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Education Cannot Wait for the Children of Syria

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Last September, a small group of young campaigners came together to launch the Youth Education Crisis Committee. We stood up with Malala Yousafszai, Ahmad Alhendawi, and Ashwini Angadi to launch a group with a simple mission: to bring the world's attention to the millions of children around the world left without an education due to conflict -- and the importance of investing in a future of Education without Borders. In conflict and in emergencies, young people can lose a lot -- the worst of which is hope. We know that only education gives hope for the future and lays the foundation for preventing future crisis.

We resolved to focus first on the plight of the millions of innocent Syria refugee children forced to flee their country -- a humanitarian crisis that has been variously described as the worst since the Rwandan Genocide, the Vietnam War; perhaps even World War II.

The urgency of the crisis that saw another eight thousand children become refugees every week, also presented an opportunity -- to make an impact on how the world responded to this humanitarian crises and have a blueprint that can be adopted in other situations around the world. The world had a chance to respond differently this time, to think about the children affected by this crisis and to resolve that they will not be denied an education as a result.

Thankfully, some key partners came together and developed a plan to do just that. A new approach to how hundreds of thousands of refugee children could be returned to school in a matter of weeks or months in their adopted countries was proposed in a compelling report by Kevin Watkins, head of the ODI, commissioned by A World at School, and inspired by Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

Endorsed by UNICEF, this proposal laid out how we could raise our ambitions and instead of doing things as usual where we could at best, leave half of the Syrian refugee children in Lebanon with no education at all -- we will instead get nearly every child into school and keep investing in their hopes and abilities for the future.

The approach suggested in the report was actually taken up UNICEF and UNHCR and developed into a full plan to get every Syrian refugee child in Lebanon into school and learning pretty much immediately.

The report and the plan focused on Lebanon, which has the highest number of Syrian Refugees compared to its size as a country. In fact, one in every 4 people in Lebanon today is Syrian displaced from her home, seeking safety from the fighting. And, faced with a situation comparable to London taking in the entire school population of Birmingham and Manchester -- or New York having to take in all of Washington D.C.'s and Chicago's children -- these Syrian refugees had the highest out-of-school rates of any population in the world.

While the Lebanese government had strived to open its schools as well as its borders to these children, the international community simply wasn't doing enough to help this small developing country enhance its education system to respond to this situation.

Yes, some significant pledges have been made, but the full implementation of this innovative plan is still short of its required funding. This is not new. Education in emergencies traditionally gets less than 2 percent of the money pledged for humanitarian crises, often leaving children like us caught in such contexts with very little chance of a better future -- and worse, possible lost generations in already disaster devastated countries.

We know all too well what is at stake here. I grew up in a war that made me a refugee from my home in Sierra Leone, and left so many of my friends and loved ones without education -- and with it, little hope that they can contribute meaningfully to their societies. And Farah, co-founder of the Youth Education Crisis Committee, grew up in Syria and many of these kids are her friends, family and loved ones.

We both understand the power of education. And we understand what is at stake.

Today, 3 years after the conflict started, we are saying, governments cannot wait any longer. It's time to fully fund the plan to get everyone of these children into school and learning. It's time to make funding for education in humanitarian settings the priority that it ought to be. It's time to give the children of Syria the hope of a brighter future: the hope of education.

We simply cannot afford another lost generation. It is possible to guarantee education without borders. And it's about time we did that!