SEATTLE — In developed countries like the United States, children are asked about what they want to be when they grow up on a regular basis. They are encouraged to have aspirations and to then develop a plan and find the resources that will help them to achieve their goal.
In impoverished countries, it is a different story. People may go from childhood all the way through their lives without ever being asked what they want to be because they have a certain role to fulfill in helping their families to survive, and without an education, and the resulting skill set, entertaining the idea of being a police officer or a doctor seems almost pointless.
This is why organizations that help to provide education are so important. They can offer the 28 million children worldwide who are caught up in crises and unable to attend school an opportunity to find some normalcy, to find something to work towards, and to find something to enjoy.
Children of Peace is an initiative resulting from the Nobel Peace Prize that the E.U. received in 2012. After receiving the prize for their success toward achieving peace in Europe, the E.U. decided to use the funds to create this new program.
In Africa, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) are working under the Children of Peace Initiative to provide displaced children with access to education.
In the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania, the IRC is in charge of the educational program, composed of 12 secondary schools and four primary schools. Nyarugusu is nearly 20 years old, making it one of the oldest campus of its kind.
This year in May, the population grew by more than 50,000 as people fled from Burundi into Tanzania due to violence and riots that erupted when President Nkuruniziza announced plans to stand for a third term.
To accommodate the growth, the IRC hired 32 new teachers from among the new arrivals. Many of the teachers who teach in the camp arrived there as displaced children themselves.
Grants and Peace Education Fellow with IRC Tanzania Jillian Christie talks about how important education is. It allows children to have a sense of stability amid the chaos of refugee life and for them to fulfill their potential. As of June 2015, she said that the IRC had trained more than 23,000 teachers and provided education opportunities to more than 1 million children in the last year.
Children of Peace extends beyond the work of the IRC and ECHO in Tanzania. In Myanmar, 10 Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) are being created to help children cope with the stress of displacement and create a sense of security. It also allows parents to work at generating income and performing important chores.
In Afghanistan, a project called Concern Worldwide is implementing community-based education opportunities for 1,500 affected children in the country’s Badakshan province.
In Mexico and Guatemala, children are reading, drawing and dancing as a part of the education, protection and recreation opportunities that the Children of Peace Initiative is providing them. They also receive psychological support.
Worldwide, about 270,000 children in 19 countries have benefitted from all of the projects taking place under the Children of Peace initiative. In 2014 alone, 155,000 children were aided by these projects in Myanmar, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, Guatemala and Niger.
Education is so important in helping these children not only to build a better future, but to enjoy a better present. These children, so grateful for the opportunity to learn, have different statements about their education, their teachers and their futures than might their counterparts in the developed world.
“I like my teacher because he is my fellow human being,” says Ebalo Raimond, a 7-year-old at the Nyarugusu refugee camp.
“Education is important. If you don’t get education, you remain ignorant. But with education, you can go anywhere,” says Daud Mohamed Madker, a 13-year-old Somalian refugee.
“I want to become a teacher so that I can teach young children, and in turn they will be able to help their parents and build better lives for themselves,” says Abshir Mohamed Ibraham, another Somalian refugee, age 12.
“Education is important to me,” says Idrissa, a 15-year-old refugee from Mali to Niger, “because everything important that happens in the world is done by people who have been educated.”
“Most of those committing evil in our country have not been to school, they can’t have been. No one educated would do those things,” says a 15-year old Stefan in the Central African Republic.
In her TED Talk, Melissa Fleming describes Hany, a 20-year-old Syrian refugee who said, “If I am not a student, I am nothing.” When he fled his home, he said he brought his high school diploma with him because his life depended on it.
Perhaps even more inspiring is when these children talk about their dream occupations, and they sound no different from a child in the United States. When they don’t have to worry about simply surviving, they can foster their passions.
When they are given the right tools and opportunities, they can fulfill their dreams in the same way as any other child. “I would like to be a pilot when I grow up. Because it’s very nice to fly,” says Kamal, a 6-year-old Syrian boy.
Biba, a refugee in Niger, says, “My dream is to be a teacher.” A 16-year-old in the Democratic Republic of Congo who is a part of a safe learning space in South Kivu says, “I started dancing at the age of six. When I dance, everything feels alright; I don’t think about my problems anymore. This is what I want to do in life.”
Ebalo wants to be a policeman, so he can help people. Idrissa wants to be a great football player.
Through the assistance and the hard work of organizations such as Children of Peace, all of these children can be exactly what they want to when they grow up.
– Emily Dieckman
Sources: UN, EU, European Commission 1, European Commission 2, European Commission 3, European Commission 4, European Commission 5, Europa.eu, Relief Web, International Rescue Committee, TED, The Guardian