Two Years after the Taliban Took over, More Should Be Done to Rescue Afghanistan

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations


A young girl in school uniform and covered in veil walks alone in the empty corridor of Tajrobawai girls primary and secondary school seen on September 16, 2021 in Herat, Afghanistan. The Taliban has forbidden girls at high school level to attend schools throughout Afghanistan. Credit: Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

KUALA LUMPUR / JOHANNESBURG, Aug 28 2023 (IPS) – His name is Matiullah Wesa, a girls education campaigner who now symbolises the “war” waged by the Taliban against the education and empowerment of women and girls. Exactly two years since the Taliban took over, Afghanistan is on a downward trajectory and unfortunately, global attention that was drawn by families chasing planes to flee a few days after the Taliban assumed control of the government has waned over the last two years.

Any improvements made in advancing human rights, especially the rights of women and access to education have been quickly reversed and replaced with severe restrictions that have almost completely wiped away the rights of women in almost all sectors and spheres of life. In a brazen move that provided a clear indication to the international community that the Taliban had an anti-human rights agenda, human rights defenders and members of their families have been harassed, detained and attacked in their homes while Afghanistan’s independent human rights commission was dissolved and its premises confiscated. In the absence of any internal human rights mechanism, the Taliban are only accountable to themselves and act with utmost impunity.

Matiullah was arrested in March 2023 for his dedication to provide education to girls particularly in rural areas. Through his organisation – PenPath which he founded in 2009, he campaigned for the right to education for girls, working with tribal leaders to provide mobile libraries to ensure girls have access to education. Penpath has successfully reopened 100 schools (including those closed for more than a decade due to war and the Taliban’s restrictions on education) in 16 provinces.

Matiullah Wesa, Afghan educational activist, reads to students in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matiullah Wesa/PenPath

In an interview with CIVICUS, a year before he was arbitrarily arrested, Matiullah pointed out that they had provided education facilities for about 110000 children, about 60% were girls and distributed 1.5 million stationary and collected 34000 books through its book donation campaigns. His continued detention means, at best this much needed support provided to communities has been scaled back substantively and at worse has almost completely stopped. Yet, Matiullah is just one among hundreds who have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Afghans over the years and are unable to do so either because they are in detention, have fled the country to avoid reprisals or have been forced to self censor.

The de facto Taliban regime has over the last two years institutionalised restrictions against women, dismissed women in public service, prevented girls from attending school and university and in December 2022, banned women from working with NGOs and aid agencies. It followed this decision exactly four months later by banning women from working for the UN in Afghanistan – as they had been exempted from the previous ban.

Through the Directorate for Intelligence, the regime monitors and targets women activists on social media and those identified as protest leaders. Others who participate in protests are identified through pictures posted on social media and through interrogations and arrested. On 11 February 2023, women’s rights activist and founder of the social movement – the Takhar Women’s Protest Movement – Parisa Mobarez, was arrested together with her brother in Takhar province and physically assaulted before they were released.

Matiullah Wesa, Afghan educational activist, reads to students in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matiullah Wesa/PenPath

A day after, activist Nargis Sadat was arrested for protesting against the restrictions on women’s right to work and education and released after two months. In response to an announcement by the Taliban regime that it would close beauty salons, women protesters converged at the Shar-e Naw district in Kabul on 19 July, displaying protest signs with calls for ‘bread,’ ‘work’ and ‘justice.’ The women protesters were rounded up as security forces fired shots into the air and physically assaulted some of the women using electric stun guns.

The above restrictions are happening in a context of an ever increasing humanitarian crises exacerbated by growing social and economic challenges. Human rights groups report that the number of people living in poverty has increased to 97%, an increase of about 47% over the last three years and that more than half of the population – about 28 million people urgently need humanitarian assistance. The restrictions placed on women in government ministries and the ban on women from working for NGOs have a devastating impact on the families of these women and communities including women and children who have benefited from services provided. In addition, most women have literally been confined to their homes as they are banned from gyms, swimming pools and public parks.

Afghan women are fighting back

Despite the reprisals from the Taliban and threats of violence and arrests, Afghan women continue to mobilise to keep the face they face on the agenda of the international community. The resilience of these brave Afghan women and their sustained protests continue to shed light on the state of human rights in Afghanistan, especially at a time when the international community seems to have moved on to other crises. As women protesters, journalists and human rights defenders and families face increased attacks, protests have been moved indoors and online. Some of the protesters continue to cover their faces to avoid reprisals while others remain unveiled to encourage others.

