Progress in U.S. Foreign PolicyRecent months have seen several instances of progress in U.S. foreign policy, specifically in terms of foreign aid initiatives. In the span of little over a month, from mid-June to late-July, four such initiatives have come one step closer to making it through Congress. These initiatives are described in the text below.

Global Food Security Reauthorization Act

On June 19, 2018, the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act of 2018 passed in the Senate, and is currently under consideration by the House of Representatives. If passed, the bill will renew the Global Food Security Act of 2016, allowing for continued U.S. assistance in efforts to eradicate chronic hunger and poverty in developing nations.

In 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) cited the number of people suffering from chronic hunger at 815 million, which is 10 million more than when the initial legislation was drafted. Of this number, 489 million people were living in areas experiencing conflict.

U.S. foreign assistance seeks to install agricultural development programs in target countries that will use innovative science and technology to make the most of agricultural resources. In fostering food security and economic growth, increased productivity in agriculture will alleviate both hunger and poverty, in addition to stabilizing populations that are especially vulnerable to conflict and environmental hardship. The stabilization of these countries ultimately bolsters U.S. national security.

Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act

The House of Representatives passed the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act of 2018 on July 17, 2018. It is now under review by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Globally, discrimination impedes women’s financial success in a number of ways:

  • Lower wages mean smaller incomes.
  • Laws and practices in some countries keep women from their rightful ownership of assets, as in the case of inheritance.
  • Gender-specific constraints have left over 1 billion women worldwide out of the formal financial system, depriving them of opportunities such as access to credit.

These factors all contribute to the reality that women comprise the majority of the world’s poor, rendering them more susceptible to violence, exploitation and poor health.

If this bill is implemented, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will work with countries to develop standards for gender equality and reduce gender violence. The agency will also support programs that establish and ensure equal rights to ownership and equal economic inclusion.

In 2016, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that women’s equal participation in economic activity would add $28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025.

Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act

July 17, 2018, saw another instance of progress in U.S. foreign policy with the House of Representatives also passing the BUILD Act. The bill has gotten through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is under further consideration by the Senate.

The BUILD Act would combine the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) with certain functions of USAID, creating the United States International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC) to replace OPIC.

Through loans, investments and partnerships with American businesses, the USIDFC would encourage and facilitate the investment of American private sector resources in developing nations. In financing business endeavors in these countries, the bill serves to create jobs, thereby stimulating their economies. This economic stimulation would make developing countries capable to afford infrastructure development projects.

The ultimate aim of the BUILD Act is to reduce the need for U.S. foreign aid by catalyzing modern development and bringing relations closer to an equal partnership. Congress expects that the USIDFC will go beyond self-sufficiency to bring in revenue to the U.S. Treasury.

Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act

The Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act made it through the House of Representatives on Oct. 3, 2017.  On July 26, 2018, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee finally passed the bill along to the Senate for consideration.

As of June 2018, disaster and conflict have displaced upward of 68 million people, out of whom 25 million are refugees. Over half of the refugee population are children, and almost four million of these children lack access to primary education. The average length of displacement is 26 years, meaning that the affected children are at risk of never receiving an education. And yet, as of 2016, under 2 percent of all foreign aid has gone toward ensuring education for children in need.

If enacted into law, the bill will mandate the U.S. to work with other countries in making education accessible to all displaced children. By educating children, countries combat poverty, exploitation and extremism, which thrives in areas of hardship. As its name suggests, the legislation would give special priority to girls, who are both economically disadvantaged and more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, human trafficking and child marriage.

Benefits of US Foreign Policy

Although these initiatives are designed to directly impact nations in need, each of them would also have an indirect positive impact in the U.S. and around the world.

Whether helping to stimulate the global economy, improving overall global health or ensuring that human rights that are upheld around the world, global interdependence means that progress in U.S. foreign policy could lead to progress around the globe.

The recent steps that Congress has taken to approve the foreign aid legislation cited above have brought hopes for this goal of becoming reality.

One simple way to find out more about these and similar issues is the direct contact with the Congress, which is easily possible through The Borgen Project, more specifically, through this link.

