WARREN, Rhode Island — Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is the United Nations’ global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. Yasmine Sherif, executive director of ECW, launched ECW from her New York office in 2017. Since its establishment, ECW has helped 846,774 children and has built or rehabilitated 120 classrooms for children in Chad, thereby helping to alleviate child poverty in Chad.
Child Poverty in Chad
ECW, which aims to protect and support learning outcomes for refugee, internally displaced and other crisis-affected girls and boys, is a passion project from executive director Yasmine Sherif, who spoke with The Borgen Project:
“I have worked for the United Nations for over 30 years now, working in some of the worst conflicts and crises around the world. I have witnessed first-hand the horrors inflicted by wars and disasters and the impact of human rights violations and abuses. In all these crises, tragically, children are those who suffer the most. They endure the brunt of these crises, even if they are not responsible for creating them, and as a result, their future is at great risk.”
As of 2021, UNICEF has treated nearly 300,000 children in Chad under the age of 5 for severe malnutrition and 48.8% of children between the ages of five and fourteen are forced to work full-time to help support their families, which makes it a particularly vulnerable part of the world.
Sherif visited Chad in 2023, shortly after the war broke out between Chad and Sudan and saw firsthand the circumstances in which people and children lived. “I saw children and families fleeing across the border, profoundly traumatized by the unspeakable violence they had witnessed. They had practically nothing but their clothes on their back and needed urgent humanitarian assistance to survive under the scorching sun of the Chadian desert. In just over six months, the war in Sudan has pushed close to half a million people to cross to Chad to seek safety, the vast majority of whom are children.”
According to Sherif, ECW’s focus on schooling and proper education is also specifically important for the reduction of child poverty in Chad:
“While Chad has a generous welcoming and inclusive policy for refugees, its national education system is already overstretched and lacks resources and qualified personnel. Chad’s education performance indicators are among the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, with 56% of primary school-aged children out-of-school.”
Since 2017, ECW has invested $41 million in supporting quality education in Chad and has benefited hundreds of children in multiple ways. ECW has supported students, with 1,759 disabled children being reached and 217,183 children receiving individual learning materials, but it has also taught and prepared the teachers. ECW has trained 2,368 teachers and provided financial support to 242 teachers, and 1,791 teachers and administrators have learned how to operate in emergency preparedness, disaster risk reduction and risk management topics.
Education not only makes one more knowledgeable, but it has the potential to help address numerous other societal issues. Education provides access to higher-paying skilled jobs and teaches essential life skills that can improve one’s quality of life. Educated mothers prioritize the health and education of their children and make better nutrition choices. Educated girls are less susceptible to child marriage. Educated children are more likely to thrive as adults. Research widely indicates that education empowers not only individuals but entire communities.
Both Sherif and ECW, in general, advocate for these beliefs. Sherif said, “Education is the most important investment we can make today to support a more peaceful and prosperous future for all. Education is a human right, and it not only protects crisis-affected children but also opens the door to resources and skills that help individuals thrive, not just survive. Education reduces poverty, increases individual earnings, reduces inequalities and promotes economic growth in countries. This is particularly important for girls. Education is the best investment one can make to empower the next generation of crisis-affected children to thrive and become agents of positive change in their communities.”
ECW is also adaptable, as it has shown during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to social distancing requirements and lockdowns, ECW had to adapt its aid activities in Chad. ECW placed a greater emphasis on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities in schools to teach children the importance of basic hygiene and sanitation. ECW also provided mental health, psychosocial support and distance learning. As many as “1.1 million children were reached with the Fund’s Covid-19 emergency responses in Chad in 2020 and 2021,” says Sherif.
The program that ECW operates under consists of four main parts: addressing malnutrition, improving school infrastructure, providing children with learning materials and strengthening inclusive education. Furthermore, ECW has a strategic plan for 2023 to 2026 that outlines how it will expand on its successful model while creating new solutions to address the needs of the people living in Chad and other equally vulnerable countries.
Although ECW has seen success since its creation in 2017, it still strives to maximize its impact, reach and efficacy.
“As a lawyer specializing in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law, I can say that supporting crisis-affected children is not only our moral obligation, it is also a legal obligation under international human rights law, international humanitarian law and other applicable legal instruments,” stated Sherif.
– Dylan Hubbard