|© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2006/See|
|A group of young people in Timor-Leste are all smiles at a UNICEF-supported life-skills training session – a healthy distraction for youths who otherwise have nothing to do while seeking refuge from the country’s recent unrest.|
Imagine a person thrown from a ship during a raging storm or a violent scuffle. Fighting for survival miles at sea, this person is finally spotted by a rescue boat and taken aboard. Weak, traumatized and in need of medical attention, the survivor realizes, with immeasurable relief, that he or she is alive – but also that a long and challenging rehabilitation lies ahead.
In much the same way, countries in the wake of a crisis, whether natural disaster or conflict, undergo a period of transition from the emergency response to long-term rehabilitation.
During this post-crisis transition, there is a very real need for humanitarian assistance. At the same time, attention turns to the process of healing and reconstruction, picking up the pieces of shattered lives and building the foundation for a more stable and secure future. This period of time is characterized by shifting priorities – from the immediate, urgent business of saving lives to a focus on development that transforms as it repairs, as well as the prevention of future emergencies.
Depending on the context, this transitional period can last from 5 to 15 years. And the transition is typically prolonged when a society’s social and political fabric has been torn apart by armed conflict.
In the education sector, UNICEF’s main priorities are to get children into school and to “build back better” – rebuilding educational institutions and systems with the goal of improving upon them. In this way, we recognize there are seeds of opportunity in every crisis.
The post-conflict transition period is a window of opportunity for introducing educational reform and innovative thinking that governments may not have been receptive to previously. In post-conflict situations, Back to School campaigns have been launched in various countries as part of the peace dividend. These advocacy campaigns are a rallying cry for education, mobilizing a country, its donors and partners around the idea that the road to a more secure and prosperous future begins with learning.
Education has power far beyond the classroom walls, and it must be used wisely. With misguided intentions, education can sow seeds of hatred and discrimination. But with informed and positive intentions, education can promote human rights and peace by instilling tolerance and respect for diversity. It can be an enormously powerful tool in reconciliation efforts, impacting generations.
In Sudan, a country contending with the trauma of genocide, a Go to School campaign was started shortly after the 2005 peace agreement was established. Prior to the campaign, less than a quarter of the region’s school-aged children were enrolled in school, including four times as many more boys than girls. As a result of the campaign, classrooms were constructed, textbooks and other educational materials were supplied, and teachers were trained. In addition, Sudan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology began to promote the right of all children, including girls, to a quality education.
At UNICEF, we believe in the healing power of education. In the aftermath of a crisis, we are committed to helping traumatized and flailing countries find their way forward to solid progress, building stronger and more peaceful futures.