On 25 January in London and 27 January in Brussels, the #MyVoiceMySchool project will connect European students with Palestine refugee students to discuss the importance of education in their lives. The calls are taking place a few days ahead of the ’Supporting Syria and the Region, London 2016’ conference on 4 February. The #MyVoiceMySchool project has connected Palestine refugee students in Homs, Damascus and Rif Damascus with peers in Brussels and London.
In just five years, two decades of progress in education have been lost as school enrolment rates plummeted in Syria. Due to the ongoing armed conflict, one in four schools are not functional, either as a result of damage, destruction or conversion to shelters for internally displaced persons. Some children have never been to school or have lost years of schooling due to internal displacement or safety concerns preventing them from reaching schools. The turmoil in Syria and the greater region makes education all the more precious for the Palestine refugee students enrolled in 99 United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools in the country.
The European Union (EU), a major UNRWA partner, has been at the forefront of the international response to the crisis in Syria and particularly in the education sector. In Syria, EU support for children and youth focuses on access to primary education, vocational training and support to livelihoods. The #MyVoiceMySchool is one of the education initiatives being supported by the EU.
Over the last three months in London and Damascus, #MyVoiceMySchool has connected students across the world to work together as global advocates for universal quality education. Through live video Skype conversations and customized teaching materials, students and their teachers have been exploring how education can help them achieve their aspirations.
The exchanges give the students new insights and perspective on their roles as global citizens. Rima, a Palestine refugee student in Damascus, described the project, saying, “We discussed the problems we face at school and our views on improving education. We learned that that the differences between us are only due to the different living conditions.”
Common themes appear in each discussion. The need for safety to study, economic opportunity through education, improving the school environment, and dropping out of school are all shared concerns. Reflecting on the experience so far, Raghad in Rif Damascus said, “#MyVoiceMySchool will help develop education because it gives us the chance to identify challenges and share these with the world, in the hope that the world can help us solve them.”
#MyVoiceMySchool is an exceptional classroom project created and implemented by UNRWA, Digital Explorer and Skype in the Classroom. It gives students a voice in their future as they explore the UN Sustainable Development Goals theme of quality education, alongside universal themes of the right to freedom of expression. The project is funded by UK Aid and EuropeAid for the crisis in Syria.
#MyVoiceMySchool is a project created and implemented by UNRWA, Digital Explorer and Skype in the Classroom. It is designed to help students find their voice and explore UN Sustainable Development Goals themes of quality education and the universal themes of the right to freedom of expression. The project is funded by UK Aid and EuropeAid for the Syria crisis. For more information: www.unrwa.org/myvoicemyschool.com and www.myvoice.digitalexplorer.com
Digital Explorer is an award-winning education social enterprise based in London. A pioneer in the development of innovative real-world learning programmes, Digital Explorer supports teachers and pupils in schools internationally to engage with and take action on critical global issues from cultural conflict to climate change.
EU-UNRWA: A DYNAMIC PARTNERSHIP
The European Union is the largest multilateral provider of international assistance to Palestine refugees, providing crucial and reliable support to UNRWA since 1971. Between 2007 and 2014, the European Union contributed over EUR 1 billion (US$ 1.09 billion) in support of UNRWA, including EUR 809 million (US$ 877.89 million) to the Programme Budget. In addition, the EU has generously contributed to UNRWA humanitarian emergency appeals and projects in response to various crises and specific needs across the region. EU Member States provide additional crucial support to the Agency. The partnership between the EU and UNRWA has allowed millions of Palestine refugees to be better educated, live healthier lives, access employment opportunities and improve their living conditions, thus contributing to the development of the entire region.
The UK has set the pace in the response to the Syria crisis, pledging over GBP 1.1 billion (US$ 1.57 billion) to Syria and the region. In 2015, DFID provided GBP 33 million (US$ 47.08 million) to the Agency’s Programme Budget, GBP 28 million (US$ 39.95 million) to the Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal and GBP 2 million (US$ 2.85 million) to the Agency’s occupied Palestinian territory Emergency Appeal. The UK will co-host a conference, ‘Supporting Syria and the Region, London 2016’ on 4 February, which will seek to address the humanitarian atrocities faced by the people of Syria. The upcoming London conference will bring international leaders, INGOs, the private sector and civil society together. The aim is not only to meet the immediate needs of those affected by the Syria crisis, but also to address the necessity of longer-term support, of which education is a significant component.
Limited space will be available to attend the call. Interviews with the students or use of the media elements, such as films and rushes of the interviews, are available upon request. All exchanges have been filmed in the UK, Belgium and Syria. Video includes VOXPOX interviews with students, classroom exchanges and student portraits. One-minute student story: http://www.unrwa.org/myvoicemyschool
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine Refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services operates with a large shortfall, projected for 2016 to stand at US$ 81 million. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.