Realizing Rights and Dreams in Ethiopia

October 14, 2022
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Thirteen-year-old Emyte dreams of being a doctor when she grows up. But her dreams for the future have been upended by the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia that has ripped so many lives apart.

In 2018, Emyte’s school in the hard-hit Amhara region of Ethiopia was severely damaged in the fighting. Without a safe place to learn, Emyte’s plans “to become a doctor to serve my community” were pushed to the side. She was at risk of becoming one of the 222 million girls and boys worldwide who are being denied their dreams and their inherent human right to 12 years of quality education as a result of the compounding impacts of armed conflicts, climate change, COVID-19, poverty, hunger and displacement.

But Emyte did not, and will not, give up. And hopefully the world will not give up on Emyte. With funding from Education Cannot Wait (ECW) — the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises — UNICEF and other strategic partners are helping girls like Emyte catch up on lost learning, rebuild their lives and realize their dreams.

Hope lost

As conflict escalated in Emyte’s hometown, she faced unimaginable conditions. Houses were burned, cattle looted, her school damaged, teaching and learning materials destroyed, and many people killed and displaced. Emyte was devastated. According to UNICEF, more than 2.8 million children like Emyte missed out on an education last year alone in the Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions of Ethiopia.

In 2019, the Ethiopian government rehabilitated and then reopened the Gijen Primary School, but Emyte was still unable to attend classes. Her family was struggling financially, and Emyte was needed at home to take care of their cattle and goats to help support her six siblings. The COVID-19 pandemic made matters even worse.

These disruptions kept her out of school for over three years. Three years of lost learning and lost hope, a childhood disrupted by the terrors of war, poverty and fear.

Hope regained

Before the conflict, Emyte loved being active, playing with her friends, reading and learning in school. Watching her friends return to the rehabilitated school while she could not,made Emyte worry that she might never get a chance to go back to school at all.

Through ECW’s multi-year resilience program in Ethiopia and coordinated efforts from the United Kingdom, UNICEF and World Vision Ethiopia, thousands of girls and boys like Emyte are now receiving the support they need to realize their right to an education.

Along with its other holistic supports for education, which include rehabilitating schools, training teachers and providing psychosocial services, among other whole-of-child education support, the program organized back-to-school campaigns and created an accelerated learning program to help children like Emyte catch up on their studies.

The accelerated learning program is building teacher capacity, educating supervisors and directors on child rights, creating assessments for learning, and ensuring protection for children and adolescents impacted by the ongoing crisis.

Happily, Emyte is now back in school, and she’s back to dreaming of a better future.

“I feel happy because I am playing volleyball and jumping ropes with my friends in the school, and I am learning with the support of good teachers,” she says. “I read storybooks and use stationery materials received from the school. I drink clear water and use a latrine for girls. I make sure my hands are clean using handwashing facilities and sanitizers in the school.”

Education Cannot Wait has helped over 270,000 children in Ethiopia learn in safety and without fear, championing holistic, quality education for children and adolescents in crisis contexts

With help from ECW and implementing partners, Emyte truly accelerated her learning over nine months and hopes to be promoted to grade four in the next academic year.

ECW has invested $54.5 million in Ethiopia to date. More than 270,000 children and close to 200,000 internally displaced people and refugees have been reached through the investments. Over 240 classrooms like Emyte’s have been built or rehabilitated. The Fund’s COVID-19 response in Ethiopia has reached 6.5 million children alone, and 31.2 million worldwide.

Emyte’s hope has been restored along with her right to education; she remains committed to her dream of becoming a doctor, so she can serve her community, where there is a lack of doctors, nurses and medicine.

Millions of children are not so lucky. Of the 222 million crisis-impacted children in the world today, more than 78 million are out of school entirely. World leaders, donors and other global advocates are joining ECW’s global #222MillionDreams campaign ahead of the Fund’s High-Level Financing Conference (HLFC), which will take place in Geneva February 16-17, 2023.

The HLFC provides a key moment for leaders to make commitments to ECW and our global promise of education for all, as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals. For dreamers like Emyte, it’s a chance to stand and be counted, a chance to build a better world for generations to come.

Every child deserves the opportunity to learn. Help UNICEF tackle the global learning crisis. 

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The bipartisan Keeping Girls in School Act is designed to harness the power of U.S. Government to address the barriers that prevent girls from getting an education. Urge your Members of Congress to support legislation that empowers girls around the world.

Top photo: Thirteen-year-old Emyte writes her class assignment on the blackboard in Ethiopia's Amhara Region. © UNICEF/2022/Hailu Workeneh