Doha, Qatar — The UN refugee agency is taking a key role in the Educate a Child (EAC) initiative launched this month by Qatar's Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and aimed at enrolling 172,000 refugee children in school in a dozen countries.
"In Refugeeland there is no minister of education," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said of the millions of refugee children that fall under UNHCR's mandate. "Education is a fundamental human right that allows children to access other rights."
The EAC initiative was unveiled in Doha last week at the World Innovation Summit on Education by Sheikha Moza, wife of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Her Highness identified UNHCR as a key partner among several large strategic organizations and country-level partners.
With more than 60 million children not in school, EAC aims to help achieve the Millennium Development Goal II by assisting millions of children to access quality primary education.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without my father insisting on an education - not only for the boys, but for the girls," former refugee and South Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek said at the launch. "If you educate a girl, you educate a family and you educate a community," said Wek, a UNHCR supporter.
The first phase of the new partnership involves a US$12 million grant - half from Sheikha Moza and half from UNHCR - that the agency is using to enroll an additional 172,000 refugee children in school. The project is being implemented this year in 12 key countries around the world, including Wek's native South Sudan.
Suad Mohammed, a 23-year-old Somali school principal at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, spoke of the need for equal access to education: "Refugee children are forgotten children. They deserve an education just as children in Canada, the United States or Europe do." Suad grew up in Kakuma and was educated at the school where she is now the principal.
The EAC partnership comes at an opportune time. In some refugee camps, such as Yida on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, 70 per cent of refugees are under the age of 18.
The refugee agency is facing a challenging year as it addresses displacement crises in South Sudan/Sudan, Syria, Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while maintaining operations in more than 100 other countries.