05/27/2016 03:52 EDT | Updated 05/28/2017 05:12 EDT

Breaking The Cycle Of Crisis For Children

Canada's Role At The World Humanitarian Summit, And Beyond

When I met Nasr at the Za'atari Refugee Camp last month, he showed me a picture of his house back in Syria. Two storeys high and with ornate window work, he had been living there with his extended family -- twenty people in all -- before the bombing started. When they decided to make the 10-hour trek to safety in Jordan, they thought they were just coming for a few weeks. That was three years ago.

Most of the people I met in Za'atari were like Nasr: they arrived at the camp, now home to nearly 80,000 refugees, thinking it would be just a few weeks before they could go back home to Syria. As a result, many didn't even bother enrolling their children in school. But the camp has slowly grown into a city, and the idea of returning home has become a distant dream.

More than 250 million children live in areas affected by conflict.

The Syrian conflict, now in its sixth year, has contributed to the highest level of human suffering the world has seen since World War II. In Za'atari, I met just a few of the 37 million children of primary and lower-secondary age who are out of school in crisis-affected countries.


The impact of those numbers is far-reaching and leaves children in a cycle of crisis. When children are out of school not only are they not learning, but they are easy targets of abuse, exploitation and recruitment by armed groups. They lose out on the stability, structure and skills that can help them cope with the trauma of conflict, and move on to new opportunities. Education is a lifeline -- without it, their futures and the futures of their societies -- are at risk.

Canada can leverage its global reputation to help lead meaningful humanitarian reform.

Recently, Canada took significant steps to help turn the tide for these most vulnerable children. The Government's announcements in February of $840 million in humanitarian assistance in response to the Syria crisis, and in April of more than $34 million for UNICEF's response in Syria and the surrounding region (the bulk of which is for education) will be life changing for millions of children.

The generosity of Canadians from coast to coast, who not only opened their hearts and homes to Syrian refugees here, but who also donated to help us reach Syrian children with things like life-saving immunizations and treatment for malnutrition, formal and informal education and protection from violence, is also helping save countless lives.


This week, history was made in Istanbul with the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit. World leaders discussed concrete actions to better address crises, deliver assistance and build resilience by reducing risk and vulnerability.

Commitments to help end conflicts, alleviate suffering and reduce crisis risk build on the new Global Goals for sustainable development and the Paris Agreement to address climate change. Together, these form a blueprint for change. The Government of Canada, with its commitment to renewed engagement on the global stage, was a key actor at the table.

Canada is respected worldwide as a defender of children's rights. Beyond the Summit, Canada can leverage its global reputation to help lead meaningful humanitarian reform -- building upon the leadership it has demonstrated in response to the Syria crisis. Canada's support for the Education Cannot Wait Fund, a flexible funding mechanism to help prioritize education in emergencies, would be a welcome step towards building more prosperous and resilient societies. It is this resilient development that will help prevent slipping backwards on progress made.


More than 250 million children live in areas affected by conflict, and more than half a billion live in areas at risk of natural disasters, including those caused by climate change. This Summit was just one piece of the puzzle. Canada's leadership, values, and commitment are what's needed to ensure no child is left behind. if we continue our history of championing principled humanitarian action, of investing in humanity, and of ensuring the education and protection of our most vulnerable children in emergencies, we will be building a Canada -- and a world -- that we can be collectively proud of, a world we all want, a world where we all do our part.

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