– Ashley Wagner
Photo: Flickr

Education for Syrian Refugees in TurkeyTurkey is home to 833,039 Syrian school-aged children displaced by civil conflict. Since 2016, the Turkish government has worked to expand education for Syrian refugees in Turkey by integrating refugee children into the public school system. The initiative has some demonstrable success: there was a 25 percent increase in Turkish public school enrollment by refugee children in the 2017 school year.

Of the school-aged Syrian refugees living in Turkey, 612,603 were enrolled in either Turkish public school or temporary education centers as of October 2017. The Turkish government plans to close temporary education centers by the end of 2018. Approximately 300,000 refugee children attending these centers will be transferred to public schools and will transition to a Turkish-language curriculum. Another 360,000 refugee students who are not currently enrolled will also be sent to public school.

The Current Situation

For the first time since the policy was announced, more refugee school-aged children are enrolled in the Turkish public school system, at 59 percent, than in temporary education centers, 41 percent. The Turkish government plans to close all temporary education centers by the end of the year.

Temporary education centers teach an accredited curriculum in Arabic. For the past seven years, these facilities have provided education for Syrian refugees in Turkey in their mother tongue. However, these centers have been criticized for fostering cultural and linguistic separation between refugees and natives.

What Must Still Be Done

To accommodate the influx of students, the Turkish government is building 150 new schools with donated funds. However, this new construction will not adequately incorporate matriculating refugees from temporary education centers and additional funding is still needed.

Currently, the Ministry of National Education is adjusting to the increased number of students attending public school by sending some Syrian children to imam-hatip schools. Imam-hatip schools teach religious texts alongside other curriculum.

Critics of the new policy worry that Syrian students will drop out of school rather than attend Turkish-language public schools. Cultural tensions between Turkish and Syrian students, aggravated by resource shortages in public schools, could create hostile learning environments for Syrian children.

Working Toward Education for Syrian Refugees in Turkey

To mitigate the risk, the Ministry of National Education has declared that kindergarten and primary school are compulsory for all Syrian children. The government plans to enroll refugee children in intensive Turkish language courses to help students adjust to a Turkish curriculum. Also, refugee children will be offered additional classes on Arabic language and culture to help Syrian students stay connected to their heritage.

Additionally, to encourage older refugee children to stay in school, an E.U. program offers subsidies to Syrian schoolchildren. Subsidies are awarded to students who attend 80 percent of their classes and payments differ based on age and gender. Female high school students are entitled to the largest subsidies.

The Ministry of National Education’s public education initiative shows a real commitment to creating inclusive education for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Despite cultural and language barriers, more Syrian refugee children than ever before are enrolled in schools in Turkey.

– Katherine Parks

Photo: Flickr

At the UN, World Leaders Pledge to Boost Investments in EducationFinancing and investments in education promote economic development, reduce gender disparities and are potentially the most effective way to accomplish all of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by the U.N. Member States in 2015 and to prevent conflict and sustain peace.

At the event titled “Financing the Future: Education 2030,” world leaders, advocates, children and students gathered in New York to underscore the importance of unreservedly financing global education. According to the U.N. News Centre, the event was co-organized by governments, the private sector, civil society and U.N. agencies to encourage greater investments and political commitments in quality education. This included education at all levels: early childhood, primary and secondary.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres delivered the opening remarks by speaking of his background as a teacher in his native Portugal, where he began to see education as “a basic human right, a transformational force for poverty eradication, an engine for sustainability and a force for peace.”

Guterres underlined four areas of focus where he urged world leaders to boost investments in education. Noting that about 260 million young children, most of whom are girls, are deprived of school education, he urged for greater investments by governments and donors in education funding. He also advocated for the reduction of gender-based disparities, adoption of lifelong learning habits and a particular focus on children, notably refugees, affected by wars and conflicts.

Guterres also envisioned the launch of an International Finance Facility for Education as early as next year through the G-20 Education Commission. Speaking of the wide range of barriers faced by girls in obtaining primary and secondary education, he noted that only 1 percent of poor rural women in developing countries completed their secondary education studies.

