UAE fund backs refugee education with new grants

Fund created by Emirati philanthropist Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair confirms third cycle of grants in support of displaced youth.

An AED120m ($32.7m) fund created to help thousands of young refugees gain access to education and employment has announced a third cycle of grants, opening up new school and vocational opportunities for exiled youth in Lebanon and Jordan.

The grants from the Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair Refugee Education Fund will provide an estimated 11,200 young refugees with access to secondary education or employable skills, with funding channeled through eight programme partners in the two Arab countries.

Organisations including the Lebanon education nonprofit MMKN Initiative; the Jordan-based Madrasati, which supports underperforming public schools; and the youth-led Digital Opportunity Trust are among those that will benefit from the funding, which was announced to mark World Refugee Day on June 20.

Partners were chosen for their ability to address challenges in education access caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and, in Lebanon, the impact of the devastating Beirut port explosion in August.

“This fund recognizes that the most vulnerable Arab youth need education and the surrounding support to ensure they find a pathway to work and entrepreneurship,” said Emirati philanthropist Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, who created the fund in 2018.

Al Ghurair, who is also chair of the $1.1bn Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE), described the fund at launch as a “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.”

The three-year initiative was originally intended to benefit 20,000 refugee and displaced youth in Jordan Lebanon, and the UAE. To date, according to AGFE, it has reached more than 38,500.

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Nearly half of all school-age refugee children worldwide are out of school, according to the UN's refugee agency. Credit: Getty Images.

“To have an entire generation not knowing how to read and write is a recipe for disaster. We need education to be a priority.”

Flutra Gorana, head of programmes, War Child Holland.

“I can’t explain how critical such support for education is,” said Flutra Gorana, head of programmes at War Child Holland, which received a grant from the Refugee Education Fund in 2019 for its work with vulnerable youth in Lebanon. “We are speaking about a whole generation of young people whose futures are paralysed because they haven’t had the opportunity to finish school.”

The funding to War Child Holland was in support of its YouLEAD programme, targeting Syrian refugees aged between 13 and 18 who are at risk of dropping out of school. Students gain access to classes designed to bring them up to speed with their schoolwork and – as parts of the Lebanese curriculum are taught in English and French – plug gaps in their language skills.

More than 90 per cent of students who complete the course show an improvement in their grades, data from War Child Holland shows.

“The idea is to keep them in school as long as possible and hopefully graduate with at least a high school diploma,” said Gorana. “Not everyone will continue to college or university, and that is ok. But there’s so much research that shows the long-term effects of children dropping out of school; the increased risk of early marriage, of child labour, of mistreatment. And the longer they are out of school, the less likely they are to return.”

The initiative, which currently works with around 2,000 youth across Lebanon, shifted its classes online following the onset of coronavirus. A portion of its grant was repurposed to provide students with internet access and devices, and – as the pandemic worsened – psychosocial support kits.

The charity also struck up a partnership with US-based company Discovery Education, which was financed by the Refugee Education Fund, to give students and teachers access to digital lessons, videos, resources, and virtual field trips, tailored to complement the Lebanese curriculum.

Education-focused nonprofits in Lebanon are facing dwindling funding opportunities, Gorana said, as donors and aid agencies swing their attention to an economic crisis that has left more than half the population living under the poverty line.

“While that’s understandable, we need more donors to take a longer-term view,” she said. “To have an entire generation not knowing how to read and write, without life skills, is a recipe for disaster. We need education to be a priority.” - PA