The immense ‘back to school’ challenge in West Africa is of vital importance: Tom Dannatt talks to the Independent

Street Child warmly welcomes the planned opening of schools in Guinea today, and in Liberia on 2nd February; we greatly look forward to the same happening in Sierra Leone, though we accept that the medical conditions are not yet in place to allow that. The break in the education of over 5million children is among the most pernicious impacts of the Ebola crisis and it is vital that, as soon as possible, normality resumes and children are able to return to their classrooms.

However, as our Chief Executive Tom Dannatt explained to Sam Masters - the Deputy Foreign Editor of the Independent and i newspapers - in articles published today returning children to school will not be achieved merely by the simple act of re-opening them. Poverty, child labour and other major barriers including increased pregnancies have grown considerably since Ebola first closed schools in July. Tom asserts that without massive, targeted action, there is an acute risk of hundreds of thousands of West African children not returning to schools, even when they do re-open. Such an outcome will dramatically curtail the life opportunities of these children – and be a burden on the essential future development of these countries. It could yet be among Ebola’s worst legacies.

Street Child is presently developing strategies and liasing with Governments and key actors such as UNICEF. Meanwhile, we're pressing ahead with a long-planned major campaign of simple school construction and refurbishments, mainly in rural areas.

We are also pursuing plans to distribute thousands of business grants, as reported by one of our beneficiaries, Bintu, in last Sunday’s Observer, to help the most vulnerable overcome poverty-related barriers to education. And, whilst Ebola orphans will rightly be at the front of the queue for this type of support, it is vital to appreciate that the ‘back to school’ challenge extends way beyond the thousands of families directly hit by Ebola, or the tens of thousands of orphans that Ebola has created. 

In fact, in a region where, pre-Ebola, most parents only just managed to afford their children’s education before fear, quarantine and other measures crashed these already perilous economies, the ‘Back to School' challenge is is one that encompasses an overwhelming percentage of the entire child population - and especially those most vulnerable.

It will take a massive, coordinated action to achieve the return of as many children as possible to education – as quickly as possible. 

Street Child