Fred in Burkina Faso

by Fred Witteveen, CEO, Children Believe 

The United Nations describes education as “a human right, a public good and a public responsibility.” On January 24, the 6th International Day of Education recognizes the crucial role education plays in achieving peace and progress across the globe. The theme of this year’s observance is “learning for lasting peace” underscoring how an active commitment to peace is more urgent today than ever.

In many developing communities, a lack of access to learning negatively impacts the lives and dreams of children, especially girls, and this problem is compounded by violence. Around 244 million children worldwide are not in school and their right to education is being violated. This crisis has far-reaching consequences. Girls’ education specifically should not be seen as another of the world’s problems waiting to be solved. We believe educating girls is a key solution to many global issues that affect our collective future, including climate change. Some experts consider it a more effective solution than buying electric cars or scaling solar power.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for free and compulsory elementary education. The Convention on the Rights of the Child goes further to stipulate that countries shall make education accessible to all. Learning is given this weight of importance because it offers a path out of poverty and into a positive future for the global economy. We know that conflict and poverty can re-enforce this injustice, perpetuating harmful traditional practices including gender-based inequality, child marriage and the worst forms of child labour. Despite the opportunities education provides for generations to come, extreme poverty forces some parents in vulnerable circumstances to continue the cycle of early marriage over a girl’s schooling. But the facts show that educated women invest 90 percent of their income back into their children’s health and education.

At Children Believe we know that complex problems require comprehensive solutions and are committed to breaking systemic barriers to education. We are driven by the belief that access to education is the most powerful resource children can use to change their world. I recently visited one of Children Believe’s project areas in Ethiopia, communities ravaged by conflicts and natural disaster for more than a decade. There I witnessed firsthand the difference being made through our holistic child-centered community development programs, made possible by Canadian supporters.

Our programming includes violence prevention through girls’ clubs where, among many activities that focus on young women, they address specific needs such as access to, and even producing, needed feminine hygiene products. According to the World Bank, an estimated 500 million lack access to menstrual health and hygiene items, which is essential to the wellbeing and empowerment of women and adolescent girls worldwide. Children Believe is working to bridge this gap. I had an opportunity to meet girls in one such club who disclosed that lack of sanitary products often prevented them from attending school for several days each month. Our support in the production of hygiene products has eliminated this as one of the barriers to education for young women in the community. The impact has been a 100 per cent attendance rate and zero dropouts by girls at the school.

It’s easy to see the lasting ripple effect access to education has stirred. On this International Day of Education, and every day, it’s time to reflect and act for a brighter future. I urge the government of Canada, and Canadians across the country, to continue to support access to education as a basic human right. By standing up for equal access to education worldwide, we can make a difference to all our futures.

Canadians who want to help break barriers to educations should visit

Fred Witteveen is the CEO of Children Believe, a Canadian charity working to promote access to equitable, high-quality education, especially for girls, supporting health and child protection and gender equality. Fred is a veteran humanitarian leader with a dedication and drive to foster positive change within marginalized communities. To learn more about Children Believe’s work supporting children around the world and how you can help, visit  

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