September, schools reopen amidst uncertainties. The ongoing debate revolves around school desks, masks, and swabs, but less attention is paid to the fact that, in the years to come, young people will be the ones who will pay the highest price of the pandemic. While Covid-19 is mostly affecting the elderly, the most vulnerable, in the medium and long term the younger generation will bear the brunt of the “educational gap” of the past few months. It is the concern, involving world countries, of Caritas Italy and Focsiv, that focus on the theme of education this month, as part of the Campaign “Give us this day our daily bread”, available on the website www.insiemepergliultimi.it. On 8 July, the two organizations announced an awareness-raising and fundraising campaign to finance 66 projects in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America and help local communities tackle the impact of the pandemic. Some €50-60,000 have been collected so far, despite the summer break. Greater involvement of dioceses and territories is planned for the coming months.
The figures. UNICEF estimates that 1.5 billion students worldwide have been affected by the lockdown and at least
1 billion students globally have not yet returned to school.
UNESCO estimates that 23.8 million children and young people – from kindergarten to higher education – may drop out or have no access to school next year. At least 463 million children have not had access to remote learning, while 346 million children in least developed countries will not be able to receive the only full daily meal at school, providing adequate nutritional intake.
Educational emergency. “Covid-19 has brought us back 40 years in terms of schooling and literacy – Massimo Pallottino, director of the Asia and Oceania Office of Caritas Italy, told SIR. We must now face a new emergency:
no one must be left behind, and it is important to ensure that those who left the path of education can return.
If not, our societies will be faced with a major problem of vertical mobility: those who don’t go to school will have low-skilled jobs with low salaries – in other words, they will remain at the bottom of the social scale. As always, the most vulnerable will be affected the most, and inequalities will intensify. We are extremely concerned about the most disadvantaged families and the most vulnerable.” As regards Italy and the impending reopening of schools on September 14, “we hope that everyone do their job, teachers and institutions alike, so that no student is left behind.”
Literacy centres in the diocese of Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa. Some of the 66 projects promoted by Churches and local organizations, to be funded by the “Give us this day our daily bread” Campaign, focus on educational activities. Such is the case of the literacy programs in the diocese of Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, involving approximately 800 students each year. They engage street children, sons and daughters of migrants or children from very poor families, who would otherwise be excluded from the public education system. Caritas Italy has been cooperating with the diocese of Djibouti; donations collected through the Campaign will provide a greater scope to this project, approved by the local government.
In Colombia, thanks to these funds, a centre run by ENGIM (Ente Nazionale Giuseppini del Murialdo, member of Focsiv) and the Josephites of Murialdo, will be created in the three barrios populares of Medellin. The Parish of Santa Maria della Sierra, has been offering a daily warm meal to 300 children and 50 elderly people for many years, to combat malnutrition and prevent school dropouts. The youth centre “San Leonardo Murialdo” is also operating here, from 11 am to 10 pm, an area to play, learn and pray, with a playroom, a library, a cinema/theatre, a hall for youth groups. Remedial classes, workshops and vocational training courses are offered free of charge. The project includes study grants for 20 young people. In Colombia, the school year begins in January and ends in November, but owing to poor Internet access, remote learning is virtually impossible.
“Of 1223 local students, 919 have no computers and no internet connection”,
said Father Giuseppe Melluso, a member of the Giuseppini del Murialdo congregation: “Many of the parents are illiterate, semi-illiterate or work all day and cannot help their children with their homework. Those who were awarded scholarships go to university: lack of internet connection or computers makes everything harder.” The project has been readapted after the pandemic, in compliance with health and hygiene regulations, to help boys and girls with their homework. Classes are also being organized for children aged 10-13 who are still illiterate.