Education saves Children´s Lives.  In Countries affected by War we help to bring Children back to the Classroom

Education saves Children´s Lives. In Countries affected by War we help to bring Children back to the Classroom

(Prague 29.8.2017) Just as in the Czech Republic, so in Syria, Iraq or the Ukraine, the new school year begins in September. While we send our children to school, in war-torn areas they are not always so lucky. According to data provided by UNICEF, every fourth child lives in an area of the world affected by humanitarian crisis and 70 million children are unable to attend school at the present time. It is these children especially for whom education is of the utmost importance. Not only to acquire school knowledge, which in turn will determine their future, but also to be able to spend time in the company of their peers, to feel safe in a stable environment, to relax during and after school in free time activities and to receive psychosocial support, which helps them to overcome traumatic events and stress. People in Need (PiN) in their humanitarian work throughout the world focus also on education – on providing support to children, teachers and schools. Throughout 2016 People in Need have in Syria, Iraq and the Ukraine helped almost 30 000 children and hundreds of teachers in the supported schools, temporary education centres and after school activity facilities.

„The support of education in countries affected by war is an integral part of our humanitarian help. We repair schools, pay teachers´ salaries, provide equipment and school materials for children and we also provide some very much needed psychosocial support,“ says Zuzana Váchová, PiN´s Education Advisor „The key role in helping children is always played by teachers, who spend several hours a day with them. We provide training, for example, on how to work and communicate with children affected by war, what information or skills they need most at the present time, what psychosocial support to provide, how to create a safe environment within a children´s group, or how to support parents in caring for their children,“ adds Zuzana Váchová. Last year in the area of education, PiN provided aid in Syria and Iraq alone to the value of 95 million CZK. „The type of help we provide usually depends on the conflict and the country. The well-being of children, however, is always of the utmost priority to us,“ explains Zuzana Váchová.

How Education can save a Child´s Life

In a country torn by war, children often instead of studying have to deal with major problems, such as the loss of parents or having to find food and money for the family. They are constantly under great stress. Local schools have often been destroyed or used as shelter by internal refugees, they can be occupied by the armed forces or, due to fighting or bombing, parents are simply afraid to send children there. Girls, especially, are under threat, and they are 2.5 times more likely to stay at home. Children who do not attend school are much more vulnerable to threats of kidnappings, violence, rape or recruitment by radical armed groups. School in those cases can provide a safe environment and help to protect lives. 

„While they are at school children are protected from outside negative influences. But we also try to provide them with practical information relating to their safety,“ describes Jesse Atkins, Head of the PiN Education Programme in Iraq. Children are being taught what to do in case of bombing, how to give first aid or even how to avoid unexploded landmines. „Children in the Norh of Iraq are in almost daily contact with the remnants of explosives, whether it be on the way to school or when they are out playing with friends. Together with explosives´ experts from the Mine Advisory Group, we teach them how to recognize unexploded landmines and what to do when they do come across them. During the month of March this year we trained 1 500 children and representatives of the local members of their families, who are then in turn also better protected.

Returning to „Normal“

At least a partial return to an every day routine including regular school attendance helps children feel that their lives are back on track. For children from war torn areas this is often the only chance to spend time with their peers. The Ukrainian schoolgirl Nastya lives with her parents in Novobakhmutovka, about 10 kilometers from the frontline. „Our village is large, so we live quite a long way away from each other. We don´t have the chance to see each other regularly and to study together like other children our age,“ the eigth grade student describes her experiences since both the local elementary school and the nursery were closed down for security reasons. After some six months the school was reopened but the children could still hear the sound of gunfire and explosions. The children were often frightened even when a book fell on the floor because they thought they could hear fire in the distance. „One afternoon, when the shooting started, I ran inside the school building. The care workers hid the children on mattresses in the washrooms. I was surprised to see that the children immediately knew what they had to do,“ describes Galina Vasilyevna, a local schoolteacher.  

PiN helps to set up children´s afterschool activity centres. In the three years that war in Eastern Ukraine has been going on, the local children have had few opportunities of how to spend their free time, now they are able to make use of specialized centres equipped with trampolines, building blocks or soft toys, where they are being looked after by experienced social workers and are able to temporarily forget the war. At present there are twelve children´s playcentres located along the frontline in Eastern Ukraine, these were set up as part of a project designed to facilitate access to long-term psychosocial help for local children. Psychosocial support helps children come to terms with traumatic experiences, to learn to deal with their emotions, to trust people and to communicate with their surroundings. Some children are very introverted and frightened, others tend to misbehave a lot and have aggressive tendencies. Usually, there are deeper psychological factors behind this,“ describes Zuzana Váchová from PiN. „These children have often had to live through things that we find hard to imagine. Most children are helped by regular group activities where we combine games, craft activities, sport and activities designed to build relationships and trust and to solve conflicts. A smaller percentage of children suffer with deeper psychological problems, and we have pediatric psychologists and psychiatrists who work with them individually. The role of PiN not only in the Ukraine, but also in Iraq and Syria, is to detect these serious cases and to provide them with qualified care,“ she adds.

Hoping for a better Future

A qood quality education is everywhere in the world considered to be the basis for a successful future. For childen from areas of conflict, such education represents the opportunity to be able to return to a normal life once war is over. Supporting school attendance of such children during war time is vital not only for themselves but also for the future of their families, communities and their country as a whole. For example, in Syria, where war has been going on for seven years, a whole generation of children, who have never lived in or known peace, is at risk. In the long term we are talking about a so-called lost generation of children, who have either never attended school or have had their schooling interrupted for several years. In Syria at the present time there are 6.3 million internal refugees who were forced to flee from their homes. The lucker children are able to attend school in their new homes. Although, there are still some 2.1 million children in Syria, who are unable to go to school at all.  

„School is great. I love going to school,“ says nine-year old Sima, who attended one of the PiN supported schools in the Syrian province of Idlib. Her mother, who was a teacher at the school, videotaped a documentary about her daughter on her mobile phone short film. During the filming however, there was a horrendous attack on a complex of three school buildings in the village of Haas, which is some 80 kilometers away. Sima´s life has changed. Today we couldn´t go to school because we heard that it was going to be bombed. I am scared of the air raids. It was better before, we could go wherever we wanted. Now, we only pray that the bombs don´t hit us,“ says the frightened schoolgirl.

#NotATarget: Schools should not be the Target

In recent years there has been an increase in civilian targets being attacked, such as hospitals, marketplaces or schools. In November of last year a school supported by PiN became the target of an attack. „Luckily, there were neither pupils nor teachers in the school at the time because the local authorities had made the decision only a few days previously to temporarily close the school. Unfortunately many houses in the vicinity were hit and a little girl was killed,“ one of the teachers described the situation. Attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian targets are a clear breach of international humanitarian laws, that cannot be overlooked. The Czech humanitarian organizations have therefore this year issued a joint statement on the occasion of the World Humanitarian Day, stating that: „As humanitarian organizations of the Czech Republic we wish to add our voice to the call to stop the breach of the Geneva Convention and to prevent the suffering of innocent civilians and humanitarian workers on all conttinents.“ Even war has rules, which should be adhered to on all sides . Children, wherever they are, are not mere numbers but they have their stories and their fate is in your hands.

People in Need are able to provide humanitarian and development aid with financial support from institutions as well as individual Czech donors, who contribute through the Club of Friends of People in Need, and the Real Present and Real Help initiatives. People in Need would like to thank everyone for their generous donations.

For more information, please contact:

Zuzana Váchová, PiN Education Advisor +420 778 402 341

Author: People in Need