Photo courtesy of PenPath

What can be done?

The current situation is especially tricky for many international actors and though the Taliban craves for international recognition to boast its legitimacy, members of the international community including the European Union, United Kingdom and India who engage with the Taliban as well as humanitarian organisations and civil society groups should respect the wishes of Afghans and not provide any form of formal recognition to the de facto regime. They should also support Afghan women rights activists in exile.

Millions of Afghans will continue to need humanitarian assistance for the foreseeable future and ongoing and future dialogues to negotiate for space and access through humanitarian corridors should be premised on respect for human rights and lifting of current restrictions on women and girls.

At the level of the United Nations, the UN Security Council Resolution on Afghanistan which accused the Taliban of violating human rights and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan are important steps in the right direction but nearly not enough. The Security Council should continue to prioritise Afghanistan and push for accountability mechanisms inside of Afghanistan which would serve as some kind of a deterrent and a check on impunity. Lastly, there is a need for an intra-Afghan dialogue that is inclusive and should be led by a neutral party.

Josef Benedict is a researcher covering the Asia Pacific region for the CIVICUS Monitor. Malaysia. David Kode is the advocacy and campaigns lead for CIVICUS. South Africa

IPS UN Bureau


Financing Biggest Hurdle to Providing Children with Quality Education in Crisis Situations – ECW

ECW’s Yasmine Sherif and Graham Lang walk with UNHCR partners through Borota, where thousands of new refugees, most of them women, and children, have arrived after fleeing the conflict in Sudan. Credit: ECW

ECW’s Yasmine Sherif and Graham Lang walk with UNHCR partners through Borota, where thousands of new refugees, most of them women, and children, have arrived after fleeing the conflict in Sudan. Credit: ECW

By Naureen Hossain

If you want lasting peace, the best investment you can make is in education, said Education Cannot Wait’s Executive Director Yasmine Sherif in an exclusive interview with IPS.

“(This will) make children and adolescents literate, learn critical thinking, address trauma and psycho-social challenges from being victims of a conflict or crisis, develop their potential, and become financially independent,” Sherif said, adding that these were critical skills to participate in good governance of their countries in the future.

She was speaking to IPS ahead of her participation in the ECOSOC High-Level Political Forum side event “Ensuring Education Continuity: The Roles of Education in Emergencies, Protracted Crises and Building Peace” at the UN Headquarters in New York.

Education is the answer to breaking the vicious circle of violence, conflict, and crisis – while this often is associated with war and conflict, the same applies to climate change.

“If the next generation that is today suffering from climate-induced disasters are not educated, do not understand or have an awareness of how to treat mother earth, and do not have the knowledge or skills to mitigate or prevent risks in the future, the negative impact of climate-induced disasters will only escalate.”

Unfortunately, conflicts and climate risks increasingly combine to multiply vulnerability, she said – and instead of declining, the number of children who need urgent support is increasing.

“Today, 224 million crisis-affected children do not receive a quality, continuous education. More than half of these children – 127 million – may have access to something that resembles a classroom, but they are not learning anything. They are not achieving the minimum proficiencies outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG4).”

Sherif stressed the crucial linkage between education and protection for children in crisis-affected countries and explained how protection is a core component of the holistic package of education ECW is supporting together with its partners.

“On the legal side, we advocate for the respect of the international humanitarian law, national human rights law, and the National Refugee Law, and for an end to impunity for those who violate these,” said Sherif. “We also call for additional countries to adopt the Safe Schools Declaration, and actively support its implementation at the national level.”

To prevent violence around and in schools, practical measures are included to ensure the children are safe.

“It’s important to ensure safe transport to and from the school. And that would, of course, bring a sense of safety to the parents, who may not be willing to send the girls to school because of that. You ensure the infrastructure of the school provides protection. You may need wards around the school so that nobody can walk into the school and abduct a girl.”

ECW funding also includes protections to prevent sexual and psychological violence.

“All the funding that we invest requires giving protection a priority. And that is essential wherever you operate or invest funding in a country of affected by armed conflict; you need to ensure protection is prioritized.”

Sherif said that in countries like Afghanistan, where the Taliban have banned girls from attending secondary school and upwards, ECW works with local partners to support non-formal education.

