Education and Resilience: A Path to Sustainable Humanitarian Action

Last May the first ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) was held in Istanbul, Turkey. In this article, we go back to RET International’s participation in the event as the importance of education in humanitarian action should be regularly repeated and not only mentioned during large events.

To confront challenges such as forced displacement, guaranteeing the rights of persons in need of international protection or disaster risk reduction, and to achieve a long-term impact, the WHS saw an overwhelming demand by all key stakeholders for education to become a central element of sustainable humanitarian action and for significantly more funding to be allocated to this cause. This is the position we have held for the last 15 years and we were therefore delighted to hear it coming to the forefront of the humanitarian community’s preoccupations.


How Education Entered the World Humanitarian Summit

Wars, armed conflicts, natural disasters, are all events that affect or disrupt education in more than 35 countries. Crises have a strong negative impact on more than 75 million children and young people worldwide.

This is one of the reasons why governments representatives, international and national NGOs, representatives of civil society, had gathered in the meeting convened by the United Nations: the first ever World Humanitarian Summit.

All relevant actors of humanitarian and development aid had been present during the 23rd and 24th of May to establish concrete commitments and to promote actions to decisively end human suffering all over the world.

In nearly all of the sessions, special and side events, the exchanges were focused on promoting educational, creative and innovative alternatives to tackle situations of vulnerability and contexts of crisis, with the goal to enable affected populations to recover and be strengthened to become more resilient.

INEE (the International Network for Education in Emergencies) organised the event “Providing quality education in emergency situations, what should be done?” led first by the Champions for Education, UN Special Envoy for Education and former Prime Minister of the U.K., Gordon Brown, and Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, and former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. RET International was amongst the panel members invited, which also included the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Global Campaign for Education, War Child UK, Their World and the UNRWA (the UN Agency for refugees in Palestine).

There were three panels during this Side Event, the first included the Champions, the second panel was comprised of key stakeholders implementing on the ground, and the third panel were members of the private sector, partnering with the Government donors and Champions, to provide the necessary voice and resources to deliver this much needed assistance in education. In the second panel of the meeting, the guests shared the experiences they have been developing in order to confront the challenges found in emergency situations and how they have implemented innovations to improve the humanitarian action.


Sharing 15 Years of Experience in Education in Emergencies

 Zeynep Günduz, CEO and Executive Director of RET International, shared in this panel the vision and best practices in innovation that RET has developed and implemented in education in emergences throughout the world. The first, and most fundamental of all, was that 13 years ago, while all government donors and the international community understood and appreciated the value of education for vulnerable young people, displaced due to wars and violence, no government or intergovernmental institution would or could fund education for youth, as a priority. Everyone understood this intellectually, but no one had enough funds, and could fund “education of youth”.

In light of this conclusion, RET took the strategic decision to reposition and to re-package itself innovatively. RET therefore equated Education with Protection, which lead to our mottos “Protecting through Education” and “RET. Bridging the Gaps in Africa. The Americas. Asia. Europe. The Middle East.” By doing so, we succeeded in positioning ourselves innovatively by providing education not only to refugees, but also to the host communities caught up in crises. Since then, we have applied the tool of education for young people in emergencies engulfing Darfur, the Afghans, the Congolese, the Burundians, the Somalis, CAR, the Colombians, and of late, the Syrians and Iraqis.


During the panel, Zeynep Gündüz shared some of RET’s lessons learned from its operations in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Silk Route. One of the best examples she provided to illustrate the possibility to innovate was RET’s unique action in Panama, with a project developed by RET and the Panamanian Institute for Special Training (IPHE), with support from USAID/OFDA. In this implementation, members of educational institutions dedicated to work with persons with disabilities, especially children and youth, were trained in the management and the reduction of risk disaster. RET supported the process of creating specific sign language signs that did not yet exist in Spanish for disaster risk reduction. Furthermore, these new signs were specially targeted to suit the needs of adolescents and youth with disabilities.

Another example is RET’s work in Kenya, where our team has been working with Somali youth in the Dadaab refugee camps for many years. In that context, the innovation consisted in developing a process of resilience through Online Teacher Trainings, supported by an agreement with a local University, and offering Somali teachers certified professional training recognised in Kenya and other countries in the region.

It is in Kenya as well that RET has created online jobs for youth. These represent concrete opportunities for the young refugees to work legally, at home or at RET’s computer centres. This successful pilot programme is on the verge of expanding to other countries around the world.

