What happens when we start to weave the threads of conversation together from event to event?  The tapestry we create enables us to see the bigger picture – to connect the dots across a wider range of conversations.  On March 1st, we hosted the 4th conversation in the Convening17 series, bringing together participants who joined us at UN Week, Opportunity Collaboration, and Nexus to explore ways that we can source innovators who are working to address critical gaps in delivering quality education to uprooted children and the communities where they are settling.

Embracing social/emotional support

As Topher Wilkins shared from the conversation at Opportunity Collaboration last October, “If we are creating high quality experiences we have to address all of the surrounding factors for that child.  Really honing in on emotional/social learning for that child alongside the standard curriculum. I remember an example of an org in Slovakia working with orphen youth – the kids were so traumatized from being orphaned they couldn’t retain any standard knowledge.  The organization had to shift to provide more support in therapy and trauma healing and getting the kids to develop bonds of trust with each other and adults.” This is an example of how participants in the Convening17 sessions are identifying the root barriers that must be addressed for us to achieve SDG 4 by 2030.

Play is a fundamental right for all children

Danielle De La Fuente, Co-founder of the Amal Alliance, who joined the conversation at Nexus shared the insights her team has gained on the ground in refugee camps in Greece. “There is this massive Refugee population and most of them are bored out of their minds, and leaves them vulnerable for all sorts of security risks. We are taking a team to use a train the trainer model- empowering local citizens and refugees to become our local facilitators and impart our playful, joyful curriculum.  We do reading circles in their native tongue, mindfulness meditation, kids yoga, dance, and arts and crafts to help foster resilience and expression. Activities like breathing like superheros or using breathing balls engage the kids in new ways to help cope with the effects of trauma.” The right to play is fundamental as Christine Mendonca Founder of Humans on the Move shared; “They have to have the opportunity to be kids and to play as that is where some of that psychosocial support comes in.  That is where they can act out these experiences in a way that they will not talk about with a counselor.”

The  Role of Media

Tamela Noboa, Managing Director of Discovery Learning Alliance (DLA), shared that “media can have a powerful impact on social-emotional well-being, especially in the hands of a well-trained teacher or mentor.” One of DLA’s programs is aimed at improving education and life outcomes for marginalized girls and boys in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. In collaboration with local partners, including students and teachers, DLA is producing a video series to complement and extend the reach of a successful life skills curriculum. Teachers, parents, mentors and students are eager to use the new programming in and outside of classrooms. A Nigerian girl who watched episodes that teach children about self-advocacy and building positive relationships, said, “My favorite is the way they live together with their friends. They were happy and…. I like the way they helped their friends.”  A 13-year old boy from a junior secondary school in Kenya talked about how the videos help him understand the dangers of peer pressure. “Boys, they have peer pressure to do drugs. This movie that we’ve seen, it encourages us to stop that bad behavior, and [that] we can be good,” he said. A teacher in one of DLA’s partner schools talked about an episode in the series that “helps teachers understand how they can help save children from early marriage,” adding that, “such videos are very instrumental and will connect home, school and the teacher to improve the learning.”

When language gets in the way

In addition to the need for play and mental health support, children are also facing language barriers.  In Education Uprooted, a recent report by UNICEF, research shows that only 34% of refugees live in places where they speak the language.  

As Christine Mendonca highlighted from the conversation at Nexus: “Education in Lebanon is taught in English, while Syrians only know Arabic.  So they have the challenge of learning English first.” This root barrier is keeping children out of school and drastically slowing down their ability to integrate, connect with other students, and comprehend the materials necessary to secure an education that will set them up as productive members of their new community.  

One social enterprise, Ana Aqra Association (“I can read” in Arabic), which provides remedial education to underprivileged children in Lebanese public schools. This organization applies a hybrid model, subsidizing its work in public schools by charging private schools and international NGOs for teacher-training services. When the humanitarian community launched afternoon shifts to provide remedial education to Syrian children, Ana Aqra was at the forefront. Today, it has taught almost 100,000 students, both Lebanese and Syrian.

Another social enterprise, Global Storymakers (www.globalstorymakers.com) is dedicated to creating books for early learners in mother tongue languages. Already working throughout Africa, Global Storymakers customized its platform for each country so that local, relevant stories are created with the goal of improving literacy while also bridging communities.

What is at stake?

This is one of the most pressing issues of our time. If we cannot figure out how to address the root barriers keeping children from processing their experiences, communicating in their new communities, and accessing educational institutions – then we face losing a generation to trafficking, crime, and extremist groups like ISIS and M13.  This is not just an issue for the Middle East and Europe – millions of people are being displaced from Venezuela and we are seeing a chain of migration moving through South America and North America.

The SDG framework is looking at enrollment as a key indicators of success, and Lebanon has been held up as a leader with the “Reaching All Children with Education (RACE) plan in 2013. RACE has doubled student enrolment in Lebanon’s public school system compared with enrolment in 2011. In 2017, 204,000 Lebanese and about 195,000 non-Lebanese children attend public school.”  This is fantastic news that enrollment has doubled, but participants were concerned that this is a metric of convenience versus a meaningful measure of how prepared these children are to learn.

We have an incredible opportunity to build the structures for children and parents to receive support – to heal and integrate into the communities where they move to escape conflict and devastation from natural disasters.  As Dr. Alexander Betts shows in Refugee Economies: Rethinking Popular Assumptions, far from being drains on a community – refugees not only contribute by consuming local goods and services – they also are job creators.  There are potent opportunities to shift the risk of a generation of children growing into a social burden to cultivating a generation of vibrant productive social entrepreneurs using new business models to solve the challenges facing their communities.  

What’s Next?

Our next Convening17 conversation will be hosted at the Skoll World Forum on April 11th where we will explore the power and opportunity Social Enterprise represents in addressing the root barriers to delivering quality education to uprooted children and the communities in which they live.  If you are attending Skoll World Forum as a delegate and would like to be a part of this conversation, please click here to register.  Following the Skoll World Forum we will be hosting a breakfast for delegates of the Global Philanthropy Forum on Friday May 4th. Please register here if you are a attending GPF and would like to be a part of this conversation.