One person’s story can inspire the hopes of a generation; their experience – and struggle – can make us determined to work for a better world. I wish to share with you the harrowing, yet hopeful, story of Hamzeh, a 15-year-old boy from Syria, who was born with lower-body paralysis and struggles with verbal articulation. All odds were stacked against Hamzeh from a young age. In 2013, he lost his three brothers after a bomb struck his home. Forced to flee with his parents, Hamzeh had to drop out of school in the second grade. Uprooted and traumatized by the loss of his brothers, he began to lose his ability to speak.
But Hamzeh did not lose hope. For years, and although aware of the challenges faced, his sheer determination to resume learning drove his optimism. In 2018, Hamzeh enrolled in an accelerated learning programme supported by Education Cannot Wait (ECW). Although his mother was at first worried about his safety and mobility at school,
Hamzeh’s passion for learning convinced her to let him attend. Hamzeh is now at a disability-friendly school, squeezing two years of lost learning into each year and finally catching up on the education he has missed.
Hamzeh’s soul-touching story is shared by millions of boys and girls whose lives have been turned upside-down by conflicts, natural disasters and forced displacement. It demonstrates and proves that when a young person does not give up hope and the global community stands with them in solidarity, they can achieve their dreams and hopes for a better future.
ECW works to serve the 75 million children and youth whose education has been disrupted by crisis. This year’s annual report shows ECW going from strength to strength, barely three years into its operations. By the end of 2019, ECW’s investments had provided learning opportunities to over 3.5 million children and youth affected by humanitarian crises, 48 per cent of whom were girls. Some 2.6 million children were reached in 2019 alone.
Data from ECW’s earlier interventions are beginning to yield encouraging results. From 2017 to 2019, the primary enrolment rate for refugee children improved from 53 per cent to 75 per cent in Uganda and from 62 per cent to 67 per cent in Ethiopia. Learning levels in reading and mathematics are improving when measured, although more needs to be done to improve the monitoring of learning outcomes.
ECW disbursed US$131 million across 29 countries in 2019, more than its 2017 and 2018 investments combined. This included over 100 First Emergency Response grants and 10 Multi-Year Resilience Programmes. ECW continued to increase the speed of its operations: 50 per cent of countries that experienced sudden onset emergencies received funds in less than 8 weeks after the humanitarian appeal, up from 41 per cent in 2018.
The ECW model, which incentivizes humanitarian and development actors to plan and respond jointly under the leadership of the government, matured throughout the year.
Seed funding for Multi-Year Resilience Programmes generated important operational learnings and leveraged new resources at the country level. 2019 also saw ECW launch its first regional education responses: to the Sahel and Venezuela crises.
Progress was made to strengthen capacities for response and recovery. 26 per cent of ECW funding was disbursed as directly as possible to local providers, exceeding the Grand Bargain target of 25 per cent. However, more needs to be done to reach ECW’s 30 per cent target. Increased use of Joint Education Needs Assessments and stronger outcome-level results monitoring have helped drive improvements in evidence and accountability.
Globally, the share of education in all humanitarian funding increased from 4.3 per cent in 2018 to 5.1 per cent in 2019, representing a record amount of over US$700 million. In 2019, ECW itself raised US$252.8 million from both public and private donors – up from US$159.6 million raised in 2018 – bringing the total amount mobilized since the fund’s inception to US$585.9 million.
Funding is now more diverse than ever, with private sector contributions increasing from 2 per cent in 2018 to 7 per cent in 2019, and US$120 million in funding now ‘actively’ aligned to Multi-Year Resilience Programmes at the country level.
And this new diversity in provision emphasizes the importance of ECW beyond its own resources. ECW convenes, coordinates and catalyses the global education response to humanitarian crises, working alongside great humanitarian organizations in both the global family of institutions and the private and NGO sectors.
While progress has been impressive, the challenge today is even bigger than before.
Humanitarian appeals for education remained significantly underfunded: at 43.5 per cent in 2019, down from 47.5 per cent in 2018. As needs grow because of the COVID-19 crisis, ECW’s work – inspiring political commitment and increased financing – is needed now more than ever.
This year's ECW annual report comes at an unprecedented time for humanity. The COVID-19 pandemic has swept through large parts of the world, threatening decades of hard-won development gains. Global poverty numbers are rising for the first time in this century. Indicators of human development are expected to register a decline for the first time since the 1990s, 90 per cent of the world’s school-age children and youth have had their education disrupted and the number of people going hungry is expected to double by the end of the year. Education is at risk of being cut back as tax revenues fall, education is crowded out, international aid falls and multilateral assistance is under pressure from the rising needs of health and social protection.
Some 79.5 million are displaced around the world: more people than at any time since World War II. Almost half – 34 million – of those displaced are children and youth.
Humanitarian crises are lasting longer than ever before, extreme weather events caused by climate change are on the rise and schools continue to face the threat of attack and armed violence.
COVID-19 is already having a devastating impact on learning for forcibly displaced children and youth. International donor support and shared responsibility are desperately and urgently needed if we are to restore hope and opportunity for the 75 million girls and boys whose education is affected by crises.
ECW’s 2019 Annual Results Report shows that its partnership approach is an effective, efficient and equitable model that delivers tangible results in record speed. As the true impact of COVID-19 becomes clear in the coming months, global leaders should invest in ECW’s pioneering model to ensure that no young person affected by a crisis is never again left behind.
In conclusion, none of the achievements of ECW could have happened without the leadership and dynamism of Yasmine Sherif and the dedication of her entire staff, who have brilliantly and courageously created, developed and now expanded Education Cannot Wait as a new and valued United Nations institution.
Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown
Chair of the ECW High-Level Steering Group
UN Special Envoy for Global Education