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Education in emergencies: children can’t wait

I’ll start my very first blog with an anecdote.

In my previous work, I focused a lot on Sri Lanka and the situation affecting hundreds of thousands during the worst parts of the conflict, and its aftermath, following the end of hostilities. People who were displaced by conflict (called internally displaced people, or IDPs) within the country were being moved to Vavuniya and other surroundings. The international community was expressing many concerns about the conditions that many IDPs were living in.

International non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and UN agencies had very limited access to the affected areas and to the camps where people displaced by the conflict were living. Schools in Vavuniya were being used to house thousands of IDPs, leaving children with no educational facilities in a crisis which already made everyone worry about their wellbeing. There was one very clear voice from a local leader, who repeatedly stated that schools should either be freed up, or alternative spaces had to be found immediately. Children — who had already gone through enormous distress — needed their space to grow and feel a sense of protection and normality.

We estimate that the lives of more than two million children were affected by emergencies last year — anything from cyclones, floods and earthquakes, to conflict and fragility. In every emergency, children tell Save the Children that what they most want—alongside medicines, water, food and shelter—is to get back to school.

And why can’t we make children wait? The very basic tenet of our work is that children have the right to education, wherever they are and whatever their circumstances. We have proved through our work with the Education Cluster that providing education in emergencies, sometimes in the hardest hit areas, is possible and that we need more donor support to make this a reality in every emergency.

Making children wait means children will lose on months, possibly years of schooling. The temptation might be to say that other things take priority over a child’s education; but it is important to highlight that children will lose on crucial development stages according to their age.

Sure, a child can catch up, but not in the same way and not when there isn’t really any justification for preventing children from going to school. Where support is given, education is often coordinated from day one of an emergency, preparing the way for it to reach children once it is possible — after a space has been allocated, after teachers have been gathered and trained to deal with the situation, etc. Many services run in the meantime: health clinics, food distribution, water, child-friendly spaces, and so on…

Save the Children and the Overseas Development Institute are hosting an event ‘Education in Emergencies: The Vital Debate’ on Monday 12 July 2010.

Whether you’re in London or elsewhere and interested in attending, please check the ODI events webpage to register to attend or follow it online.

If you want to read more about the importance of education in emergencies, read Save the Children’s Education in Emergencies Policy Brief.

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