“There is a lot of work at the community level, with local authorities allowing ECW’s investments in civil society and UN agencies to continue to operate. So community-based schooling is pretty much (being) run now, where we are investing at the community level,” she said, and while it may not be ideal, it does work.

Likewise, non-formal learning centers have been set up in Cox’s Bazar, where the Rohingya refugees live after fleeing violence, discrimination, and persecution in Myanmar.

“Our aim is for every child to be able to access national education systems, but sometimes it is not possible politically or physically due to the dangers of the conflict. So we also support our partners to establish non-formal learning centers until another more sustainable solution can be found.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, ECW’s partners were innovative in ensuring education continued – with remote learning programmes such as radio and TV-based education, where IT connections were available through phones and WhatsApp with learning kits and tools.

“Home-based, going from door-to-door, that was how it was done during COVID. There was some creativity and innovation. It is possible. It is not ideal, but it is possible.”

Sherif said ECW had developed a proven model to bring quality education to every child – even in the most challenging crisis-affected contexts of war and conflicts – but that the biggest hindrance is the financing.

“If we had the financing, we could reach the 224 million (children) immediately. So financing is the big hindrance today. While peace is the number one (solution), if peace is not possible, education cannot wait.”

“If financing for education is provided in crisis and climate disasters, ECW can reach 20 million children and adolescents in the coming four years. And that requires about another USD700 million for Education Cannot Wait between today and 2026. Just USD 700 million is a small amount when you consider the return on investment you get when you invest in human potential.”

IPS UN Bureau Report


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UN Cybercrime Convention: Could the Cure Be Worse than the Disease?

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations



MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Jun 16 2023 (IPS) – If you’ve never heard of the Cybercrime Convention, you’re not alone. And if you’re wondering whether an international treaty to tackle cybercrime is a good idea, you’re in good company too.

Negotiations have been underway for more than three years: the latest negotiating session was held in April, and a multi-stakeholder consultation has just concluded. A sixth session is scheduled to take place in August, with a draft text expected to be approved by February 2024, to be put to a vote at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) later next year. But civil society sees some big pitfalls ahead.

Controversial beginnings

In December 2019, the UNGA voted to start negotiating a cybercrime treaty. The resolution was sponsored by Russia and co-sponsored by several of the world’s most repressive regimes, which already had national cybercrime laws they use to stifle legitimate dissent under the pretence of combatting a variety of vaguely defined online crimes such as insulting the authorities, spreading ‘fake news’ and extremism.

Tackling cybercrime certainly requires some kind of international cooperation. But this doesn’t necessarily need a new treaty. Experts have pointed out that the real problem may be the lack of enforcement of current international agreements, particularly the 2001 Council of Europe’s Budapest Convention.

When Russia’s resolution was put to a vote, the European Union, many states and human rights organisations urged the UNGA to reject it. But once the resolution passed, they engaged with the process, trying to prevent the worst possible outcome – a treaty lacking human rights safeguards that could be used as a repressive tool.

The December 2019 resolution set up an ad hoc committee (AHC), open to the participation of all UN member states plus observers, including civil society. At its first meeting to set procedural rules in mid-2021, Brazil’s proposal that a two-thirds majority vote be needed for decision-making – when consensus can’t be achieved – was accepted, instead of the simple majority favoured by Russia. A list of stakeholders was approved, including civil society organisations (CSOs), academic institutions and private sector representatives.

Another key procedural decision was made in February 2022: intersessional consultations were to be held between negotiating sessions to solicit input from stakeholders, including human rights CSOs. These consultations have given CSOs the chance to make presentations and participate in discussions with states.

Human rights concerns

Several CSOs are trying to use the space to influence the treaty process, including as part of broader coalitions. Given what’s at stake, in advance of the first negotiating session, around 130 CSOs and experts urged the AHC to embed human rights safeguards in the treaty.

One of the challenges it that, as early as the first negotiating session, it became apparent there wasn’t a clear definition of what constitutes a cybercrime and which cybercrimes should be regulated by the treaty. There’s still no clarity.

The UN identifies two main types of cybercrimes: cyber-dependent crimes such as network intrusion and malware distribution, which can only be committed through the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs), and cyber-enabled crimes, which can be facilitated by ICTs but can be committed without them, such as drug trafficking and the illegal distribution of counterfeit goods.

