First phase of Al Ghurair fund awards $12.3m to refugee education

Grants to help provide 6,500 young refugees in the Arab region with access to school and training

The first phase of an AED100m ($27.2m) fund that aims to help thousands of young refugees gain access to education has launched in Dubai, opening up school and vocational opportunities for children and teens in Jordan, Lebanon and the UAE.

Organisations including Emirates Red Crescent, the UN’s children’s agency UNICEF and the United Lebanon Youth Project (ULYP) are among those that will benefit from an initial AED45m grantmaking round from the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund.

The three-year initiative, which was announced by Emirati philanthropist Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair in June, hopes to reach 6,500 children and teens with its first tranche of funding.

“I am reaffirming my commitment to help as many out-of-school refugee youth as I can get back into school so that they can begin working towards a better future for themselves and our region,” says Al Ghurair, who is also chairman of the $1.1bn Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education.

“These partnerships are leveraging existing infrastructure to give us immediate takeoff” In the UAE, the fund will partner with Emirates Red Crescent and UNHCR to pay the school fees of displaced children who are living in the country but out of school. The fund aims to support 800 such children and young people over the next three years.

In Jordan, Luminus Education will use its grant to train 1,800 young Syrians, Palestinians and underserved Jordanians for employment in high-demand but under-served sectors.

The fund will also partner with UNICEF in Jordan to support refugee students in grades 9 to 12 who are currently out of school, or at risk of dropping out, with remedial classes, life skills, academic and psychosocial support.

The grant to Lebanon-based ULYP will allow the nonprofit to expand its work in providing underprivileged and refugee school students with a ‘bridge’ between secondary school and higher education, as well as the language proficiency and vocational skills necessary to navigate an increasingly challenging job market. It will also increase the number of graduate and postgraduate university scholarships the organisation is able to award.

The selected organisations have a proven track record in implementing impactful programmes in those countries, Al Ghurair told Philanthropy Age.

“I can’t put up schools in all the refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. These partnerships are leveraging existing infrastructure to give us immediate takeoff.”   

Al Ghurair said the inspiration for the fund came after he met with a young Syrian refugee living in the UAE, who had been forced to leave school.

“He applied online to [the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education] got a scholarship and he is now in his third year at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) and he is a 4.0 student,” he says. “There are all these bright young people that just need a chance.”

It is this potential, notes Melek El Nimer, founder of ULYP, that the organisations hope to unlock.

“Once Palestinian refugees graduate from lower schools in Lebanon, where schooling is free, there is absolutely nothing for them,” she says. “The EU used to give €1m a year towards scholarships, but that’s gone now. So now it’s up to us and individual donors to open doors for these marginalised communities.”

“If more underserved refugees are given the chance to get educated, this is how you fight extremism”Luminus Education’s model is based around building vocational training schools in Jordan dedicated to underserved industries such as hospitality. It aims to address the dual issues of high graduate unemployment in Jordan (currently standing at 38 per cent, rising to 55 per cent of female graduates) and skills gaps in technical and vocational fields. Some 1,800 young Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians will receive scholarships thanks to the new funding.

“We’re trying to ensure we’re only teaching subjects that lead to employment,” says Rasha Manna, chief growth officer at Luminus Education. “This is where the biggest economic impact is.”

Ultimately, says El Nimer, this type of development work has far-reaching consequences.

“If more and more underserved refugees are given the chance to get educated, this is how you fight extremism,” she says. “Because what is the alternative? If young, disgruntled young men are sitting in refugee camps with nothing to do, you know what comes along.”

Currently, just 23 per cent of refugee adolescents globally are enrolled in secondary school, compared to 84 per cent globally. Over 80 per cent of out-of-school children in the Arab world are affected by conflict. And over 2 million Syrian children alone are not in education. Meanwhile, less than 2 per cent of donor support goes to education in emergencies. Of that, vastly more funding is spent on primary education than secondary or vocational education.

“With the number of displaced people rising around the world,” says Toby Howard, head of the UNHCR in the UAE, who will be collaborating with Emirates Red Crescent to support refugee children living in the country, “the international community has recognised that it is no longer enough to rely on humanitarian agencies to provide lifesaving support. New partners have to be engaged in the areas of education and livelihood.”

“The government is overstretched as it is, so the private sector has to play a role,” says Manna. “You can’t have that percentage of youth unproductive, so it’s important to give them the opportunity of a better future and to play a productive role in society.”