Dr. Rose Cardarelli is a Kappa Delta Pi NGO Representative to the United Nations.
On January 27, 2017, Kappa Delta Pi representatives attended the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations conference on the theme “Refugees: The 21st Century Challenge.” This conference brought together more than 700 educators from the United States and around the globe to learn about the primary challenges confronting refugees, and especially issues concerning education.
A refugee is a person who is forced to flee their home country to escape persecution, war, or violence. Per the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 21 million people worldwide are classified as refugees, with half that number under the age of 18. An additional 10 million people around the world are stateless, meaning they may have been denied access to any education.
As educators, we are aware that education can empower and transform lives, reduce poverty, provide employment skills, and facilitate better health opportunities.
Education can change lives, communities, and countries. Therefore, the plight of these refugees should concern all of us.
Highlights of the conference included the following sessions:
- The opening session consisted of a discussion on current challenges confronting refugees. Panelist Ninette Kelley (UNHCR) provided background information, Bob Clark (Rockefeller Archive Center) contributed historical perspective, and Maher Nasser (UN Department of Public Information) shared his thoughts about growing up as a refugee from Palestine. The panel stressed that because of the challenges facing youth refugees, educators were vital and UN influence was critically important. To address how educators could help, the panel suggested activities such as including refugee issues in curriculum, pursuing advocacy and scholarship, and celebrating World Refugee Day to enhance awareness. Nasser said that refugees ultimately want to return to their homeland and stated, “Education is the best response to the most vulnerable—when they go to school, they can make a difference.”
- The morning panel on refugee issues was moderated by Rima Salah (UN Secretary-General’s Panel on Peace Operations) and included Bill Frelick (Human Rights Watch), Emily Garin (UNICEF), and Mark Harris (ELS Educational Services and Berlitz, emeritus). Frelick stated, “We need bridges, not walls, and engagement, not containment.” The panel also discussed the risks refugees face, such as family separation, disappearance, death, statelessness, social exclusion and discrimination, disrupted education, violence, exploitation, and abuse. Harris shared how challenging it could be for educators who had refugees in their classrooms because they needed to understand the students’ language, observing, “Language is the key to opening the doors to education, and a common language enhances understanding.”
- Several students from Kenya, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, and Burundi spoke about being refugees and the invaluable educational opportunities provided by UN programs. They also discussed how difficult it was to attend school while in a displaced situation. Sometimes they had to choose between having water, food, or an education because not all were always available. If schools were provided, there would be no distinction between or separate classrooms for different grades. Power and toilets were not always present. As one student stated, “Everything becomes difficult.”
- Additionally, conference awards were presented for Excellence in Education and students’ graphic art posters. KDP representative Dr. Basanti Chakraborty was one of the award recipients recognized for the poster competition at the conference, on behalf of students from Balasore College. KDP was also acknowledged for its participation in the conference.
The following is a sample of some of the services and resources identified at the conference. They can assist educators in learning about the circumstances affecting displaced students and the related challenges to obtaining a quality education. (Inclusion is not necessarily an endorsement.)
- UNHCR social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
- Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS): This Connecticut-based organization helps refugees with education, English classes, after-school programs, summer school, and other resources.
- Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees: This organization in upstate New York helps refugees through a community-centered program and provides educational resources to develop cultural competence.
- International Rescue Committee: The IRC responds to the world’s humanitarian crises through education and provides other services for people devastated by conflict and disaster. They are located in 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities.
- Culture of Peace and Non-Violence: This UNESCO site gathers resources related to peacebuilding, mediation, conflict prevention and resolution, education for non-violence, tolerance, acceptance, mutual respect, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, and reconciliation.
- Discovering My Identity: This lesson from Teaching Tolerance helps students describe aspects of their identities such as race, gender, class, age, ability, religion, and more.
- Global Campaign for Education, U.S.
- Right to Education Project
- UNESCO, Education for the 21st Century
- UNICEF, Education
- United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative
KDP members are encouraged to review the UN website for NGO relations, where there is a wealth of information and resources enabling educators to cultivate global citizenship in their classrooms.