By Emma Howell, ShelterBox staff
Over the past 21 years, ShelterBox and Rotary International have worked together to support families with emergency shelter following disaster or conflict.
Disaster, conflict and lack of adequate housing significantly reduces a child’s access to education. Nearly 40 million children a year have their education interrupted by disasters, such as earthquakes and disease.1 And the number of child refugees fleeing conflict and extremism, violence or disaster has risen to over 13 million in recent years. 2
Through the provision of shelter, we are contributing to Rotary’s wider efforts to strengthen the capacity of communities to provide basic education and tackle illiteracy. Shelter is more than a physical structure: it is one of many factors that can increase a child’s access to education.
The right to education
All children have the right to go to school and learn. Through education, children gain lifelong skills such as improved literacy, numeracy, and confidence. This leads to greater opportunities like supporting them to lift themselves out of poverty. Overall, increased levels of education plays a vital role in empowering women, and safeguarding children from exploitive and hazardous labour and sexual exploitation.3
Conflict and disasters threaten the right to education
Education is often one of the first services to be suspended during conflict and disaster. Why is this the case?
Destruction of schools
Conflict and disasters bring extensive damage and destruction to infrastructure. This leaves children without a place to call home and without a place to learn. Cyclone Idai in 2019 highlights this when 600 schools and 3,504 classrooms were either damaged or destroyed in Mozambique.4 It is estimated that this damage and destruction to classrooms has threatened the education of 335,000 children.5
Swapping schools for shelter
Due to their large size, school buildings are often assigned as emergency evacuation shelters, temporary accommodation and aid distribution hubs following disasters. This was the case for Melody and Adrian, who prior to receiving ShelterBox aid, were amongst dozens of women, men and children who sought shelter in a school building when Typhoon Mangkhut devastated Luzon Island in the Philippines in 2018.
Affordability and access
Amidst conflict and disaster, possessions such as school uniforms, textbooks and stationery might be lost or damaged. Economic livelihoods are also affected with the destruction of buildings leading to lost assets, savings, and places of work. Loss of income, coupled with lost educational equipment and resources, may be a key barrier for returning to school if parents cannot afford school fees or replacements.
Conflict and disaster are traumatic for all involved, but particularly for children. Confronted with scenes of destruction and the death of friends and loved ones, trauma can impede a child’s ability to concentrate, learn and retain information during school lessons.
ShelterBox’s work promotes the right to education
Education is crucial in bringing stability, emotional and physical protection, and continuity to those affected by emergency situations. These factors are fundamental for sustained recovery. ShelterBox teams work with disaster-hit families around the world, offering emergency shelter and other essential items to support them in rebuilding their lives. How does ShelterBox’s aid promote the right to education?
Through the provision of shelter in the form of tents or shelter kits, children and their families can begin rebuilding their lives with security, privacy, and dignity. Providing temporary shelter can reduce the time that schools are used as communal centres, allowing them to remain a place to learn. Children can complete homework after school hours, which encourages self-discipline and critical thinking, whilst also bringing routine, stability, and structure. These skills increase the likelihood of employment and therefore economic empowerment.
ShelterBox’s provision of solar lights allows children to complete their homework after it gets dark and not risk studying in poor light or by open flames which risks damage to their eyesight or lungs.
14-year-old Rahma from Somaliland uses her solar light to study in the evening when it gets dark. Her favourite subject is English.
Kitchen sets, water filters and mosquito nets
Through ShelterBox’s kitchen sets, water filters, and mosquito nets, families can eat meals which provide both normalcy and the framework for everyday life, but also nourishment and protection from water borne diseases and malaria. This is vital for improving children’s access to education. The World Health Organisation reporting that 67% of all malaria deaths occur in children under the age of 5.6 Better child nutrition, health and access to clean water reduces the chances of stunted growth, diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid and pneumonia, each of which can prevent a child from attending or concentrating at school. For example, research by Save the Children shows that well-nourished children are 13% more likely to be in the correct school year, boosting lifelong skills.7
“I suffered too much with my wife and children always sick. When my wife fetches water, I filter the quantity that I can and I keep the filter for the next time” Tshamaya, Minawao refugee camp, Cameroon.
Overall, threats to education expose children to physical harm, early marriages, sexual exploitation, and child labour. Girls often experience a ‘double impact’ of disaster as families are forced to increase household incomes through marriage dowries, improve food security and nourishment by trading girls for food. Gender norms shift the burden of unpaid care work onto girls following the loss or migration of their mothers. The Malala Fund has exposed this relationship between the closure of schools and girls’ loss of education, estimating that 20 million girls in low and lower middle-income countries may never return to the classroom following Covid-19.8
Whilst the right to shelter is just one method of realising children’s education during conflict and disaster, ShelterBox is proud to work alongside Rotary in providing the training and tools needed to increase basic literacy and education. Education gives children a sense of normalcy, hope for the future, confidence, disaster resilience and preparedness and cannot be underestimated when responding to disasters. Learn how you can get involved.
- Safe Schools: The Hidden Crisis (December 2018) ✎ Theirworld
- Safe Schools: The Hidden Crisis (December 2018) ✎ Theirworld
- General comment No. 13: The right to education (art. 13) (refworld.org)
- Cyclone Idai: Education at risk for more than 305,000 children in Mozambique – UNICEF – Mozambique | ReliefWeb
- Malaria (who.int)
- Food for Thought (savethechildren.org.uk)
- COVID19_Girls Education_corrected_071420.pdf (ctfassets.net)