Good morning. Let me just start by saying how enormously grateful we are to Sarah and Gordon Brown, the members of the Global Business Coalition for Education, and all of you here today.
It’s a time when events in the world literally threaten to overwhelm us, and yet despite that, your steadfast engagement on education—especially in emergencies—keeps this vitally important issue exactly where it needs to be, which is front and center.
And I have to say, in particular, Prime Minister Brown, your leadership on this is exceptional, and we’re grateful for it.
You all know that every day, from South Sudan to Afghanistan, we are reminded—as if a reminder was actually necessary—that the tragedy of conflict falls most heavily on the smallest shoulders.
Of course, this is especially true in Syria today, as families risk their lives on the fierce seas or pack themselves into the sealed trucks of smugglers in the desperate hope that they may find education for their children and refuge from war.
In fact, what we’ve found—what we know—is that of the primary drivers of migration and refugees coming from Syria, they’re forced out by violence and they’re forced out because their children lack education, and they’re desperate to find it somewhere. And that’s what driving them, as well as economic opportunity.
So this conflict is now in its fifth year, and children who once looked forward to careers as doctors, as scientists, as entrepreneurs now struggle to find enough food to eat or clothing to keep them warm.
Their homes and schools have been bombed out of existence by Assad’s regime. Their lives have been imperiled by ISIL and violent extremism.
We know, as Sarah said, that without school, children may grow up knowing only fear and violence. Without school, children are at risk of being exploited as laborers or prostitutes or recruited by terrorists. Without school, children who have lost nearly everything are now literally in danger of losing their futures. This is a potential lost generation, and I think we’re all called upon to save it.
In this time of unparalleled need, our response globally must be unprecedented.
We need communities, we need companies, we need individuals to pitch in with the same extraordinary generosity we witness in the aftermath of earthquakes or tsunamis.
For a generation of Syrian children, this crisis is a tsunami without the water, a five-year hurricane without the wind.
The situation is particularly acute in neighboring host countries that have opened their doors to Syrians despite the enormous strain on their public services. In Lebanon, in Turkey, in Jordan.
The Lebanese Minister of Education is with us today. He is doing extraordinary, valiant work to make sure that the Syrians who are being hosted by Lebanon are actually able to go to school.
While we work every day to end this crisis, we are also bringing our humanitarian and development teams together to get children back into school, while also benefiting the communities that host them. And this is maybe one of the most important things we can do. We have to break down the divide that exists in our government and in our aid systems between emergency relief and development assistance, in a way that allows host communities to benefit and refugees to get the aid that they need quickly.
We’re working with heroic partners on the ground to renovate classrooms, support informal learning opportunities, provide psychosocial care, and help schools manage double and even triple shifts. But this is the way to resolve the problem, at least in the neartime.
But there is more we can do. There is a lot more that each of us can do. We need new partnerships to literally scale up these efforts because we’re not reaching enough children. New technologies to support vulnerable learners. New innovations to help teachers. New commitments to dramatically expand our ability to reach the 2 million children inside of Syria and 700,000 children across the region who are still out of school.
And a lot of this goes simply to resources, as you’ll hear later. In Lebanon, the possibilities are there, the teachers are there. But we need to be able, literally, to pay for them.
When a comprehensive political solution is reached in Syria, it will then be incumbent upon all of us to deal with that. It will mean more than the end of war. It will be the beginning of an effort to rebuild a nation—a monumental task that will fall to the millions of children whose existence is so fragile today. What happens to them will define the course of their country and the world beyond for decades to come. And it is up to us to help them chart a future brighter than the past they’ve had to endure.
I had the opportunity to be in Lebanon a few months ago, and spending some time in one of the extraordinary relief organizations, Caritas, that’s caring for people. And you sit with the men, and many of them are terribly depressed because they’re unable to work, which is another big driver of migration. And they’ve lost their dignity in the process. Then you sit with the mothers, the women, and the one thing they care about more than anything else is making sure their children can go to school. That is the single driving force in their lives. And then finally you meet with the children, and its extraordinary because there’s still hope. They’re still laughing. They’re still smiling. It’s still possible. But we have to get them to school. You have to help us get them to school. We know that you are. Thank you so much