Education conflict zones: the vital step to better tomorrows
By Lori Heninger and Allison Anderson
Global Beat Syndicate
NEW YORK—UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has it right: this is a “make-or-break year for Sudan.” Unless monetary pledges are immediately converted to cash, Sudan faces even more death and suffering. The immediate need, as Annan so wisely understands, is that sufficient money must be targeted to education as well, or any real hope for a peaceful, prosperous future for the beleaguered people of Sudan will be lost.
According to UNESCO, more than half of the estimated 104 million children globally who do not attend school are living in countries affected by—or recovering from—conflict. Education is one of the first things lost when people are displaced. Lack of education is both a violation of children’s basic human rights and the biggest threat to any hope for a peaceful recovery of a war-torn society.
Education in emergency situations can provide structure and stability for children and adults traumatized by conflict and displacement. Schools can also provide life-saving information on landmines, HIV/AIDS prevention and health care.
Attending school can lessen the chance that a child will be recruited into a fighting group or a gang, be sexually or economically exploited, or exposed to other risks. For girls, this is particularly important, because they are more often subject to rape and other forms of gender-based violence.
Education also teaches essential life and cognitive skills that give children hope for a better future; lessons on peace building and conflict resolution help decrease the chance of future violence. Without basic educational skills, societies lack the educated workforce essential for post-war reconstruction. As Aza, a 35-year-old refugee from Darfur explained, “Someone who has not studied compared to someone who has studied is like darkness compared to light.”
During a recent mission to ten of the eleven refugee camps in Chad, where more than 200,000 Dafurians have sought safe haven from the violence in Sudan, a team from the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children asked what women wanted for their daughters’ future. Despite all that they lost and all they still need, in almost every case, they said that what they most wanted was an education for their daughters. As one said, “If we are educated, we learn to fight with the pen, not with the sword.”
The question is what it will take for people like Aza, her daughters, and other refugees worldwide to have the right to education The international community must make education a high priority in emergency response plans; donors must earmark funding for education at the onset of an emergency; quality of the education must be a main concern; and humanitarian organizations and community members must coordinate better.
To meet these challenges, the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies last December created the first-ever set of global Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies. These Minimum Standards are designed to provide a universal framework for appropriate and quality education programs throughout all stages of an emergency. These standards are the first step toward ensuring that education programs in emergency situations lay a solid foundation for post-conflict and disaster reconstruction.
In the Breidjing refugee camp in eastern Chad, a 40-year-old woman discussed the benefits of education: “In this war, our cattle have been taken by the Janjaweed and we had to flee our land. We had to leave behind all of our possessions. The only thing we could bring with us is what we have in our heads, what we have been taught—our education. Education is the only thing that cannot be taken from us and upon which we can build a better life for our children.”
We must take her words to heart and press our government and other donors to increase funding for education in conflict situations worldwide. Only then will we have the chance to end cycles of violence that destroy communities and nations, giving hope and opportunity to children who know only violence and despair. The entire world will benefit.