Throughout the negotiation process there’s been disagreement about whether the treaty should focus on a limited set of cyber-dependent crimes, or address a variety of cyber-enabled crimes. These, human rights groups warn, include various content-related offences that could be invoked to repress freedom of expression.

These concerns have been highlighted by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which has emphasised that the treaty shouldn’t include offences related to the content of online expression and should clearly and explicitly reference binding international human rights agreements to ensure it’s applied in line with universal human rights principles.

A second major disagreement concerns the scope and conditions for international cooperation. If not clearly defined, cooperation arrangements could result in violations of privacy and data protection provisions. In the absence of the principle of dual criminality – where extradition can only apply to an action that constitutes a crime in both the country making an extradition request and the one receiving it – state authorities could be made to investigate activities that aren’t crimes in their own countries. They could effectively become enforcers of repression.

Civil society has pushed for recognition of a set of principles on the application of human rights to communications surveillance. According to these, dual criminality should prevail, and where laws differ, the one with the higher level of rights protections should be applied. It must be ensured that states don’t use mutual assistance agreements and foreign cooperation requests to circumvent domestic legal restrictions.

An uncertain future

Following the third multistakeholder consultation held in November 2022, the AHC released a negotiating draft. In the fourth negotiating session in January 2023, civil society’s major concerns focused on the long and growing number of criminal offences listed in the draft, many of them content-related.

It’s unclear how the AHC intends to bridge current deep divides to produce the ‘zero draft’ it’s expected to share in the next few weeks. If it complies with the deadline by leaving contentious issues undecided, the next session, scheduled for August, may bring a shift from consensus-building to voting – unless states decide to give themselves some extra time.

As of today, the process could still conclude on time, or with a limited extension, following a forced vote on a harmful treaty that lacks consensus and therefore fails to enter into effect, or does so for a limited number of states. Or it could be repeatedly postponed and fade away. Civil society engaged in the process may well think such a development wouldn’t be so bad: better no agreement than one that gives repressive states stronger tools to stifle dissent.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


The Privilege of Making a Choice

By Yasmine Sherif
NEW YORK, May 8 2023 (IPS)

A civilian student named Saber was caught in the crossfire in Khartoum. He had two choices: either flee and lose everything; or die. But within a moment his option to choose was violently denied: he died.

As a result of the brutal internal armed conflict in Sudan right now, UNHCR projects that 860,000 people will flee across the borders as refugees and returnees into the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea and South Sudan. About 50% will be children and adolescents below 18.

Will they arrive alive? They can’t choose. They can only hope.

Making it worse, none of the neighboring countries has the financial and structural capacity to manage such influx, and yet they too, have no choice.

Indeed, an enormous international response will be required to support the Refugee Response Plan developed by 134 partners, including UN agencies, national and international NGOs and civil society groups, and launched on 4 May 2023.

Fleeing children and adolescents will need immediate psycho-social support and mental health care to cope with the stress and trauma of the conflict and perilous escape. They will need school meals. They will need water and sanitation. They will need protection. In the deep despair of their young lives, they will need a sense of normalcy and hope for their future. They need it now and a rapid response to establishing education can meet these needs.

Or to paraphrase ECW’s new Global Champion, the world-renowned journalist, Folly Bah Thibault – who reaffirms the need for speed and quality: the humanitarian-development nexus in action – in her high-level interview in this month’s ECW Newsletter, “We need to deliver with humanitarian speed and development depth.”

The choice is ours.

ECW is now traveling to the region to support host-governments, UN and civil society colleagues who jointly produced the Refugee Response Plan and who are on the ground working day and night in difficult circumstances. ECW will provide support both through an initial First Emergency Response investment and through our global advocacy.

We all have a choice to act now. Our choice is not between losing everything or die. Our choice is between action or inaction. Between humanity and indifference.

Prior to the breakout of the internal armed conflict in Sudan, Samiya*, a 17-year-old refugee student, wrote in her recent Postcard From the Edge: “Education is our future dream. Education is one of the most important factors to progress in life. Through education, people can thrive in their lives; they can also develop their skills and improve their life quality.”

We can help make Samya’s dream come true at the hardest, darkest moment of her life. Samiya does not have that choice. Only, we have that choice. Let us recognize it for what it is: as a privilege or blessing of choosing responsibility and humanity.

Yasmine Sherif is Director of Education Cannot Wait.

