At least 220 million children are frighteningly alone – shut out from a caring family environment and sometimes even rejected by their communities and deprived of basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, protection and love.

Providing access to a school education is only one step to helping these children. A holistic approach to childcare ensures that the school environment is safe and secure in order for children to acquire the skills they need. Education and lifelong learning are important tools for breaking the cycle of exclusion, poverty, domestic violence and family breakdown.

Education is essential to help children in conflict situations and strengthen future societies. Realistically we cannot undo the past and some of the terrible things that children have been through, however education is one of the key ways we can all help. Our recent work with corporate partners has been hugely valuable in providing education and mentorship programmes. This kind of work is essential to educate children and youth and provide them with guidance for the future. If we do not do this, we will simply be nurturing the ground for the next crisis.

Many factors lead to a decline in education, but among the most detrimental ones are poverty, instability and the lack of funding, which also affect the quality of teachers, classrooms, learning materials, and facilities for disabled children. But unfortunately, funding is not the only obstacle to education – things like inequality, conflict, child labour and discrimination still pose a great threat to education around the world.

Every country comes with its own challenges – be it political, economic or crisis.

In 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. SOS Children’s Villages works with partners and states to achieve the SDG targets with the biggest impact for children.

Two of the many SDGs we adopt at SOS are central to education, namely SDG 1 and 4.

The first Sustainability Development Goal is to end poverty, and as the number one reason why children are admitted to SOS family strengthening programmes is poverty, this goal is central to the work of SOS Children’s Villages International. We are committed to helping poor families and communities break the cycle of poverty by helping them build their capacities and resilience, and improving access to education and vocational training, including for young adults.

Sustainability Development Goal 4 is tremendously important to ensure that every child and young person has access to quality education, regardless of their background. Education not only impacts the individual, but also the individual’s community and society.

Globally, 263 million children between 6 and 17 years were out of school in 2015. Children and youth without parental care and young people in emergency situations often face additional challenges when trying to access educational opportunities. Every child and young person receiving support from SOS Children’s Villages is helped to access education – from nursery school right up to university or vocational training.

SOS Children’s Villages International is an organisation that is driven by protecting the rights of the child, including the equal right and access to quality education as a fundamental human right and a key component for a life of dignity, respect and independence. We truly stand with the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights, which states “The child is entitled to receive education. He shall be given an education which will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society.”

As an organisation that has been run internationally for more than 65 years, 50 of which is in the MENA region, we have helped many children through providing an education which may not have been possible. Every year, we place 296,800 children and youths in educational programs worldwide, of which 128,500 children are in our Hermann Gmeiner Schools. While there are many examples of how education plays an important role in communities, we must continue to raise awareness of the danger of when education is not provided.

Our main aim at SOS Children’s Villages International, is to create a safe and empowering environment for children, where they can grow to their full potential through our holistic approach to childcare and development, of which education is one key pillar.

Our family-based programmes provide individualized care and promote the development, education and health of each child. In communities that lack educational infrastructure, we run kindergartens, schools and social centres, and we strengthen public education by working in partnership with authorities and other service providers. Through advocacy actions we work to influence education policies and practices. This network of mutual support is important to create a caring and supportive environment, which is especially important for children who need special support and protection. Together with our partners, SOS Children’s Villages International also provides children and young people with access to non-formal education through child group activities, play, tutoring and stimulating informal education environments that support a child’s development. Quality health care is ensured for all children in the care of SOS families - we help children to cope with trauma through psycho-social support services and we do our outmost so that children can enjoy the care of a family, so that they can play, study and find reasons to trust again.

For us, education needs to be empowering and child-centred, so that the child is actively part of learning and developing. It also needs to provide them with practical skills for the workplace, so they can contribute to society and grow the economy. This is something we actively encourage within our own initiatives, such as YouthCan!.

YouthCan! is a “Lighthouse Project” of SOS Children’s Villages International’s Strategy 2030, which includes a strategic initiative specifically focusing on Empowering Youth. A partnership that brings together corporates, support partners, young people and SOS Children’s Villages in providing training and job opportunities to those who need it most.

We implement our initiative through:

• Ensuring access to quality education regardless of gender, ethnicity, faith, ability, health or any other attributes

• Working together with partners and stakeholders to enhance capacity of public kindergartens and schools attended by children within our programme

• Investing in quality teachers to establish a positive and supportive relationship with them

• Promoting child-centred education – quality education is child-centred, the individual is respected as a resourceful and active agent

Long-term impact goes beyond the number of people we help, it also means that we aim to improve the lives of people sustainably. To help us measure our impact, we carry out assessments run by an independent research organization to determine dimensions of care, including physical health, social and emotional well-being, education and skills, protection, livelihood, food security and shelter. This provides us with a picture of how the SOS children are doing later on in life. We also measure through financial investment, for instance the benefits to the community in terms of increased lifetime income. The SOS Social Impact Assessment published 2017 shows that SOS programmes provide a social return on investment of at least €14 for every €1 invested.

So what can you do? Raising awareness of the key issues is always a good place to start – many people are unaware of the importance of education and its role in harbouring peace in crisis areas. Awareness helps us gain support for the work we do across the region, and enables us to continue to provide a quality education, in a safe environment, for every child.

As the UAE celebrates the Year of the Giving, individuals and philanthropists are empowered more than ever to get involved and play an important role in providing opportunities to develop education, scholarships, mentoring, employee engagement and volunteering. We continue to work with and welcome individuals and organizations who voluntarily support and engage in our work.

Responsibility lies on everyone’s shoulders; parents, government and private entities. It is not the job of one person or a particular group of people, but the job of every individual. It is important that we all play our part in ensuring a brighter future for our children, grandchildren, and generations to come after them.

A child struggling in the streets of our cities and getting in trouble is the same child that with the right support can pursue their studies, realise their dreams and grow into someone strong and self-confident enough to help others – in other words, our support is a moral obligation as well as an investment in the future. Believing in a bright future is difficult for children who grew up in a warzone and were left alone on the dangerous journey, exposed to violence and abuse. Where will they find trust in others and confidence in their own potential if we don’t help and support them? Children are children everywhere. We all have to protect them as we protect our own children. The price of not doing so is far too high.