– Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises – was on the ground in Burkina Faso last week with its Director, Yasmine Sherif, to launch a new multi-year programme that aims to provide an education to over 800,000 children and adolescents in crisis-affected areas.
ECW is providing $11 million in seed funding now, but a further $48 million is needed from both public and private donors over the next three years. Burkina Faso, located in the Central Sahel, is experiencing, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), ‘the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian and protection crisis’, with more than one million people displaced.
“The Central Sahel is among the most forgotten crisis regions in the world, and Burkina Faso is one of the most forgotten country crises globally. ECW is fully engaged in investing in education across the Sahel over the past two years, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger,” Sherif told IPS in a telephone interview from Ouagadougou.
Sherif had just returned from Kaya, the fifth-largest city in Burkina Faso, northeast of the capital, where she spent time with crisis-affected children, teachers and families. She saw much suffering there. “They sit in punishing heat, trying to learn. They don’t have the tents, school buildings or school materials. Water is missing, sanitation is missing, and they have fled incredible violence. Their eyes are hollow. These children are suffering,” she said.
Stanislas Ouaro, Minister of National Education and Literacy for Burkina Faso, said education in the country is suffering from both ongoing violence and insecurity, as well as the COVID-19 crisis. While the security crisis has seen more than 2,300 schools close, the COVID-19 pandemic further resulted in a nationwide shutdown of schools during several months in 2020.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
Inter Press Service (IPS): What has been the impact of the first ECW emergency programmes in the focused countries particularly Burkina Faso?
Yasmine Sherif (YS): What we see today is that more children and youth are now able to access schools across countries in the crisis-affected areas. We see more girls, including adolescent girls, attending school and this is through ECW investments which support a holistic package of activities, from pre-school through secondary school. Today, we have invested about $40 million in these countries and the activities that we have provided include mental health and psycho-social support, which is highly important for children and adolescents who are affected by crisis. We have also responded to the COVID-19 pandemic very fast. We were among the first responders to COVID-19, providing sanitation and water facilities and building materials, as well as support for remote learning solutions for the communities.
IPS: You are currently on mission in Burkina Faso. At the end of last year, UNHCR stated that Burkina Faso is now the world’s fastest-growing displacement and protection crisis with more than one in every 20 inhabitants displaced by surging violence inside the country. More than 2.6 million children and youth are out of school in Burkina Faso, with another 1.7 million students at risk of dropping out of school. What are you finding on the ground?
YS: UNHCR was here on a mission recently and called on the world to take action and when they called for action, we had an obligation to act. So, this is why we prioritised our mission to Burkina Faso as a direct response to the call of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Now, what do we see on the ground? We see a high number of displaced communities. There are one million people who are internally displaced in Burkina Faso, as well as 20,000 refugees from neighboring countries and we also have the host communities where many of them live. These include children who have fled insecurity and violence; their villages have been burnt down and they have found security in government-controlled areas.
We visited the town of Kaya in Burkina Faso and we could feel there was more security there. But more resources are needed to provide these children and youth with the education that they deserve, which is challenging because an area of violence and insecurity is a barrier to education.
The government is very committed, the President, the Minister of Education – civil society organizations, NGOs, the United Nations – are all working together in strong partnership to provide resources and personnel to make education available in a secure environment for children and adolescents.
IPS: As you mentioned, you have recently returned from a field trip to Kaya. What have people, students, particularly girls, told you about the situation there?
YS: In Burkina Faso, you see that the girls are strong but they are disempowered because they do not have the tools, they are disempowered because they do not have access to education – that is what we see and that is why we need more funding. If you want to empower girls’ education, you have to contribute the resources – because the political will is there, representatives are there to run the programme to ensure a collective outcome for girls – and learning tools. How can they concentrate and study under an insecure condition and environment? So again, resources are needed and urgently.
IPS: Earlier this month ECW announced some $33 million in funding for Mali, Niger, the Central Sahel and Burkina Faso. Of this $11 million is being provided as a catalytic grant to Burkina Faso but $48 million is needed in additional funds over a few years. What does this mean in terms of the scope and scale of the task ahead?
YS: The more funding we receive and the more we are able to close the funding gap, the more we can achieve the vision and goal and take action. No one can say there is no capacity to increase, we have great capacity in civil society, in UN agencies and there is great political will of the government. Now it is up to wealthier countries to provide the funding needed, and we want them to be partners because ECW is a global fund where our donor partners sit on our governance structure. Our partners provide the funding, are part of making the decisions and help fund our shared vision of quality, inclusive education for girls, for children with disabilities, for those that fall behind.
IPS: ECW focuses on collaborating with other agencies implementing the fund’s multi-year resilience programmes. How important are these partners in the execution and ultimately the success of these programmes?
YS: Our partners are absolutely essential – civil society organisations, UN agencies, and of course the leadership of the government – they are the ones working among the people, they are doing the work on the ground, they are making the sacrifices. Our job is to facilitate and make their work easier, to mobilise resources and to bring everyone together. Our partners on the ground have the credibility and they are the sources of the solution for communities who are struggling to provide for their children and their young people. They are our heroes and they keep us going.
IPS: Stanislas Ouaro, Minister of National Education and Literacy for Burkina-Faso, said that the security crisis resulted in the closure of more than 2,300 schools and the COVID-19 pandemic further resulted in the closure of all schools in Burkina Faso for several months. Why is continuity of education so important for children in crisis situation?
YS: You know when a child does not go to school, when a girl is out of school, she is more likely to marry early, she is more likely to get pregnant early and as a result very likely to never attend school. So, the main impact of keeping her out of school is that you have disempowered her. If a boy is out of school, he is more likely to be recruited into an armed group, more likely to pick up arms and by doing that his opportunity for a proper education to be a productive citizen has been destroyed.
The longer they are out of school amidst the insecurity, the pandemic or any other crisis, the more likely that they will never come back and the vicious cycle of unintended pregnancies, trafficking, forced recruitment, extreme poverty and lack of livelihoods will continue. That is why any country affected by conflict and crisis is important to us. We have a brilliant, committed Minister of Education who was educated here in Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso was one of the most progressive country in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in education five years ago but, because of the Sahel and Burkina Faso crisis, it has dropped back. So, we need to get them back to school quickly, we need to ensure safety of schools, we have to get protective measures for COVID-19, but the key is to also end the conflict and restore stability.
IPS: ECW’s programmes have given special attention to girls’ education, can you share the impact this decision is having on the beneficiaries?
YS: ECW has made a commitment to see a minimum of 60 per cent of girls in school through affirmative action. We believe that gender equality starts by empowering the girls through education and through our investments, we have seen more girls in school and we have also seen more girls now attending secondary education. So, there is direct correlation between our affirmative action, our financial investment and the number of girls who are now enjoying quality education.
IPS: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
YS: Education is an investment in humanity, we are investing in the human mind, the human soul and spirit and it is more costly to ignore that investment than to make that investment. Investing in a human being and a human being in crisis is a moral choice and I appeal to everyone to make the moral choice, the political choice and the financial choice that will create that reward. Be human, be authentic and be called to creating a better world.