This means that half of any low-income country’s assets–women and girls–can not currently play a role in a country’s economic development simply because they lack proper access to education or suffer disproportionately in poor and vulnerable households. As Guterres reiterated, each year of secondary education can boost a girl’s future earning power by as much as 25 percent.

U.N. Messenger of Peace Malala Yousafzai, the youngest laureate of the Noble Peace Prize, built on this theme and urged world leaders to boost investments in education, especially for girls. She said that girls worldwide desire greater opportunities and are actively pushing back against poverty, war and child poverty.

“We have big goals,” said Malala, referring to the SDGs, “but we will not reach any of them unless we educate girls.”

The U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, stressed the need to widen the circle of beneficiaries of quality education and labeled it as “the civil rights struggle of our time.”

“Confronted by the largest refugee crisis since the close of the Second World War, and with education receiving less than 2 percent of humanitarian aid, it is vital we marshal the funds to provide an education for all children–especially those left out and left behind: refugee children,” he said.

A recently released report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) further breaks down the extent of the problem. More than half a billion children and adolescents worldwide are unable to meet the minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics and are headed towards a “learning crisis.”

Many of the global goals are dependent on SDG 4, which directs “inclusive and equitable quality education and the promotion of lifelong learning opportunities.” But lack of access to school, failure to maintain children’s attendance and the poor quality of education are among the three common problems hampering progress in quality education.

Speaking about the UNESCO report, Silvia Montoya, director of the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, stated that “[t]he figures are staggering both in terms of the waste of human potential and for the prospects of achieving sustainable development.”

The UNESCO report and the U.N. event show that tackling the global education crisis requires far greater investments in education than have been previously allocated. Greater resources are needed to promote equitable opportunities for children around the world seeking quality education.

Governments, the private sector and citizens can all play a critical role in ensuring that our most precious resources–our young population–are not deprived of the resources they themselves need to succeed and become tomorrow’s leaders. As Guterres concluded, “[f]inancing education is indeed the best investment we can make for a better world and a better future.”

Mohammed Khalid

Photo: Flickr

Pope Francis announced his support for global education for refugee children at the Jesuit Refugee Service’s 35th anniversary ceremony.

The ceremony included 15 refugees along with friends and staff of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). Pope Francis stressed the importance of education for refugee children and youth in order to build peace and improve societies. “To give a child a seat at school is the finest gift you can give,” said the Pope.

Pope Francis has formally recognized and pledged support for the JRS Global Education Initiative to increase the number of refugees served by JRS’s educational program by 100,000 by the year 2020.

“Your initiative of ‘Global Education’ with its motto ‘Mercy in Motion,’ will help you reach many other students who urgently need education which can keep them safe,” Pope Francis said.

Today there are more than 60 million people who have had to flee their homes.

The Initiative helps refugees overcome barriers to education such as overcrowding in schools and being accepted into host communities. Education can keep children safe from gender-based violence, child labor and early marriage. It can also prevent them from joining armed groups.

Only 36 percent of refugee children attend secondary school and less than 1 percent have the opportunity to pursue higher education.

“For children forced to emigrate, schools are places of freedom… Education affords young refugees a way to discover their true calling and to develop their potential,” said the Pope.

JRS works in 45 countries and 10 different regions across all faiths and nationalities to help the most vulnerable in the hardest to reach areas.

According to Independent Catholic News, JRS was founded in 1980 by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus to meet both the human and spiritual needs of refugees. JRS is currently focused on helping refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

JRS is continuing to grow and expand in order to accommodate for refugee children and their need for education.

Jordan Connell

Sources: Independent Catholic News, Jesuit Refugee Service, Vatican Radio
Photo: Flickr

 Build Rebuilds Refugee Education from the Ground Up
One of the main priorities for families living in refugee camps in the Middle East is the education of their children. Architects, nonprofit organizations, and a scaffolding company have teamed up to create the Re:Build construction system, a project that creates low-cost durable buildings built of readily available resources such as sand and soil. The buildings, which are planned to house schools, are easily set up and can be transported to other locations.

