The world’s best teacher has backed our campaign, saying she has been waiting for a project like this for years.
Andria Zafirakou, winner of the $1m (£772,000) Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize, spoke out on Thursday in support of our Learn to Live project.
She joined a host of other famous names supporting the campaign, including actor Carey Mulligan, singer Sam Smith and secretary of state for international development Penny Mordaunt.
Ms Zafirakou, an art teacher from Alperton Community School in Brent, is in high demand as an international speaker and education expert since being named as the world’s best teacher.
She said: “When I heard about this campaign I said, ‘Wow, at last.’
“It is such a pure thing to do. Children abroad will be learning about other communities and those in our own country will realise what is going on elsewhere.
“If they can connect as children and find out about each others’ worlds you will have a powerful little army. They will go on to raise awareness in their own school and communities and become a really powerful force.”
Ms Zafirakou said the project has the potential to benefit children hugely in both war zones and in the UK.
“First, our London schoolchildren will get an insight into what it is like to live in areas where life is constantly at risk: they will learn what education means to children who are fighting for their future prospects at the same time as protecting their physical safety,” she said.
“Second, the teachers involved can share knowledge about approaching education as a whole-person activity – especially including the arts, which can have such hugely therapeutic effects.
“And third, schools will be able to support each other: it can make a huge difference to pupils in a war zone to know that their peers across the world care about their wellbeing.”
She said that twinning schools can benefit pupils in the long and short term, by increasing motivation, improving relationships with staff, improving literacy and improving teamwork and collaborative skills.
“Most importantly, the campaign will help promote empathy with people from different cultures – something that is close to my heart and has also been central to the work I have been trying to do at Alperton Community School,” she added.
Ms Zafirakou used her prize money to launch her own Artists in Residence scheme, which will bring artists into deprived London schools.
She is passionate about the huge difference that school can make in the lives of children from difficult backgrounds.
She said: “For many school pupils in the UK today, success in education is hard-won. Many have to battle poverty or difficult family circumstances. It’s also not uncommon to see children arrive at school hungry, or have to deal with the presence of gangs. However, while these obstacles are real and destabilising, few can imagine the hardships faced by children struggling to learn in the middle of a war zone, as one in six children globally now do.
“I hope this new campaign can make a real difference to schools both in the UK and in war-torn countries. Most importantly, it will shine a light on courageous pupils and teachers for whom education is a personal battle they have to fight for everyday.”
Mulligan and Smith, who are both War Child UK global ambassadors, also spoke in support of the Learn to Live campaign.
Mulligan said: “One of War Child’s great strengths has always been in directly asking children in conflict what they need to make them feel safe in a world where so often the plight of children are simply statistics. I’m thrilled the London Evening Standard and The Independent are supporting War Child and allowing children’s voices to be heard. Psychosocial support is a vital and vastly underfunded part of recovery for a child who has experienced the trauma of conflict and we must do more to ensure that children can access it.
“I’m really excited to go to meet children in London who are twinned with children across the globe and see what they are learning from their new friends. It will be a great opportunity for the children to gain an understanding of each other’s experience and an important reminder to us that children are children no matter where they are born and that every single child deserves to feel safe.”
And Smith said: “If we want to have a lasting impact on the lives of children in conflict we need to do more than provide the basics of shelter, food and medical supplies.
“We all know how important it is for children to play as well as having support and emotional wellbeing, which is why Learn to Live is such an amazing campaign. The work War Child is doing can help these children have the futures they deserve and in the long run help their communities peace-building efforts.
“It’s great the London Evening Standard and The Independent are supporting War Child to help raise awareness for children in war zones to be given the support they need to be ready to learn.”
Ms Mordaunt said: “I am delighted to back the ... War Child campaign, which will promote the rights of children in areas of conflict around the world.
“From the Syrian refugee camps to the attacks on the Rohingya, conflict and crises are disrupting the education of 75 million young people across the world – risking creating a lost generation. Even when these children are in school, they’re often too distressed or traumatised to learn.
“UK aid is working in the world’s most dangerous conflict zones to provide psychosocial support, good teaching and vital resources to ensure the world’s most vulnerable children get the vital quality education they need to ultimately rebuild their communities and countries.
“Britain is helping to prevent future instability – protecting and empowering the next generation while keeping the UK safe at home.”
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