Actor, activist and producer Priyanka Chopra has told the Global Education & Skills Forum in Dubai about the desperate need to educate a whole generation of Syrian children, many of whom are in refugee camps in Jordan.
“These children are vulnerable to influences from around the world; these are children who feel that the world has forgotten them,” she said.
She also warned that they could end up becoming involved in the conflict, unless they receive schooling.
“It is very easy for them to hold onto a rifle rather than a pen, ” she said, explaining that violence is one way these children could feel they are able to take charge of their own future.
Ms Chopra was speaking at the opening session of the Forum in Dubai, which heard multiple examples of how violence and conflict are disrupting education. Others speakers included a former child soldier from Sierra Leone and three students who were caught up in the Florida High School shooting which killed 17 people in February.
The Syrian refugee crisis is the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II and is now in its seventh year. An estimated 8 million Syrian children are in nearby refugee camps, needing aid and access to education.
Ms Chopra visited a Makani centre in Amman with UNICEF in her role as Goodwill Ambassador. These centres give girls and boys the opportunity to enroll back in school, as well as providing learning support, psychosocial care and life skills training.
“Every child I spoke to in that camp wanted to return to Syria and rebuild it,” she said. “Education is what gives them that [desire].
“There is a whole generation of kids who we might lose if we don’t give them access to education,” she warned.
Despite the many examples of suffering and violence around the world, the actor went on to say that she felt hopeful for this generation of children, especially as increased connectivity could allow greater empowerment.
She also mentioned that it was encouraging to see children protest against gun violence in the US, after some students took part in mass walk-outs from class last week. “Kids should not have to worry about being shot in a classroom,” she said, calling for schools to teach global values and how to be good citizens.
“I am hugely attached to the cause of education”, she explained, “because it is such a simple basic logic:
Just the fact that you have the ability to take the future in your own hands is a basic right that should not be denied to anyone”, she said.