Western Sahara: Global Fund Gives Kids in Crisis-Plagued Sahel Chance at Education

A global education fund is providing tens of thousands of Sahelian children in crisis with a quality education, bringing hope to boys and girls who have known nothing but violence and sorrow in their young lives. Education Cannot Wait, a funding mechanism set up at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, globally is helping more than 1.4 million children in emergencies go back to school.

More than 75 million children caught in conflict, natural disasters and other emergencies are being deprived of an education.  Children in the Sahel, a region just south of the Sahara Desert, are among the most vulnerable.  In Central Mali, armed conflict has forced the closure of more than 900 schools, depriving an estimated 280,000 children of an education.

Director of the nonprofit Education Cannot Wait Yasmine Sherif (L. Schlein/VOA)

Director of the nonprofit Education Cannot Wait Yasmine Sherif (L. Schlein/VOA)

The director of Education Cannot Wait, Yasmine Sherif, recently returned from a mission to Mali.  She describes the heart-wrenching condition of children she met in a camp for displaced people in the city of Mopti.  She told VOA of the psychological distress suffered by children forced to flee for their lives with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

“They have fled some horrifying violence in the North.  I spoke to several of them - young girls who saw their homes, their huts being burnt down, fleeing from villages where summary executions took place. They are very traumatized, very traumatized,” she said.

Despite their frightful experiences, Sherif said the children arrive with their dreams of a better life intact.  She said the young people have dreams of becoming doctors and lawyers and schoolteachers.  She said education can turn these dreams into reality.

She noted the crisis afflicting Mali permeates the Sahel region as a whole and is keeping 2.4 million children out of school.  She said the fund has made recent emergency investments of $6 million in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger to support education for 187,000 children.  She added there are plans to scale up this aid and extend it to other Sahelian countries.

While the education fund provides the money for projects, they are implemented by partners, such as the U.N. Children’s Fund and Save the Children. Sherif said impoverished, conflict-ridden governments welcome their support.

“What they are receiving through our investments right now, through our partners on the ground is rehabilitation of classrooms, learning spaces, latrines, distribution of learning materials, hygiene promotion, psycho-social support, teacher training and mobilization of community members to help create the protective environments,” Sherif said.

Education Cannot Wait is supporting programs in 32 countries, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and Ukraine. The agency is seeking to raise $1.8 billion by 2021 to reach 9 million children and youths living in crisis.

Sherif says 60% of the money raised will be targeted toward girls’ education because girls always are the ones left farthest behin

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