New York, NY
The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children honored education advocates from Sierra Leone and Afghanistan at its 2006 Voices of Courage Awards luncheon on May 11 in New York City. The Microsoft Corporation received the Corporate Voices of Courage Award for its work providing technology to women in developing countries. An international network that promotes education in emergencies was also awarded. Caroline Kennedy presented the awards; Lesley Stahl was the luncheon's host.
The luncheon was the Women's Commission's most successful to date, raising more than half a million dollars and attended by 500 guests.
"Ensuring that education is provided from the earliest days of an emergency is vital to the survival and well-being of children in life-threatening situations," said Women's Commission Executive Director, Carolyn Makinson.
Voices of Courage award winner Christiana Thorpe, who has worked for decades to improve access to education for children and youth in her native Sierra Leone, said, "Working in education in emergencies has accorded me the opportunity to contribute to the emotional, psychological and physical rehabilitation of my country." She added, "Education is definitely about academics, but it is even more about economics. Whenever education is neglected for whatever reason, the resulting costs become very high. If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!" Ms. Thorpe is the co-founder of the largest education non-governmental organization (NGO) in Sierra Leone, the Forum for African Women Educationalists.
Pamela Passman, Microsoft's vice president of global affairs, said upon accepting the Voices of Courage Corporate Award, "Our mission is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential…Microsoft is committed to a comprehensive, long-term effort to provide technology access, education and skills training that can empower and create new opportunities for millions of people. To that end we have set an ambitious goal—to enhance the technology skills of a quarter of a billion underserved people by 2010."
Underscoring just how difficult it can be to ensure education, particularly for girls, the Afghan refugee awardee, Aziza Ishaqzai , who runs a girls school in a refugee camp in Pakistan, began receiving threats upon the announcement of the award. She felt she would put her family in danger if she traveled to the United States to accept the honor, so she stayed in Pakistan. She said in a speech that was read at the luncheon, "I want to ensure you that I will continue my efforts towards educating Afghan girls wherever and whenever I can—in Pakistan or inside Afghanistan—as long as I have mental and physical power and ability."
Much of the progress toward improving education access and quality could not have been made without the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), which includes NGOs, UN agencies, donors, practitioners, researchers and individuals from affected populations working to ensure the right to education in emergencies and post-crisis reconstruction. "Many people in the humanitarian community mistakenly believe that education is of secondary importance," said Allison Anderson, who accepted the award on behalf of INEE. "Education for refugee children is critical and urgent. It gives refugee girls and boys the skills they need to access freedom, to grow their families, communities and countries—to pursue peace."