to help do so. We approach this imperative with both cautious optimism and our determination to stand up for humanity and for girls’ equal rights to an inclusive quality education.

Leaders across the UN and civil society are also stepping up the call for continued education in Afghanistan, especially for girls. “Now more than ever, Afghan children, women and men need the support and solidarity of the international community,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Numerous UN agencies, civil society organizations and strategic donor partners are responding with utmost urgency. UNICEF deployed its Director of Emergencies to Kabul within days and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has also arrived in the country. As the UN global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait is also responding with speed, and we will stay and deliver, working closely with our in-country partners in Afghanistan.

With our established policy of “the urgency of now”, a call first made by Martin Luther King Jr., Education Cannot Wait will shortly release an emergency education funding allocation, focusing on displaced girls and boys as our immediate priority. Some 400,000 school-aged Afghan children have already been forcibly displaced since January 2021 – a number that has increased since 15 August 2021. Thanks to our biggest private sector strategic donor – The LEGO Foundation and KIRKBI – ECW is able to swiftly release its emergency response.

ECW is also cooperating with the UN’s coordination mechanisms and with strategic donor partners on the ground to continue our work for our second Multi-Year Resilience Programme (MYRP) in Afghanistan. This MYRP continues to build on our achieved target of 60% girls and adolescent girls in ECW’s investments, to deliver on their right to education now, because their education simply cannot wait until Afghanistan has rebuilt. I appeal to all strategic donor partners, governments, private sector and foundations, to rally behind this ECW multi-year joint programme. We must scale up and move fast, and we need everyone on board to win this crucial race for girls’ education.

In addition to all the suffering they have endured, Afghan children and youth also live under the constant threat of COVID-19, as do so many millions of children and youth around the world. As the pandemic continues to disrupt our global economy – impacting both the safety and well-being of millions of girls and boys and our trajectory toward the Sustainable Development Goals – we must also continue to respond to this crisis.

The time has also come to bridge the digital divide, which is also a socio-economic divide. Anyone who has travelled by plane across Afghanistan at night knows when you have crossed the Afghan border: everything below goes pitch black. There is hardly any electricity across the entire nation, let alone Wifi or connectivity. The digital divide is growing not only in Afghanistan but around the world. This month we had the privilege of interviewing the CEO of Dubai Cares, H.E. Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, who calls for the world to think anew to close the divide.

Meanwhile, we are grappling with another disaster in Haiti, where 260,000 school-aged children and youth require urgent assistance. This week Education Cannot Wait is disbursing its investments to partners on the ground through another First Emergency Response, thanks again to the speedy support from The LEGO Foundation and KIRKBI. This will be followed by a sustainable, comprehensive Multi-Year Resilience Programme, which will also need generous support to turn the tide in Haiti.

Today, Education Cannot Wait has investments in 38 crisis affected countries around the world. We are no longer a start-up fund, but a proven model that delivers tangible results for crisis-affected girls and boys. While all ECW stakeholders have jointly managed to mobilize $1.7 billion in just a few years for both our Trust Fund and in-country First Emergency and Multi-Year investments, so much more need to be done. At times, the human suffering we see may seem endless. Yet, we must keep the light of hope shining for every one of these vulnerable children and young people.

Unless we invest in girls’ education now, unless we stay and deliver in Afghanistan, unless we place education at the heart of all the Sustainable Development Goals and across the full spectrum of human rights, it is difficult to see the logic of any other major investment, the Grand Bargain or local empowerment. Without an education, how will any of these worthy goals and crucial rights be materialized?

Through partnerships, speed, quality, generosity and moral courage, we can make it.

May the day come when education is recognized as the solid foundation, binding glue and guiding light for everything else we want to achieve. Or as I wrote in my diary in July 1990: “When the land far beyond the mountains, within the reach of the sky, is no longer pitch black.” That is the day when every girl is sitting in the light, studying for their exams.

Education Cannot Wait will – together with all its partners – stay and deliver until the light shines for every girl and boy in Afghanistan … until the light shines for every girl and boy whose education is denied in the darkest corners around the world.


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