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Nonprofit Groups Try to Bring Education to Conflict Areas


Student participating in Justice Rising's education programs sit in chairs.
Nonprofit Groups Try to Bring Education to Conflict Areas
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An American nonprofit group called Justice Rising is working to educate young people in areas where conflicts are taking place.

The United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF says the California-based group is one of many organizations struggling to meet a need that usually is unmet in conflict zones.

The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is one such area. Justice Rising built its first school in eastern Congo in 2015. Since then, it has built six other schools. They employ 60 teachers and administrators, and serve more than 1,600 students.

Fighting was a major problem in eastern Congo from 1996 through 2003. Today, clashes and killings are continuing in the area.

Changing lives with schools

Cassandra Lee is the founder of Justice Rising. She told VOA that setting up schools in a community affected by war can make a big difference in the lives of young people.

Cassandra Lee, founder of Justice Rising, in one of the organisation's schools.
Cassandra Lee, founder of Justice Rising, in one of the organisation's schools.

"You can see a decrease of child soldiers,” Lee noted. She added, “You can see young girls less likely to be taken as a child bride and in turn become child mothers. You can see community health increase."

UNICEF officials say 27 million children are out of school in conflict zones such as Syria, South Sudan, Iraq and Yemen, or in areas divided by religion and natural resources.

Linda Jones, an education expert with UNICEF, says that when children miss school because of conflict, it also affects their social development. She added that this can have an effect on the society, and that getting children into schools contributes to a nation's stability.

Cassandra Lee feels that having more than one school in a community can help people “come out of war and into a culture of peace."

Lee’s interest in education started when, at the age of 10, she learned how war affects the lives of children. Years later, she moved to South Sudan and Uganda and traveled to eastern Congo. There, she heard many personal stories from people affected by war.

Lee met her husband, Edison, in Africa, where he advised businesses. Together, they are trying to improve the reach of the aid group. Their goal is to open 40 schools by the year 2020.

They are also creating partnerships with groups in the Middle East. "In Syria and Iraq," said Edison Lee, "we're really trying to empower local organizations that are already doing great work, supporting them financially or sponsoring their programs."

A cemetery in an Eastern Congolese village, where a massacre took place in 2014.
A cemetery in an Eastern Congolese village, where a massacre took place in 2014.

Providing the right services

Less than 4 percent of humanitarian appeals worldwide is directed at financing for education, said Linda Jones of UNICEF. The UN agency launched an appeal this year for $900 million to aid education in countries affected by conflict and natural disasters.

UNICEF says it will spend one billion dollars a year over the next four years on education.

Jones says the programs need to be flexible. One example is a program in Afghanistan where community schools reach out to the village where the children are. "There are also programs with learning through radios," she added, and using games on computers to improve skills in mathematics.

Jones has also worked in Somalia, where some education solutions did not require modern technology. "Children had libraries brought to them on the backs of camels," she said, and, "The librarian walked with the camel from place to place...children had opportunities to learn to read different books."

Both large and small organizations have the same difficulty of changing their operations to meet the need, which UNICEF says is growing. The question, says Cassandra Lee of her organizations schools in Congo, is not how can you help a few hundred lives every year, but a few thousand.

I’m Phil Dierking.

Michael O’Sullivan reported this story for VOANews.com. Phil Dierking adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Is education affected by conflict in your country? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

bride - n. a woman who has just married or is about to be married​

resource - n. something that a country has and can use to increase its wealth​

opportunity - n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done​

library - n. a place where books, magazines, and other materials (such as videos and musical recordings) are available for people to use or borrow​

camel - n. a large animal of Africa and Asia that has a long neck and one or two large humps on its back and that is often used for desert trave​l

empower - v. to give power to (someone)​

sponsor - n. a person or organization that gives someone money for participating in a charity event (such as a walk or race)​

flexible - adj. willing to change or to try different things​

contribute - v. to give (something, such as money, goods, or time) to help a person, group, cause, or organizatio​n

stability - n. the quality or state of something that is not easily changed or likely to change​

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