From Pakistan to Ukraine, from Mali to Venezuela or across sub-Saharan Africa, this United Nations fund – specializing in education in crisis zones – estimates that 222 million children living in countries at war or affected by climatic disasters suffer a significant disruption of their education. Nearly 80 million of them never set foot in school.
“It’s horrible, it’s hard to imagine,” said Yasmine Sherif in an interview with AFP before an education summit organized Monday as part of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“They lost everything and on top of that they lost their access to quality education.”
Worse, instead of learning to read and count, they find themselves in the streets, “exposed to violence, boys easily recruited by armed groups, girls threatened by human trafficking, kidnappings, forced marriages”.
Since 2016, Education Cannot Wait has therefore mobilized just over a billion dollars to finance the construction of schools, the purchase of school materials, but also a daily meal or psychosocial support services, making it possible to help nearly of 7 million boys and girls in 32 countries.
But “if we want to meet the needs, we have to think in totally different terms in terms of the necessary funding. We are talking about billions here, not millions”, explains Yasmine Sherif, who is planning a conference in February 2023 in Geneva to raise $1.5 billion to reach 20 million more children. A number still far from 222 million.
– “Emancipation” –
“In Western European countries, the investment for the education of a child represents an average of 10,000 dollars per year. We are around 150 dollars per year and per child, the gap is extreme”.
Yet “if you want to change the world, achieve the goals (of development), you have to invest in education for all those who are left behind”, pleads the Swede.
“Because beyond trauma and suffering, they have incredible resilience,” she says.
“Imagine 222 million children who have been through the worst of the worst getting a good education? They will do things that humanity has never seen. I have so much faith in them.”
“What we offer is a tool, a hope, an emancipation (…) To get out of the chaos and become an example for the world”, she insists.
And according to her, this tool is as necessary as a roof and food.
“Of course, water is vital. And yes, having shelter is important. But is that all we have to offer 222 million children? A tent and water? If that’s all we have to offer them, without giving them the means to emancipate themselves, then we are on the wrong track”, she pleads fervently.
“They saw their villages burned, their parents executed, they suffered violence. The only thing left for them is to say to themselves + if I can have an education, I can get out of there and change my life +”, she points out.
“We’re taking away that last little hope if we don’t allow them to have an education.”
So Education Director Cannot Wait denounces those who deny these children their rights: “Education systems are under severe attack in active armed conflicts where warring parties bomb schools, use schools to stockpile weapons, which is prohibited under international humanitarian law”.
“These are war crimes,” she insists.