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UN Emergency Education Fund Gets Big Pledges

FILE: Director of the nonprofit Education Cannot Wait Yasmine Sherif. Taken by L. Schlein/VOA Oct. 5, 2019.
FILE: Director of the nonprofit Education Cannot Wait Yasmine Sherif. Taken by L. Schlein/VOA Oct. 5, 2019.

During the first-ever pledging conference for education in emergencies, countries and other donors vowed Thursday to provide $826 million for Education Cannot Wait's work for the next four years.

The $826 million pledged so far covers over half of the $1.5 billion Education Cannot Wait [ECW] says it needs for its work between 2023 and 2026, with the goal of reaching 20 million children in more than 30 countries.

"This is a big, big head-start," ECW director Yasmine Sherif told reporters after the pledges had been tallied.

"This is the second month of a four-year strategic plan, which means that we have another three years, and 10 months to meet and exceed our original target."

The UN education fund estimates that 222 million children around the world have had their education disrupted by conflict or climate-related disasters, including nearly 80 million who never set foot in school.

Germany has made the largest pledge to the fund, vowing to pitch in 210 million euros ($225 million), followed by Britain, which pledged 80 million pounds ($96 million) to ECW's work.

The organization, founded in 2016, builds schools, buys educational materials, provides daily meals and offers psychological services.

Until now, it has reached around seven million children in 32 countries, but it says it needs to dramatically expand its operations to meet the soaring needs.

Since 2016, the number of children who have seen their education disrupted by conflicts and other crises has nearly tripled from around 75 million.

- 'My heart was shattered' -

"Never before in my lifetime I've seen so many crises, so many interlocking crises," said former British prime minister Gordon Brown, who serves as UN special envoy for education and ECW chair.

And the lack of education that follows has real and immediate consequences. Children sometimes end up on the streets, facing threats of violence, human trafficking, recruitment by armed groups or, for girls, forced marriage.

"We are talking about the most isolated, the most desolate, the most neglected children of the world," Brown told reporters.

"Hope ... dies when a young person cannot plan or prepare for the future because they don't have the chance to go to school."

Few places in the world is the hopelessness that follows being deprived of education more apparent than in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on women, including closing secondary schools and universities for girls and women, basically banning them from education.

"Exactly 514 days ago my heart was shattered along with millions of girls inside Afghanistan," Somaya Faruqi, the former head of the Afghan Girl's Robotics Team, told Thursday's conference, referring to the day the Taliban announced girls would be barred from secondary schools.

"Every child and every girl deserves .. to have the simplest human right, which is education."

Faruqi, who has been named an ECW ambassador, voiced alarm at the global number of children and youths out of school.

"It means that we are missing 222 million incredible talents, the future leaders, the doctors, the engineers," she said.