IPS UN Bureau


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Climate Crisis is a Child Crisis and Climate-Resilient Children, Teachers and Schools Must Become Top International Agenda

From climate change to child marriage, education is seen as the solution. ECW Director Yasmine Sherif protests early marriage with young delegates at the Education Cannot Wait Conference held in Geneva. Credit: ECW

From climate change to child marriage, education is seen as the solution. ECW Director Yasmine Sherif protests early marriage with young delegates at the Education Cannot Wait Conference held in Geneva. Credit: ECW

By Joyce Chimbi
GENEVA & NAIROBI, Feb 17 2023 (IPS)

From southern Ethiopia to northern Kenya and Somalia, the most severe drought in the last 40 years is unfolding. It is simply too hot to go to school on an empty stomach, and close to 3 million children are out of school, with an additional 4 million at risk of dropping out entirely across the Horn of Africa.

Further afield, months after unprecedented floods and landslides ravaged Pakistan, villages remain underwater, and millions of children still need lifesaving support. More recently, while children were sleeping, a most devastating earthquake intruded, and an estimated 2.5 million children in Syria and 4.6 million children in Turkey were affected.

Today, child delegates from Nigeria and Colombia told the world that climate change is ruining their childhood and the world must act now, for 222 million dreams are at stake. They were speaking at the Education Cannot Wait High-Level Financing Conference held in Geneva.


Nafisa from Nigeria reminded delegates at the Education Cannot Wait High-Level Financing Conference held in Geneva that the climate emergency is a child’s rights issue. Credit: ECW

Nafisa from Nigeria reminded delegates at the Education Cannot Wait High-Level Financing Conference held in Geneva that the climate emergency is a child’s rights issue. Credit: ECW

“I am a girl champion with Save the Children and a member of the children’s parliament in Nigeria. Children are least responsible for the climate crisis, yet we bear the heaviest burden of its impact, now and in the future. Climate emergency is a child’s rights crisis, and suffering wears the face of a child,” said Nafisa.

In the spirit of listening to the most affected, most at risk, Pedro further spoke about Colombia’s vulnerability to climate change and the impact on children, and more so those in indigenous communities and those living with a disability, such as his 13-year-old cousin.

Pedro and Nafisa stressed that children must play a central role in responding to the climate crisis in every corner of the world. They said climate change affects education, and in turn, education has an important role.

This particular session was organized in partnership with the Geneva Global Hub for Education in Emergencies, Save the Children, and Plan International, in the backdrop of the first-ever High-Level Financing Conference organized in close collaboration with the Governments of Colombia, Germany, Niger, Norway, and South Sudan, ECW and Switzerland.

Birgitte Lange, CEO of Save the Children Norway, stressed that climate change is not only a threat to the future, “for the world’s 2.4 billion children, the climate crisis is a global emergency crisis today that is disrupting children and their education. Climate change contributes to, increases, and deepens the existing crisis of which children are carrying the burden.

“Last year, Save the Children held our biggest-ever dialogue, where we heard from at least 54,000 children in 41 countries around the world. They shared their thoughts on climate change and its consequences for them. Keeping children in school amidst a climate crisis is critical to the children’s well-being and their learning. Education plays a lifesaving role.”

Rana Tanveer Hussain, Federal Minister for Education and Professional Training in Pakistan, spoke of the severe impact of the floods on the country’s education system, “more than 34,000 public education institutions have been damaged or destroyed. At least 2.6 million students are affected. As many as 1 million children are at risk of dropping out of school altogether.

“During this crisis, ECW quickly came forward with great support, extending a grant of USD 5 million through the First Emergency Response Program in the floods-affected districts in September and October 2022, targeting 19,000 children thus far. In addition, ECW multiyear resilience program has also been leveraged to contribute to these great efforts. But the need is still great.”

Gregorius Yoris, a young leader representing Youth for Education in Emergencies in Indonesia, said despite children being at the forefront of the climate crisis, they have been furthest left behind in finding solutions to climate change.

Folly Bah Thibault, host and broadcast journalist, Al Jazeera and Founder and President, Elle Ira A L’Ecole Foundation Kesso Bah moderated the session on climate change in which child delegates told how children are being left furthest behind in the climate crisis. Credit: ECW

Folly Bah Thibault, broadcast journalist, Al Jazeera, and Founder and President, Elle Ira A L’Ecole Foundation Kesso Bah moderated the session on climate change in which child delegates told how children are being left furthest behind in the climate crisis. Credit: ECW

With one billion children, or nearly half of the world’s children living in countries at extremely high risk of climate change and environmental hazards, Dr Heike Kuhn, Head of Division, Education at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in Germany, told participants it is time to raise climate resilient children.

