School “as vital as food and medicine” for children caught up in conflict and other emergencies: EU & UNICEF

20th December 2016

DUBLIN / BRUSSELS / NEW YORK, 16 December 2016 – Braving the consequences of war, natural disaster and other emergencies, nearly two million children in 20 countries around the world have been able to continue their schooling over the past four years as a result of a partnership between the European Commission’s Department for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection and UNICEF.

Of the 462 million school-aged children and young people living in countries affected by emergencies, an estimated 75 million are in desperate need of educational support. Even so, education continues to be one of the least funded sectors in humanitarian appeals. At present, less than 2% of the global humanitarian budget goes for this purpose.

At an event at the European Parliament in Brussels this month, teenagers from Ireland – including two former asylum seekers now living in Athlone and studying for their Junior Cert at Our Lady’s Bower – joined other teen activists from Hungary, the Netherlands, the UK, Italy, Greece and Slovenia to tell politicians what they have discovered during the course of an innovative social media-led awareness-raising campaign called #EmergencyLessons.

Support for the campaign came from celebrities such as British actor Tom Hiddleston, Irish TV presenter Laura Whitmore and Sing St lead actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (16). You can watch Laura and Ferdia’s powerful #EmergencyLessons films from Nepal on UNICEF Ireland’s Youtube page. They were joined across Europe on the project by an Italian European Space Agency astronaut called Samantha Cristoforetti, Slovenian Basketball player Boštjan Nachbar, Hungarian news presenter and media personality Kriszta D. Tóth, and Slovakian dancer Jaro Bekr.

Irish #EmergencyLessons Ambassador Laura Whitmore was moved to tears when she met Kopila (16) in a Kathmandu slum. Kopila wants to be a doctor, but she fears that the circumstances of her home life will make that impossible.

Laura’s fellow #EmergencyLessons Ambassador, Irish teenage actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, meanwhile made a firm friend when he met Nepalese student Binod (15) who is just a year younger than him, but whose life is very different. Watch their surprising meet-up here.

“When conflict or other crises strike, children need more than food, shelter and medicine”, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, told the event at the European Parliament.

“Education can be just as much of a life-saver, providing children with a safe, protective space and helping ensure they learn the skills they need to build a better future for themselves and their communities. The EU is leading the way in its support for education in emergencies.”

The seven-month EU-UNICEF #EmergencyLessons campaign has so far reached more than 70 million people on Twitter alone, targeting in particular young Europeans in seven* target EU countries. Supporters are being encouraged to spread the word among their peers through social media platforms, as well as at their own schools and in public events. The campaign drew on the inspirational real-life stories of children in Iraq, Ukraine, Nepal, and Guinea who continued to study despite war, natural disaster and disease outbreaks.

“Children are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to continue their education even in the worst of circumstances,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Justin Forsyth. ”It’s up to the rest of us to make sure the necessary resources are available for them. The European Union has set an example by committing to increase the EU humanitarian aid budget to education in emergencies to 6% in 2017 and we hope others will do the same”. Christos Stylianides made the announcement at the international Education in Emergencies Forum that took place on 30 November in Brussels.

During the Brussels event, child and youth representatives presented their own call for stronger international support for programmes that allow children caught up in emergencies to continue their learning. You can see photos of the Irish participants at that event on

*Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom.

About the European Commission’s Department for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations funds relief operations for victims of natural disasters and conflicts worldwide. Aid is provided impartially, directly to people in need, without discrimination in relation to their race, ethnic group, religion, gender, age, nationality or political affiliation.

To find out more about the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, go to


UNICEF promotes the rights and well-being of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. UNICEF is this December marking 70 years in operation.

Follow UNICEF Ireland on Twitter and Facebook.

To learn about UNICEF and its work for children visit

To find out more about the #EmergencyLessons campaign, go to:

For more information contact: 

Aedín Donnelly, Communications and Media Manager for UNICEF Ireland | Tel: +353 1 809 0281 | Mob: +353 85 1395272

Picture above: UNICEF Ireland Youth Ambassadors pose for photos with Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Justin Forsyth and Christos Stylianides, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.

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