A year and a half ago, 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram. When the World Economic Forum met in Abuja, Nigeria just a few weeks after the devastating terrorist attack, business leaders were the first to act. A number of Nigerian business leaders launched a campaign for safe schools with the Global Business Coalition for Education, which has helped tens of thousands of students displaced by Boko Haram go to school.
When the Forum met a few months ago in Annan, Jordan, business leaders again pressed the case for Syrian refugee children to receive a formal education.
Next the Global Agenda Councils will meet in Abu Dhabi, a region that is home to the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
In advance of this, the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-ED) will meet to draw up an agenda for action. GBC-ED, a group of more than 100 global companies partnered with children’s charity Theirworld, will also launch a campaign to provide education for 1 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
Some refugees have found their way to Europe, a few to America, but over 2 million are in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, desperate to resume their lives and see their children thrive. Great efforts have been made by the host countries to accommodate and care for the refugee children, with some help from other nations. But despite the opportunity for other countries to pitch in and help – as their citizens are calling on them to do – there are still only school places for just half of the children. Unless we act.
We know that far from seeking to scrounge off Europe, thousands of Syrian exiles are not only desperate to return to their homeland as soon as it is safe but a future for their children is uppermost in their minds. It is desperation – and the feeling that their children have no prospects in the region – that that is a deciding factor when they embark on the tragically named “death voyages” across the Mediterranean Sea. It is their desperation, and the knowledge that we could provide for 1 million child refugees in the region, that is leading us to propose an ambitious new children’s project.
A double-shift system is being proposed for the refugees in these three countries: that the same classrooms where local children learn their lessons in the morning are used to educate Syrian children in the afternoon. This model is also being deployed in host communities that are part of the Nigeria Safe Schools initiative, for families that are displaced after fleeing Boko Haram.
In addition, the plans for Syrian refugees use special programmes for students who have been out of school for several years and for children in their early years. In Turkey, the plan will hire Syrian teachers to run learning centres in public buildings.
For many of the programmes, no new school buildings are needed and there are already teachers available among the refugee population. But there is a cost to running the extra classes, and ensuring that school materials, lunch and safe transport are available for every child. Turkey has 621,000 Syrian child refugees but is currently short of 400,000 school places. Lebanon has 510,000 Syrian child refugees but is around 300,000 places short, and Jordan has 350,000 and is 90,000 short. And these plans – if we come together – can ensure education for over 1 million children, providing them with hope, opportunities and incentives to stay nearby and learn the skills needed to rebuild their countries.
Thanks to partnerships with business on advocacy and finance, there are plenty of opportunities to deliver the best of corporate social engagement here. NGOs on the ground are inviting corporate support directly, and new initiatives such as Techfugees are coordinating sector responses.
The business world has always led in education philanthropy, and now more than ever we need their generosity and leadership to offer suffering children the chance to learn and thrive.
Author: Sarah Brown, Executive Chair, the Global Business Coalition for Education, United Kingdom
Image: Syrian refugee children attend a class in a UNICEF tent in an informal tented settlement in Jordan Valley, near Amman. March 14, 2015. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed