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.

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Leprosy has a Cure, so has Prejudice, says Miss Universe for Brazil

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Inequity, TerraViva United Nations

Human Rights

Julia Gama, Miss Brazil Universe working with Morhan to deliver food baskets to people affected by Hansen’s disease, with support from the Sasakawa Health Foundation. Credit: Morhan

NAIROBI, KENYA, Sep 29 2021 (IPS) – A new dawn has come, and it was through the work of Yohei Sasakawa, the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, that those affected by leprosy now had a voice to speak for themselves.


So said Faustino Pinto, a person affected by leprosy and Vice National Coordinator of Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen’s disease (Morhan), at a webinar with the theme ‘Hansen’s Disease/Leprosy as Human Rights issue’.

Sasakawa, who is also the chairperson of the Nippon Foundation, and Dr Alice Cruz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy, addressed the webinar. Guests included Caroline Teixeira, Miss World Brazil 2021 and Julia Gama, Miss Universe Brazil 2020. The Sasakawa Health Foundation, in collaboration with Morhan, were co-conveners. The event forms part of a 10-month-long campaign dubbed ‘Do not Forget Leprosy’.

The celebrity guests applauded his sentiments.

Faustino Pinto, a person affected by leprosy and Vice National Coordinator of Morhan. Credit: Joyce Chimbi

Gama, also working with Morhan, told IPS: “Hansen’s disease has a cure, and I believe so does prejudice. I will use my voice to ensure that those who were silenced are heard. I believe togetherness is our strength, and together we can eradicate Hansen’s disease.”

Pinto praised Sasakawa for his lifelong commitment to improving the lives of those affected by the disease.

“We were taught to just accept what we were told: Take the medicine, keep the appointments, open your mouth to check if you did take the medicine, do not abandon the treatment,” says Pinto. This changed when Sasakawa became involved.

Pinto appealed for those affected by leprosy to be heard, seen, and involved in efforts towards zero leprosy.

He lauded the Sasakawa and the Foundation “for always talking about us and including us in the debate” and for “truly listening to us and giving us a voice”. It is this voice that Pinto used to appeal to the global community, saying, “Don’t Forget Hansen’s Disease. Don’t Forget Us.”

At the heart of discussions was the bid to draw the world’s attention to a disease in equal measure, a medical and social problem. Furthermore, the meeting was a key platform where participants were urged to approach leprosy as a human’s rights issue.

While concerted efforts have today led to less than one case of leprosy in a population of 10 000 people as per WHO estimates, with at least 200 000 new cases reported annually, experts say leprosy is still very much a concern.

“There are more than one billion people in the world living with disabilities, including persons affected by leprosy. We need to create an inclusive society where everyone can have an education, find work, and get married if they want to. People have passion and motivation. Often, all they lack is opportunity,” says Sasakawa.

Governments efforts to respond to COVID-19 is believed to have setback the progress towards zero leprosy.

“Persons affected by leprosy face multiple discrimination. They are often discriminated against on various grounds – like leprosy, but also gender, age, poverty, disability, sexuality, and race. They also struggle with violence from the State and society and with interpersonal violence,” says Cruz.

Caroline Teixeira, Miss World Brazil, with Morhan’s national coordinators Artur Custódio (centre) and Lucimar Batista (right), and the director of the National Beauty Contest and Morhan volunteer, Marina Fontes (left). Credit: Morhan

“There is such ability and potential in the world, and to have everyone participate in society will create a truly wonderful future. That is why it is important for persons affected by leprosy to have confidence and speak out,” Sasakawa emphasises.

“To support them, Sasakawa Health Foundation and The Nippon Foundation are helping them to build up their organisational capacity. I would like to see a society in which everyone is active, able to express their opinions to the authorities with confidence, and their contribution is valued,” he adds.

Over ten months, the campaign, which leverages Sasakawa’s 20th anniversary as Goodwill Ambassador, will raise awareness of why the world should stay focused on leprosy.

“It was a great honour to be chosen Miss World Brazil and thus become an ambassador of the fight against Hansen’s disease in Brazil, the country with the highest incidence of the disease in the world,” Teixeira told IPS.

“In the coming days, I will be part of a Morhan delegation visiting several cities in the north of the country, sensitising governments to action in defence of the rights of persons affected. We will certainly unite many voices so that Hansen’s disease is not forgotten,” she says.

Nevertheless, left untreated, leprosy can result in permanent disability. Worldwide, three to four million people live with some form of disability due to leprosy, as per WHO estimates.

There is growing concern that COVID-19 and the fear of discrimination could further prevent people from visiting hospitals, leading to diagnosis and treatment delays.

As it is, WHO’s 2020 statistics show an estimated 40 percent drop in the detection of new leprosy cases, which, experts warn, will lead to increased transmission of leprosy and more cases of disability.

Discrimination and stigma remain a primary concern for Sasakawa. He decries that “people who should be part of society remain isolated in colonies facing hardships. The more you look into it, the more you see the restrictions they live under, including legal restrictions in some cases. Is it not strange that someone cured of a disease cannot take their place in society?”

“I belatedly realised that if the human rights aspect wasn’t addressed, then elimination of leprosy in a true sense would not be possible. I would like to create a society where everyone feels fully engaged, able to express their opinions, and appreciated. The coming era must be one of diversity, and for that, we need social inclusion.”

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