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Refugee Education

“Education is empowerment, it is an opportunity to imagine a future.”

Emilia Sorrentino, Plan International Ireland’s Education in Emergencies Specialist reports live from Niger.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, recently released a report titled “Missing out: Refugee Education in crisis” highlighting the scandal that is the 3.7 million children who have been forced to flee their homes are missing out on education.

Education is a fundamental human right regardless of who you are or where you live; therefore ensuring that young people everywhere, regardless of their circumstances, can access an education of reasonable quality is important first and foremost because it is their human right. However, only 50% of refugee children are enrolled in primary school and nearly 2 million adolescents do not have the chance to attend secondary school.

Children in emergencies prioritise education. In 2010, Plan International conducted a survey two months after the January 12th  earthquake in Haiti. Hundreds of children and young people from nine districts were asked in focus groups what ‘most urgent needs’ were and the top set of needs were related to education, including terms such as ‘school’, ‘education’, ‘university’, ‘youth training’, ‘free schooling’, ‘professional schools’, and ‘state school’. In spite of this, education continues to be neglected in the Humanitarian Response Plans for countries protracted crises.

Housseyna’s story:

Housseyna is  a 12 years old girl who was forced to leave Mali in 2013 following the conflict that has resulted  in large scale population displacement into neighbouring countries of Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, as well as southern Mali. Housseyna lives in a refugee camp around Niger where she was able to attend the second chance school supported by Plan Ireland. After 9 months of schooling she passed the exams in 2014, and today Housseyna is a student in a formal school of the camp and she is the best second student in her classroom. Like many other children who have attended the second chance school, she feels empowered because she can read, write and count. She can help her parents who have never been to school, and teach her brothers and sisters.

Housseyna’s mother explained how difficult it is not being able to read and write:

“I am not educated myself and I know how difficult it might be when you are not able to read and write. As a refugee sometimes you are asked to read and sign papers and it is frustrating to always count on other people. Education is empowerment, for that reason I have strongly encouraged my daughter to go to school when the opportunity of the second chance school has come up. I do not regret it and I do encourage her to follow her dream.”

When I met Housseyna she told me that her dream is to one day become a teacher. Since I started with Plan Ireland as Education in Emergency specialist I have met many refugee children like Housseyna; children who had to flee from Syria, Nigeria, Central African Republic because they were no longer safe in their country.  Children who, despite all, want to go to school and continue their education…who have dreams.

The figures reported in the UNHCR report are appalling and demonstrate that there is still a long way to go in realising the rights of the children, in particular for those who are the most vulnerable. Education is a core sector of Plan Ireland’s strategy. Getting children who have fled the conflict, witnessed the violence, back to school is more than teaching literacy and numeracy. It is giving them an opportunity to imagine their future and if we, as a child focused organization, fail them, we fail ourselves.