August-September 2016 | Features

Education is the key to a better world

Education is the key to a better world

It is some time since I met Sarah Brown to discuss the work of the organisation she fronts, so we met up to discuss the progress made recently.


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A brighter future for all our children is an objective all of us desire and many of us work to achieve. That is the target for Theirworld, an organisation that is headed by Sarah Brown the wife of the former Prime Minister.

I interviewed Sarah Brown when the charity was titled ‘A World at School’ and we did this in a rush in a small cupboard at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham.

At that time she was just coming to the end of a meeting and speaking schedule that had taken her all over the world in a week.

This time the interview was a little more measured, however Sarah was just as enthusiastic as ever getting her points across and such was her enthusiasm getting a secondary question in proved a challenge.

We started by discussing how the organisation had developed and Sarah explained. “We started 14 years ago as a small UK charity called PiggyBankKids and since then we have done an awful lot of work in the UK and founded the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory at Edinburgh University.”

“They have done extraordinary work and it’s now funding a groundbreaking cohort study, tracking babies all through their childhood.”

“Although that sounds a long way from supporting Syrian children into school or creating safe schools in Northern Nigeria we are creating or looking for transformative projects that unlock or take down the barriers that stop children fulfilling their potential.”

“As we’ve grown we have taken on more global work and then I’m afraid the pig was no longer the right symbol and would not go global so we had to take a couple of steps back and take a look at what we wanted to be called and how we see ourselves – hence ‘Theirworld’ was born. We see the work that we are doing as investing forwards into the next generation and that’s who we are.”

The organisation, when I met Sarah Brown 2 years ago, was working on getting as many children across the world into school, Sarah explained, “We co-ordinated with other groups across the world and collected over 10 million signatures to take to the United Nations to show the support for getting children into school and this was done by ‘A World at School’ being one of a partnership, which is when we met just over 2 years ago.”

It’s very much their world and it seems very timely now with all the events going on.”

It was explained to me that the main thrust is now through ‘Theirworld’. I mentioned to Sarah that it is their world and she retorted, “It’s very much their world and it seems very timely now with all the events going on.”

This interview was carried out before the various events and tragedies occurring in the world in the middle of July. It is intriguing to think what Sarah would make of it all now.

Sarah went on to explain more of their work in relation to the UN Development Goals and now the Sustainable Goals, which are aligned to The Rotary Foundation Areas of Focus, “When we started the project there were 120 million children not in school and when we presented the petition at the UN it was down to 60 million. The figures are difficult to ascertain because the world is a fragile place. For instance no one could foresee the Syrian war going on for 6 years.”

I admit to being taken aback by the time span given to me but mentioned it is a long time. Sarah quite rightly remarked, “When you are a child out of school it is a very long time.”

We then went on to discuss their work now since in my investigations I had got the impression that the work had moved from a concentration in the African countries to the crisis countries in the Middle East.

Sarah was able to put all this into context explaining, “Our work in Africa, particularly in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria with the faith schools is very much continuing. We work in making the journey to and from school safe, especially for girls, and also the school environment.”

“We help to offer after school coding clubs until safe transport home is available.”

Sarah did mention the schoolgirls from Chibok in Northern Nigeria and it is events like this they wish to prevent.

Being able to offer safe schooling even in areas where there is danger is one of ‘Theirworld’s’ objectives.

Sarah went on to explain, “Another area we have looked at is child marriage where girls are forced to stay away from school or finish school and these are all important areas and there was a golden opportunity this year with the Humanitarian Summit to look at the other side of where children are not going to school. Of the 60 million, half will not be at school because of poverty but with the other 30 million it will be because their worlds have been disrupted by natural disasters or conflict and turned upside down.”

“There is no mechanism in the humanitarian aid system to put in schooling. Rightly, emergency supplies, shelter and essential requirements get there very fast. Quite often these children are away from their homes and schools for years.”

“The Humanitarian Summit has agreed that with large donors to the ‘Education Cannot Wait’ fund.” Sarah cited as examples countries like Syria and Lebanon.

We went on to discuss bringing children out of poverty through education and Sarah quite openly said it is a new concept being put around at the moment so we went on to develop this. It is also impressive how she has her finger on the pulse and could give me first hand examples easily.

We work in making the journey to and from school safe, especially for girls, and also the school environment.”

“With families who are displaced they are requesting things like the essentials and they go on to say they want a bit of stability and they want their children to go to school and we hear this over and over again. We see people on boats seeking a better life but if they had some stability and their kids are in school they are not going to risk everything and take them on a dangerous boat journey.”

I did ask about the refugees fleeing the war countries and Sarah is full of praise for countries like Turkey and Lebanon where they have ambassadors and also Jordan. These countries are schooling over half of the displaced children.

Sarah knows how Rotarians get involved in humanitarian work and mentioned immediately the work that has been done to eradicate polio when asked about the involvement of Rotary.

She asks of Rotarians, “It’s all about being creative and listening to what is required across the other side of the world. If it’s a well or a building like a school lavatory I would always remember that once it is built it is worth keeping up the relationship to ensure it is working after a year and the year after that.”

“The other area is to be part of the movement for change that exists and there is a real opportunity at the moment to further girls’ rights to education and to prevent child slavery and child marriage.”

“Rotarians have a large authoritarian voice and when they use it people listen. As far as ‘Theirworld’ is concerned we would like Rotarians to follow our work and help wherever they can.”

We finished the interview talking briefly about the next thing after polio that Rotary should tackle and Sarah Brown reckons it should be child education and she fervently believes it is the key to unlocking many issues in the world today and in the future.

I think she could be right.

Rotary Magazine