Other innovative approaches to developing resilience through education were implemented in Afghanistan. Our work there focuses primarily on young women who had missed many years of schooling when they were refugees in Pakistan or Iran. Together with the Afghan Ministry of Education, the communities, the elders and the local and provincial governments, we created a model of Women’s Learning Centres designed to provide education and livelihood support to these young women. Over the last decade, RET opened a total of 16 of these Women’s Learning Centres.

As Ms Gündüz summed up at the end of her presentation: “RET has developed an innovative menu of different interventions around the world (…) We really need to look at education as a tool for protection”. The second panel, which was the space for this presentation, was focused around practical experiences.

The first panel, the Champions of Education, featured the participation of Gordon Brown[i], former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Chair of the new Global Commission on Financing Global Education; Sarah Brown[ii], Founder and President of the children´s Theirworld and Executive Chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education; Julia Gillard[iii], former Prime Minister of Australia (2012-13) and Chair of the Global Partnership of Education; Hugh McLean[iv], Director of the Education Support Program (Open Society Foundations); Irina Bokova[v], Director-General of UNESCO, who advocates for gender equality and improved education; Tariq Al Gurg[vi], Chief Executive of Dubai Cares, responsible for strategically defining and leading an organization that is dedicated to providing children in developing countries with access to quality primary education; Mary Joy Pigozzi[vii], Director of the Educate A Child (EAC) and former Senior Education Advisor for primary education at UNICEF.

All those present agreed in the perspective of education as a protection factor and also in addressing psychosocial care processes as the first phase of action after or during the crisis.


The Future of Innovation: Education Cannot Wait

Later, in another event of this World Summit, the newest innovation, a fund specifically targeted for education of vulnerable young people, “Education Cannot Wait” was launched by UN Special Envoy, Gordon Brown.**

INEE had led a consultation that was carried out during the first months of 2016, to facilitate dialogue and to gather ideas to raise this global initiative. More than 500 people participated in this consultation process, in which there was a consensus to establish a common platform for education in emergencies, with emphasis on the need for a broader vision in order to reach more children and young people.

According to the document developed by ODI (Overseas Development Institute)***, this fund seeks to transform the education sector at a global level specifically for children and youth affected by the crises. At least 75 million children and young people from 3 to 18 years live in 35 countries that are affected by crises, with an urgent need of support for their education. In these nations, there are 17 million school-age refugees, including those internally displaced persons.

Add to that the fact that around the world there are conflicts that tend to be protracted, i.e., persist over time, such as the one of the Democratic Republic of Congo that has kept more than one generation away from school; or the crisis in Syria that already has 6 years of existence, time in which it has removed more than 3.4 million people from education.

Education is the core of an enduring Humanitarian Action with a sustainable impact. Education is also the bridge that connects humanitarian and development processes. Education is as well an urgent request from those affected by crises worldwide.

So at RET International we were delighted to see the humanitarian community come together and recognise the importance of education. We therefore, more than ever, stay focused on the path we set 15 years ago and continue to protect young people through education. By doing so, we hope to “Bridge the Gaps in Education in Africa. The Americas. Asia. Europe. The Middle East”.


* The event also featured two other groups of distinguished panelists who addressed different perspectives on Education in Emergencies. The challenges were presented by Gordon Brown (Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Special Correspondent of the United Nations World Education), Hon. Julia Gillard (Former Prime Minister of Australia, Members of the Board and CEO of Save the Children), Irina Bokova (General Director of UNESCO), Jan Egeland (General Secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council). The aspects related to alliances and international cooperation, were discussed in the third panel with the distinguished presence of: Sarah Brown (Executive President of the Global Business Coalition for Education and President of Theirworld), Ed Cain (vice president of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation), Annemiek Hoogenboom (Country Director of the People’s Postcode Lottery), Tariq Al Gurg (CEO of Dubai Cares), Mary Joy Pigozzi (Executive Director of Educate a Child), Mazen Hayek (Director of Public Relations and Commercials of Hope MBC), Hugh McLean (director of the Educational Support Program of the Open Society Foundation).

** More information about the fund can be found in:

*** Education Cannot Wait: proposing a fund for education in emergencies. London: ODI. © Overseas Development Institute 2016. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial Licence (CC BY-NC 4.0).