35% of out-of-school children in the world live in conflict-affected countries. Street Child is increasingly working in areas of the world where health emergency (Ebola in West Africa), natural disaster (the Nepal earthquakes), or conflict (North East Nigeria) are preventing children from accessing education.
One of our first tasks in these situations is to argue the importance of education in emergencies. Traditional humanitarian work centres around the basics - food, medicine, shelter. In a rapid onset emergency – a flood, an earthquake, an outbreak of conflict - this makes sense, certainly in the first few days and weeks, and can save the lives of millions of affected people.
But what happens when conflicts drag on, when thousands of children are out of school months or years after the crisis began?
In Nigeria, an estimated 2.5m children are out of school - in large part due to an eight-year conflict with the extremist group Boko Haram (meaning ‘Western Education is Forbidden’’). 1 in 5 schools have been destroyed across three North Eastern states. Education has been drastically set back – in a part of the world where it was already weak.
Education is an essential part of the humanitarian response, providing a safe space for children in crisis contexts to learn to read and write, to play and - crucially – to receive lessons that keep them safer and more healthy inside and outside the classroom.
Education also provides normality and a sense of hope for children caught up in crisis, and their families. Despite the dangers, parents in the conflict affected communities where Street Child works place education for their children in their top three priorities for international support.
In an emergency setting, it is often not possible for children to go to formal school, or to learn using the national curriculum. When schools are destroyed by an earthquake, when they are occupied by soldiers or – most tragic of all – where schools never existed in the first place and have now slipped even further down the local priority list, a generation of children stays out of school. This is not OK. Humanitarian responses that sustain life but do not nourish hope for a better future, are desperately inadequate.
Education in emergencies is about being brave and foresighted enough to build for a better tomorrow even when today is desperate. This is not a luxury. This is vital. And this is why it's a priority for Street Child.