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Tuesday, November 29, 2022
NEW YORK, Nov 11 2022 - There is a stillness to the tent as I enter. This is a place of loss and pain, yet also a place of resilience and hope; everything coming together all at once.
Here in Tanganyika Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), six out of ten girls will be married before they turn 18 – becoming mothers while they are still children themselves. There in the tent, I met 15-year-old Angel (name changed to protect her identity), sitting with her toddler, a boy, on her lap.
Angel is learning to become a seamstress. This tent is her classroom. Here, together with dozens of other young teenage mothers, she learns and practices her skills. Within the tent, beyond these much needed academic and vocational skills to help her create a better life, this is also a safe space where Angel and her peers can share experiences and access mental health and psychosocial support services.
Angel and the other girls live in a camp hosting internally displaced persons. Children here have been subjected to horrific violence no child should ever experience. Some are survivors of rape, others were forced to join armed groups, or lost parents in the violence. Some live with vivid memories of having to flee for their lives while their villages were razed to the ground.
As I sit and listen to Angel’s story, I observe her. She is a child plagued by trauma and yet she is so mature, focused and determined. She wants to become a woman leader to help other young girls like her get an education and become strong and self-reliant. Her capacity for empathy is extraordinary. She speaks less about herself and more about the suffering and hopes of others. With an education and psycho-social support to heal her wounds, she will become that woman leader. I believe this intensely.
We all have the potential for immense empathy – that incredibly profound force that moves us to action for others. We all have the potential to transform promises into concrete action for the 222 million crisis-affected children and adolescents who urgently need education support.
Deep within, we know that a looming recession and budget constraints cannot compare to the ordeal of young girls subjected to systematic rape and terror, depriving them of a childhood. If Angel can, then we can. It is just a question of making a moral choice. A choice that defines who we really are, our identity and purpose in the world. Angel inspires us all with her courageous choice.
On my recent, productive joint mission with the British Embassy in DRC and UNICEF, as in so many other crisis-contexts around the world, I saw first-hand the very concrete results and impact of ECW’s education investments in Tanganyika. ECW funding supports a comprehensive package which provides safe learning spaces, mental health and psychosocial support, school meals, trained teachers, water and sanitation, academic studies and vocational training.
This is possible thanks to financial investments by our strategic donor partners and the well-coordinated multi-sectoral response by our implementing partners in the government, including the local government (the Governor being a woman), village leaders, UNICEF, WFP, Armée du Salut, CENEAS and other local and community-based civil society, working together. The multi-year resilience joint programme supports vulnerable children, including those displaced by violence, girls, teenage mothers, and former child soldiers to heal and re-integrate in society through education.
Education restores their human dignity. It empowers girls like Angel to become part of a new generation that will break the bonds of forced child marriage and challenge the threats of sexual violence. It unites communities divided by years of local conflicts and nurtures peace.
To date, the lives of over 30,000 girls and boys and their communities have been transformed in Tanganyika through education. But this is not enough: an additional US$45 million is urgently required to expand this successful model of holistic education to other crisis-affected areas in the DRC to tap into their resilience and deliver on their hope.
Across the globe, and together with our partners, ECW-investments have already reached 7 million crisis-affected girls and boys with a holistic, child-centred quality education. These are the 7 million other ‘Angels’, rising from the shadows towards the hope, protection and opportunities offered by education. After all they have endured, these ‘Angels’ enlighten and motivate the rest of us to rise up to our high standards of empathy, courage and action. If they can, we can. Indeed, we must.
Globally, 222 million crisis-impacted girls and boys urgently need education support, with more than 78 million of them out of school entirely. These shocking numbers are unacceptable in the 21st century.
Recent estimates indicate that the global financing gap to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 4 could be as high as $200 billion annually. It will take perseverance, passion – and, of course – partnership to address this gap, as stated by Theirworld President Justin W. van Fleet in this month’s high-level interview. In our cooperation with Theirworld, ECW has, like with so many of our partners, shown that the impossible is indeed possible.
In the spirit of reviving multilateralism and our commitment to the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals and a plethora of conventions and resolutions, we too can rise, like Angel, to bring hope through action.
Education requires financing. ECW is convening our High-Level Financing Conference (HLFC) next February in Geneva. Hosted by Switzerland and Education Cannot Wait – and co-convened by Germany, Niger, Norway, South Sudan and Colombia – the HLFC calls on government donors, private sector, foundations and high-net-worth individuals to turn commitments into action by making substantive funding contributions towards ECW’s four-year Strategic Plan, as outlined in our Case for Investment. Our cause: to help make #222MillionDreams come true through quality education to ensure a better life of dignity and hope for crisis-affected children and youth worldwide.
We know that each of our strategic donors and partners are #BestInClass, and that by working together, we can empower Angel and girls and boys like her to triumph over adversity. Yes, we can and must be fearless, focused and determined just like her. It is a moral choice. We owe it to Angel and the 222 million girls and boys caught in the most violent and brutal parts of the globe.
The choice we make will define who we are, why we are here and reveal whether we too have the empathy, strength and determination exemplified by Angel and 222 million crisis-affected children and youth who desperately need education. In spite of all they have endured and survived, all they ask for is their inherent human right to a quality education so they can rise up again. If we choose not to act, their fall will one day be our own failure. But if we choose to act, their triumph will be ours, too. We own our choice to finance education.
Yasmine Sherif is Director of Education Cannot Wait.
IPS UN Bureau
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