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How Has The Pandemic Impacted The Education Of Refugee Students?

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Someone once said, “You can take away one’s education, but you cannot stop them from learning.” I wonder whether they ever stepped into refugee camps in a pandemic.

The world today has the highest population of refugees at 80 Million, out of which only 50% of households have acceptable levels of ratio for survival. Up to 250 people share a single tap for water (in Syrian refugee camps) and social distancing is near impossible. The absence of documentation and money has reduced vaccination availability for refugees from little to none.

Jobs have been lost along with lives. Survival has become a daily gamble. In the mix of problems, lack of education is barely important.

The Current Scenario

Syrian Refugee Family
Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

In 2019, the UNHCR reported that out of 7.1 Million refugee students, only 3.7 Million are in school. With the increase in age, enrollment of refugees in schools decreases—only 31% of students enrolled in secondary school and as low as 3% of the students paved their way to higher education.

With the advent of the pandemic, education was disrupted or halted for up to 1 Billion children worldwide. As of April 2021, 753 Million students remain affected by complete or partial closure of schools. Although the refugee population affected by the circumstances is yet to be determined, UNHCR believes that the existing educational infrastructure has only worsened.

Refugee students are 50% less likely to have access to devices with the internet, which have become the definition of education and edu-tech in the pandemic. Consequently, all these students have been shut from educational resources for more than a year.

Girls Are Suffering More

The world is under the threat of losing years-long of gender equality efforts as almost 50% of female refugee students are under threat of not returning to schools, reports the Malala Fund.

Traditional gender roles are enforced on girls in these camps where they are burdened with more unpaid care work compared to their male counterparts which barely gives them any time for self-learning. Coupled with the absence of paid work rights and work permits, funds run short in families.

These limitations are making education unaffordable and reinforcing the stereotype that educating girls is futile due to lesser monetary yield in the long run.

Domestic violence has seen a spike in the pandemic as girls are forced to stay home. Sexual abuse and experimentation may be used as tools to intimidate girls from going to school (in the future). With a lack of sexual education and discussion, even consensual sex has become a daunting experience.

What Does The Future Hold And Is Anything Being Done?

Syrian Refugee in Classroom
Representative Image. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In Turkey, Save the Children reports that approximately 80% of refugee households have experienced “negative changes in employment and income status”. Per the current economic trend, education will be out of reach for several families, even post-pandemic. Those who were not already enrolled in education programs may never see the face of a school.

Lack of infrastructure, hardware and connectivity point towards the possibility that refugee students will remain at risk of being excluded from national distance-learning programs.

Efforts and policies exist on global levels. The inclusion of refugee education issues in the 2018 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration increased admissions, but most of the progress has been lost.

Through the Global Education Coalition, UNESCO is facilitating partnerships between stakeholders to improve future prospects for pandemic-stricken students. It has pledged to furnish the Member States with expertise and technical guidance to integrate refugee students in national education frameworks. Its qualifications passport for refugees and vulnerable migrants launched in 2019 aims to facilitate learners’ integration in the education system and labour market through assessment procedures.

The COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan reports that the education cluster was only 7.33% funded when the campaign ended in December 2020. Given the existential condition and long-term vulnerability of education infrastructure in refugee camps, an urgent and massive donation is required to avoid financial constraints in the future.

How You Can Help

Ethiopia Child Refugees School
Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

The pandemic has alleviated the convenience of civilian help to refugees due to medical and humanitarian constraints. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  1. One of the biggest issues faced by refugee families is acquiring funds for survival. To help them financially, you can donate to the International Rescue Committee, The Red Cross or even look for refugee Kickstarter and Go Fund Me campaigns!
  2. Airbnb your apartment to refugees. Through Refugees Welcome, you can sign up to provide shelter to refugees via renting or even rooming with them. The organisation will even help you pay your rent and cover extra utilities.
  3. Everyone loves to be supported through hard times. You too can be someone’s shoulder (or in this case, letter) to cry on, even from afar. Let refugees know that they are not alone. Send them a letter through CARE.

As a student, I sympathise with those who have education taken away from them, and with those who are forced to sit through hours-long assessments while in turmoil.

Nerissa (from Merchant Of Venice) once said that one must live in mean happiness as those who surfeit with too much suffer as much as those who starve with none.

It is impossible to satisfy all the student population with one set of guidelines or expect a uniform level of competency from all. The world itself functions on redundancy and all the tricks that provide a roundabout from rules created by those three to four generations above us. It’s almost as if we need a factory reset. And hopefully, this time, we will make quotes that correspond to everyone’s realities.

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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