Today is World Humanitarian Day and a powerful campaign has been started to mark the day, urging people to come together to show solidarity for the millions of people caught in armed conflict.

#NotATarget – the campaign highlights how, during conflicts, civilians; children; schools; aid workers; women; and other vulnerable groups are trapped in wars that are not of their making.

The ongoing conflict in South Sudan has devastated systems, structures and infrastructure and the economic crisis has compounded issues in accessing education. The protracted crisis has created specific vulnerabilities for children’s rights, safety, and wellbeing, and a lack of access to education can enhance these risks and threats. Such threats include abduction or recruitment by combative forces; separation from guardians; hazardous child labour; involvement with criminal activities; and exposure to violence . Furthermore, girls are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, early and forced marriage and early pregnancy.

Education hasn’t traditionally been prioritised as a part of humanitarian responses to emergencies and crises, but it is increasingly becoming recognised as an important form of protection during emergency interventions.

During emergencies, schools can act as protective hubs that support children psychologically as well as physically, offering protection against harm and exploitation. Schools can provide regular, safe adult supervision. They create a sense of normality and routine – this is key to the healing process following distressing experiences, and important in preventing negative long-term impacts on children’s cognitive, behavioural and emotional development.

Schools can teach children skills that may be critical to survival in emergencies. This could be related to health and security; basic numeracy and literacy; landmine risk awareness; developing children’s ability to express themselves, allowing them to process their emotions and experiences; offering access to peer support and mentoring; caring for their health; as well as providing regular adult supervision.

Schools can also act as a focal point for delivery of other key humanitarian areas, such as health, nutrition, water and sanitation. Whether this might be school feeding programmes, access to safe toilets, or managing vaccination programmes, the potential for interventions to work together through schools increases the overall positive impact on children.

But education can do more than mend the damage caused by conflict; it can help with long-term processes of peace building; strengthening and sustaining the social fabric of the nation; as well as providing essential building blocks for the long-term development of South Sudan, highly significant in a country where school-age children make up more than a third of the population.

Perhaps most importantly of all, education provides children and young people with hope for their future. This is why, on World Humanitarian Day, GESS is standing up to shout out that schools are #NotATarget!

To show your support, sign the petition, here:

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