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George and Amal Clooney Pledge to Open Schools for Refugees in Lebanon under White House Initiative

posted on: Sep 21, 2016

George and Amal Clooney Pledge to Open Schools for Refugees in Lebanon under White House Initiative
George and Amal Clooney at the UN General Assembly. Image Credit: In Style

BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

World leaders gathered at the United Nations on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing refugee crisis. At the UN’s annual Summit for Refugees and Migrants, President Obama delivered his final speech to the General Assembly. The president called on fellow world leaders, organizations, and corporations to double down on their efforts to resettle the 65.3 million refugees in the world.

“We are facing a crisis of epic proportions,” President Obama told the United Nations. “Those girls being trafficked and tortured, those could be our daughters. That boy on the beech could be our son, or grandson.”

Obama arrived at the summit with commitments from 51 American companies that pledged to offer employment, education, and $650 million in donations to help refugees. The White House said it plans to provide 220,000 refugees with jobs and 80,000 refugees with schooling under this plan.

Also included in this package is $1 million from George and Amal Clooney’s Foundation for Justice. The power couple recently received the $1 million donation from Google to help fulfill plans to educate Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Amal’s home country.

With their foundation, George and Amal hope to enroll 10,000 Syrian refugees in pop-up schools in 2017, and enroll another 50,000 children by 2018. The curriculum, which will all be taught in English, includes lessons in math, human rights, and computer programming. Google’s funding will go towards providing tech support to the classrooms.

George and Amal Clooney Pledge to Open Schools for Refugees in Lebanon under White House Initiative
Syrian children sit in a makeshit school in a refugee camp in Lebanon, 2014.

The Clooneys are focusing their efforts on Lebanon because there are nearly 2 million Syrian refugees living in this small country of only 4 million people. The enormity of the problem is largest in Lebanon, which is hosting more refugees per capita than any other country in the world.

“We want to get every single out-of-school child in Lebanon an education,” Amal Clooney said in an interview with USA Today. “My own family left Lebanon when there was a war there, and I couldn’t have done any of the work I have done without having been able to have an education.”

Before the Syrian war, 94% of children in the country were enrolled in school. Today, only 40% of Syrian children in Lebanon are attending school. Many of them have never even seen a classroom.

The launch of this ambitious education program came just shortly after Amal Clooney’s disapproving speech to the UN on Friday. The high profile human rights lawyer commented on the UN’s failure to tackle crimes committed by ISIL. With Amal was Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman and human trafficking survivor, who testified to the atrocities committed by ISIL towards herself, her family, and greater Yazidi community – an ethnically Kurdish minority group that is indigenous to modern day Northern Iraq.

George and Amal Clooney Pledge to Open Schools for Refugees in Lebanon under White House Initiative
Amal Clooney speaks at the UN with Nadia Murad by her side.

“This is the first time I have spoken in this chamber. I wish I could say I’m proud to be here but I am not. I am ashamed as a supporter of the United Nations that states are failing to prevent or even punish genocide because they find that their own interests get in the way,” Amal Clooney professed to world leaders.

At the end of her speech, she turned to Nadia and tearfully said, “I am sorry we have failed you.” Amal Clooney will be representing Nadia Murad in their legal plans to charge ISIL with genocide.

This is not the first time human rights activists like Amal Clooney have pleaded for action from the United Nations. During the 1990s, the UN failed to intervene in the Rwandan genocide before 1 million Tutsis were murdered over the course of 100 days in Rawanda. At the same time, over 100,000 Bosnian Muslims were murdered in former Yugoslavia. Twenty years later, these tragedies are studied as genocides where the UN failed to intervene.

While looking at the past as a lesson for the future, President Obama and Amal Clooney called on the world to prevent further atrocities in Syria.

“If we truly want to address the crisis, wars like the savagery in Syria must be brought to an end. And it will brought to an end through political settlement and diplomacy, and not simply by bombing,” President Obama said.

“There are a lot of nations right now that are doing the right thing,” he continued. But many others can do more.