Written by Yasmine Sheriff
When she was just 16, Nuddin Mustafa made a 3,500-mile journey from Syria to Germany in a steel wheelchair. Nujin did not attend school in Syria like other girls and boys – even before the war. She was one of millions of children who were denied their human right to education simply because of their disability.
Nudin’s incredible journey is an inspiring story of hope. However, for most children with disabilities in the midst of armed conflicts and crises, their stories, unfortunately, do not end as positively as Nuzhin’s stories.
We can no longer leave these children, among those left behind, in the shadows.
This week, the International Alliance of People with Disabilities (IDA), the Government of Norway and the Government of Ghana held the World Disability Summit. This second summit was based on the results of the first summit organized by the United Kingdom four years ago.
Now is the time to monitor the progress made since then, bring to justice those who made the promises, and further accelerate much-needed action to realize the rights of people with disabilities around the world.
Education must come first when we work together to ensure that all children, including those with disabilities, can access education, learn and build a better future for themselves, their families, communities and society.
Think about how many girls and boys, such as Nugen, are disenfranchised. Worldwide, about 10% are children with disabilities. According to UNICEF, “children with disabilities are 42% less likely to achieve basic reading and numeracy skills. The probability of never attending school for them is 49% higher.”
For those affected by emergencies and protracted crises in places like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Chad, Syria and beyond, the situation is becoming even more dire.
Imagine a child unable to walk while living in a refugee camp, where only bumpy dirt roads lead to the only school around and where you need to climb stairs to gain access to classrooms?
In our global efforts to build a more peaceful and prosperous world – and to meet our commitment to universal and equitable education, as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals – we have a moral responsibility to children with disabilities.
Equality begins with education. Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the UN Global Fund for Education in Emergencies and Protracted Crises, is making concerted efforts to address the institutional gaps that have pushed so many children with disabilities to the margins.
On the ground, we work with governments, civil society organizations, United Nations agencies, donors and other partnerships to make education inclusive. Only then will children with disabilities gain access to meaningful learning opportunities on an equal footing with others.
In Iraq, when we worked with partners on the ground to develop our multi-year sustainability program, we worked with the Iraqi Alliance of Persons with Disabilities to analyze barriers and risks and ultimately improve inclusive quality education in emergencies and protracted crises for all children. including the disabled.
As in Iraq, the interaction of children with disabilities and their parents – together with civil society organizations working on disability issues – is increasingly central to ECW’s investment to identify and address barriers and risks they face, and ultimately , addressing their priorities and realizing their aspirations.
Activities take a variety of forms and forms based on the context on the ground, changing the lives of one child at a time.
Yasmina is a Rogahinja refugee living in the Kutupalang refugee camp in Bangladesh. She has learning difficulties, physical disabilities and severe speech difficulties. Without Yasmina’s targeted support, it would be just another statistic – one in millions of children with disabilities has relinquished their rights.
With ECW funding, Jasmine now attends school at the training center. Her teachers received specialized training, and the return to training campaign ensured that girls like her were included in these new educational opportunities.
This is happening in hotspots around the world. In Ethiopia, Ali, who is a child with physical and mental disabilities, can attend school. In Ecuador, ECW support helps Jairus – with intellectual disabilities – stay in school, laying the groundwork to realize his aspiration to one day become a mechanic. In Syria, Kautar, who lives with physical disabilities and has been relocated five times in her short life, has returned to a program designed to help children catch up and even provide transportation so they can get to and from school safely.
Now is the time to scale up these activities and implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Together with our partners, ECW aims to cover 10% of children with disabilities in our investment portfolio. This urgently requires additional resources.
Together, we must ensure that all girls and boys, such as Nujin, Yasmina, Ali, Jair and Kautar, can access the education and opportunities it provides, live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.