International (MNN) — With more people forced to flee their homes than at any time since World War II, world leaders from 193 countries came together at the United Nations this week to figure out how to respond.
They’ve adopted the New York Declaration, which expresses their political intent to protect refugees, to save lives, and share the responsibility for large movements on a global scale. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the Declaration will mean “more children can attend school; more workers can securely seek jobs abroad, instead of being at the mercy of criminal smugglers, and more people will have real choices about whether to move once we end conflict, sustain peace and increase opportunities at home.”
Those are proud words being used to address a harsh reality, given the current anti-immigration climate. Tent Schools International’s Dale Dieleman says there are about 21.3 million refugees, half of which are under the age of 18.
“There’s a whole generation of primary-aged children who have not been in any sense of ‘normal school’ settings. That’s a whole cycle. And what about secondary education for them and for their older siblings?”
The Syrian Civil War has dragged on for 5 ½ years, with few signs of an end. It means world leaders have to adjust to the long-game. “They are now saying education is in that camp of the ‘basic needs’. There’s food, there’s shelter, there’s clothing, there’s heat in the winter, but education is also a critical issue.”
Well-intended, but considering less than a sixth of what’s been pledged to respond to the crisis has actually come in, who will pay for extra programs? Out of the humanitarian aid/relief funds, particularly those managed by the UN, only two percent of all those funds are spent on any type of educational work. If money does get allocated, says Dieleman, “We’re looking at maybe $7 (USD) a head for a refugee child’s education, and most of that doesn’t even get to where it’s supposed to go.”
At long last, the United Nations is seeing this is an investment in the future of these war-torn countries. They’re asking the right questions, notes Dieleman.
“Without an educated younger generation going back, perhaps, to their country of origin, who is going to lead? Who is going to be the Next Generation?”
It’s been clear from the beginning that effective response comes from grassroots — in this case, the Church. Tent Schools International began working with partners in the Bekaa Valley refugee camp in Lebanon. This summer, they asked for help to raise money for a tent school, and it came in.
“Another 50 students would be educated on a daily basis with three teachers. We supplied them with five laptops as well to help children get some computer literacy and do some internet educational material.”
Some are returning to their studies after years of interrupted learning, getting to know Jesus through Bible stories, devotions, and Christian teachers. It means they’re not as vulnerable to the recruiting tactics of terror groups who are targeting the camps.
Here’s another facet to the work these Tent Schools partners are doing: many kids have been deeply affected by the horrors they’ve experienced or witnessed.
Dieleman explains, “We’re also very concerned about the PTSD, Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder that is found in a majority of children. We’re developing a resource for teachers who do not have a sociology background, but need to know how to deal with children who come to them with symptoms of PTSD.”
Tent Schools is working on a curriculum to help teachers (and others) be prepared to respond, and it can’t come soon enough. “This is a resource we will have ready, probably by November—we hope to have it finished.”
As winter approaches, the school needs supplies, heat, and rental payments. Teachers who have given generously of their time need compensation to feed their families. Looking at the scope of the crisis, as followers of Christ, we are compelled by Matthew 9:36-37:
“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”
Even though it’s not an overt evangelism approach, there is Gospel to their mission under the auspices of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. Says Dieleman, “It’s an attention that Jesus had for those who are displaced and marginalized. That harvest, which is plentiful, includes those populations, but the laborers are few. That’s our mission to: to create more laborers, more interested people.”