Rasha Daya is a Syrian education advocate and will be speaking about ‘Education Against the Odds- Children demand their right to education’ at the UN General Assembly this week.
When I was a child, my father told me ‘make sure you empower yourself with a good education. Learning is a great force that will protect you from whatever the future has in store for you. Once you have knowledge, no one can take it away from you’. I did not really understand why my dad thought the future would be difficult for me. I had nice friends, a loving family and I was well respected within my society. However, I trusted his word and made sure I did well in school, exercising my right to an education.
About a decade later I was faced with the most difficult decision of my life. The decision to flee Syria and seek asylum in the UK away from my family. I am one of the few lucky refugees who speak English and had the opportunity to access higher education in the UK, through a Chevening scholarship. But still, it was not a smooth path.
Being displaced is stressful and scary. It feels like you are alone defending yourself continuously from the stigmatisation of being a refugee. For me, my education acted as a key, opening opportunities that were otherwise closed to me.
Being educated helped me overcome discrimination. I was able to use my knowledge and skills to help others and gain the respect of people around me. Being educated helped me find employment so I can afford my living costs. Being educated allowed me to get to where I am now. To use my voice and fight for refugees to fulfill their right to a good education.
My dad was right, education is my power in times of crisis.
What children in crisis think about education?
In our new report ‘Education against the odds: Meeting marginalised children’s demand for a quality education’, 1,215 children surviving war, displacement and environmental disasters were asked about their top priority need. Almost a third said they want one thing above all else: the chance to GO TO SCHOOL!
“I have a hope. I want to be a successful man. I should be able to tell people not to take away children’s rights, to educate children and to tell and convince people about this.” AK, 17, is a Rohingya refugee boy living in south India
In times of a disaster, children know that learning gives them the power to stand against the tough circumstances they are facing. And they do whatever they can to keep learning.
In the report, Aminata explains how she was displaced fleeing the conflict in Niafunké in Mali. She escaped with her mother and sought refuge with relatives in a safer area of the country. For years, Aminata was not able to get an education, in large part because of the community’s fear that armed groups would attack the school. However, she never gave up and kept an eye out for any opportunity available for her to learn. Recently, she joined Save the Children’s emergency education project and showed an outstanding performance. As a result, she was chosen to be transferred to the formal education system.
“Before I enrolled in school, I was not at all well. The school is very important and has many advantages to prepare the future. In the future, I would like to become a Doctor to treat people. The project took me off the street and back to school.” Aminata
What is being done to ensure children get the education they deserve?
Children living in crisis share Aminata’s passion to learn. However, the value these children and their parents place on education contrasts starkly with the lack of prioritisation the international humanitarian response accords to education.
Swift, concrete action and increased funding is needed to help the 75 million children who have their education disrupted by conflict and crisis.
One positive development is the creation of Education Cannot Wait – the world’s first global fund for education in emergencies. Since 2017, Education Cannot Wait has reached 1.4 million children and youth with education and has mobilised over US$344 million to support its work from international donors.
What can you do?
With international education champions gathering at the UN General Assembly this week, I, alongside Save the Children, am calling on donor governments, private-sector companies and foundations to urgently increase their contribution to Education Cannot Wait. Donors must act now to support efforts to mobilise US$1.8 billion in funding, which will support the delivery of quality education to nearly 9 million children affected by some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises each year.
Urgent action and funding are needed to ensure many more children like Aminata get the chance to learn and feel the power of education.