“Weather-related disasters are growing, and young people are the most affected; we need three things in place: climate resilient schools, climate resilient teachers, and climate resilient students. We need climate-smart schools to stay safe when disaster strikes,” she explained.

“We must never forget about the teachers, for they must be agents of change, and teach children to use resources such as water and energy in a sustainable way. Children must also be taught how to behave during extreme weather changes such as earthquakes without leaving behind the most vulnerable children.”

As curtains fell on the landmark two-day conference, Yasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait, told participants, “The greatest feeling comes from the fact that all ECW’s stakeholders are here and we have raised these resources together, governments, civil society, UN agencies, private sector, Foundations.

“When I watched the panels and the engagements, I felt that everyone has that sense of ownership. Education Cannot Wait is yours. The success of this conference is a historic milestone for education in emergencies and protracted crises.”

In all, 17 donors announced pledges to ECW, including five contributions from new donors – a historic milestone for education in emergencies and protracted crises and ECW. Just over one month into the multilateral Fund’s new 2023-2026 Strategic Plan, these landmark commitments already amount to more than half of the USD 1.5 billion required to deliver on the Fund’s four-year Strategic Plan.

On the way forward, Sherif said ECW is already up and running, but with the additional USD 826 million, the Fund was getting a big leap forward toward the 20 million children and adolescents that will be supported with holistic child-centered education. This is in line with the new Strategic Plan, whose top priorities include localization, working with local organizations at grassroots levels, youths, and getting the children involved as well.

“We can no longer look at climate-induced disasters and education in silos. Conflict creates disruptions in education, so does climate-induced disasters and then the destiny of children and adolescents having to flee their home countries as refugees or forcefully displaced in-country,” she emphasized.

“Most of all, as we have seen in Afghanistan and across the globe, the right for every girl to access a quality education. And we are moving already, and that is where we are going from here. Thanks to the great contribution in the capital of humanitarian settings, we are bringing the development sector of education to those left furthest behind. Thank you, Switzerland, for hosting us.”

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Bringing Quality Education to Syria’s Most Vulnerable, Crisis-Impacted Children – Their Education Cannot Wait

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Education, Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Middle East & North Africa, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Education Cannot Wait. Future of Education is here

Kawthar, 13, takes notes while attending Grade 3 at a UNICEF-supported self-learning centre in Al-Hasakeh, northeast Syria. She says she always wanted to be like other children and grab her bag and go to school like other children. With Education Cannot Wait assisted schooling, this dream has become a reality. Credit: UNICEF/ Syria 2020/ Delil Souleiman

DOMINICA, Oct 21 2021 (IPS) – In war-torn Syria, the support of Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – is bringing positive, life-changing educational opportunities tailored to children like 11-year-old Ali.

Ali, who lives in Raqqa with his two siblings and parents, has to work to help support his family. He and his brother did not attend school. Ali heard about registration for ECW-supported educational activities near the industrial area in which he works. They are part of courses being offered in three centres in the city – alongside psychosocial support for children who have experienced war for most of their lives.

Ali initially registered his siblings in the ECW-supported programme but held out himself for fear of losing his job. The centre proposed a flexible learning schedule – one that would allow the brothers to work and attend classes. Programme officials had to convince his family and employers at the industrial centre that school is essential for children’s development. Now he is part of a class of 16 children from the area who attend classes from 7:30 am to 10:00 am. After class, they go to work.

Ali’s story is one of the many stories of vulnerable children and adolescents embroiled in Syria’s protracted conflict that ECW’s investments are helping bring back to school in partnership with education partners on the ground. ECW’s multi-year response in Syria was initiated in 2017 through an initial investment which was further expanded into a Multi-Year Resilience Programme which will continue until 2023 with a cumulative budget of US$45 million.

Yasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait, says too many children and adolescents in Syria have only seen the brutal reality of war, forced displacement, and the hardship of living in areas affected by armed conflict in their short lives.  Credit: Education Cannot Wait (ECW)

“Too many children and adolescents in Syria have only seen the brutal reality of war, forced displacement, and the hardship of living in areas affected by armed conflict in their short lives. For them, education is a beacon of hope. It is an opportunity to thrive and become positive changemakers to rebuild their communities and ensure a more peaceful and prosperous future for all,” said Yasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait. “Working together with our partners on the ground, ECW is dedicated to fulfilling the right to a quality education for the most vulnerable girls and boys in Syria.”

