I am so incredibly lucky. I was born in America in a prosperous time to parents that not only valued my education, but had the time, resources, and capacity to be fully engaged. They sacrificed to send me to private schools, staying up until all my homework was done and explaining difficult concepts until they wanted to pull their hair out. But they did so I would have as many opportunities as possible. They poured their all into my education and in turn, gave me an impassioned outlook on my future. That is why I cannot get Deputy Secretary Blinken’s remarks out of my head.
On October 16th, Blinken gave the keynote address at the 2015 Meridian Global Leadership Summit. Like Congressmen Royce and Engel and James Quincey, Blinken approached the theme “Foreign Policy Matters” through the lens of his daily work. He gave gut-wrenching accounts of the Syrian Civil War – raging on for over three years – and its effect on the families fleeing for their lives. Speaking with the fathers, he was overwhelmed by the depression and despair having been stripped of their dignity. The mothers could only speak of the desperate need to provide for their children. But the kids, they were filled with youthful exuberance. Amid all the death and fear, they are hopeful.
Unlike me, the children of Syria do not have access to education, which is crucial to fulfilling their dreams and creating a thriving future for the country. According to a report by Save the Children, there are 2.8 million Syrian children out of school, many of which have not received formal education for over two years. Before the war, school enrollment was close to 100%, but now the average enrollment rate is 50% with areas such as Aleppo close to 6%. International aid is only getting so far. In supporting children’s ability to access formal education in Syria, UNICEF has only reached 5% of its target or 25,512 of 365,500 as of September 2015.
The current reality will also have compounding effects on the future. The long term cost of these children never returning to school can be estimated at 5.4% GDP or $2.18 billion. This is staggering, but even more alarming when you consider Blinken’s statement that the wealth of a nation can no longer be determined by land mass or the strength of its army; instead it is measured in its human capital and capacity. We must come together as a global community to break this cycle, and restore safe and effective education for the children of Syria.
I am so incredibly lucky. I am a part of Meridian International Center, an organization working to train and develop the next generation of global leaders, the human capital of our world. And I am so very hopeful for our future.