"My biggest dream is to work in a restaurant," says Eden. She is one of the over twenty young people who are trained incookery at the Hitsats refugee camp in the north of Ethiopia.
In Hitsats the our team ensures that refugee children and young people, who have fled from neighbouring Eritrea, receive shelter, schooling, vocational training and life under an umbrella of safety. Everybody dreams of a brighter future, which includes pursuing an education.
Eden and the other young people in the Hitsats camp are among the lucky ones. They could easily have become a sad statistic like so many others. UNESCO figures show that 63 million children and youth from countries affected by war and conflict have been denied education. 26 million of those are between the ages of 15 and 17.
Those who have fled from their home country because of war, conflict and persecution are the ones who suffer the most. The risk of not receiving an education is five times as high for refugees as for the rest of the world's population.
Displaced youth are last in line
Young people are the big losers in the cycle of violence and displacement. Numbers from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) show that displaced youth find themselves last in the queue for places in the classroom. There are 6.4 million children and adolescents under UNHCR's mandate, but more than half of them, 3.5 million, do not attend school.
Of the 3.5 million refugees who do not attend school, two million are teenagers. 84 per cent of the world's youth attend secondary school, while only 23 per cent of displaced youth get the same opportunity.
For displaced youth, the older they are, the more difficult it becomes to get the opportunity to study. 36 per cent of the world's youth are pursuing higher education, while only one per cent of young refugees are doing the same.
At the same time, less money is being used to bring these children and young people back to school. The tranches of humanitarian assistance that are earmarked for education in conflict areas have been reduced in recent years, now accounting for less than two per cent of the world's total humanitarian budget.
According to UNHCR, the percentage of refugees without access to education has increased. While there were positive developments in the first ten years of the century, with about 600,000 new places for refugees each year, the trend has reversed since 2011. In order to maintain the levels of the 2000s, 12,000 new classrooms have to be built, and 20,000 new teachers have to be employed every year.
Education cannot wait
Traditionally, neither the aid organizations nor donors have chosen to prioritize education. Food, water, sanitation and shelter have been the pillars of life-saving efforts in acute crises. Education has been something that could wait until peace was restored.
"Now we know it's too late to wait for education until the crisis is over and the development phase will take place," says Dean Brooks, Director of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE).
If we turn our backs on these children, the consequences can be disastrous. Neglected children risk being recruited as child soldiers, being exposed to sexual violence, and ending up as child labour or child brides. Not least, we deprive the children’s the hope for a better future.
We cannot afford to continue to neglect this generation of youth while expecting them to eventually return and rebuild their war-torn countries, secure economic and social security and create stable and peaceful communities.
The longer the children are out of school, the more likely they are never to return to the classroom.
Investing in youth
"In both acute and long-term crises, youth are often overlooked by the humanitarian community. They are often seen as a challenge, not an opportunity. It is completely wrong, because young people who receive support can contribute to the positive change and rebuilding of society, says Andrea Naletto, our education adviser in the area.
We are one of few organizations who have been offering youth education projects, in all phases of crises, for a long time. These efforts range from basic reading, writing, and rights education to vocational education.
We have prioritized education for children from, and in, countries affected by war and conflict, and in 2016 more than 737,000 were engaged in our educational programmes.
Girls must be included
Fewer girls attend school than boys. This is especially true for children and youth in or from war and crisis areas. In a school class for refugee children with ten boys, there will be fewer than eight girls.
Factors that restrict girls' educational opportunities under more stable conditions are often exacerbated in crises, like parents prioritizing education for boys, and girls ending school because of they marry at a young age.
Many education systems are male-dominated and take little account of girls' needs. We need to ensure that girls can participate and benefit from learning in the same way as boys. Having female teachers and gender-neutral learning materials is important. Adapting the timetable and teaching times to the needs of the students can also encourage more girls to enter school and remain enrolled. We require that at least half of the students in our educational programmes should be girls.