My favourite teachers were the ones who encouraged us to think for ourselves, to read books that others considered too challenging or inappropriate for us, and to not just accept things because we were told.
I am now a humanitarian worker and have wanted this to be my career for most of my life, even if as a child, I did not have the words to articulate this.
This week I’m in Nigeria, a country where a major crisis is unfolding that’s getting very little international coverage. This is the same country where one night in 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped over 250 girls from their school.
Girls who were getting a chance at a decent education that could change their lives forever. Who knows what dreams were being created by simply being in school!
The raid in 2014 wasn’t an isolated incident. Since 2009, just over 2000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram. Some are some being used for suicide bombings, as sex slaves and countless other bad things. When I think of my own time in school, it is unthinkable to put myself in their place.
Millions of people, over 2 million, have been forced to flee their homes because of the violence in the North East of Nigeria. As in most migration crises, it’s children that feel the brunt. They are ripped from their communities, removed from school and often end up orphaned or abandoned.
Three out of five schools are closed. Sexual and gender based violence incidents go unreported but estimates are that approximately 30% of female internally displaced people, sometimes girls as young as six years of age, have experienced sexual abuse. Organisations here are trying to provide psycho-social support for the thousands of women and children who have been traumatized.
Women and girls who experienced sexual violence during the conflict face also stigmatisation from communities at large. Many adolescent girls have reported unwillingness to return to their communities for fear they may bring dishonour to their families, or face rejection.
Towns like Maiduguri have experienced an influx of people fleeing the conflict. In a short number of months, its population doubled to over two million people. Already poor communities struggling for food, water and health care are extremely stretched.
When we think of emergencies, be they natural or human-derived, education is often not given the importance it deserves. Nothing is more damaging to a child’s future wellbeing than having their education cut short. As people in Ireland prepare for the ‘back to school’ it is unclear how many schools will be open and how many children will go.
17 years! That’s how long one of the more than 65 million refugees across the world right now will, on average, spend in a refugee camp. What could be more important than giving them an education?
Only recently has Education in Emergencies been given the recognition it deserves by most humanitarian organisations, governments and donors.
Imagine if you are born in a camp and people did not value your education. People used to talk about the Lost Boys of Sudan, but what about all of the lost children from everywhere else. Boko Haram opposes western education and has murdered 600 teachers and displaced 19,000 in an effort to stop children getting the education they need to break the cycle of poverty. Over 1,200 schools have been damaged or destroyed, and even more have been closed because they are housing the displaced people. Nearly 600,000 children have been denied an education since 2013 because of the crisis. That’s 600,000 children who are unlikely to return to schooling without some form of intervention. That’s 600,000 children losing their chance at a better life and a better future.
INGOs like Plan International are doing their best in the refugee camps, in Nigeria and across the borders in Cameroon and Niger, where hundreds of thousands have fled. More needs to be done but accessing the refugee populations to provide interventions is getting more and more difficult. The security situation, in and around, refugee camps and the affected regions in north-eastern Nigeria is making it harder than ever. Last week a UN convoy was attacked as it was making its way back into the city from carrying out distributions and three people were injured, in the Northern state of Borno.
National and international humanitarian workers are putting their lives on the line to reach populations. Attacks on Humanitarian Workers in conflict-affected countries is on the rise and in the last 10 years, over 1000 of my colleagues across the world, including people I knew, lost their lives trying to make the lives of people better.
August 19th is World Humanitarian Day, a day to remember the contributions of humanitarians around the world. I am very grateful for the opportunities that have brought me to where I am but I will also be thinking about the thousands of children in Nigeria and elsewhere who are not so lucky, who have been robbed of the opportunity to grow and contribute to their societies.