By Yasmine Sherif
NEW YORK, Dec 23 2020 (IPS-Partners)
As Mohammed, a Palestine refugee with impaired vision who attends a specialized UNRWA programme for children with disabilities, told us during our mission to Lebanon a week ago: “I was worried. I was worried that I could not continue my education because the programme was going to be cut. Now I have hope that I can continue to study and make my dream come true.” As 2020 comes to a close and we reflect on Education Cannot Wait’s mission this past year, two things stand out: hope and action. Amidst multiple crises around the globe, exacerbated by the COVID-19 global pandemic, hope has been the fuel driving us all forward to take action to deliver to those left furthest behind. Indeed, while hope is life-sustaining for a young girl or boy enduring conflict, forced displacement and disaster, it cannot be sustained without action.
With this universal imperative in mind, the entire Education Cannot Wait team and I take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation and deep gratitude to our all ECW stakeholders – from our Executive Committee and High Level Steering Group to all our in-country host-governments, local communities, UN and civil society partners. Thanks to you, thanks to our strategic donor partners, governments, private sector and foundations alike, and thanks to our partners in-country, we have been able to sustain hope through action.
ECW has delivered crucial financial resources which were quickly translated into real and concrete action to achieve measurable results and sustainable impact at an unprecedent speed. It is thanks to all our partners globally and locally that the ECW community has been able to work so effectively with a spirit of collaboration, cooperation and coordination to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 4 in the most difficult circumstances.
The ECW community stands for hope and action. In 2020, ECW approved more financing under the First Emergency Window than 2018 and 2019 combined! The entire ECW First Emergency Reserve, coupled with top-up support, totalling $60 million was released from April onwards to respond to COVID-19, reaching 33 crisis-affected countries, supporting 85 different grantees to enable them to deliver on the ground. Of this, $22 million was exclusively dedicated to refugees and internally displaced.
Working together, the ECW COVID-19 response reached over 400,000 girls and boys, including adolescents, who were already affected by conflicts, forced displacements and climate change. If ECW had had more emergency funds at its disposal, many more could have been reached with unprecedented speed in our collective quest to respond with “the fierce urgency of now,” as Martin Luther King Jr once said.
ECW’s investments aligned with national COVID-19 strategies, and financed a broad range of interventions including communications campaigns to help prevent further spread of the virus, enhanced water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, distance education, remote learning and support to get children back into school when facilities re-open. As a priority, it entailed affirmative action to reach girls, provide psychosocial support to both students and their teachers, and target investments for children and youth with disabilities.
At the same time, as the ECW community was responding to COVID-19, we also pursued and reached our targets of 10 new multi-year resilience programme (MYRPs), supporting humanitarian-development coherence in the education sector in protracted crisis countries. At the time of this writing, the ECW Executive Committee has approved five MYRPs: Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, amounting to almost $70 million in seed funding. A further three MYRPs with a total of over $33 million in seed funding for the Sahel, including Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, are expected to be approved before the end of the year.
This will bring the total to eight countries in 2020 with seed funding amounting to over $100 million, as well as two regional multi-year investments for the Sahel and South America respectively. These investments will reach over 900,000 crisis-affected girls and boys, including adolescents, with over 60% of those being girls and adolescent girls.
More needs to be done though. Since ECW investments serve as seed-funds to leverage additional funds, an additional $233 million is required to fill the funding gaps for these joint programmes in Central Sahel ($117 million) and South America ($116 million), alone. Provided that these are fully funded, the ECW community will be empowered to deliver holistic, ‘whole-of-child’ and inclusive quality education through humanitarian-development coherence and local ownership towards real results and learning outcomes. In this newsletter, we will hear from Colombia’s Minister of Education, H.E. María Victoria Angulo and Burkina Faso’s Minister of Education and National Literacy, H.E. Stanislas Ouaro, our government partners in South America and Central Sahel.
Government partners, communities, local organizations and our multilateral partners in-country are under severe pressure and funding shortage to manage and deliver in already existing crises, in addition to the COVID-19 crisis. It was for this reason that ECW fielded a visit to Lebanon in December 2020 and will visit the Sahel in January 2021.
Our in-country missions help us learn first-hand of the challenges, show solidarity, see the results and plan ahead for deepened support. In Lebanon, we witnessed ECW’s earlier investment together with UNESCO and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, other UN agencies like UNRWA, UNHCR and UNICEF, as well as the work of a most impressive civil society consortium, composed of Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council, AVSI and SAWA, one of the many local civil society organizations benefiting from ECW’s investments. All of them are working tirelessly close to the refugees and host-communities were serve. All of them bring hope through action.
In Lebanon, the consequences of the blast in Beirut on 4 August this year provided us with another eye-opener. Combined with the hosting of nearly 2 million refugees – the largest per capita refugee hosting country in the world, in addition to a growing number of impoverished Lebanese host-community children and youth – Lebanon suffered a shock with a long-lasting impact. Lebanon requires urgent international solidarity and action. It used to be a middle-income country, but multiple crises have thrust Lebanon into its worst economic crisis in decades. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (UNESCWA), 55% of Lebanon’s population now lives below the poverty line.
Lebanon, the Sahel and South America are among the many countries and regions in the world severely affected by either conflict, forced displacement and climate-induced disasters – all further exacerbated by COVID-19. They are in dire and urgent need of international solidarity in the form of financial support, including ECW investments to deliver a quality education and build back better.
As we enter into 2021, the coming year must be the year when we recognize and reward the hope held on to by millions and millions of children in emergencies and protracted crisis, who are now also suffering the added burden of COVID-19. Their stoic and life-sustaining hope must inspire our non-negotiable, uncompromising and ultimate commitment to action in 2021. If not, what is there left to inspire us to action?