Save the Children has key actor status in the education sector in Syria and has been involved since the inception of ECW’s multi-year response, providing sector-specific technical expertise and guiding in the development of a programme framework that is responsive to the extensive education needs of children in Syria,” Sara Dabash, Awards Officer for the ECW programme in Syria, told IPS.

Children and adolescents already suffering from the impacts of a decade-long war are also bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly due to school closures and movement restrictions.

“The disruption of access to quality education for children has dramatically impacted learning and child well-being. In addition, lack of access to safe learning environments and continued isolation exposes children to higher risks of child labour, early marriage, and other negative coping mechanisms. The limited social interactions also compromise access to psychosocial support and other protection services,” Dabash said.

Emad, 9, who lives with a disability, shows his writing to his teacher to check if he is doing right in the class of Arabic subject in the ECW supported temporary learning space in Idleb, northwest Syria. Credit: UNICEF/ Syria 2020

According to Dabash, blended learning options have been introduced, using devices such as mobile phones for remote learning. This option has its downsides as many children have limited to no access to phones or internet connections.

Figures provided by Save the Children put almost 7 million people in need of humanitarian education assistance. Children make up 97 percent of that number. Dabash says, however, that in the “determined locations of implementation within the ECW Programme in northeast Syria, Save the Children, with the support of its partners, has identified around 15,000 children as the most vulnerable and in need of education assistance.”

Since 2017, ECW is also partnering with UNICEF to provide quality education services for the most vulnerable children in the country.

“With funding from ECW, UNICEF provides children across Syria with opportunities to continue their learning through a holistic package of activities tailored to the needs of the children. To support learning, the package of activities generally includes providing learning supplies and psychosocial support through recreational activities. Where classrooms do not exist or continue to be unsafe or overcrowded, we establish new classrooms and rehabilitate existing ones,” Karen Bryner, Education Specialist and ECW Programme Manager in Syria, told IPS.

Bryner says the partnership provides training, teaching supplies and stipend payments to teachers.

The goal is to get as many girls and boys as possible enrolled and attending school regularly. According to UNICEF, ‘children have experienced psychological distress due to violence and instability. Many have missed years of education, with over 2.4 million currently out of school.’

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged that goal with intermittent school closures. However, Bryner says when face-to-face instruction was not an option, the ECW-supported students transitioned to electronic and paper-based distance education.

“Various modalities were used over the last year, including WhatsApp groups by teachers to deliver daily instruction where connectivity allowed; blended learning with face-to-face instruction two days a week and home-based learning (worksheets and assignments) for the other days, conducting lessons in smaller groups closer to children’s homes, and home delivery of biweekly learning packs and retrieval of students’ work by teachers,” she told IPS.

Kawthar, 13, hangs out with her cousin Juhaina outside her house in Ghwairan neighbourhood, Al-Hasakeh. Since 2019, she has benefitted from the self-learning programme, helping her catch up on the education she had missed due to displacement, her disability, and the financial challenges her family had. Credit: UNICEF/ Syria 2020/ Delil Souleiman

The story of 13-year-old Kawthar is a testament to the positive impact of ECW’s support for the most marginalised children Displaced five times and suffering from growth-related issues due to stunting, she could not walk to school, and her family could not afford transportation. Two years ago, Kawthar, originally from Al-Hasakeh City, enrolled in the ECW-supported self-learning programme implemented by UNICEF– a course that gives out-of-school children the tools to catch up to their peers. She also receives transportation to classes.

“I always wanted to be like all other children; to grab my bag and head to school; to read, write and learn,” says Kawthar. “I wish for all children to be able to go to school. And I certainly hope that nobody gets displaced anymore and that we all remain safe.”

According to UNICEF, with ECW funding, since November 2020, the self-learning programme has been able to reach 2,600 out-of-school children in Al-Hasakeh. Despite this progress, challenges remain to fulfil the right to inclusive, quality education for every child in Syria.

UNICEF states that there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of children in need of humanitarian assistance, and agencies will need scaled-up support as they continue to bring hope to Syria’s children.