By Ally Krupar
I am a volunteer with the Adolescents and Youth Task Team with the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE). I’m a youth. I’ve lived and worked in emergency settings. On August 12, we celebrate International Youth Day and I want to hear the voices of my peers in emergency settings talk about education in emergency. I encourage you all to share your educational story, whether you are currently in school, recently finished your schooling or finished your schooling years ago. These are stories worth hearing.
But first I’ll write my own. I was privileged to have my education ensured. I was born in a small town in Northeast Ohio, just south of the great lakes in the U.S. There was never a time where my family and I sat down to discuss what we would do if the school was closed, or how we would pay for enrollment school fees. When I was 24, I went to Liberia to work at Development Education Network-Liberia, an educational organization that provides non formal training for NGO and government employees. In Liberia, where “youth” are classified as anyone under 35, I learned how conflict upsets education. I learned about my friends and colleagues who never finished secondary school or who never had an opportunity to go to college. Most importantly, I learned how desperately people wanted access to education, how difficult it was to attain, and how difficult life was without it. My story is short because while I work in and research education in emergencies, I’m not part of these statistics:
But the statistics are only part of the picture. For my colleagues and friends in Liberia, it was important that they could return to school, after they had long since past the age of those whose education was not interrupted. This means emphasizing non-formal training opportunities and workforce development, as well as increasing opportunities for tertiary and technical and vocational education and training (TVET). After conflict, as well as during, educational opportunities need to be available that can best prepare youth to re-enter the workforce and support themselves and their families.
My colleagues in Liberia worked at an educational institution and emphasized community engagement and inclusion. They practiced participatory programming, developing ideas for renewal with community members themselves. This tenant of international development is evident in education, where youth, the beneficiaries, need to be engaged and included in the development of programs to support their education, whether at the local community level, the national and/or international policy levels. Involving beneficiaries in programming, by definition involves them in evaluation and youth need to understand and be active participants in evaluating the educational opportunities that they experience in emergency settings.
A perennial issue in educational programming is funding, and my work in Liberia taught me a lot about funding. When educational programming relies on international funding, there are always times when the funding runs out, when projects end, and the next project has yet to come through. When salaries are delayed or never come. For the organization, these times are bad, but for the learners, these times mean that the programs that they need to support their re-entrance into the workforce or building skills, are delayed, or may never come. Reliable and increased funding for youth education in conflict affected environments is vital.
When I worked in Liberia, the conflict was over and people were rebuilding their lives. They were enrolling in school, completing secondary education and, for many of my colleagues, looking for ways to enroll in tertiary education. Since then, nearly all of my colleagues who went to school after the war, whether it was secondary or tertiary, have completed their schooling and moved on for further education or future employment. This setting was stable, or at least more so than during the conflict, but in the midst of violence, the emphasis discussed above and here still apply. In order to ensure the right to education is met for all adolescents and youth during conflict and conflict affected environments, the holistic educational needs of youth need to be addressed, youth need to be involved in the planning and evaluating process, and projects and programs need to be supported by local, national and international leaders and donors.
In honor of International Youth Day, share your story. Whether like me, you have only worked in emergency settings, or like my Liberian colleagues, you call “conflict affected,” home, please firstname.lastname@example.org with your experience of education when you were a youth or as a youth now and we will post your story on the INEE blog. I look forward to learning and sharing our stories together.