In 2020, parents across the planet experienced what happens when their children’s access to education abruptly gets severed as COVID-19 shuttered schools globally, impacting around 1.6 billion students worldwide. Unfortunately, for millions of children who live in crisis-prone areas, this is not a temporary situation. They may regularly struggle to receive a proper education even when the world isn’t fighting a pandemic.
American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) is taking action to help these children in need. Since we excel at helping travelers during a crisis, we thought about how we could do the same for others while also having a positive impact on the global community. In 2019, we forged a multi-year partnership with UNICEF USA to kick off our flagship charitable cause, “Helping Children Get Back to School in Times of Crisis.”
As we have learned from our collaboration with UNICEF USA, a disruption in education can be an especially devastating blow to children living in countries stricken by prolonged conflict or complex humanitarian emergencies and who are struggling just to survive. School is a lifeline for these at-risk children, a safe place shielding them from the turmoil of their harsh realities. When their access to school gets severed because of a war or natural disaster, it can have a substantial psychological toll.
For children in emergencies, education is about more than the right to learn. Schools can protect children from the physical dangers around them – including abuse, exploitation, and recruitment into armed groups. Schools provide children with lifesaving food, water, health care, and hygiene supplies. And they offer psychosocial support, giving children stability and structure to help them cope with the trauma they experience every day.
Witnessing it in action
Si-Yeon Kim, GBT’s chief compliance and risk officer, and three GBT ambassadors saw firsthand the impact of UNICEF’s humanitarian work during a virtual visit to its center at the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Through the video tour, the group had the opportunity to engage with a special UNICEF task force recruiting young girls back to school.
As our GBT colleagues learned that day, girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves, their families, and communities.
Having a stable school environment is especially important for girls since it can help protect them from early marriage or gender-based violence, which are threats in some parts of the world. In countries affected by conflict, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than girls living in nonaffected countries.
Si-Yeon was particularly touched by 11-year-old Hanan’s story. When her school was closed due to COVID, Hanan was worried she would not finish her grade, but now she’s at the UNICEF center, pursuing her dream of becoming a lawyer.
Hanan had a poignant message for children around the world: “I would like to say that you should be strong so you can do the things that you want. Try not to listen to negative words. Instead, you should listen to what’s inside you.”
Shining a spotlight on the issue
Everything starts with awareness, which is why we strive to bring more attention to the work we are doing with UNICEF USA. We’ve been promoting our efforts on social media, using hashtags like #GBTCares, #UNICEFWontStop, and #ForEveryChild. In connection with World Children’s Day on Nov. 20, members of our executive leadership team used UNICEF’s virtual backgrounds on video calls and wore blue, the official color of GBT and UNICEF.
For World Children’s Day, we also raised awareness about the life-or-death journey many migrant children take when fleeing their country in search of a better life by hosting a global Exercise for Education fundraising event. We invited our GBT colleagues to take part in a walk/run/bike ride in which we would collectively cover at least 1,000 kilometers – the distance many migrant children must walk when journeying from the southern border of Libya’s desert across the sea to the Mediterranean coast. Thousands of children, many unaccompanied, travel this route, considered one of the most dangerous in the world, and face many threats throughout their journey.
When we kicked off our partnership with UNICEF USA in 2019, we supported its School-in-a-Box Kit program, which can transform any space into a learning environment to help get children back into a classroom setting rapidly after a disruption. We provided over 40,000 children the resources and supplies they need to continue their schooling in times of crisis.
Education truly is one of the best investments in the prosperity of future generations and an equalizer of economic and social inequities. When children in struggling areas are given access to education, they gain the knowledge and skills necessary to help their communities recover and grow.
With support from partners like GBT, UNICEF USA can help UNICEF provide the most vulnerable children with access to safe, quality education in times of emergency. Together, we can help more children thrive and reach their full potential.