The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the European Union (EU) are launching a new programme providing education to children affected in conflict in Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria. The EU is supporting the programme through its humanitarian funding, with a total of €4.8 million in the first year of the programme’s operation.

The three-year programme, called the Protective and Adaptive Education Approaches for Children in Emergencies (PEACE), will reach over 138,000 children affected by conflict, helping them access learning opportunities, whilst also protecting them from violence and abuse.

Over 3 million children are at risk of losing out on an education in the Lake Chad Basin, according to UNICEF. When not at school, children are all-too-often exposed to abuse and exploitation, including child labour or recruitment into armed groups. At the same time, there is a severe shortage of schools and a lack of training for teachers, especially on identifying children in need of protection. According to the UN, in 2019 alone, over 3,000 schools were closed due to violence across West Africa.  

Where schools do exist, the programme will support vulnerable children’s continued access to a protective learning environment. For children who have been out of school, catch-up classes and tutoring will be provided to help them reintegrate into formal schooling within their age group.

Part of the programme will be dedicated to training teachers. IRC’s Safe Healing and Learning Spaces will provide new research and techniques to teachers to enable them to help children recover from trauma and express themselves. As part of this, social workers will be trained to work with vulnerable children and to run group sessions. To promote children’s safety outside the classroom, parents will also receive awareness-raising material on positive parenting.

The programme will adapt to the unprecedented challenge presented by COVID-19 by adapting programmes to provide and require mask wearing, accommodating social distancing, providing specific training for teachers on prevention measures, conducting awareness-raising sessions for children and community members, and ensuring adequate hand-washing facilities.

To address financial barriers that sometimes prevent children from accessing school, the programme will provide cash and economic support to families in need.

Janez Lenarčič, the EU’s Commissioner for Crisis Management, said:

“The EU is committed to continue fostering the well-being of children in some of the most fragile countries in the world and to offer them the opportunity for a better life through access to quality education. However, beyond learning, children exposed to violence and conflict need additional support to heal from the scars of their experience. This EU-supported programme, therefore, aims at providing a holistic education to vulnerable children, together with support to their caregivers and educators.”

David Miliband, the IRC’s President and CEO, said:

“Children have borne the brunt of years of conflict in Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon, stripped of the education they deserve. Compounded by COVID-19, there is a risk that we are heading towards an education catastrophe in the long term.

This exciting new partnership with the EU couldn’t come at a more crucial time. Over the next three years we will reach over 138,000 children, whose lives have been upended by conflict.

We know that giving children the skills to read, write and do math cannot be done without also making sure they are safe. This is why child protection will be at the heart of this programme, enabling children to truly thrive.”