More than 600,000 Syrian refugee children do not have access to education and with the number of refugees in the Middle East reaching 20 million, the issue of children deprived of education is a critical concern, especially in Syria.
On a daily basis, refugee children are being exposed to the horrors of conflict and disaster, with fleeing parents trying their best to protect their children from getting affected. The need for humanitarian aid and support is now more urgent than ever before.
Gulf News talked to Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah. Sheikha Jawaher is Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children and the founder of the Big Heart Foundation that works to provide help and support to displaced children of war and conflict.
In an exclusive interview, Sheikha Jawaher spoke of the suffering that refugee children in the region face, their lost childhood, and the impact of any and every contribution to the cause.
"Children always suffer the most as a result of war,” said Sheikha Jawaher. "They are deprived of basic human rights such as food, shelter, health care, education, and psychological support as they struggle to make sense of what is happening.”
When displaced, refugee children not only lose a sense of security and safety that comes from being surrounded by friends, family, and familiar settings, but they lose their education, friendships, playmates, peace of mind and, worst of all, their childhood, she said.
"My vision behind establishing the Big Heart was to intervene, to provide help and support needed to survive but, most importantly, to give them hope,” said Sheikha Jawaher.
First launched as a campaign in 2013, the Big Heart was later transformed into a foundation to increase its power and influence regionally and globally.
Education is the future
Every effort to repair the damage done to the lives of refugees and their children can only be successful, she said, if we bear in mind the need to secure education for these children.
"Education is their future — it will help them make the transition to a better and more secure world,” said Sheikha Jawaher.
By educating refugee children, they are "saved from falling into the quagmire and the aftermath of wars” that may affect them psychologically, causing them to grow up feeling bitter, angry, confused and wanting to take revenge.
Education offers these children a chance to become contributive members involved in the promotion of peace and love worldwide instead. "Education makes security and reconciliation a reality,” she said.
The problem of child refugees, a fallout from the ongoing crisis in a number of Arab countries, can affect the future of the Arab and Muslim world and its development, she believes.
"The issue of child refugees is one of the most tragic events in human history and without collective Arab and international effort, their plight will continue to deteriorate, leading to grave consequences, not only for the refugees but for the Arab community as a whole,” she said.
Now more than ever there is a need to develop Arab and international systems and to put measures in place to provide protection for refugees. As an advocate of the refugee cause, Sheikha Jawaher stressed the need for support from media partners who are able to highlight the problem and put pressure on the international community to ensure leaders fulfil their responsibilities to their Arab neighbours.
When it comes to the UAE, Sheikha Jawaher encourages every individual in the country as well as every government to help and support the cause in any way humanly possible.
"For some, that will mean making a direct personal contribution; to others, it will be to arrange larger fund-raising events, while for yet others, it will mean using influence wherever and whenever they can.”
Ultimately, everyone in the Arab and international community needs to take some responsibility to help the refugees and give them a reason to stay hopeful, added Sheikha Jawaher.
It was the writer Samuel Smiles who said, "Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey towards it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us”.
"To help alleviate the burden for our brothers and sisters, who have already faced so much, risked so much, suffered so much, to be the harbinger of hope means more to me than words can say,” said Sheikha Jawaher.
Source: Gulf News