Children consist of a large proportion of refugees from Syria, and many of them have been out of school for several years. Building schools and providing them with education provides them with vast opportunities and empowers them to create their futures for themselves.

In order to better refugee education, these mobile, easily constructed schools can be expanded by adding extra modules, built by the refugees themselves, use sustainable materials that are locally and widely available, are weatherproof even in areas with seismic activity, and are designed with their communities in mind.

How do these systems work? They use wall frames filled with natural materials such as sand, gravel, or stones. The roof frame is topped with soil to provide insulation and a fertile place for micro-crops to grow. The structures have structures to reroute rainwater, come with solar panels, and have plywood flooring.

The Re:Build construction system was designed and implemented by architects Cameron Sinclair and Pouya Khaezli, nonprofits Save the Children and Relief International, and scaffold company Pilosio Building Peace. Together, they have constructed two schools in Jordan: one at Za’atari camp and another at Queen Rania Park in Amman. The Za’atari camp is the Middle East’s largest refugee camp which has now been existence for three years.

They are not only cost-effective but also mobile–they do not require construction crews to set up. According to Sinclair, many parents of the school’s new students helped construct the building. The cost of each school is still quite high – $30,000 each – but with crowdsourcing campaigns and local nonprofit donations, these schools are beginning to effect great changes for the children who use them.

In times of conflict, when many people feel as though they have no control over their situations and destinies, education can serve as an anchor for the heart.

“We victimize refugees by treating them as second-class citizens instead of understanding that they are some of the most resilient and hardworking people on the planet, said Sinclair. “By engaging the refugees as paid laborers ensures that they once again feel in charge of their own destiny and leave with the skills to reassemble the school back in their home country.”

Jenny Wheeler

Sources: Huffington Post, “Building the Peace” Award
Photo: Flickr

Refugee Children Demonstrate Hope
“You are not alone, we are with you,” Somali students in the Dadaab refugee camp remind Syrian refugee children in Jordan through an encouraging video made by CARE International.

February of 2014 Care organized a pen pal exchange between Somali and Syrian refugee students, creating hope and messages of solidarity for the children.

According to CARE Kenya employee Mary Muia, Many of the children at the Dadaab refugee camp have been there since birth and know no different than to be a refugee.

Dadaab refugee students have endured refugee life and hold on to hope through the education and support they have received through organizations like CARE International. The Dadaab refugee camp is the largest refugee camp in the world today, with over 423,496 refugees as of April 2013.

Letters Syrian children received from Dadaab refugees included a picture of the student who wrote the letter. These letters all shared common themes of working hard in school and helping one another. One Dadaab student offered several points of advice to his Syrian pen pal, including, “be patient, respect your leaders, and work hard.” Many of the students began their letters with “Dear brother or sister,” and ended with “we are praying for Peace in Syria.”

According to CARE International, “more than 2.5 million people have fled the three-year conflict in Syria.” The Dadaab refugee students understand these children’s experience and the hardship that comes from being a refugee.

Syrian children will write back to their Dadaab pen pals and hopefully maintain relationships with one another thanks to Care International’s work with both refugee camps.

In his letter, Dahir Mohamed wrote, “Be the stars and new presidents of Syria.” Abshir Hussein wrote, “Try to start a new life which is better than before,” and Zahra Dahir Ali reminds her pen pal “without education, it is like you are in a dark place.”

CARE interviews with Syrian refugees revealed that one out of ten families expressed need for support to “cope with the experience of conflict, flight, and displacement.” There is great power and hope that comes from a simple, “you are not alone in this.” Messages of solidarity from those who understand what it means to be a refugee are not only comforting but also empowering to Syrian children.

As Bill Bailey once said, “without unity, we are victims.” With education, community, and belief in hope, the refugees at Dadaab are refusing to be victims and encouraging Syrian children to do the same.

– Heather Klosterman


Sources: CARE (1), BBC, The Huffington Post, CARE (2)
Photo: Murray Moerman