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Prioritizing education in emergencies: what do we need to do to make change?

POSTED January 25, 2023

Prioritizing education in emergencies: what do we need to do to make change?

As we mark International Education Day this week, our CEO shares his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities ahead

By Fred Witteveen, CEO,

CEO stands by poster

Children Believe is raising the alarm on a number of immense global challenges reaching crisis levels for young students across the globe as the world marks International Education Day

We know early childhood development is particularly crucial to human development. Research has shown 80 percent of brain development is completed by three and 90 percent by five. For children to be our leaders of tomorrow, it is imperative they start strong.

It’s all laid out very clearly as a critical component of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and in the future. The SDGs are linked closely with child nutrition, health, pre-primary education and protection.

Unfortunately, global education is facing an unprecedented crisis. There is a quadruple threat from what we call the “4 C’s”: COVID-19, conflict, climate and, most recently, the cost of living. All of these combine as multiple threats to children, putting them in physical and emotional danger, while inhibiting their ability to reach their full potential. According to UNICEF, this situation could result in irreversible, negative lifelong outcomes for our youngest generation.

The African country of Burkina Faso is a prime example of the “4 C’s” at work. The economic impacts of the pandemic have caused poverty to rise. And increased conflict has recently forced 1.7-million people from their homes — more than half are children.

These events led to a spike in child labour, child marriage and other forms of violence. Education is an essential solution to address these threats. Education in emergencies protects, even saves lives. We need to prioritize education in emergencies.

Young father and daughter in Burkina Faso who show the entrepreneurial spirit of Burkinabé people

When I was in Burkina Faso last May, it was heartbreaking to witness these challenges. But it is kids like Marina (above), a 10-year-old girl I met on that trip, who filled me with hope.

Marina, who is supported through Children Believe programs, was filled with optimism about her future and ability to overcome immense challenges, to finish her education and to become a teacher. Marina is an example of the lasting, positive change that is possible.

This is why we all need to work together to help more children find hope. These contexts are complicated and challenging, but during that trip to a project in Sawa, Burkina Faso, I saw what Children Believe, UNICEF, local partners, communities, families and young people have achieved together in recent months.

The challenges of the “4 C’s” combine to deepen crisis, and this is why we must also combine solutions to alleviate them. Together we’ve reached many thousands of people to offer protection, psychosocial support, birth certificates and many other interventions to meet the ongoing crisis head on and make a meaningful impact.

It’s why Children Believe’s mandate is to break barriers to education so kids can live and dream fearlessly, reaching their full potential.

Working in West Africa for nearly 35 years, we have learned investments in early child development are vital. It has proven effective in laying the foundation for good health, well-being, learning, preservation of rights and productivity throughout a person’s life. An educated child becomes a valued, productive citizen who contributes to the growth and positive development of their society and country.

The work, and the work behind the work, continues. We believe addressing gaps in early child development requires concerted effort by government institutions, ministries, departments, NGOs and private practitioners working alongside the communities we serve.

With the additional threats of COVID-19, conflict, climate and rising costs, we must redouble our efforts and work together to overcome these challenges, giving children the best beginning they can have to kick-start a brighter future for everyone.

You can help. Join with Canadian peer organizations, like Children Believe, to call upon the federal government to increase international development aid to education annually.

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Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60+ years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.

About ChildFund Alliance:

A member of ChildFund Alliance, Children Believe is part of a global network of child-focused development organizations working to create opportunities for children and youth, their families and communities. ChildFund helps nearly 23-million children and their families in 70 countries overcome poverty and underlying conditions that prevent children from achieving their full potential. We work to end violence against children; provide expertise in emergencies and disasters to ease the harmful impact on children and their communities; and engage children and youth to create lasting change and elevate their voices in decisions that affect their lives.

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